Get your geek on: crowds on the way into San Diego Comic-Con 2013. Photo: Getty
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Where’s Wonder Woman? How comic book diversity has failed to translate to the big screen

With over 75 years of history, comics boast a multitude of inspirational female, black and even disabled characters. Superman is, at its heart, an immigrant tale, while X-Men is an allegory of the fight against fascism. 

San Diego Comic-Con International, which takes place every July in Southern California, is the largest, longest-running and best-known comic convention on the planet and, as befitting both its name and history, attracts an audience from a plethora of national and ethnic backgrounds, both able-bodied and disabled, and over 40 per cent of whom are female, all united by a shared passion for pop culture. And yet some would say the inherent irony of Comic Con is that the diversity of its attendees – so visible on the convention floor – is not necessarily reflected in the very pop culture that fans are there to celebrate.

Gal Gador as Wonder Woman in Batman v Superman

This year nowhere was this more evident than at two of the most highly anticipated Comic Con panels: Marvel and Warner Bros. While the film studios were there to promote, respectively, The Avengers: Age of Ultron and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, many fans were hoping for news of a Black Widow or Wonder Woman movie. Unsurprisingly, given Hollywood’s relationship with female-fronted films, the studios were not forthcoming. Mind-boggling though it is, Batman v Superman will be the first time Wonder Woman – the most famous female superhero in the world – has appeared on the big screen.

Anthony Mackie as Falcon in Captain America: the Winter Soldier

Earlier this year, Anthony Mackie, who played Falcon (AKA Sam Wilson) in Captain America: the Winter Soldier spoke of his joy at being able to give young black boys a superhero to look up to and said girls should have the same opportunity: “There should be a Wonder Woman movie… ‘cause little girls deserve that. There’s so many of these little people out here doing awful things for money in the world of being famous. And little girls see that. They should have the opposite spectrum of that to look up to.” Meanwhile, Marvel is equally reticent to commit to a Black Widow film, despite both the fans – and Scarlett Johansson, who plays Black Widow – publicly calling for one.

Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow

While lack of diversity in Hollywood is not news, it is more noticeable in comic-book movies than the usual blockbuster fare because of the contrast that can be made between the films and their source material. Comics have long been regarded as a highly progressive medium – it is no coincidence that the first comic book (Action Comics #1 with Superman on the cover) was published in 1938, a year before the Second World War – and provided a forum for exploration of race, gender and even disability. Superman is, at its heart, an immigrant tale while X-Men, which recently had its fifth box-office outing starring Ian McKellan and Patrick Stewart, is an allegory of the fight against fascism.

With over 75 years of history, comic books boast a multitude of inspirational female, black and even disabled characters – one-time Batgirl Barbara Gordon was for many years confined to a wheelchair. Last year Abraham Riesman, writing in the New Yorker, noted that Marvel’s comic books are “more ethnically diverse, feminist, and queer-positive than they’ve ever been” and that was before last month’s announcement that, in the comics, Thor is to become a woman and Mackie’s character Sam Wilson will step into the Captain America suit.

Natalie Dormer as Margaery Tyrell in Game of Thrones

To some extent the diversity portrayed in the comics has been preserved on the small-screen, however. While based on a fantasy novel series rather than a comic book per se, fan favourite Game of Thrones has led the way in this regard, with the actress Natalie Dormer, who plays the controversial Margaery Tyrell on the show, saying during a Comic Con panel, “The best female roles I think are in television at the moment, I really do… Where television is fantastic and is way ahead of film, it doesn’t feel the need to polarise women so much.” The series has also turned Peter Dinklage, who was born with achondroplasia, a form of dwarfism, into a household name.

Matt Ryan as John Constantine in the forthcoming Constantine

Even television has its limitations, however, no doubt in part due to the prevalence of conservative groups in the US such as the Parents Television Council. Thus, despite its legions of fans, Game of Thrones has been criticised for being “too white”; while Constantine, a forthcoming NBC series heavily promoted at Comic Con this year, has been blasted after producers refused to confirm whether the title character will remain bisexual, as he is in the comic series on which the show is based.

Ultimately, setting aside the complex question of whether it is even possible for artistic endeavours satisfactorily to reflect the audience that consumes them (and spends money on DVDs, cinema tickets and merchandise), from a purely critical view, what’s disappointing about on-screen depictions of comics straying from their source material is that they inevitably suffer creatively. For it is the very diversity of the characters – their individuality and their struggles – that gives them depth and, in turn, longevity.

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Here’s everything wrong with Daniel Hannan’s tweet about Saturday’s Unite for Europe march

I am Captain Ahab, and Dan is my great white whale, enraging and mocking me in equal measure through his continued political survival.

I was going to give up the Daniel Hannan thing, I really was. He’s never responded to this column, despite definitely being aware of it. The chances of him changing his views in response to verifiable facts seem to be nil, so the odds of him doing it because some smug lefty keeps mocking him on the internet must be into negative numbers.

And three different people now have told me that they were blissfully unaware of Hannan's existence until I kept going on about him. Doing Dan’s PR for him was never really the point of the exercise – so I was going to quietly abandon the field, leave Hannan to his delusion that the disasters ahead are entirely the fault of the people who always said Brexit would be a disaster, and get back to my busy schedule of crippling existential terror.

Told you he was aware of it.

Except then he does something so infuriating that I lose an entire weekend to cataloguing the many ways how. I just can’t bring myself to let it go: I am Captain Ahab, and Dan is my great white whale, enraging and mocking me in equal measure through his continued political survival.

I never quite finished that book, but I’m sure it all worked out fine for Ahab, so we might as well get on with it*. Here’s what’s annoying me this week:

And here are some of the many ways in which I’m finding it obnoxious.

1. It only counts as libel if it’s untrue.

2. This sign is not untrue.

3. The idea that “liars, buffoons and swivel-eyed loons” are now in control of the country is not only not untrue, it’s not even controversial.

4. The leaders of the Leave campaign, who now dominate our politics, are 70 per cent water and 30 per cent lies.

5. For starters, they told everyone that, by leaving the EU, Britain could save £350m a week which we could then spend on the NHS. This, it turned out, was a lie.

6. They said Turkey was about to join the EU. This was a lie too.

7. A variety of Leave campaigners spent recent years saying that our place in the single market was safe. Which it turned out was... oh, you guessed.

8. As to buffoons, well, there’s Brexit secretary David Davis, for one, who goes around cheerfully admitting to Select Committees that the government has no idea what Brexit would actually do to the economy.

9. There was also his 2005 leadership campaign, in which he got a variety of Tory women to wear tight t-shirts with (I’m sorry) “It’s DD for me” written across the chest.

10. Foreign secretary Boris Johnson, meanwhile, is definitely a liar AND a buffoon.

11. I mean, you don’t even need me to present any evidence of that one, do you? You just nodded automatically.

12. You probably got there before me, even. For what it's worth, he was sacked from The Times for making up a quote, and sacked from the shadow frontbench for hiding an affair.

13. Then there’s Liam Fox, who is Liam Fox.

14. I’m not going to identify any “swivel-eyed loons”, because mocking someone’s physical attributes is mean and also because I don’t want to get sued, but let’s not pretend Leave campaigners who fit the bill would be hard to find.

15. Has anyone ever managed to read a tweet by Hannan beginning with the words “a reminder” without getting an overwhelming urge to do unspeakable things to an inanimate object, just to get rid of their rage?

16. Even if the accusation made in that picture was untrue, which it isn’t, it wouldn’t count as libel. It’s not possible to libel 52 per cent of the electorate unless they form a distinct legal entity. Which they don’t.

17. Also, at risk of coming over a bit AC Grayling, “52 per cent of those who voted” is not the same as “most Britons”. I don’t think that means we can dismiss the referendum result, but those phrases mean two different things.

18. As ever, though, the most infuriating thing Hannan’s done here is a cheap rhetorical sleight of hand. The sign isn’t talking about the entire chunk of the electorate who voted for Brexit: it’s clearly talking specifically about the nation’s leaders. He’s conflated the two and assumed we won’t notice.

19. It’s as if you told someone they were shit at their job, and they responded, “How dare you attack my mother!”

20. Love the way Hannan is so outraged that anyone might conflate an entire half of the population with an “out of touch elite”, something that literally no Leave campaigners have ever, ever done.

21. Does he really not know that he’s done this? Or is he just pretending, so as to give him another excuse to imply that all opposition to his ideas is illegitimate?

22. Once again, I come back to my eternal question about Hannan: does he know he’s getting this stuff wrong, or is he genuinely this dim?

23. Will I ever be able to stop wasting my life analysing the intellectual sewage this infuriating man keeps pouring down the internet?

*Related: the collected Hannan Fodder is now about the same wordcount as Moby Dick.

Jonn Elledge edits the New Statesman's sister site CityMetric, and writes for the NS about subjects including politics, history and Daniel Hannan. You can find him on Twitter or Facebook.