Hey, here’s another one of the classic characters who have appeared in various Superman comics over the years:
Oh wait, my mistake. As those names suggest, this is four different characters. Remember how I talked a bit about the attempts to make the Daily Planet cast more diverse back when I discussed Ron Troupe? Well that’s not the end of it by any means. There has been, since the 70s at least, frequent attempts to add a black woman to the cast of reporters appearing in the Superman franchise. I consider this a good thing. I don’t think, however, they’ve gone about it quite right so far.
Melba Manton, on the left, was the first. When she came into play they pushed her as a real potential addition to the cast. She not only got an active role in Superman and Lois Lane stories, she even got to headline the occasional story of her own. The next two can not make that claim. Fran Johnson and Jackee Winters, appearing in the 90s and the 2010s respectively. They were not characters. They were set dressing. The only thing of note which Johnson ever did was appear as a bridesmaid in the wedding of Lois and Clark. Winters doesn’t even have that. It actually took years for me to find one instance of Jackee’s name being spoken so that I could find out who the woman always standing around Planet briefings was.
Finally, in spite of my including her here, Robinson Goode, the currently-appearing Black-Woman-of-the-Daily-Planet is actually an active participant in the story, but it’s helpful to show the contrast. I won’t get into specifics, for spoiler reasons, but she seems to actually have a purpose beyond being furniture in the Planet offices. That’s nice. Interestingly, Goode is also the first of them to not be introduced as a friend or ally of Lois. She’s come into the Planet at a time when Lois isn’t even working there. That is probably to her benefit, but we’ll see how things play out in the long run.
These four are not the only examples by any means. On the animated series of the 90s there was a television reporter called Angela Chen (half black, half Asian) who was used more than the bad examples, but still never got to really shine. I’m confident there’s also another example in the comics of the early 2000s but I can’t be bothered to research it right now, as I think I’ve enough evidence for this post’s scope.
So what’s the problem with having more than one black woman working at the Daily Planet? Well, obviously that wouldn’t be a problem, but each of these women come in as a new addition in spite of the others, not alongside them. Even Goode, who has only been around for a couple months, seems to have completely erased Winters from the timeline. The problem as I see it, is that every new writer who comes onto the book and wants to add a black woman to the cast, does so as if they’re the first to do it. Whether they lack knowledge of the earlier women, or they just want to put their own stamp on things, the result of this is that none of these characters have ever made it to the big leagues.
There are “iconic” supporting cast members in the Superman franchise. Lois Lane, Jimmy Olsen, and Perry White are this for the franchise. The secondary tier of supporting cast members (among the reporters, I mean) include Ron Troupe, Steve Lombard, and Cat Grant. If, say, the writers from the 1990s to the 2010s had foregone their desire to create a new character and used, say, Melba Mantan, she would now be alongside that secondary tier. Instead what we have is a handful of characters who have made no real impact. It could be better.
What would I, the guy obsessed with perfecting the franchise, do with all this? Well, the only way to actually get one to stick is to use them prominently for a while as much as possible. Someone, an editor or something, really needs to pick one and commit finally. Just don’t abandon them when the next one comes along.