Few journalists cover comic book culture full-time. David Betancourt of The Washington Post holds a unique position. He's not just a reporter; he's a pioneer in a field many major newspapers have ignored.
"When I pitched this to The Post in 2012, I told them straight up—superheroes are about to take over Hollywood," Betancourt said. He convinced editor Kevin Merida to let him cover this trend on the Comic Riffs blog. Since then, Betancourt has focused on the intersection of comics with race, business, and art. He has interviewed major figures like Stan Lee, reviewed comic films and TV shows, and covered diversity issues in the industry.
In a conversation with Washington Post culture writer Helena Andrews-Dyer, Betancourt discussed his new book “The Avengers Assembled: The Origins of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes.” The book explores the early years of the superhero team from the original 1960s comics.
“If this is going to be an origin story, then we need to focus on those original comics,” Betancourt explained of his approach. He read the first 100 issues of The Avengers to craft a narrative around the formation of the team and their initial battles against Loki and in the landmark Kree-Skrull War storyline.
Understanding David Betancourt's unique approach to “The Avengers Assembled,” requires diving into his own origin story as a comic book fan and reporter.
Betancourt charted his own origin story as a comic book fan. He recalled watching the 1960s Batman TV series with his mother as a child. Later, comics offered an accessible path into reading, as he would pick up $1 issues at the local 7-Eleven. A key moment was “A Death in the Family,” which killed off Robin. “That opened the door for Tim Drake to become Robin. He ended up being one of my favorite characters ever,” Betancourt said.
Seeing the first Spider-Man movie in 2002 as a college senior inspired Betancourt to find a way into the comic industry. Years later, he became the first Puerto Rican and African American writer to pen a Miles Morales Spider-Man story, “Miles means a lot to me because he is the first superhero I truly saw myself in.”
But it's not just about reporting. Betancourt has a personal stake in pushing for more diversity in comics. "Look, comics have been a white, male world for too long," he told Andrews-Dyer. "When Miles Morales came onto the scene, I knew I had to talk to his co-creator, Brian Michael Bendis. I asked questions that maybe a white reporter wouldn't think to ask."
That mix of reverence for the past and hope for the future animated the conversation between Betancourt and Andrews-Dyer. When an audience member asked about troubling stereotypes in older comics, Betancourt acknowledged, "dicey stuff is there. But I don't have to focus on it because there's enough good stuff here that we can build something good."
He praised Marvel for increasing diversity, saying the publisher "started with the comic books" before Hollywood followed suit with films like Black Panther. However, Betancourt noted progress remains.
Betancourt's trailblazing career proves young fans can find their way. When asked for advice by a young hopeful, he emphasized simply, "keep reading them." After all, Betancourt plotted his own path to become perhaps the only comic book reporter at a major newspaper.
That singular position fueled an infectious enthusiasm throughout the evening. Betancourt's clear passion for comic book culture and his pioneering role in reporting on it for one of the nation's premier newspapers made this an unforgettable event.
The rapport between Betancourt and Andrews-Dyer was evident throughout the program. "We literally sit next to each other at work, so it feels like we’re at work with people watching us now,” Betancourt joked about their office proximity. Andrews-Dyer perfectly encapsulated the night's celebratory spirit in declaring, "This is your public congratulations."
This event was generously supported by the DC Public Library Foundation.