Smurfette No More: Bringing Women of Color to the Justice League

This post originally appeared on Panels, which is now Book Riot Comics

Superman, Wonder Woman, Batman, Green Lantern, Cyborg, the Flash, and Aquaman.

In September 2011, these seven were the tentpole heroes of the Justice League for DC’s New 52 relaunch. In June 2015, they are the seven heroes of DC’s current Justice League. Also in June 2015, they are the seven heroes of DC’s upcoming Justice League of America comic.

Swap out Aquaman for Shazam, and they are the seven heroes of DC’s Justice League: War animated movie. Re-invite Shazam, and they are the eight heroes of DC’s Justice League: Throne of Atlantis movie.

Barring any changes and still keeping Shazam, they are also the core heroes for the upcoming, live action film slate by Warner Bros.

This is the iconic Justice League. And, unfortunately, they comprise five (to six) white men, one white woman, and one black man—all of them (in canon to this point) are straight and cisgender. Yikes.

Given the publisher’s recent, re-pledged commitment to diversity, it’s disappointing that two of their Justice League titles maintain such a sad status quo. If this line-up is to become so iconic in other forms of media, it’s vital that they diversify—something even Warner Bros. has recognized by casting Jason Momoa as Aquaman.

Below are five candidates who’d cooly fit with the Justice League team as permanent (as you can possibly get in comics) members and bring some direly-needed diversity.

They have powers and personalities to set them apart from others, and they’re not distaff counterparts; those folks are often fleeting fill-ins until dad gets home. They’re unique, interesting, and overqualified for an upgrade.

Vixen (Mari Jiwe McCabe)

Vixen DC ComicsBefore the New 52, Vixen would have been a lock as a modern Justice League candidate.

She was a regular member of the team and its affiliates, had her own miniseries by G. Willow Wilson and Cafu, and was voiced by the incredible Gina Torres in the Justice League Unlimited animated series. Her powers are really cool, too; she can channel the abilities of any animal on Earth.

This includes super speed, strength, weather tolerance, echolocation, bioluminescence, regenerative abilities, electric shock, and more. Rad, right?

At the beginning of the relaunch, she was a member of Justice League International until an explosion hospitalized her for months—despite aforementioned regenerative abilities.

She reappeared briefly as a guest in issues of Justice League before channeling chameleon and disappearing—for 743 days. She finally resurfaced in Convergence: Justice League, but that’s not in main continuity. Where is main universe Vixen?

Fortunately, she makes a teensy cameo in the splash page for the upcoming Justice League United creative shift. Hopefully this spells out a brighter future for Mari.

Element Woman (Emily Sung)

Art by Jim Lee

Art by Jim Lee

In Vixen’s final main continuity issue (Justice League #18), a few heroes did join the Justice League, briefly—one of them being Emily Sung, a.k.a. Element Woman.

In many ways, Element Woman is a spiritual successor to Starfire of the Teen Titans animated series (likely moreso than comics!Starfire is). She’s feminine, compassionate, loyal, empathetic, and often underestimated as a result. Like cartoon Starfire, she’s also a total powerhouse.

Like Metamorpho, the mostly-absent-from-the-New-52 hero from which she’s inspired, her powers allow her to transmute herself into any elemental compounds at will. In the New 52, she’s been using these powers to help and protect other women.

In her Justice League audition issue, robot Platinum goes on the fritz and starts attacking people. Element Woman, despite never having met Platinum, tries to comfort the homesick robot by calling her a friend.

In another issue of Justice League, Jessica Cruz (the bearer of the Green Lantern-esque Power Ring) loses control of her powers; the Doom Patrol tries to put her down—permanently. Element Woman, sensing Jessica’s peril, takes a bullet for her and diffuses the fight.

Why did the Justice League lose her in the first place?

Equinox (Miiyahbin Marten)

Equinox Dc Comics justice leagueLike Element Woman, Equinox is also a member of the Justice League—five years forward in a dystopian future.

As tribute to Canada’s Cree culture (and not directly to Cree activist Shannen Koostachin, as erroneously reported by many), Jeff Lemire crafted a Cree superhero for the Canada-set Justice League United. Amidst inter-galactic alien antics, Miiyahbin quickly became the team’s heart.

Equinox’s powers and origins are deeply tied to her homeland and heritage; she’s the latest in a long of line of Cree superheroes. Her abilities fluctuate depending on Ontario’s seasons. All of her appearances have been mired in what seems to be eternal winter (if she weren’t in Canada, I’d buy New England), so readers have only seen her frostier side—literal ice powers. She can also fly and generate a personal atmosphere while in space.

I vote DC just speeds up the application process and hires Equinox already. It’s actually inevitable.

Hawkgirl (Kendra Muñoz-Saunders)

Hawkgirl Kendra Dc comicsOkay—here’s the biggest stretch. DC’s sole Hawkgirl is currently a resident of Earth-2; she has no direct Prime Earth equivalent.

But the borders between worlds are notoriously porous; switching universes is practically an Olympic sport at DC. One wayward sneeze and—poof!—Earth-2’s greatest detective and flying weaponsmaster is now on Prime Earth, perfectly poised for the Justice League.

A Kendra Saunders (minus the Muñoz) Hawkgirl will be joining the “Flarrowverse” in the upcoming Legends of Tomorrow series. Her star is the on the rise, and it’s smart business sense for DC to capitalize on it.

A New Character!

Though there are a great many superheroes in dire need of a promotion in comics, there are also a great many types of people who need to, you know, exist in comics.

I could not think of any viable, New 52-established queer women of color for this list. Grace Choi, Thunder, and Scandal Savage (stretches for the Justice League, definitely) don’t even exist anymore.

So why not create some new ones for the biggest platform DC has available?

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