“Inclusivity” and “diversity” have been buzz words that have dominated the discourse in all forms of media for the last decade at least. To that end, for the past few years, the Big Two have been attempting, to varying degrees, to expand their offerings by creating new or promoting pre-existing characters of color, gender identity and sexual orientation, usually with a young adult slant. Many cynical pundits and jaded critics purport this in-house mandate to be merely shallow pandering to an uber-niche demographic who, arguably, may in fact not be interested in comics in general or superhero comics in particular. Nevertheless that has not stopped DC Comics from spending the better part of 10 years trying their hand at it. Given the fact they continue to strive for this admirable goal, it gives some credence that their efforts are genuine at best, and misguided at worst. To that end, here is a look back, and forward, to these “New-bian” characters DC has introduced over the last decade. Who are they? What’s their deal? And where are they now?
Real Name: David Zavimbe / Lucas “Luke” Fox
Created By: Grant Morrison / Justin Gray, Jimmy Palmiotti & Eduardo Pansica
First Appearance: Batman Incorporated #5 (2011) / Batwing #19 (2013)
Powers/Abilities: Skilled combatant; Hi-tech Batsuit outfitted with numerous offensive and defensive capabilities, weapons and tools, along with the capability of jet-propelled flight
Future Prospects: Zero, officially resigned (David) / Still relevant (Luke)
Batwing was one of the only four other Black characters to headline their own self-titled comic during the New 52 wave in 2011 (Mister Terrific, Static and Cyborg being the other three). To me, the story of David Zavimbe was a breakout hit set in Africa. I’ve already touched on this character at length in my article The Black Knight Rises, so check it out and buy the trade. Sadly, David resigned in-story in issue #19 and was immediately replaced by Lucius Fox’s eager son Luke. The “Batwing” book would go on for another 15 issues before being discontinued. The Luke-Batwing would cameo in “Batman: Bad Blood” (2016) animated movie, but that’s about it. Suffice to say, DC has shown no interest in revisiting Africa unless it stars Vixen. David was one of the hidden gems that will tragically be lost to the annals of comic history along with other Black Batmen. His successor Luke has only now been overshadowed by his estranged brother Jace (more on him later), so he’s not wearing any point-eared cowl anytime soon; but he’s still around.
Real Name: Celine Marjorie Patterson
Created By: Scott Lobdell & Brett Booth
First Appearance: Teen Titans Vol 4 #2 (2011)
Powers/Abilities: Arachnid physiology grants adherence to most surfaces, superhuman strength and agility and organic web-spinning; Extra limbs and tough exoskeleton armor
Future Prospects: Zero (forgotten)
With the Teen Titans’ long history erased from continuity during New 52, this new teenage team was founded and led by Red Robin/Tim Drake. This iteration tried to pay homage to the past roster while adding 2 new characters; the self-identified gay Mexican hero “Bunker”, and the misunderstood were-spider girl Skitter. While there was great potential for Skitter to fill the tortured female role on the team (ala Omen, Raven, Djinn or Secret), she was abruptly exorcised from the book within a year and was never seen or hear of again. A shame really for what could have been a great addition to the long line of memorable Teen Titan cadets.
Real Name: Duke Thomas
Created By: Scott Snyder & Greg Capullo
First Appearance: Batman Vol 2 #21 (2013)
Powers/Abilities: Photo-kinetic vision grants ocular precognition and psychometry; Can perceive the entire electromagnetic spectrum; Trained martial artist; Genius-level intelligence
Future Prospects: High
When Scott Snyder introduced Duke Thomas way back in “Batman #21”, he had big dreams for the character. While his notoriety grew over the course of Snyder’s long and eventful “Batman” run, Duke was eventually elevated to a new fledgling sidekick; but not a Robin. Dubbed “The Signal”, a “day-time” Batman more or less, Duke was highlighted in “Batman and The Signal” (March-June 2018) comics, that tried to advertise the new character to a wider audience on the coattails of the Dark Knight. He ended up being a player during the prelude to “Death Metal” and since then in “Future State: The Next Batman” as an Outsider. It’s clear Duke has some staying power within DC, so we’re likely to see more of him in the future.
Real Name: Val-Zod
Created By: Tom Taylor, Nicola Scott & Robson Rocha
First Appearance: Earth 2 #19 (2014)
Powers/Abilities: All the powers and abilities of the mainstream Superman
Future Prospects: Zero (erased out of existence with his universe)
Also covered in my article Reign of the Black Supermen, Val-Zod was a character created for the modernized “Earth 2” New 52 comic series, which saw a contemporary take on the WWII-era Justice Society and its membership. Lauded as just a “Black Superman”, Val-Zod was a pacifist agoraphobic who reluctantly donned the auspicious S-insignia at the behest of Power Girl and friends. The writers of “Earth 2” quickly dropped the ball as Val-Zod’s role and prominence was slowly being eclipsed by his peers. In hindsight, his inclusion was superfluous amongst his re-imagined teammates. With the literal premature death of “Earth 2” and discontinuity of the series, coupled with the new “Infinite Frontier” continuity and omniverse, it is unlikely we’ll be seeing this Black Superman at all.
Real Name: Wallace “Wally” Rudolph West III
Created By: Van Jensen, Robert Venditti, Ron Frenz & Brett Booth
First Appearance: The Flash Annual Vol 4 #3 (2014)
Powers/Abilities: Connection to the “Speed Force”, an inexhaustible trans-dimensional energy source, grants Wally the power to move and think at incredible (potentially trans-luminous) speeds.
Future Prospects: Low
There are many Wally West fans, and the fact that Barry was responsible for erasing his one and only sidekick and successor from realty at the end of Flashpoint (into the New 52) was a bitter pill for many of them to swallow. In the New 52 timeline, Wally West is an African-American teen instead of a ginger-haired Flash fanboy. While I kind of appreciate having a Black Kid Flash (which made its way into the CW “The Flash” series for a hot second), the fact that DC brought back the original Wally to jumpstart “DC Rebirth” (the New 52 retro-retcon) two years later made this new Wally woefully redundant. Despite being part of Damian Wayne’s Teen Titans roster and later part of Deathstroke’s Defiance with the new Power Girl, Wally’s staying power (much like on CW’s “The Flash” and “Legends of Tomorrow”) was quickly waning. It was only a matter of minutes before the new Kid Flash was sidelined by his forbearer, and has since gone MIA. The prospects of seeing more of this Nubian speedster are even slimmer, as a “new” African-American Flash has taken up a spot in “Future State”.
Real Name: Tanya Spears
Created By: Paul Levitz
First Appearance: World’s Finest #23 (2014)
Powers/Abilities: Can increase physical size to super proportions; Genius-level intelligence; Super strength
Future Prospects: Low
While not having the most convoluted origin story, Tanya Spears gained the power to grow extremely tall with proportional increased strength and durability. She almost instantly became a Teen Titan, effectively replacing Skitter as the “token” Black female teen on the team. Tanya was…there…but no one seemed to know what to do with her. She eventually had a stint on The Elite, and alongside Wally West on Deathstroke’s short-lived Defiance (a rival “Teen Titans” team); but after these groups disbanded, she hasn’t really appeared. Much like Skitter, Tanya’s creation and role –basically to fill a quota – resulted in her (and Skitter’s) mismanagement, which unceremoniously led to both characters being left on the wayside.