Cyborg & Wonder Woman Are On A Cereal Box: Why It Matters

Honey Nut Cheerios with DC Comics

Breakfast of diverse superheroes?

At the grocery store with my 9-year old this weekend, we scanned the aisle for cereal and she exclaimed, “this comes with a free comic!” Part of me was as delighted at the thought of a free comic as my child, but the other part, the responsible-Mom one, was saying I shouldn’t make a food choice based on product placement. (There is always an exception though, like when I had to buy cereal for the free Star Wars pen!) My ultra-picky kid actually likes Honey Nut Cheerios, and it’s one of healthier choices in the cereal aisle, so we bought them. Yay free comics!

I really didn’t need another reason to appreciate the Cheerios brand, but I now have a couple more. This morning, we opened the box of cereal, my daughter inspecting the box and finding her free comic inside. She gleefully pointed out Wonder Woman on the front and then Cyborg on the back, adding: “See? This is what he looks like for real.” She recently has become obsessed with Cartoon Network’s Teen Titans Go! show and Cyborg in particular. She read her Walking on Fire comic, featuring Cyborg as the main character, while eating her breakfast. Not a bad way to start a school day; she was quite happy.

I’m not one to give out gold stars for people doing the right thing. My feeling is, you should just do that, always. Case in point, I roll my eyes whenever anyone wants to put Joss Whedon on a pedestal because he creates strong female characters. I won’t be baking a “You Did A Good Thing” cookie bouquet for General Mills or DC Comics today, but I did feel this was worth sharing. As a parent, a comic book fan, and an activist, I had a lot of thoughts upon seeing the box and comic. The idea that new characters might be introduced to kids and conversations sparked between adults, all over a bowl of cereal, is exciting. It’s not going to change the world, but it is significant. Two companies came together, created a promotion and designed a box and comics for it that showed some diversity. I applaud their efforts. On the back of the box, you can cut out Cyborg’s chest emblem; on the side of the box listing “Fun Facts” about the Justice League, they note, “Did you know… Wonder Woman is one of the strongest super heroes in the DC Universe?”

Representation of people of color and women, most especially women of color, is sorely lacking in comics. Is it better today than twenty, thirty, forty years ago? Yes, of course. Do we still have far to go? Absolutely. Look to the latest debates about a Wonder Woman movie, list the number of comic book characters and superheroes that are not white, or most recently, the racist uproar made over Michael B. Jordan being cast as Johnny Storm. It’s necessary to point out that while some of these debates are quite upsetting, the good news is: we are having these debates. Thanks in major part to social media, we’re able to collectively voice our opinions and hash out a lot of the issues surrounding sexism and racism. Whether everyone likes it or not, our country is changing, it is more diverse than ever and will continue in that direction. It is vital that comics reflect this.

The comic book industry has always been run by white men. They still have a near-monopoly on it, from publishing and marketing the books and merchandise all the way to organizing comic conventions. To a white boy (or man) reading a comic full of white, male characters, they can relate to the book and probably don’t see anything wrong with it. Hopefully they don’t absorb the often over-the-top sexualization of women as they flip the pages… Thankfully there are female superheroes that I can recommend to teen girls like Kelly Sue Deconnick’s Captain Marvel, but those solid story lines and female representations are far outweighed by ones which I’d never let my daughters even see a cover of (see: Starfire, Power Girl, and a list so long I don’t have the room here). Even less visible are women of color in any superhero roles. If you are looking for something other than a white male or hypersexualized female superhero, you have to dig deeper through the shelves.

Change is happening. With more representation by women, people of color, and LGBT people working in the industry, attending Cons, and engaging in discussions on diversity in comics, we will continue to see more range on display at the local comic book shop. We need more characters, and especially superheroes that represent all of us. Those stories need to be told. The myth that there are no black nerds, no real geek girls, or any other non-white, non-straight, non-male geeks is finally crumbling. A simple Google search will yield sites, podcasts, and online communities dedicated to such groups (Check out my links at the end as well!). Those who were once ignored at comic book shops and discussions, are now being included. That’s not to say harassment and exclusion is not still commonplace at certain shops, conventions, and in talks about the comic book universe. There’s work that still needs to be done–putting two comic book heroes who are not white dudes on a cereal box matters.

A page from "Justice League Walking on Fire"

A page from “Justice League Walking on Fire”

This morning, I thought about the kids, some who maybe saw a family looking like theirs in a commercial recently, and others who might be opening up their cereal boxes to find a book with a character who looks like them. That is important. That is something to celebrate. That is something to demand more of. Yes, there are a sprinkling of superheroes who are people of color, women, intersections of both, and others who don’t fit the white, hetero, male character mold we’ve seen for generations. That mold is slowly being broken, yet the creators still need incentive (Might I suggest a She-Hulk SMASH?) so that it isn’t the only one they use when writing new comics or re-imagining old ones. Here’s the thing: diversity is good for everyone. Not just for kids who aren’t white, it’s good for all kids. It’s important for adults as well, regardless of our race or culture, our backgrounds, identities, or lives. We exist in a diverse world, not just based on the populations growing in this country but in our accessibility to the world outside of America. We engage with folks from many cultures–comics should as well, and in a respectful manner. Stories and films with diverse characters benefit kids in homogenous communities too. They can see and, in a way, get to know people who don’t look like them, folks who they otherwise wouldn’t come in contact with. Fans should be able to see themselves in the comics they read, and equally as important, see a spectrum of people and personalities.

Change, and sometimes diversity, scares people. I understand the comfort that stems from a bond people feel with a comic book character.  Often, we feel a history and kinship with our favorite superhero (for me, it’s Wonder Woman). An argument I’ve encountered is that once a comic book hero has been written as white, we cannot alter that. Somehow, readers and moviegoers will be so confused, so dumbfounded, so distraught over their beloved superhero suddenly being depicted as other than white, that it will bankrupt the entire industry. Thankfully, plenty of people don’t agree with this. We finally are having stories written anew, and the world hasn’t fallen apart. Until last year, my daughter only ever knew Spider-Man as Peter Parker, and as white. Then she borrowed a copy of Ultimate Comics: Spider-Man by Brian Michael Bendis. She wasn’t confused that Miles Morales was Black and Latino, actually, she discovered her favorite Spider-Man. We picked up Ms. Marvel #1 by G. Willow Wilson last month. Kamala Khan, the all-new Ms. Marvel, is Pakistani American and Muslim. My daughters and I, not sharing Pakistani culture or Muslim religion with Kamala, were all able to relate to her character (And not just because she too is a Jersey girl!). Strange, huh? The fact is, we loved it. We’ve been counting the days until the next issue, and we’re not the only ones. These characters, their stories, and their representations are not only important on the do-the-right-thing level, but these are successful from a business standpoint as well. Make more of them!

I want the comic book industry to be innovative and continue creating characters that will thrill kids and adults alike. The benefits one gains from having superheroes in their life are numerous, and should be accessible to all. There is actually a new documentary, Legends of the Knight, being made on the topic of comic book heroes empowering people. People are inspired by superheroes. Some psychologists even utilize comics with their clients. Comic books can transform a kid from a non-reader to a confident one. From getting lost in a storyline to collecting superhero memorabilia,  dressing up on Halloween as your favorite character to seeing those faces on the big-screen, a love of comic books is something that often stays with many of us into adulthood. It’s been incredible to see my children become passionate about their own favorites. Seeing a superhero who looks like them, fighting the bad guys and saving the world, is something every kid should be able to experience.

Cyborg meets Cybox

The words “mighty” and “dynamic” are found often in comics. Perhaps that’s because they, along with their superheroes, are just that. Comics are influential. They can reflect our country’s current state of affairs. They can introduce and tackle political and social issues to younger generations. People from all backgrounds should be able to see themselves reflected in these powerful stories. Obviously, any of us can open up a Batman book and be Batman, or any other superhero. There are no rules against that. But how nice would it be to see a black Wonder Woman (Followed by, ahem, Gina Torres in that role!) or an Asian Superman? Why not? Why shouldn’t we all want broader representation in our superheroes, and in all characters in comic books? There are no limits to what abilities they can have, or what they can look like. The opportunity to represent women, people of color, and the LGBT community is vast. The old bios and tropes have been used and relied on for too long. Which is why, back to my breakfast, seeing Cyborg and Wonder Woman on a cereal box is important. I say to all the comic book creators and publishers, and to the companies who partner with them, we want to see more of this. As fans, let’s use our voices and our dollars to influence the comic book industry and keep this momentum going.

Justice LeagueSome places to start if you want to expand your geek horizons:

  • Be sure to check out indie publishers for a fresh spin on comics.

Please share any links to other relevant sites, podcasts, publications, or vlogs in the comments!

[Note: I’m not being paid by anyone to write this, not even in free Cheerios. Though if you’d like to send me some free cereal or comics…]

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69 comments

  1. Somehow, readers and moviegoers will be so confused, so dumbfounded, so distraught over their beloved superhero suddenly being depicted as other than white, that it will bankrupt the entire industry. – if they are worried about confusing fans surely they should have avoided the whole Peter Parker dying in doctor octopus’ body storyline

    1. Haha! Yup. I have a horrid throw-up story from the first grade related to Cheerios, so I was hesitant. But it was well worth it & I actually don’t mind the Honey Nut version, thankfully. 😀

  2. I don’t know about characters that have already been established being changed. Though some of them or a better part of the lesser known ones kids won’t know have been changed but for the older fans–not saying 30+ years olds, I am saying the 20 year old would be shocked. The non hardcore fans would be ok with it. Leave old characters alone create new ones instead.

    1. I’ll have to politely disagree. Diversity is lacking and the greatest place to correct that is through new stories of old & beloved characters and when making the splash from comic books to film or TV. I’m over 30, a hardcore fan of several characters, and would actually love to see new representations of those characters, whether in new books or on film.

  3. Wonderful post! I’m always on the hunt for female comic book characters. We Geek Girls is also a great blog with comic book related issues. I look forward to reading more posts! 🙂

  4. The lack of black or afro american super hero characters (that are actually cool or not a total racist klischee) is hilarious… In the psychedelic corner you wont find nuts ^_^” When it comes to female stereotype super heroes girls dont have much to search for =P Good post mate!

  5. I’ve often found these same stereotypes in Disney movies. Villains are often darker in colour while the hero (or heroine) is white and pure. Children can become conscious to that. Prejudice and racism can ensue through something so innocent. Sad. Maybe try Froot Loops? Great read!

    1. So true! Disney has an awful track record of that. When they did finally create a black princess, she was a frog for much of the movie!! Most films and tv shows keep things very white and introduce non-white characters as either buffoons or criminals much of the time. The lack of children of color in books is disturbing too. Did you see the latest figures on children’s books? “Of 3,200 children’s books published in 2013, just 93 were about black people…” http://www.nytimes.com/2014/03/16/opinion/sunday/where-are-the-people-of-color-in-childrens-books.html?_r=0 And it’s quite rare to see even background characters who are non-white (like even students in a classroom or in public). We desperately need these shifts to happen. Okay, I’ll get off my soapbox again now. Thanks for reading!

  6. Internet has expanded the frequency of people’s voice enough to get out and be heard around the world….. to the very dismay of the gatekeepers controlled by the wary elites and politicians who till now controlled what goes in the media and what people could read or watch……….interesting times.

  7. Hello, Freshly Pressed brought me here.

    First, gonna get to the store a buy another box of Cheerios, (to get that comic)! And, second, my opinion on why there aren’t any or many superheroes of color is because the racist trolls in society get so uppity about it, (remember the ‘Hunger Games’ hissy fit?)…plus the media won’t put many people of color on the cover of magazines because “they” claim, “it won’t sell”. 😦

    That’s all I wanted to say now…thanks for your moderation.

    1. I agree. It’s non-stop, but I do see a shift in the past couple of years. It’s important to have full representation from development of characters to writing to marketing, the whole chain has to be diverse. It is slowly (slower than a snail’s pace…) getting there, we are seeing some progress. I’m hopeful, especially as we see sales and interest in these superheroes who aren’t all white guys. If it sells, the industry will make it. It always comes down to the money The media will catch up quickly I hope. Thanks for your comments & for reading!

  8. Right on, Lam! The need for good female and non-white role models is a constant, especially in media that speaks so loudly and clearly to the youth. Race and gender stereotypes belong in the past, but it’s going to take the persistent effort of good artists, writers, and other effective voices to keep them there. Hurtful nonsense has a way of creeping back into people’s minds and hearts when we don’t consciously seek to respect and honor one another. We can always use more heroes to guard against it.

  9. Originally the comics were not only white but also Jewish. They started with a world that people wanted to exist. To be endowed with powers. Now years later it should include all races and cultures. Do we not all dream?

    1. Exactly. I feel like because of the origins of comics (and so many arcs and character stories within the industry), it seems so much more obvious it should be a diverse place. We are all looking to be powerful, have a voice, we all deserve that! Thanks for reading & for leaving your thoughts here.

      1. People tend to write what is around them. In this case very true. Young Jewish men living in a city. That is the slant of most of the comics. I know Superman grew up on the farm but little is shown of the Kent’s It is the newspaper where you get most of the action.

      2. Clark is the “alien” passing as a Protestant, white boy. There’s a bit of academic writing about on how that reflects the Jewish experience in the 1920s-1930s.

  10. I appreciate the need for more female characters, but I think the first step is to dress them properly. And it’s not just in comic books, but all media where I’m sure I’ll see a ‘wardrobe malfunction’ at any moment. So what if you’re daughter feels inspired at a young age by female super heroes – when she reaches 10, 11, 12, etc – all she is going to see is how her body does not look like what’s in the pictures. And TV! Wow. I honestly cannot name the last tv series I have watched that did not contain naked women! Even children’s movies.. I watched The Croods the other day and could not believe how scantily dressed a children’s character was! And the roles of women in media, particularly tv is disturbing… I feel like we’ve taken some major steps backwards in terms of equality over the past few years.

    1. Over-sexualization & sexism is a major problem in all media. I agree with the issues within comics in particular. I do have a growing collection of female superheroes that wear clothes with which one could actually fight crime with and ones with more body-positive (regular or varied body structures!) characters. I hope we push back against this more and the media moves forward once again. Thanks for your input!

      1. Yes! I’m catching up on some things here but will get you that list next week. (It’s not a long one! But I want to go through my books & make sure I don’t miss any.)

      2. I did not forget! Things have just been busier than expected the past 2 weeks. I’m working on a master list & will post it on my Tumblr with a reply/link here. Here’s a few to check out though: Princeless & Adventure Time for kick-butt girl characters. Some that are appropriate for teens+ are: the all-new Ms. Marvel (which I LOVE), She-Hulk (2014), Captain Marvel (2014) (those 3 have 1-2 issues so far and I approve of the outfits & body images in them, though the superhero characters are built, their cleavage is not obnoxious, they are fit but in line with their character, not oversexualized, etc.). I love Saga (for adults) as it features a fierce breastfeeding mom, but also a myriad of characters, many women ones that are in control, an assortment of ages (from tough grandma to brave girl) & body types (many total mythical in nature). I have a stack of others on my to-read (& analyze!) list that I hope to add to my collection. Some female comic creators to check out are: Kelly Sue DeConnick, Becky Cloonan, Fiona Staples, Gail Simone, G. Willow Wilson, to start.

  11. ” I roll my eyes whenever anyone wants to put Joss Whedon on a pedestal because he creates strong female characters”

    Strong female characters?
    oh
    dear.

    thanks

  12. Gina Torres as Wonder Woman… I just nearly fell out of my chair! Fantastic Idea…I’d be first in line… this is a great post and focuses on a mighty important topic for today’s youth… diversity- being inspired by role models, comic book ones, that look like you… awesome stuff!

    1. Thank you so much! Haha, yes, I love Gina Torres! I’ve seen some artist depictions on Tumblr with her as Wonder Woman and they are AWESOME.

      1. See? Now I have to do a search and everything! I also saw some very cool depictions of the one-and-only IMAN as STORM. Those are superb as well.

        Curious, have you seen Gina Torres as Ana, the Cuban assassin from Alias? She’s not in enough episodes, but when she is, she IS…

      2. Ooh, Iman as Storm??!! See, now I have to go searching! LOL. I never watched Alias, but now I may have a reason to check the show out (or at least the episodes Gina Torres is in!).

      3. Yes…Iman as Storm… With the Alias episodes, a ‘Gina Torres as Ana’ – search will tell you which ones. The series, by the brilliant J.J. Abrahams, is worth watching in its entirety.

  13. Aren’t parents and other adults in the *real world* supposed to be role models for children? …. and aren’t comics supposed to be a highly specialised form of fantasy, for the purposes of entertainment, profit…… and so often a vehicle for propaganda too?

    It was also my understanding that comics and comic culture is especially popular in Japan and ‘the west’ and was – at least until fairly recently – mostly consumed by males and that the ethnicity and gender of comic characters roughly mirrored these demographics. In other words, comic writers tend to create characters which the majority of comic consumers in a given area will relate to and/ or find appealing and (most importantly) BUY.

    Thinking of comic characters, cartoon characters or even pop stars as ‘role models’ is a disturbing trend. I don’t mean to say these characters (all of them fictional and all of them manufactured by corporations) don’t have an effect on children’s psychology and world view…. but that doesn’t mean we should regard them as role models. By definition, they are not real.

    What IS real are facts such as 90% of mothers still admitting hitting their children. Shouldn’t we be focusing on these role models in the *real world* before obsessing about equal representation in fictional, manufactured, corporate created fantasy characters?

    Just a thought 🙂

    The most obvious trait shared by ALL superheroes in comics, cartoons and TV shows is that they are not like us and that their heroism is the result of ‘super powers’ which we do not have. In order to commit acts of heroism they usually have to undergo a transformation to stop being like ordinary humans (incapable of heroism) and become something utterly unattainable which IS capable of heroism.

    The overriding message (intentional or not) is that we ordinary folk are NOT heroes. As ordinary humans our job is to just hang around and wait to be showered by radioactive material or bitten by a magic spider or whisked away in a spaceship.

    The message is that heroism does not exist HERE and NOW. Heroism exists in a galaxy far, far away…..

    1. I will reply to this next week, as I’ve promised myself video games tonight after a busy day. Thanks for lending your take on this. I’ll respond properly soon!

    2. Can’t agree at all to the last bit there. The very reason “average joe’s” were invented in comics was to give normal kids and people something to aspire to outside of super powers: Batman’s superior detective skills, Iron Man’s vast intelligence, Oliver Queen’s integrity and sympathy for the little guy…

      Black Panther, Mockingbird, Steel, Black Widow, Hawkeye, Nightwing, Nick Fury, The Question, Vigilante – all heroes that tell us that we can shoot for great things without radiation endangering our lives and I don’t think that’s something to be ignored. In the meantime, we can also wish for a bit of luck as those Green lantern rings don’t go to just anybody 🙂

    3. I feel that comics and cartoons have improved in that respect by tackling issues like domestic abuse, drug awareness, and others wrapped in the message of “You don’t need superpowers to be a hero.” Where the comics hurt themselves (i.e, still have much growth to demonstrate) is in the general look of the hero. Do all male superheroes need to have a physique of muscles upon muscles? Do all female superheroes need to sport an outfit which looks like they’re headed to the beach?

  14. Yes, in skimming, I think I get what you mean. But it’s a catch 22. As an avid comic book fan from the 80’s, I like my heroes with their original qualities. No room for change unless it’s a lesser player they can make better with a little change i.e. Nick Fury. Fury is tons cooler now that the masses see him as a black character. But that was the choice of the comics bigwigs, not some idiot movie exec i.e. Michael Clarke Duncan as The Kingpin.

    The catch being that, in alienating minority characters during the 60’s book craze, there’s little to be done in modern times now but take a white character and change the color to meet the demands of representation.

    Wrong. Just make new characters. New, good, minority characters. Like Jim Lee did when he created the Chinese Jubilee (who TV turned white in that bad GenX movie. That insulted me as much as it does changing the race of a white hero.) An in the vein of taking an underused, uncool character and going 180°, it worked beautifully with the supercool, Japanese Psylocke – who was once a BORING white nobody.

    Just make cool minority characters. Play catch-up. It’s been done before: Bishop, War Machine – if it could be done in the 90’s, why not now? Make rockin’ new minority players and stop screwing with my childhood. Take old ones and make them great! Doctor Voodoo is mad cool now. Update Misty Knight. Agents of SHIELD is introducing Deathlok soon and the Black Panther movie is in the works, as is Luke Cage’s Netflix TV show. It’s as beautiful a future of change a it was when they mutated Wonder Woman into the hero she is today and not the bondage victim who did the Justice League dishes.

  15. I’m currently writing a super hero themed novel in which two of the three main characters are not white males. One is a mixed race, black and white young man and the other is a hard driving, very powerful female. I’m a very white guy, but I have several minority and mixed race kids in my extended family. I love them all and decided I wanted to give them some characters that they could easily relate to. If you’re interested, come over to the blog I just set up, (It’s HEAVILY under construction!), as I will be posting some sample chapters over the next few weeks. Thanks for this post!

  16. I agree with the main thrust of what you are saying. In good news, there’s some slow change. Power Girl’s costume and (um, there’s no delicate way to put this) really, really shockingly bad design choices were changed in 2011. She now looks more like other superheroines. What surprised me was that after decades of “We know she looks like that but we excuse it by saying she’s a strong woman.” finally it just took one author and editorial team to say “You know. This was always a bad idea. We are done with this.” Hopefully similar things can happen for other characters.

    1. Darn, I’ve been away from comics for just a little bit, comment about how much better Power Girl’s new costume is, then find out that was just a stunt and they have changed her back to her hideous original. So, so, so annoying. Sorry to be so wrong in my original comment.

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