Character Versus Narrative: Arrow’s Diggle

(spoilers for the CW’s Arrow ahead)

I’ve been watching and enjoying Arrow lately.  And one character, Green Arrow’s bodyguard / partner / sidekick John Diggle, has made me think a lot about the way characters are presented in-universe versus their actual role in the narrative.  Specifically, I started thinking about this in regard to race.

And getting mad.

In a lot of ways, I love how they present Diggle.  But then I look at that presentation from outside the show, and I hesitate:

How the show presents him: He’s black and Oliver Queen / Green Arrow’s not only white, but a white rich kid son of a billinaire whom Diggle is initially hired to protect . . . and this doesn’t go unmentioned.  Diggle’s sister-in-law specifically asks him about following a couple of rich white boys around, in a conversation that clearly places these people as central to their own lives, and not characters who look for white employers to attach themselves to.  Which I like!
Except: In the show, his character does work for the Queens, and he is a secondary, supporting character to the rich, white Oliver Queen, who is the protagonist of the show.

How the show presents him: He’s a military veteran who cares deeply about his country.  When Oliver compares the two of them, Diggle has nothing but contempt: he tells Oliver that no matter what happened when Oliver was shipwrecked, he’s NOT a soldier, and will NEVER know what it means to be one.
Except: Oliver’s the one who starts the social crusade first, and is portrayed as the one who figured out how to make a difference and from whom Diggle needed guidance to do the same.  After his initial resistance, Diggle joins Oliver on his crusade, implicitly granting credence to the idea that Oliver has found the right way to make the world better.

How the show presents him: Diggle explicitly tells Oliver when he joins him that he’s not there to be a sidekick.
Except: On the show, Oliver is, again, the protagonist, and Diggle is supporting, so his role in the show is as sidekick.  Oliver’s the one who founded the whole operation and has been the one spearheading the plans and dictating the way they operate.  He invites Diggle to join him like he’s favorably rewarding a good puppy, and shuts down his suggestions because this is “his” operation.  Also, Oliver’s the one who kills the man who murdered Diggle’s brother (without any acknowledgement thereof), taking a good chunk of Diggle’s agency away from one of his own storylines.

How the show presents him: Diggle emphasized again in the latest episode that he’s there to work with Oliver, not for him.
Except: Diggle doesn’t actually join Oliver for any of the action in the episode; Green Arrow always goes in alone.  Also, Diggle has to push and manipulate Oliver into taking the case, which Oliver only starts to care about after it intersects with his own goals . . . and only then does he become invested.  As always, the narrative does not punish Oliver for this behavior.

How the show presents him: Diggle served in Iraq, is a personal bodyguard, and can kick every type of motherlovin’ ass.
Except: Because he’s the hero, Oliver always has to be shown as being better at kicking ass.  Not only does Green Arrow get more amazing action sequences, but Oliver beats up Diggle every time they go head to head (before they team up, and later while sparring) with a physical superiority that borders on humiliating.

I feel like I see this a lot in media.  The female character is vocal about being able to take care of herself, but the narrative still puts her in a position from which she needs to be rescued.  The minority characters might be shown to be just as competent as the white characters, but they still somehow end up dying first.  The character of color calls the white lead out on being selfish and thinking the world is All About Him, but because he’s the lead, the show is All About Him.

Just look at the African-American Police Chief trope—in all of those shows, the black guy/gal has done better and advanced farther than the white protagonist in universe, but still isn’t allowed to be the hero.  Gah!

As much as I do want writers to make women and characters of color equal through characterization, it’s lip service when the plot and narrative still put those characters in second place to the white men.

10 Reasons Martha Jones Is Awesome

I promised a Martha Jones salute in my intro post, and people seemed enthusiastic about it, so here it is!  (warning: Rose gets compared mildly unfavorably a few times, for those who would be bothered by that)

Martha Jones Looking Badass

I’ve recently been watching New Who with a friend (her first time through), and I’ve been struck even more strongly with how Martha has the best companion character arc in the entire series so far.  The best.  And this despite the show constantly and inexplicably treating her as second-class to Rose!  But one of the greatest things about Martha is that in the final tally, how the Doctor treats her isn’t the most important part of her life, because unlike a lot of the other companions, Martha is so much more than her period of traveling with the Doctor.  She’s not defined by him.  After traveling with him—even before traveling with him—she’s got kick-ass narratives all of her own, and she’s going to live her life on her own terms (now alas, if only we could have seen more of her story on the show, but we see enough to know it is there).

I give you:

10 Reasons Martha Jones is Awesome,

in Roughly Chronological Order

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How Doomwar Could’ve Been Epic

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So for the last few months I’ve been following the Black Panther storyline which led to Doomwar: an all out war between the Black Panthers, and some of Marvel’s other superheroes against Dr. Doom.

I have to say I was disappointed. Not so much because the plot was bad but because as a writer and as a fan, there were so many opportunities to make Doomwar one of the most memorable company-wide storylines ever. The fact the ball got dropped on a an event that featured characters of color as the lead protagonists doesn’t make me comfortable either.

So indulge me as I share my views on what was done wrong, what was done right, and in my opinion what should’ve happened to make Doomwar epic.

Indulge, Indulge I say!

We’re Just That Damn Good

It’s no secret that stories, particular those of the speculative variety are inundated with Mary Sues and author avatars. While I’m all for calling out mary sues and author avatars, one of the things that really grates me about fandom is that the terms are quickly and unabashedly misapplied to any remotely competent marginalized character, notably POCs. I.E. any POC characters who avoids the racist stereotypical trappings, is fleshed out as a leading compelling three-dimensional character, and isn’t relegated to the role of the magical sidekick, suddenly their unrealistic Mary Sues.

Let neo_prodigy break it down for you