Black News and Black Views with a Whole Lotta Attitude
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Black News and Black Views with a Whole Lotta Attitude

John Ridley Discusses Bringing Superheroes into the Real World in The Other History of the DC Universe

John Ridley explains how his favorite characters fit in the real world and the DC Universe.

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Director John Ridley accepts an award onstage during the National Board of Review Annual Awards Gala at Cipriani 42nd Street on January 9, 2018 in New York City. (Photo by Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images for National Board of Review)
Director John Ridley accepts an award onstage during the National Board of Review Annual Awards Gala at Cipriani 42nd Street on January 9, 2018 in New York City. (Photo by Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images for National Board of Review)
Photo: Dimitrios Kambouris (Getty Images)

During the 2020 Black Lives Matter protests, a friend and I had a discussion about how certain Superheroes would handle the situation. There was a lot of debate about which side Batman would be on, but we both agreed Wonder Woman would help the protestors. Now we don’t have to wonder anymore because Academy Award-winning screenwriter John Ridley is giving us The Other History of the DC Universe. The book examines pivotal moments in history from the point of view of characters most affected by them. Ridley spoke with The Root about bringing these heroes onto the real world.

The collection features all five stories in The Other History of the DC Universe miniseries starting with Jefferson Pierce’s story in “Book #1.” It begins with Jefferson competing at the 1972 Munich Olympics, then feeling lost and hollow after the killing of a West German police officer and 11 Israeli athletes and coaches. This sets the table for the other heroes to have their stories intersect with real life events. For Ridley, it was the opportunity to give these supporting characters the spotlight and make their stories important.

“Someone my age, we start to think, I love this storytelling, I love what it’s about, but I don’t quite see me. Or if I do, it’s on occasion, it’s in the background,” Ridley said.

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One thing that becomes very clear from page one is that while these are the stories of heroes, the focus is on their lives as actual everyday people. Even when Jefferson is hilariously insulting Green Lantern John Stewart, he refers to him by name. This element humanizes every book and leaves the reader even more invested.

“To me, Black Lightning was always Jefferson Pierce,” he said. “Part of what I wanted to do with The Other History, if it was Jefferson’s story, if it was Tatsu’s story, if it was Mal and Karen’s story, it wasn’t about them as heroes, it was about them first and foremost as people.”

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The Other History of the DC Universe features stories following Jefferson Pierce/Black Lightning, one of the first Black heroes to have his own book—and yes, from The CW show. It also follows Tatsu Yamshiro/Katana, the groundbreaking Asian hero who has been seen in Arrow and Suicide Squad; Karen Beecher/Bumblebee and Mal Duncan/Herald, two of DC’s first Black superheroes (the timeline is endlessly debated); Renee Montoya, one of the few honest cops in Gotham City, most recently seen in the film Birds of Prey; and Jefferson’s superhero daughter, Anissa Pierce/Thunder, rounds out the story in “Book 5.” They are all characters from marginalized communities. This representation is deliberate, as Ridley had a very specific reader in mind.

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“I don’t ever want a young person to not find themselves in stories. So for me it became a decades-long effort to make sure we’re represented,” he said.

“I’ve arrived at a point where my audience is my two boys. That’s the audience I care about most,” Ridley continued. “If you connect with people on the micro, then you can connect with a wider audience. I think if you go, ‘I’m going to tell the greatest story ever and it’s going to connect with 9 billion people on the planet,’ that’s a good way to embarrass yourself.”

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As for deciding which characters to include from DC’s extensive universe, apparently, those were easy choices. The way the books flow from one to the next, it’s a compelling read, and hard to envision other heroes in this spotlight.

“To me the characters I chose for The Other History are the best characters in the DC Universe. I could probably add another 10, but I love Black Lightning,” Ridley said. “Anissa Pierce, to bring that story full circle…to reconcile the way he was a hero with the way his daughter wants to be a hero, it just brought everything full circle. Those heroes mean the world to me, to have that opportunity to tell those stories is phenomenal, it’s such an honor.”

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Despite his success and award-winning work as a screenwriter, being in the comic book world and creating stories for these characters is Ridley’s favorite thing to do. In fact, he characterized his filmwork as his side job between comic books.

“I’ve never been this happy, I’ve never been this fulfilled, I’ve never felt this complete,” he said. “I love what I’m doing. I love these characters I’ve had the opportunity to write.”

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The Other History of the DC Universe is available now from DC Comics.