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'Other History of the DC Universe' gives a 'voice' to diverse characters

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'Other History of the DC Universe' gives a 'voice' to diverse characters
"The Other History of the DC Universe," by writer John Ridley, puts diverse superheroes at the forefront. It's out Tuesday. Image courtesy of DC Comics

Nov. 23 (UPI) -- Writer John Ridley revisits signature moments from the DC Universe and re-examines them through a group of racially diverse characters in The Other History of the DC Universe, out Tuesday.

"This is less about changing the DC Universe. It's really about embracing the DC Universe -- embracing these characters," Ridley said during an interview with UPI. "Giving a singular voice to these characters who oftentimes did not have very singular or particular voices."

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Black Lightning (Jefferson Pierce), his daughter, Anissa (Thunder), Mal Duncan (Herald), his wife, Karen Beecher (Bumblebee), Renee Montoya (The Question) and Katana (Tatsu Yamashiro) are the main characters in the bimonthly series, which will run for five issues.

Artists Giuseppe 'Cammo' Camuncoli and Andrea Cucchi and colorist José Villarrubia are working with Ridley on the series. Cammuncoli, Marco Mastrazzo and Jamal Campbell are handling the cover art.

Ridley said he chose these characters for the story because he grew up loving them and said he hopes The Other History of the DC Universe inspires a greater appreciation of them.

"These are stories of hope. This is not about victimization. This is not railing against the prevailing culture," Ridley said.

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Inspired by 'History of the DC Universe'

Ridley is a fan of DC Comics' History of the DC Universe, which was released in 1986, and said he was inspired by it.

"I thought it was a really interesting attempt to take lore and mythology and treat it like it was real -- like it was an actual timeline," he said. "I think it's one of the great, interesting experiments in storytelling. It really did read like a brief Encyclopaedia Britannica."

The Other History of the DC Universe looks back at big moments like the death of Superman, and Wonder Woman executing the villainous Maxwell Lord. Ridley teased other moments that may not have stuck with fans, but were important to the characters, and said he added more context to well-known stories.

"My desire was not to add things for the sake of adding things," he said. "My desire was to try to, as much as possible, be beholden to things that did happen in the actual lore and actual cannon, and maybe excavating them a little bit more. Give a little bit more voice to these characters."

The series also gives more time to characters who sometimes were lost in the background. Ridley discussed how Katana, a Japanese woman, was used in the 2016 Suicide Squad film.

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"Katana, maybe she has three lines of dialogue. So here's this character that is iconic enough to be included in the film, but not necessarily iconic enough to have any sense of who she was. She was a mother, she was a wife who lost her family in a horrific way," the 55-year-old said.

He said comic book writers have worked decades to add more to the character.

"I just wanted to pull a little bit more out of that and say, 'OK, if she lost her family, how would this really affect an individual? If she is a Japanese national arriving in America in the '80s, how would she see this country? How would she fit in or not fit in?' That's what I wanted to do," he said.

Ridley also expressed fondness for Renee Montoya, a Latinx gay woman who gives perspective on what police officers go through because she worked for the Gotham City Police Department. Montoya becomes Vic Savage's successor as The Question, a character Ridley teased could be making a cameo appearance in the series.

The Other History of the DC Universe comes at a time where more women and characters of color are being used more frequently in comic books and beyond. Ridley said that things are getting better in terms of diversity, pointing to HBO's Watchmen series as a standout example, but for things to continue improving, he said diversity behind-the-scenes is needed.

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"It starts with the hiring. It starts with bringing in creators who are a little bit closer to the material in some ways. Also, remembering that if you are a Latinx, they, queer person, you can still write Superman," Ridley said.

Ridley can't predict how well The Other History of the DC Universe will do, but said recent comic books and other forms of media that are infused with real-life issues can be successful and make a real cultural impact.

Ridley says he has no expectation that every comic book or film has to contain commentary on race or gender, but the ones that do tend to be successful.

Ridley won an Academy Award as a screenwriter for 2013's 12 Years a Slave. He has also penned DC Comics' The American Way and its sequel, The American Way: Those Above and Those Below along with Batman: The Joker War Zone.

The future for DC and Ridley

Ridley's next comic book is Future State: The Next Batman, which will feature a new character who takes on the Batman mantle from Bruce Wayne. The comic is a part of DC's Future State line-wide event that will give a glimpse into what happens in the DC Universe in the near and far future.

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In Future State, Batman has been killed and Gotham City is placed under control by the Magistrate, a villainous regime. An all-new Batman will rise along with a new group of Gotham heroes to fight back.

Ridley teased that Future State: The Next Batman will have new characters and relationships that reset and contain a focus on family.

"It's about family and what we would do for family, what we have to do for family, what we consider to be family. As a father, as a husband at my age, it's just really great to be able to take these fantastic stories and ground them in something that I relate to," he said.

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