Race Matters in Comics: More Controversy Concerning Aquaman Issue 7

Just yesterday I was writing about how confused I was about Aquaman issue 7. As it turns out, other people have experienced the same, and weren’t quite as forgiving. Dara Naraghi, an Iranian-American independent comic writer, wrote an open letter to Geoff Johns voicing his frustration with how issue 7 featured an Iranian hero named The Seer then killed her off a mere 8 pages later. What I didn’t know when I read this was that issue 7 was her debut. To introduce a character then kill her off a short time later? That’s the sort of writing I’d expect to see in an early Star Trek, not from Geoff Johns. Naraghi though is especially peeved because he was excited to finally see an Iranian woman in a DC comic, then had to see her die at the hands of Black Manta before we even get to know her secret origin.

One thing to keep in mind: this is Geoff Johns. I don’t know of any writer in the history of comics who has brought more superheroes and supervillains back to life than Geoff Johns. Off the top of my head, I can think of a bunch he brought back to the land of the living: Hal Jordan, Connor Kent, Bart Allen, The Martian Manhunter, Hawkman, Swamp Thing… I wouldn’t be too surprised if the current Aquaman story arc culminated in a return of The Seer.

In my case, I didn’t put much thought into Aquaman 7, but I applaud Dara Naraghi for taking the initiative to say something. I don’t believe Geoff Johns wrote this story with any sort of racist intent, but it’s possible he simply goofed or didn’t think it out fully. That’s bound to happen when you’re writing Aquaman, JLA, and a few other comics simultaneously.

Comics are a very organic art form. They don’t get created in a vacuum. Very frequently, what fans say is taken to heart. Spider-Man might not be around today if fans hadn’t flooded Stan Lee’s inbox with praise after debuting the character in Amazing Fantasy #15. We wouldn’t have an African-American Spider-Man in the Ultimate franchise if Brian Michael Bendis hadn’t heard ethnic children saying Spider-Man was the only character they could dress up as because his costume covered all of his skin (very sad thought).

In the 19th Century, Charles Dickens originally released Oliver Twist as a serial publication. In a way, the story was told similar to how comics tell stories today. Every month or so, a few new chapters would be published in a magasine. When Dickens started writing Oliver Twist, he frequently referred to the greedy character Fagin as “the Jew,” and meant it in a derogatory sense since anti-Semitism was quite common in that era. Eventually, when he was more than halfways complete with Oliver Twist, a woman wrote to him saying she loved his work and had followed his career with much interest, but she didn’t like the description of Fagin since her husband was Jewish and was by all means a fine and decent man. Dickens, who was, after all, a great humanist despite the prejudices of his time, saw the light and thanks to her letter went ahead and removed references to Fagin’s nationality from the rest of the book.

I hope this proves that fans can make a difference. Very frequently, writers are not actually bigoted or prejudiced, they’re just forgetful. Thankfully, there’s always readers to remind them of their mistakes, and most mistakes can be fixed.

Click here to read Dara Naraghi’s letter.

Over at Marvel, the series Young X-Men features a Middle-Eastern woman for a hero.

What’s your take on the controversy surrounding Aquaman 7?

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