Are Marvel comics better at diversity than DC comics?
They used to be. The Black Panther, the first black superhero period (he's from a fictitious African nation), and the Falcon, the first African American superhero ever, were early milestones for Marvel. They were followed by Luke Cage and Black Goliath, two characters created to mimic the Blaxploitation movies of the time. Then came Brother Voodoo, who was kind of a stereotype, and I'm told a bit insulting.
Marvel crated Sunfire, Japan's answer to Captain America, and Shang Chi, Master of Kung Fu. And there was the White Tiger, the first Puerto Rican superhero.
Women fared worse. Oh, sure, there were superheroines, but they were mostly underpowered and spent most of their time as hostages. The Invisible Woman, the Wasp, Marvel Girl, Crystal, Medusa, they all ended up in the clutches of the bad guys and had to be rescued by the boys. It wasn't until the Black Widow was rebooted, and we got Mantis, She-Hulk, Spider-Woman, and Thundra that we got female ass kickers. Special mention needs to be made of two heroines, screwed up by the writers big time. Ms. Marvel/Captain Marvel/Carol Danvers and the Scarlet Witch. Carol Danvers, created to be an ass kicking feminist, was kidnapped, mind controlled, and raped by Kang the Conqueror's son. Then Rogue stole her powers. Then she got her powers back but was a drunk. The Scarlet Witch? Hell, besides being a perennial hostage for a long time she's been driven insane on a couple of occasions, had an incredibly poor personal relationship with an android, lost her kids, and there's been implied sexual abuse at the hands of Mastermind and the Toad, as well as implied sex with her alleged father Magneto. Which I suppose I better than her Ultimate Universe counterpart who had an incestuous relationship with her brother.
Marvel did bring us Storm, and Marvel Girl becoming Phoenix gave us a woman that could hang with the Silver Surfer. But then Marvel started going with "forced diversity", which was diversity for no reason. Tony Stark was injured so James Rhodes became Iron Man. Not bad, Rhodey had been around a while, he wasn't the first black guy to sub for Stark in the armor, it felt good. He became an Avenger and everything. When Stark came back, Rhodey became War-Machine and got his own book. We got Battlestar and Josiah X and Patriot, all black Captain Americas, one being a Muslim American. All pretty cool. We got a new Ms. Marvel, a Pakistani teen that's a fun read. But - SPOILER ALERT! - War-Machine was killed off. Tony Stark was killed off. They're being replaced by a black teenage girl as Iron Man. WTF? A girl as Iron MAN? Well, Riri Willims (Is that Ree Ree or Rye Rye?) being black makes losing War-Machine a wash, I suppose, but I guess the cross gender issues is supposed to appeal to any transgender fans out there. Hulk is dead. Yep, Bruce Banner was shot dead, an arrow in his head, for no reason. Well, the reason was to have the teen character Amadeus Cho, a Korean American, become the new TOTALLY AWESOME Hulk. Don't ya want to puke? Thor is dead. Well not dead yet. but he's lost an arm and he can't use his hammer anymore, and he's called by his last name "Odinson". Meanwhile, Mjolnir, and Thor's powers, are being wielded by Jane Foster. A female Thor. Not Thordis, not Thora, but Thor. We've got that transgender thing happening again plus Jane's got breast cancer! Bet they're buying a whole lotta comics over at Susan G. Komen. Spider-Man has it easier. Peter Parker gets to keep his Spidey suit for now, but his counterpart from the Ultimate Universe, Miles Morales, came to the regular Marvel U and also is Spider-Man. Miles is black and Hispanic, which makes him kind of a two for one. Nova Rich Ryder was killed off to make room for teen Nova Sam Alexander, who is now retconned as being Latino in some way. The White Tiger was killed off to be replaced by a female relative, who in turn was replaced by a female relative. Deadpool is being replaced by a "Gwen-Pool", whatever that is, and Wolverine's been killed off so teen (are we seeing a trend yet) mutant girl X-23 takes over the title. Steve Rogers and Sam "the Falcon" Wilson are sharing the Captain America identity but I fear for them as Marvel has introduced a third Captain America. She's Luke Cage and Jessica Jones' teen (oh gawd) daughter from an alternate future, now in the present, wearing the Captain America costume and shield, and I don't know what that means for her infant self native to the present. But she's teenaged and biracial and female and wrapped in the flag. One can hear Bendis' nerdgasm from here.
Marvel's got a ton of non white characters that are great that they don't use and don't develop. They've always been good at creating new ones. This stuff they're doing now is lazy writing, pandering, and insulting.
DC's got it's problems on this front. Kyle Rayner's girlfriend getting chopped up and put in the fridge. Trying to turn wonder Woman into a bad mix of Emma Peele and That Girl back when, The Killing Joke. Their first Black hero, Green Lantern John Stewart, was and is pretty impressive. Their second one, Black Lightning, coming too late to be blamed on Blaxploitation movies, was pretty embarrassing. Their third, LSH member Tyroc, well, he... well look for yourself.
It really depends where you look and what you read. If you're looking for diversity chances are you might find it; however, more often than not, both comic companies are sourly lacking in this area. The fact is, both comic giants have a long way to go to cross the gender and race divide. The issue, really, is the readership. Been to a comic store recently?
Kavinay Kishor sums it up quite nicely by bringing up the now infamous women in the refrigerator fiasco. And Mark Hughes' articles also help illustrate the issue. But let me provide a few examples of both companies attempting to present a diverse range of characters and actually doing a pretty good job at it. I'll use two examples from both comic companies that come to mind.
- Birds of Prey