There’s an unwritten social contract when you’re a person of color (POC) and a fan of any given medium. You understand that to a certain degree you’re not going to see yourself reflected in the content and that even if you do it may be written by someone who’s unlike you and may reflect you poorly. That’s magnified in comics which is a very insular medium dominated largely by straight white men who tend to write largely about straight white men.
That’s not to say women, POC characters, and LGBTQ characters don’t get any spotlights at all. It’s also become easier to have conversations about the distribution of power, as well as prominence, in recent years, thankfully. However, as a comics reader my experience isn’t exactly positive when my people are so obscure and marginalized that they barely exist in comics beyond the punchline of an alternate timeline Avengers story. Still, I’ve learned to appreciate characters that I can at least relate to marginally, even if they’re few and far between.
One of my favorite characters in comics is Damian Wayne aka Robin. While I was always a Batman fan as a child, I didn’t really jump into the comics until Final Crisis and really got into the Morrison Batman run with Batman and Robin. Dick Grayson and Damian Wayne are my favorite version of the Dynamic Duo, in any medium, and I related to the new Robin in particular.
Yes, I was familiar with the prior Robins but everything just clicked with Damian: he was of Middle Eastern descent, a product of what was more or less divorce, and feeling misunderstood. Basically I was already sold on the new Robin. Getting to watch his growth from obstinate child, to self-assured superhero, and ending his journey as a casualty of his parents’ nonsense was heartbreaking but also a complete character arc; not something you see often in comics. As much as it hurts to watch a character you’re attached to leave, an ending isn’t a bad thing. This being comics though, Damian was brought back a little over a year after his death. Yet this worked too, giving a popular character a second shot at life, especially when superhero comics tend to refuse the possibility of aging or children. Now that Damian was no longer solely in the hands of Grant Morrison, or Peter Tomasi and Pat Gleason, this meant that new horizons opened for him.
Damian has gotten more of a spotlight in the DCU since his return. Before his death, Tim Drake tended to be the Robin who got the most appearances in books like Teen Titans. That’s changed recently, from his own (short-lived) ongoing, to Super-Sons, and now Teen Titans, Damian has been busy. There was even a more concerted effort to draw him as a more overtly biracial character, though that hasn’t stopped slip-ups.
Recently Teen Titans relaunched under the pen of Adam Glass who gave us the New 52 run of Suicide Squad which gave us the general mood and tenor of the movie. Now you generally want to give a new writer a chance when there’s been time and distance from something you didn’t like but everything started off on the wrong foot. The book goes out of its way to remind you Damian is biracial and doesn’t live the generally Americanized existence that the rest of the Bat-Family does, which, while appreciated, just makes everything that follows worse.
Damian’s general aloofness is amped up into outright murderous and sociopathic tendencies as he starts imprisoning supervillains, brutalizing them, and in the coup de grace of the most recent issue: trying to murder his older brother, Jason Todd, who he suspects of being a crime lord called the Other.
Setting aside the many issues of that plot, there’s one key moment that tips this comic into just being outright offensive: At the climax of the story, Damian is beaten by Jason, and tries to stop him by unveiling a bomb vest under his costume. To put it quite simply: that visual does not fly on any level. Damian is biracial as stated before, DC has gone out of its way to emphasize that in the last several years, and the writer understood that in a scene in the very first issue. Given what’s happened since 9/11 and the fevered climate that still exists today, we shouldn’t have to see a scene like this attached with a character in DC’s extremely thin roster of Middle Eastern characters. It’s already difficult enough finding one in the first place, especially when the only one left with any media cache is Damian. Attaching a scene straight out of an early post-9/11 paranoia story is not helpful or appreciated in that regard. One would hope in 2019, and with DC’s attempts to cultivate diverse characters and diverse talent, they would be better but that only means so much when you put your POC characters generally under the thumb of white talent and white editors. Which isn’t to say that nobody white can write a POC character, but when these characters are generally not concentrated under a diverse array of people both in front and behind the scenes, that’s what allows something this obviously tone-deaf to slip by.
For my money, I’m done with Teen Titans. I was going to try and stick through the crossover with my favorite DC book going on right now: Deathstroke. Yet, I can’t, in good conscience support a book that not only writes one of my favorite characters in such a hostile way but did something this offensive. There’s only so much a person can take as a POC comics fan, but if companies can’t be bothered to do the bare minimum, there’s no reason for me to sink my time, or money, into it.