Alina ran and squealed as she played with two other children outside The Cheesecake Factory at Victoria Gardens in Rancho Cucamonga. The 6-year-old hid behind her mother, Angelina Edwards, laughing and pulling on her sparkly purple skirt and wiping her hands on her Iron Man T-shirt.
“She just loves superheroes,” said the Redlands mother. “We've been taking her to see the movies since she was about 4 and when the new ones come out she asks me and her dad to take her. Right now she's excited for ‘Guardians of the Galaxy.' They're definitely not just for boys.”
It appears comic book companies agree and are actively searching for more racial, gender and religious diversity within their titles.
About a week before San Diego Comic-Con, arguably the largest pop culture and comic book convention in the world, Marvel Entertainment recently announced a female character would take up Thor's hammer(mjolnir) and Joe Quesada, chief creative officer for the comic book company, took to “The Colbert Report” to announce the new Captain America will be the black superhero, Sam Wilson, formerly known as the Falcon.
“I think it's an exciting time to be in comics,” said Shannon Denton, senior editor for St. Louis-based publisher, Lion Forge Comics. “We're definitely seeing more diversity in recent years, and not just in the comics but also with the writers and artists.”
Lion Forge was founded by David Steward II, a black tech entrepreneur and son of David Steward, founder and chairman of World Wide Technology, Inc., a $5 billion technology systems firm.
Denton and other representatives from the company will be presenting at the San Diego convention.
As a self-proclaimed Navy brat, Denton grew up surrounded by children and families of different backgrounds and ethnicities.
“And one of the things the group of children bonded over was comics. We were all from different backgrounds, but we all loved comics,” he recalled. “While we all loved the comics, most of the superheroes were mostly white and male. Now that is changing.”
In 1966, Marvel created the first black superhero, The Black Panther, and while welcomed, there have been criticisms that the storylines were not accurate to many black people's experiences.
“They were trying to introduce black characters, but there weren't not a lot of black creators,” Denton said. “Now we have plenty of talented writers and artists who can create those storylines.”
Many fans, eager to see characters that better reflect their experiences, have also welcomed the changes.
“I have always loved comics and used to read them as a kid, but I really didn't identify with many of the characters. Not as a Latino or a gay person,” said Steven Garcia, a Long Beach-based artist who creates pin-ups based on comic book characters. He also writes a column in Gay Entertainment Director Magazine called “Nerd Invasion.”
In 1979, the character Northstar made his first appearance in Marvel Comics as part of the Canadian government-sponsored team Alpha Flight, who seeks to take Wolverine of the X-Men into custody. He is one of the first openly gay superheroes in American comic books, and the first openly gay character to come out in a book published by Marvel.
Flash forward to 2006 and DC Comics introduces Batwoman as a lead lesbian character.
The character, Kathy Kane, who served in the United States Army during the era of “Don't Ask Don't Tell,” became Batwoman after she was forced to leave the military when she is found to be in a relationship with another woman. After she is rescued by Batman, she decides to take up the cowl as a vigilante.
More recently, Archie Comics publisher and co-CEO Jon Goldwater announced the beloved Riverdale native would meet his end saving his gay friend, Keniv Keller.
“I think with any group or minority, we want to see ourselves reflected in the things we love,” said Sean Z. Maker, a gay comics and gaming fan who founded Los Angeles' Bent-Con, which premiered in 2010. “Hopefully we'll continue to bring life to it and see more change.”
Lion Forge will be launching three new titles that feature minority main characters, including Chavo Guerrero of the famous Mexican wrestling Guerrero dynasty, MMA fighter Quinton “Rampage” Jackson and internationally known cosplayer and costumer, Yaya Han.
One of the best-received announcements came from DC Comics with the redesign for Batgirl. Gone is the body-hugging spandex and overdone cleavage in favor of what is being called a more practical uniform including a leather jacket, utility belt, pants and yellow Doc Marten-styled boots. The redesign has sparked a slew of fan art of the character.
“I love the new Batgirl,” said Edwards. “She doesn't have the big boobs all over the place or is overly sexy. I can't wait because I think this will be a comic I can share with (my daughter) and is a character that she can love.”
The changes may be a result of an increase of women creators, which Denton said he's observed in the industry.
The female duo of editor Sana Amanat and writer G. Willow Wilson, created the latest incarnation of Ms. Marvel, Kamala Khan, a teenage Muslim American from Jersey City, New Jersey.
“They have been doing amazing work with that book,” Denton said.
But the changes have not come without controversy,
When Marvel introduced the new Ms. Marvel last year, Christian groups were upset and accused the publisher of advocating a Muslim agenda, while Muslim groups argued the storyline did not accurately portray Muslims.
The increase in diverse characters has also led to more diversity at conventions, including San Diego Comic-Con — though Denton feels those fans have always been there.
“Overall, I think this is an exciting time to be in the business seeing all these changes,” Denton said. “I can't wait for the day that the announcement of a black main character of a Muslim character won't be worth a press release, but will be the norm.”
San Diego Comic-Con International
What: The sold-out convention in San Diego draws thousands of fans from all over the world who love superheros, vampires and more to Southern California.
When: July 24-27.
Where: San Diego Convention Center, 111 W. Harbor Drive.