Ph.D. student talks philosophy and diversity among heroes

By Chase Myers, @chasemyers_DE

Marvel Comics and DC Entertainment are releasing a variety of films in the next five years, including Aquaman played by Jason Momoa, a native Hawaiian.

Although casting a Polynesian actor as a hero adds some diversity to the world of comics, Johnathan Flowers, a doctoral candidate student in philosophy from Oak Park, said there is still progress to be made for multiculturalism in comics.

One concern Flowers has is not just the lack of adapted character diversity, but the lack of original character diversity, he said. 


He recently attended The Southwest Popular Culture/American Culture Conference in Albuquerque, N.M., and talked about philosophy in popular culture.

“It was a good way to combine both my academic interests and personal interests,” Flowers said.

Flowers’ background in philosophy derives from his involvement in martial arts and the feelings expressed through Aikido and Hokkaido martial arts, with a focus on East Asian philosophy.

His discussion’s main focus was diversity in comic books, comic book media and how both Marvel and DC portray diversity in their publications and adaptations.

This was Flowers’ first year presenting at the conference, but he has presented similar ideas at other comic conventions.

“There’s parts of the experience of some people that is getting left out,” he said. “Peter Parker doesn’t have to deal with racism or institutionalized racism in his school environment.  If he was African-American, he’d have to address that.”

Flowers, who is one few of African-Americans in the philosophy department, said a readaptation of Spiderman with a different culture could work, but all aspects of the culture should be represented.


“That re-boot needs to take into account the social and cultural implications of what it means for Spiderman to be black and what it would mean for, say, Uncle Ben to be killed in an act of street violence, as a black man,” he said.

Flowers said he is excited for the recent announcement of Aquaman as a native Hawaiian because of his Polynesian descent and what that brings to the film, culturally.

Momoa as Aquaman will be the first protagonist superhero of color since Blade in 1998.

The diversity Flowers suggests is not narrowed to culture, but also gender.

Flowers said some of the comics he enjoys are lead by females, including the new female Thor.

“There was three pages of what could have been a fight, but presents a conversation on solidarity between women as opposed to competition between women,” he said.

Super heroes with disabilities are also scarcely present in both DC and Marvel comics, he said.

“Almost every character with a disability has it fixed, which creates this image of disability as something to be fixed and disabled people as broken,” he said.  “Most disabled people don’t view themselves as broken.”

Not only is physical disability poorly represented, but also mental illness, he said.

“You have Tony Stark dealing with alcoholism, but you don’t really see characters with depression or bipolar disorder,” he said.  “These are the kind of stories that aren’t being told.”

Flowers’ philosophical mindset transcends cultural topics and deals with life itself, as many philosophers would agree.

“Philosophy… is a way of making things better and improving the way we live in the world, and to apply philosophy to comics is a way of talking about how to make comics better,” he said.  “By bridging the two, I can present philosophy as relevant to what my students are interested in.”