Diversity In Action (Figures)
June 14, 2009

Building on a topic I had briefly mentioned on my own site’s blog recently, and one that came up last month on the AFI forum, diversity in comic books, animation, and action figure lines is a big issue for me. This is something that dates back all the way to my childhood. Since coming into its own as a toy concept in the late ’70s and early ’80s, some action figure lines have done better jobs of being inclusive than others have. Despite the overwhelming success with children of the day and the lasting popularity with collectors enjoyed by some brands, they had a lot of room for improvement in what they offered to their young fans.

Let’s start with the obvious, Kenner’s vintage STAR WARS line. Riding the craze created by the first film’s release, Kenner established the 3¾” action figure as the standard for kids in America. In eight years of Droids, aliens, and white males, Kenner released all of one female character (Princess Leia) and two black male characters (Lando Calrissian and the second Bespin Security Guard). We really can’t place all the blame on Kenner for this one, though, as they had to work within the limitations of what actors were cast in the films. Then again, I don’t seem to recall Oola, Grizz Frix, or Mon Mothma making their way into the line, but there still wasn’t much range among the choices available to the company.

Despite all the nostalgia it inspires, another line lacking in any real diversity was Kenner’s Super Powers. In three waves over three years, one of thirty-three figures was based on a female character (Wonder Woman), and one was based on a black male character (Cyborg). Yes, I know John Stewart, Black Vulcan, and Supergirl were part of the presentation on what might have been for the future, but woulda, coulda, shoulda. The fact is that no one will ever know exactly who would have made the cut in a fourth wave, and the line is what it is at the end of the three that made it into production.

Tougher to crack than an Augusta golf course, though, was Mattel’s Secret Wars line. The first wave consisted of eight white males (Magneto’s backstory had recently been altered to make him a Jewish Holocaust survivor, though), and only in the second wave was a black male (Falcon) released with four more white males. Perhaps things would have changed if the line had managed to survive for a third wave, but it ended up being a real boys’ club. Even Kenner’s M.A.S.K. line managed to produce two female characters, and they didn’t have years and years of Marvel Comics source material from which they could choose characters.

Mattel’s biggest boys’ brand of the ’80s, Masters Of The Universe, didn’t have the “quick demise” excuse. While the line featured females Teela and Evil-Lyn in the early days, it was only in the seventh (and final) year that the first (and only) black character made it as a Master with the ’87 release of Clamp Champ.

There was, however, one property that stood out from the crowd in the ’80s, and that was Hasbro’s 3¾” G.I. JOE. Beginning with the initial wave of the Original Thirteen JOEs in 1982, the team included female (Scarlett), black (Stalker), Hispanic (Zap), and Jewish (Clutch) members. Despite sticking to what seemed like a one-black-guy-per-year rule, Hasbro did a better job of diversifying their character roster with this line than any other toy manufacturer could manage to do in those days. They seemed to lose interest in including at least one female every year after Jinx. I can still remember the girls who liked G.I. JOE complaining about having to choose between Scarlett and Lady Jaye, because none of us had Cover Girl! And sure, they could have gone further than they did, especially when you consider the racial makeup of the American military. There was an overall effort that has to be recognized, though, and certainly more than you were going to find anywhere else in the ’80s. Although I’m almost positive this list is incomplete, have a look at some of the releases over the brand’s first ten years:

Black Characters
· Stalker (1982)
· Doc (1983)
· Roadblock (1984)
· Alpine (1985)
· Iceberg (1986)
· Hardball (1988)
· Dee-Jay (1989)
· Stretcher (1990)
· Static Line (1990)
· Heavy Duty (1991)

Hasbro also made available an action figure based on William “The Refrigerator” Perry through a mail-away promotion in 1986.

Hispanic Characters
· Zap (1982)
· Shipwreck (1985)

Asian Characters
· Storm Shadow (1984) [Japanese-American]
· Quick Kick (1985) [Japanese and Korean]
· Tunnel Rat (1987) [Chinese]
· Jinx [Japanese] (1987)
· Budo (1988) [Japanese]

Native American Characters
· Airborne (1983)
· Spirit Iron-Knife (1984)
· Armadillo (1988)
· Altitude (1990)

Other Ethnicities
· Clutch (1982) [Jewish]
· Gung-Ho (1983) [Cajun]
· Torpedo (1983) [Polynesian]
· Slipstream (1986) [Armenian]
· Red Dog (1987) [Samoan]

Female Characters
· Scarlett (1982)
· Cover Girl (1983)
· Baroness (1984)
· Lady Jaye (1985)
· Zarana (1986)
· Jinx (1987)

This isn’t just some random idea of political correctness, but something that can have a real impact on children. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve read or heard a G.I. JOE fan talking about how it was the only line growing up that actually featured characters, “that looked like me.” That can be important to a kid in a world where various forms of media expose them predominantly to people who look nothing like them, and it’s often easier for a child to relate to characters who share not only similar physical traits, but also a similar cultural identity. Check out this great interview with Darryl Jefferson on Collectors’ Quest, where he describes what led him to collect what he calls “Blaction”. That’s not to say that kids of various ethnicities cannot enjoy Batman or Spider-Man, but asking a non-white child to play in an all-white world will eventually lead to questions that shouldn’t have to be asked.

Of course, some of the people working for toy manufacturers seem to be operating under some serious misconceptions. When I had the pleasure of meeting Milestone Media cofounder Dwayne McDuffie at the 2006 Cine Noir Festival of Black Film, the topic of toys came up in a discussion. A lack of lucrative licensing deals was the reason the hit animated series Static Shock was not renewed for a sixth season, despite its stellar ratings and glaring popularity. I remember being shocked by something Mr. McDuffie said, and in order to avoid misquoting him, I contacted him to revisit the issue last week. Here’s what he had to say:

It was a consultant for one of the major toy companies. He said, “African Americans don’t buy toys for their children.” This was in reference to why they didn’t make any toys based on Static Shock, at the time the #2 show on Kids WB. I was astonished, as I clearly remember my parents buying toys for me, not to mention that Static’s audience was upwards of 80% white.

Huh? Where does someone get an absurd idea like that, and why is a toy company paying him?

Mattel has done a very solid job of including female characters in their Justice League Unlimited line, releasing twenty-two unique characters (plus variations on Wonder Woman and Hawkgirl) with even more on the way. There have only been three black characters, though, and one of them (Steel) is covered completely by armor. Having said that, one of them (Vixen) is a black woman, something not often seen in action figure lines, and another (Amanda Waller) is going to be part of a future wave. Cyborg and Black Vulcan figures are also planned for the line, and if recent eBay auctions are any indication, so is a Mr. Terrific figure. Yet another of the female characters, Fire, is Brazilian. JLU‘s first Puerto Rican, Vibe, was released last year. The company is off to a good start with its DC Universe Classics lineup, as well, offering several female and black heroes and villains in the first nine waves of its existence.

Hasbro, on the other hand, has not gotten off to the same kind of start with its new 3¾” Marvel Universe line. While they’ve included Black Panther and Blade in waves 1 and 4 respectively, only one female character can be found in the first five waves. That’s Ms. Marvel, the only female out of the twenty-two unique characters released thus far. Fortunately, Mary Jane Watson and Mystique finished in the top five in a poll of fans, so we’ll see those two released next year. The women of the Marvel Universe are seriously underrepresented at this point, but then again, so are the Marvel villains.

And getting back to G.I. JOE, the 25th Anniversary/Modern line didn’t do the best job of building on the success ARAH had in this area, either. Including the two upcoming Cobra Island seven-packs, there have been three black males (Roadblock, Stalker, and Alpine), three white females (Scarlett, Lady Jaye, and Baroness), four males of Asian ancestry (Storm Shadow [Japanese-American], Quick Kick [Japanese and Korean], Tunnel Rat [Chinese], and the Hard Master [Japanese]), two Hispanic males (Zap & Shipwreck), two Native American males (Airborne & Spirit Iron-Knife), one Cajun male (Gung-Ho), one Jewish male (Clutch), one Armenian male (Slipstream), and one Polynesian male (Torpedo). In addition to all the G.I. JOE troopers, Cobra Troopers, Cobra Officers, Vipers, and various other army builders, there are almost sixty unique white males in the line. The list of everyone else is limited to eighteen characters, fifteen of whom are males. There are nineteen if you count the mail-away Doc figure that was never released at retail.

Now give the team credit for including a wide range in the line, but we’re left with just four percent of the unique characters being female. Less than six percent are black, and in addition to Doc never being sold in stores, Alpine was part of a DVD multi-pack that made it to retail in such limited quantities, most collectors have never seen him. Despite mixing things up a bit in the Cobra ranks in recent years with black Cobra Troopers and Crimson Guards in the 2004 Operation Crimson Sabotage set, the 2004 Cobra Infantry Forces set, and the 2005 Cobra Night Watch set, every Trooper and Viper in the new line was an identical white guy. It wasn’t until the Extreme Conditions Cobra Desert Assault Squad seven-pack was released last year that the 25th/Modern line saw its first black Cobra Trooper. Of course, the only way to get one was to order the online-exclusive seven-pack, and even then, he was in a desert-specific uniform.

Even though I had no interest in the Desert Assault Squad pack, I knew I had to get my hands on some of those figures. I had already started customizing 25th-style figures due to the lack of available female characters (Zarana, Zanya, and a female Viper Officer), and now it was time to do something about my Cobra Troopers. I bought a couple of loose figures on eBay, swapped the heads, and then resold the figures on eBay with the bald heads from Cobra Legions Troopers. That wasn’t particularly cost-effective, though, so when an online retailer recently had a nice sale, I picked up a few of the packs, swapped heads, and then sold all the extras in eBay auctions. This time, I got the heads I wanted for free, and all that was left was painting gloves on the figures’ hands. The Legions Troopers don’t wear gloves, and I really wasn’t keen on the prospect of trying to match colors with the new faces. Gloves were a much easier solution, and here is the end result (for now, anyway, as I have a few more seven-packs on the way):

Cobra Officer

If I can do that, Hasbro can certainly do it. After taking such a progressive approach in the ’80s, doing things no one else even attempted at the time, do we really have to regress in the 21st century? Honestly, with no new tooling required, we’re talking about something that can easily be done without even denting the bank, never mind breaking it. I’m happy to see a diverse group in the forthcoming The Rise Of Cobra movie line (the Breaker figure is based on the likeness of Saïd Taghmaoui, who is of Morrocan descent, quite possibly a first for the property), but I sincerely hope that will become a lasting trend, rather than starting and stopping with the cast of the film. This isn’t going to be a niche line geared toward collectors who grew up in the ’80s, but a huge investment in the future of the brand, a future that depends on children asking their parents for G.I. JOE toys. Believe it or not, a lot of those parents won’t be caucasian. It’s just a minor inconvenience for a guy like me to buy some extras and swap heads, but I’d recommend making the line you want kids to buy a bit more representative of the world in which we actually live. I’m not suggesting more changes to previously established characters, either, because it’s never too late to create new ones.

And you know, we’ve all heard the argument that it’s difficult to sell female action figures in a boys’ line, but I think Ahsoka Tano did a fantastic job of disproving that old way of thinking. When it comes to something like 25th Anniversary G.I. JOE, though, and the majority of your consumers are adult collectors, it’s definitely not the case. Give the ladies their due, Hasbro. Let’s see Zarana, Jinx, and Cover Girl get the modern treatment after you cash in on the movie hype from The Rise Of Cobra. Although I’m happy to see a new female character (Helix) joining the team, please remember some more of the classics. And hey, if you get around to it sooner than later, you just might win over some female fans along the way. Girls can enjoy playing with action figures, too. While you’re at it, try not to forget the women of the Marvel Universe. You know we’ll buy ‘em.

Jon "Caped Crusader" Edwards
Born in April of '77, Jon quite literally grew up with STAR WARS. His mother took him to see it barely two months later and started buying him the figures before he was even old enough for them. G.I. JOE and Super Powers came along in the '80s, and an action figure addict was created. The moment he decided he was "too old" to play with his toys, he started to collect carded figures, beginning with Super Powers. No longer in possession of the toys or comics of his childhood, he rediscovered collecting with The Phantom Menace, and has moved on from STAR WARS to JLU, DC Direct, G.I. JOE, Marvel Universe, and various characters from movies, television shows, and comics.
Read other articles by Jon "Caped Crusader" Edwards.

 

 

 

46 Comments »

  • Great post. The 25th Anniversary Joe line definitely needs more unique female characters. The RoC line seems like it is going to include a pretty diverse group right off the bat, too; Cover-Girl, Scarlett, and Agent Helix are already known, with repaints/rereleases of Gung-Ho, Airborne, Tunnel Rat, etc.

    And really, where ARE the female characters for the Marvel Universe line? Kitty Pride, Emma Frost, Jubilee, Rogue, Jean Grey…that’s just the tip of the iceberg for one major Marvel team. Here’s hoping they get on the ball.

  • jeff says:

    Seriuosly, Jewish is not an ethnicity.

    • Nonsense. While it might be more accurately described as an “ethnoreligious” group, genetic markers and uniformity across otherwise diverse Jewish populations are very strong. Heck, there are subdivisions of ethnicities within ethnic Judaism.

      Yes, anyone can convert, and be fully considered a Jew. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t an ethnic group.

      • Of course it’s nonsense, and I know several non-practicing individuals who would take serious issue with that statement. Anyway, that’s about all the attention a comment like that deserves.

  • captainmarvel1 says:

    Re: Super Powers; Samurai is Asian.

  • Brainlock says:

    Clutch is Jewish? um, okay..? And yes, Jeff, being Hebrew is a religion and a ethnicity.
    -
    Is it odd to anyone else that Jinx is the only NON-Anglo female character? I’m not sure who Helix is, as I haven’t really kept up with the GI Joe comics the last few years. (blonde Scarlett??) Also, wasn’t there Viper/Vipra in the 90s, or does she not count? (being a grey Jinx repaint)
    -
    I’m blanking on Stretcher, was he a replacement for the late Doc?

    • Brainlock says:

      I should clarify that being BORN Hebrew is what makes you that ethnicity. Anyone can convert, tho.

    • Yeah, G.I. JOE: Special Missions #2 has a great story where a lot about Clutch’s background is revealed.

      Is it odd to anyone else that Jinx is the only NON-Anglo female character?

      That’s why I mentioned Mattel including Vixen, Fire, and Amanda Waller in their JLU line. It’s not often that a non-white female character makes it into action figure form. Helix is brand new; hasn’t even be released yet. And yes, Vypra was released in ’98, but I only covered the first ten years of the line. As for Stretcher, he was another medic, but he was released before Doc’s death in the Marvel series.

  • ChipCataldo Chip Cataldo says:

    Secret Wars did make it to series 3, Jon. Three more sausages were in that wave. :-)

    Peace,

    Chip

  • texgnome1 says:

    While GI Joe did a better job than most, this article seems to be a bit slanted. It overlooks several other minority characters that did appear in MoTU and Super Powers. And as for this statement…

    “The fact is that no one will ever know exactly who would have made the cut in a fourth wave, and the line is what it is at the end of the three that made it into production.”

    Where’s Jason Geyer when you need him.

    • Of course it’s “slanted”, because one line clearly did a better job than all the others (not just “most”). I’m not going to start awarding little gold star stickers to MOTU to help its self-esteem. I ignored Samurai deliberately, and Golden Pharaoh was British, not Egyptian. Other than Samurai, there was Jitsu in MOTU. Sorry, but that’s not “several”, especially when they were as poorly executed as these two.

      • Artboybri2 says:

        Reading this article, it is very obvious that you are a G.I. Joe fan and collector. I understand that you think they did a good job at keeping racial diversity within the line. I can agree with you that they produced a lot of racially diverse characters. They did produce a whole lot more figures than the other lines in general, and over a period of several more years. It’s not fair though to omit characters from other lines because you thought they were poorly executed, like Samurai or Jitsu. Like it or not, they were minority figures and were produced. You can make the argument that they were based on racial stereotypes and I doubt anyone would disagree with you on that point, but when discussing this topic, it’s unfair to omit them all together.

        It’s difficult to lump all these lines in the same category. Obviously, G.I. Joe, being based on the real world would have more minority charcters produced than say Star Wars or Masters of the Universe. As stated, Star Wars was based on the movie and aimed at children. When I was 8 years old I had no desire for a Mon Mothma figure. I wanted to play with the main characters, lots of aliens, and lots of droids. I barely touched any of the random pilots, bespin gaurds, etc…

        Masters of the Universe actually did a really good job with diversity when you look at the line as a whole. The whole line is based on a fantasy world that is shared between humans and many many other races. There were really only 15 individual characters produced that could be considered human, and in some cases (like Zodak) that’s really a stretch. Out of those 15, 2 are white females (Teela and Sorceress), One is black (Clamp Champ), 2 are asian (Jitsu and Ninjor), and one is kind of ambiguous but could be intended to be hispanic (Rio Blast). That leaves only 9 white males (He-Man, Man-At-Arms, Ram Man, Triclops, Mekanek, King Randor, Man-E-Faces, Fisto, and if you count him, Zodak) Which ever way you stand on Rio Blast, that still means a third of the actual human characters were minorities. That’s actually a pretty decent perecentage.

        As far as the Marvel and DC heroes go, I have to agree with Stewbacca there. At that age, I didn’t know who the X-men were let alone Tyroc or John Stewart. The characters I knew came from the Saturday morning cartoons mostly, and I was a big comic book fan. I just read the characters I knew from TV. Superman, Batman, Spider-man, the Hulk, etc… It wasnt until I was much older that I realized Samurai wasnt really a part of the Justice League or that there was more than one Green Lantern. My first exposure to a lot of charcters like Dr. Fate and Martian Manhunter were their Super Powers figures. I can still remember seeing the Secret Wars figures and wondering who Wolverine was.

        • Reading this article, it is very obvious that you are a G.I. Joe fan and collector.

          I’m an action figure collector; G.I. JOE is just one of the lines I enjoy as part of my hobby. I also collect STAR WARS, DC Direct, Justice League Unlimited, Marvel Universe, Hellboy, Blade, and figures from various other movies, television shows, comic books, and animation, along with anything else I happen to find appealing while I’m out shopping. I have toys from Transformers, Sin City, Spawn, The Big Lebowski, The Dark Knight, Iron Man, 24, Terminator, and Hanna-Barbera cartoons.

          It’s not fair though to omit characters from other lines because you thought they were poorly executed, like Samurai or Jitsu. Like it or not, they were minority figures and were produced. You can make the argument that they were based on racial stereotypes and I doubt anyone would disagree with you on that point, but when discussing this topic, it’s unfair to omit them all together.

          I ignored Samurai because he’s a ridiculous character, and I wasn’t looking to make stereotypes the focus of what I was writing. As for Jitsu, when the producers of the He-Man cartoon didn’t even feel comfortable using him in their show, what more can be said on the matter?

          Which ever way you stand on Rio Blast, that still means a third of the actual human characters were minorities. That’s actually a pretty decent perecentage.

          But that completely avoids the point I made about the line in the first place, that it wasn’t until the seventh (and final) year (sixth series) that the first (and only) black character was introduced. I didn’t go into other ethnicities, percentages, or anything else that’s being used to make excuses for that. I commented on the fact that for six years, this was a “fantasy world” devoid of black people. Whose “fantasy” is that?

          As far as the Marvel and DC heroes go, I have to agree with Stewbacca there. At that age, I didn’t know who the X-men were let alone Tyroc or John Stewart.

          And did you know who Kang was? What about Cyclotron?

          My first exposure to a lot of charcters like Dr. Fate and Martian Manhunter were their Super Powers figures. I can still remember seeing the Secret Wars figures and wondering who Wolverine was

          Exactly. Your personal level of familiarity with comic book characters was not a barometer of whether or not they should be included in a line of action figures, as evidenced by the fact that you learned who they were after being exposed to them through the toy line. Plenty of kids knew who the X-Men were; I did, and I had just a passing interest in superhero comics until Crisis On Infinite Earths. For those who didn’t, though, what a great opportunity to introduce youngsters to Luke Cage, Storm, Jean Grey, and Black Panther. The same goes for John Stewart and Tyroc, not to mention Supergirl, Batgirl, Black Canary, and any other number of female characters that were left out for the likes of Golden Pharaoh and Cyclotron. There’s really no good reason that The Super Powers Collection only had one female in the entire line.

  • stewbacca says:

    But I think Blaming kenner for star wars is absurd- they worked with the movie as it was dealt- as a collector– I am glad to have a Mon Mothma- but if as a kid if I had her she would have been in the same pile as my Anakin Skywalker figure– the ones you never play with.

    Did I really need a Grizz Frix figure as a kid, hell he didnt even have a name until Decipher-i would have rather had a porkins or a wedge– they gave us a generic pilot and thats the way it was done– did you really thing they would spend a line that released about 20 figures a year and make a Fozec figure- just to add another ethnic character into the group–.
    If you were white you wanted to be Han Solo- if you were Black you wanted to be Lando– simple enough-I dont see a kid wanting to be an A-Wing pilot that dies 2 seconds into his apperance.

    And personally I feel they were aiming at their target demographic– In My elementary school I was one of only 2 white boys among 3 first and second grade classes (rougly 90 boys)- and we were the only ones into star wars– the black and hispanic children were not–maybe its because they didnt have a figure that looked like them (but I doubt it)-
    When 98% of a movie, comic book or cartoon is white male characters- you cant blame the toy company for that- (although Hasbro is the exception with the G.I. Joe line), Even as I moved to another elementary school they only toy lines my black friends liked were transformers..

    Even with your super powers stuff- as a kid growing up in that time– other than the ethnic superfriends cartoon characters (I didnt know of any others)- and the only other unmade female DC villans/heroes I knew about were catwoman, super girl and Black Canary (and I only knew about her becuase of one panel in one of those same super powers mini comics.)

    Marvel the same way- although there was no excuse for no Black Panther- other than Power Man at the time I would have been hard pressed to name another black character- and the women list pretty much ended at Invisible Girl and Firestar (well other than Aunt May)

    • But I think Blaming kenner for star wars is absurd

      Which is precisely why I said all the blame cannot be placed on them.

      If you were white you wanted to be Han Solo- if you were Black you wanted to be Lando– simple enough-

      Simple enough for you, maybe, but try reading the interview I linked.

      Even as I moved to another elementary school they only toy lines my black friends liked were transformers..

      Gee, I wonder why that could be.

      When 98% of a movie, comic book or cartoon is white male characters- you cant blame the toy company for that-

      But that’s exactly when it’s incumbent upon the toy company to put some effort into the character selection. What’s the point of inventing a ridiculous character like Golden Pharaoh when Tyroc and John Stewart are available?

      as a kid growing up in that time– other than the ethnic superfriends cartoon characters (I didnt know of any others)- and the only other unmade female DC villans/heroes I knew about were catwoman, super girl and Black Canary

      But you weren’t getting paid to create a toy line based on DC characters, so what you did or didn’t know is irrelevant.

      and the women list pretty much ended at Invisible Girl and Firestar (well other than Aunt May)

      Huh? Storm? Kitty Pride? Jean Grey? Rogue? Mystique?

      • Hourman says:

        Are you this unnecessarily tactless and confrontational in real life or is it just your interweb blog persona? ’cause its kind of off-putting.

  • Cantina-Dan says:

    Well, I think this was a fantastic blog. Not only is it something I’ve been sensitive to all my life but I’m always curious to see where a conversation like this goes. Not sure why it elicits such defensive responses. In my own experience I don’t ever remember the character’s race even crossing my mind when choosing or playing with my Joes. (In fact, Jinx and Roadblock were 2 of my favorites) Stalker, Alpine, and Doc were just members of the team. In hindsight I think it was the overall diversity that kept me collecting GI Joe long after I had stopped with Star Wars and MOTU.
    Sometimes being inclusive does require a little extra effort. Way too easy to make excuses. Thanks for tackling this topic and for all the breakdowns. Much appreciated.

    • Yeah, man. Glad you enjoyed it. I have to agree on Roadblock, too. When it came to G.I. JOE, I was more interested in villains and ninjas than I was in the military-type characters. There were a few exceptions that were among my personal favorites, though, and Roadblock, Stalker, and Mutt topped that list. Larry Hama did such a great job with those characters in the Marvel series, and I was big on all three of them.

  • Jen says:

    If you’re looking for African-American action figures, don’t forget the Martha Washington figure Dark Horse.

  • Shellhead says:

    I am so sick of political correctness. Who cares about ethnic backgrounds anymore? Jeeze.

  • chad says:

    good post could not agree more that hasbro and the other companies could work harder on more diveristy and hasbro should show more love to the marvel females. but as for m.a.s.k. i always thugh only vanessa was released in the line Gloria and the shark only made it to prototype stage and was never released

    • There was a “Gloria Baker” figure in the Split Seconds series. Whether or not she was released in the U.S., I’m not certain, but the figure was produced and sold. I’m sure there’s someone who knows a lot more about M.A.S.K. than I do who can answer that.

  • Lt. Clutch says:

    Superb research on your part, Jon. I always thought it was cool that Zap was Puerto Rican when I was a kid since my own parents are Cuban and both cultures share various similarities. Didn’t know Armadillo was Native American though, I’ll go check out his file card info to brush up on the guy. I do remember he was called Rumbler in the comics even while driving the Rolling Thunder. I always liked the figure and character even if he only appeared in a few stories.

    And yes, G.I. Joe Special Missions #2 is THE best issue from that series and one of my favorite G.I. Joe comics ever. It has everything you could want in a stand-alone adventure. Larry Hama really did his homework on that one.

    • I only went through the first ten years of the line, but Snow Storm was released in 1993. I believe he was the first Cuban in G.I. JOE. And yes, the story in G.I. JOE: Special Missions #2 is a great one. It’s certainly not your average JOE vs. Cobra tale.

  • Crutchman says:

    GI Joe was pretty clueless about their Native characters though, giving them Sioux lastnames when they were supposed to be Navajos or Apaches, making Spirit a shaman (after all, everybody knows that every Native American is mystical). I liked Batman and Robin because they both had black hair like me and my brother. To me, Bruce and Dick were Indians. But I don’t think kids care a great deal about this sort of thing. I certainly didn’t, it was enough for me that Bruce/Dick had black hair. I thought Apache Chief was pretty cool, but my white friend down the street liked him a lot more than I did. The other white kid down the street’s favorite Joe was Spirit. To me, if they can’t get them right, its as useless as not trying. I can only speak for myself, but my guess is that this sort of thing is more of a concern for white people. Kind of the way that I only see white people wearing shirts that say, “Racism sucks”.

    • I can only speak for myself, but my guess is that this sort of thing is more of a concern for white people.

      I’m always amused by people who follow, “I can only speak for myself,” with an attempt to speak for others. Did you bother reading the interview on Collectors’ Quest? Try checking out the forums on BlackSuperhero.com, or even just listening to this NPR piece that includes an interview with the guy who runs the site, and then say, “this sort of thing is more of a concern for white people.” That couldn’t be further from the truth.

  • Crutchman says:

    Point me towards an article about Natives and toys and I’d be more interested. The simple fact is that kids have imaginations, if there isn’t a character that looks like you, you take the next best thing or make one up. Since you didn’t have to do this, you wouldn’t understand. As a minority, you learn to accept the way of the world and do what you can. Thats why I never see another minority wearing a “racism sucks” shirt. We already know. Stating the obvious doesn’t mean you aren’t racist. I’d prefer to see LESS Native American action figures because they’re always done so badly and stereotypically. So those Joe’s you mentioned aren’t worth shit to me.

    • Point me towards an article about Natives and toys and I’d be more interested.

      Frankly, whether or not you are interested doesn’t interest me, especially if you can’t be bothered to find out how other people feel might about this sort of thing.

  • Crutchman says:

    Plus its easier for you to ignore any contrasting ideas. And clearly you must have initially been interested in how interested I am, otherwise you wouldn’t have bothered suggesting the articles. Again, if they toy makers can’t get it right, I’d rather they don’t even bother.

    • If you’re feeling ignored, it has a lot more to do with your attitude than any “contrasting ideas” you believe you’ve offered. I don’t understand your background because I’m white? Fair enough, but you don’t understand mine, either. Coming from a single-parent home, the closest thing I ever had to a father was a black man with whom my mother had a relationship of several years. Spending time in his home, looking up to him, and playing with his son, there are a lot of things I’d understand that you wouldn’t, too, but I’m not going to dismiss what you have to say over the fact that we come from different environments. As far as some t-shirt you keep mentioning, who cares? That has nothing to do with this topic. I suggested the articles in response to the absurdity of a “guess” you posted, but that was before you started complaining about how uninterested you are.

      • Crutchman says:

        Ha, complaints about my attitude from the guy with the biggest chip on his shoulder on this site? Amusing to say the least.
        I mentioned the tshirt because the attitude of that shirt is the same attitude you present in this blog. Everybody already knows it sucks, wearing a shirt like that or writing a blog like this just states the obvious and seems to be a way for the wearer/writer to feel better about themselves by giving them the sense that they aren’t racist. Meanwhile the wearer/writer says or holds racist opinions.
        Wanting more minorities in your action figure collection doesn’t make you less racist if those figures are innaccurate and based on stereotypes. You might feel a little better in your heart, while other people are being insulted.

        • Ha, complaints about my attitude from the guy with the biggest chip on his shoulder on this site? Amusing to say the least.

          Oh, I didn’t realize you had some kind of personal grudge here. In that case, you’ll need to find some other uninteresting way of spending your time. The suggestion that I’m harboring “racist opinions” because you saw someone wearing a t-shirt you didn’t like is almost as ridiculous as the “guess” in your earlier post.

          • Crutchman says:

            Call it a grudge or whatever you want. You’re always a prick to everyone on the board. I didn’t say that you specifically hold racist opinions, though I think everyone does to some extent. Your blog seemed to be pretty self serving and comes off as an effort to say that you’re less racist than most people because you want minority action figures (even if they’re based on stereotypes). You’re an expert on aspects of action figures that nobody cares about, and you act like everyone else is an idiot if they don’t know minor details. You piss tons of people off with your pompous attitude, but when people call you on it, their posts get edited or deleted. But hey, its more convenient for you to brush aside other points and be an asshole. If you really cared about this issue, you’d want the characters to be accurate and would get rid of your Spirit action figure. Otherwise you’re just legitimizing the stereotypical nature of non-white action figures. (By the way, a question to everyone: did anyone even pay attention to their Joe’s real names? I didn’t know or care that those characters were Hispanic, Jewish or whatever else. Most of those early heads were the same, just painted with different hair. Again, it comes back down getting the figures wrong is no more effective and far more insulting than not having them in the line).
            Hooray that you want minority figures, but all it means is you want more toys.

  • Crutchman says:

    The stereotypical and innaccurate aspects of a character like Spirit are far more insulting than the lack of an Indian figure in a line.

    • I don’t disagree at all with the idea that Spirit was too much of a stereotypical character, but Airborne certainly wasn’t. But hey, you thought it was good enough for Super Friends.

      • Crutchman says:

        If I remember right, Airborne was a southwest Indian with a Sioux name as well. I like Apache Chief, as far as side characters go. At least he looks like an Apache.

  • Crutchman says:

    Getting the characters wrong is worse than not having them at all.

  • geoffdude says:

    A liberal whack-job touts diversity for toy lines? How original. Diversity for comics comes up from time to time too. But the fundamental point is, no matter how much a company adds “diversity” to their product “line” if it doesn’t sell well… then the mass of customers who buy said product have spoken. No company is going to force feed a “diversity” based character if he/she DOES NOT SELL. This is what most liberal pundits, fair-play, equal representation, whites-suck, anti-establishment parrots don’t understand.. at the end of the day it’s about ROI. If no bottom line sustainable profit comes from having a “diversity” based product line, well, forget it. Simple.

    If DC put out a monthly comic book on Black Lightening would it sell enough to be profitable? No, probably not. Then logically one must look at why? And the “why” tells the tale. There is not enough people buying the book, plain and simple. This is for two reasons. (1) Not as many black people buy comics demographically to keep a “Black Lightening” type book afloat (2) white males can’t/don’t want to relate to that character, and shouldn’t have to.. or buy a book they don’t “dig”. Both are true, and neither situation provides reason to cast blame upon any industry for lack of incorporating diversity.

    So, at the end of the day, who cares, and get over it. Champion some other lofty ideal that can better change the world for all races.. such as controlling how much cows fart.

    • All that talk radio and Glenn Beck will rot your brain, Geoffrey. DC felt like “Black Lightening [sic]” would be profitable enough to warrant hiring the incredibly talented Cully Hamner to draw his Year One title this year. The collection will be released as a TPB in November.

    • stcardinal says:

      The problem with mainstream superhero comics, is that they articulate forms of racial-ethnic disparities in the form of unequal racial-ethic representation and stereotypical portrayal of racial-ethnic minorities. Second, when white publishers and writers try to incorporate ethnic characters as means to create diversification, they often end up trans-racializing and tokenizing them to a point where they don’t become new meaningful ethnic characters.

      The problem lies with this fact (and the same can be said for action figures). People always try to argue that it’s about the bottom line when in reality it is about the crappiness of these ethnic characters in comics (black firesotrm, huh?) or action figure (Jitsu, really?) and people’s own internalized racist beliefs. Despite what some would say, race is still VERY important in America and plays itself out through many social relations that foster discriminatory and prejudicial actions.

      The shaping of America’s unique racial and ethnic reality is linked to the historic and continuation of racial-ethnic discrimination. And to quote Walter Allen, “fundamental aspect of American experience has involved commitment to, embrace of, and engagement with the philosophy of White Supremacy.”

      Personally I don’t think Black Lightening is all that good nor do I think GI Joes really broke any ethic barriers with their stereotypical figures. I feel that as long as companies need to have a “diversity campaign” then nothing will really be authentic and the problem will continue to persist (Mcfarlane’s military line comes to mind that succeed). The only way to change it is to have actual minorities in charge instead of white males who think they know how you write black people or Asian women, etc.

      Take for example The All-New Atom. Asian writer? Nope. Ryan Choi, who is supposed to be Chinese but is designed off Korean American actor Daniel De Kim… Some may say who cares, but this seemingly innocent or mistaken ethnicity pretty much just perpetuates and sustains the common stereotype that all Asians look a like. How is this a problem? Well, in 1989, white autoworkers from Detroit clubbed to death Chinese American Victor Chin, thinking he was Japanese.

      I, for one, would rather argue for diversity even if some may think it’s some liberal whack-job cause, because to argue AGINST it means you’re pretty much supporting the status quo and white supremacy. Even if you don’t care if you have diversity in your action figure collection, there’s no reason to argue against it. Times have changed. America is a melting pot society, deal with it.

      • Thanks, stcardinal, for that contribution. I can’t agree with you on Black Lightning. Not to say that he’s necessarily been depicted perfectly by everyone who’s written him, but I think he’s a solid character overall. I think Jason Rusch has evolved into a good character, as well, but I also believe it’s intellectually lazy to put minority characters in a white superhero’s costume. It seems like publishers are afraid of trying to create new characters from scratch these days. As for G.I. JOE, while toys like Spirit and Quick Kick were poorly executed, Hasbro still did more with the line than any other manufacturer was doing in those days as far as black characters go (and in general, really). Stalker, Doc, and Roadblock were all handled well (except for Roadblock’s idiotic portrayal in the cartoon, which is another subject entirely).

        I feel that as long as companies need to have a “diversity campaign” then nothing will really be authentic and the problem will continue to persist.

        It’s something that needs to be natural, rather than forced, which is how it feels all too often. When Hasbro released their updated version of Spirit last year, they missed a great opportunity to tweak his appearance and background and make him into a more authentic character. He wouldn’t have been the first character to be changed for the new line, and it would have really done him some good.

        The only way to change it is to have actual minorities in charge instead of white males who think they know how you write black people or Asian women, etc.

        I think some writers do a much better job than others. There’s nothing “token” about Static, for example, when written by Matt Wayne (The Brave and The Bold #24 out yesterday). Of course, he got started with that at Milestone, where someone other than a white guy was in charge. A great writer is a great writer, though. Common ethnicity or gender with a character can be an advantage, but it isn’t an absolute necessity. There aren’t many in the business better at writing strong female characters than Gail Simone, but Joss Whedon is pretty damn good at it. Again, it comes down to whether something is natural or forced. Any writer who goes into a story, or even a page, thinking, “I need to make sure Character A comes across as black here,” or, “I have to make Character B feminine there,” is going to fail.

        Take for example The All-New Atom. Asian writer? Nope. Ryan Choi, who is supposed to be Chinese but is designed off Korean American actor Daniel De Kim… Some may say who cares, but this seemingly innocent or mistaken ethnicity pretty much just perpetuates and sustains the common stereotype that all Asians look a like.

        Great point. That’s exactly how I interpreted Paramount’s casting of a Korean actor to portray Storm Shadow in The Rise Of Cobra. Like, “Korean, Japanese, what’s the difference? No one will notice.” Many Japanese fans of the property noticed, of course, and were understandably offended.

        I, for one, would rather argue for diversity even if some may think it’s some liberal whack-job cause, because to argue AGINST it means you’re pretty much supporting the status quo and white supremacy. Even if you don’t care if you have diversity in your action figure collection, there’s no reason to argue against it. Times have changed. America is a melting pot society, deal with it.

        Hear, hear.

        • Brainlock says:

          Just browsing thru the thread here again and saw this last complaining about Daniel Dae Kim as Jin on LOST. there’s another Korean playing Japanese currently on TV: James Kyson Lee as Ando Masahashi on HEROES. No one has really complained about his casting.

          and what about all the Italians cast as Indians in all those classic Westerns? Need I mention Breakfast at Tiffany’s?

          and let’s not forget the Asian melting pot family on Margaret Cho’s sitcom, All American Girl. When that was on, I was working with a pair of Chinese and Philippine co-workers. the latter of whom I still see occasionally. She married a white guy, I went to school with both her sons, but back then their Irish last name was a disconnect for me with their obvious ethnicity. Anyway, all three of us watched the show and they had some trouble watching it because of the “mixed” family of actors posing as Koreans. I had to agree, but pointed out the limited pool of talent they had to work with in Hollywood. (plus the fact HollyWhitey won’t see them as Koreans, just ‘Asians’.)

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