The Clinton Herald, Clinton, Iowa

Entertainment & Events

April 4, 2014

Comic books and race in America go hand in hand

Comic books haven't always been a place where African-Americans can find characters they relate to. Black comic characters ranged from being barely noticeable and featuring blatantly disrespectful instances, to receiving lessened moments of racism from decade to decade. DC Comics didn't have a black superhero who could stand on his own until 1977 when Black Lightning and his ability to create and manipulate electricity and electromagnetic fields was introduced.

Marvel Comics beat them to the punch by 11 years with the Black Panther. He first debuted in "Fantastic Four" number 52 in 1966. Created by Jack Kirby, the Black Panther rules over the southern African kingdom of Wakanda. He dons a suit made of vibranium, a nearly impermeable metal found only in his country, and also is an elite level martial artist and technological mastermind.

Captain America's trusted sidekick, the Falcon, would swoop in on the scene in 1969. In fact, his teaming with Cap was the first time a black comic character was a co-star to a major comic book character. There have been other heroes and villains of apparent African descent who appeared prior to 1970, such as August Durant of the Secret Six (DC Comics) and Jackie Johnson of Sergeant Rock's Easy Company (DC Comics 1960). However, there weren't many characters developed and layered enough to carry an entire comic book series on his or her own at DC or Marvel.

The Falcon would be joined by Power Man aka Luke Cage in Marvel's fast-growing pantheon of black super heroes in 1972, the vampire hunter Blade came along a year later -  introduced in "Tomb of Dracula" number 10 in 1973. Marvel also introduced an Asian character, Shang-Chi Master of Kung-Fu, around the same time. It was clear they were trying to be inclusive and to tap into a market of underserved comic book readers.

Other than the introduction of ex-Marine John Stewart as a part-time member of the Green Lantern Corp (DC Comics) in 1971, as well as some smaller, less powerful characters dispersed here and there, DC's black characters were just plain wack. Marvel's Power Man and Iron Fist were the second multi-racial super hero team. They debuted in "Heroes for Hire" #1 back in 1972. DC Comics was very late to the party as far as fielding a respectable black super hero goes. Black Lightning came along in 1977. But Marvel was all about the one up. They introduced with great fanfare Ororo Munroe, aka Storm of the X-Men, in 1975.

I never forgot that Marvel was the first to feature a black super hero of merit and I was inspired to become a lifelong fan because of it. Comic books were a welcome escape. I could leave the hood whenever I needed and go on missions to save the Earth for 25 cents in the 70s, 50 cents in the 80s and up to a $1.50 in the early 90s.

But early on, some comic book publishers had the misguided idea to use "black" as a descriptive prefix to the name of any hero of African origin. Black Lightning, Black Vulcan, Black Goliath, Black Racer, the Black Spider, Black Manta and so on. DC Comics was guilty of this offense more than anyone else, but Marvel had its fair share of naming faux pas as well. I was happy to see an increase in black superheroes as any other lover of comic books. But the fact that almost every character had to be given the "black" marker in his actual name as some sort of self-segregating practice of identification was just flat out ridiculous.

Another stereotypical practice of comic publishers in the 70s and 80s was having every black superhero be from Harlem. Power Man was from Uptown, along with Falcon and a slew of others. Falcon was actually a street hustler who was rescued from the life by Captain America.

 I mean, really?

The 80s brought an influx of ever more powerful, popular, and culturally accurate characters in comic books. Cyborg debuted in DC Comics Presents number 26 in 1980. While the 90s would see DC Comics pick up the pace as well with Firestorm, the Blue Beetle, The Atom and others. But Marvel was already the publisher of choice for many in the inner city long before then. This love of the genre can be seen in the aliases that rappers of the early 90s assumed. Method Man chose Johnny Blaze aka the Ghost Rider. Ghostface Killah picked Tony Stark aka Iron Man. And lest we forget rapper MF Doom's masked imagery is a homage to the great comic book villain Dr. Victor Von Doom.

But today, with the advent and exponential growth of portable devices, and the price for a single book being over $2.00, comics have waned in popularity from their Golden Age. But the culture they helped create lives on as fathers, uncles, and grandfathers pass them on to sons and daughters who themselves become fans of the next generation lead by the comic book phenomenon in film and TV.

Samuel L. Jackson successfully played S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Nick Fury, a character who was previously white in the Avengers, as well as other Marvel tie-ins. Film characters that are traditionally of another race often cause comic book fans to lose their minds when a familiar character is re-colored for the purpose of casting the hottest new thespian. When Heimdall was played by Idris Elba in "Thor 2: The Dark World," nerds across the globe lost their minds. Some of it was just plain racism, while others were legitimately concerned with accuracy.

Honestly, when Michael B. Jordan was cast as the traditionally blonde haired, blue eyed Johnny Storm aka the Human Torch in the upcoming Fantastic Four reboot, I was vehemently against it. No offense, but comic book nerds like characters to remain as close to the original blueprint as possible. Any deviation is frowned upon. Both Terrence Howard and Don Cheadle played James "Rhodey" Rhodes, the best friend to Tony Starks who would become the similarly armored hero War Machine.

In the upcoming "Captain America 2: The Winter Soldier" Anthony Mackie plays Falcon. As most comic book lovers are already happily aware of, they all were originally black characters.

Though comic books are fictional in nature, they are a reflection of African-American morals that other media offerings often lack. The importance of inclusion is something that Marvel appears to have taken seriously for over 40 years and that tradition still continues to this day. In 2011, Marvel introduced a black Latino character named Miles Morales to replace Peter Parker, who had been killed in that story arc as Spider-Man. Though the "real" Spider-Man was not dead because this took place in an alternate universe, the comic book world was up in arms because of what was deemed a blatant attempt at political correctness.

The question of whether art imitates life or vice versa is an ongoing dialectic. While there are an ever increasing number of characters of African descent in comic books and at the movie theater, the young and impressionable are done a great injustice whenever comic books take a myopic, whitened version of existence. All heroes are not white, and all villains aren't black. The real world features people from all ethnicities, backgrounds and genders who are committing heroic deeds every single day. It's only right that this fact is reflected in all mediums of communication, be they fact, fiction, illustrated with ink and color pencil, television pixels or in 3D.

Ricardo A. Hazell is a veteran journalist with over a decade of experience covering sports, entertainment and politics. You can follow him on Twitter @NikosMightyDad. This story originally appeared on TheShadowLeague.com, a website presenting sports coverage with a cultural perspective that insightfully informs sports fans worldwide.



 

1
Text Only
Entertainment & Events
  • CBS says Colbert keeping CBS' 'Late Show' in NYC

    Stephen Colbert will not only be following in David Letterman's footsteps, he'll be doing it on the same stage.

    July 23, 2014

  • Court: Hoffman didn't want 'trust fund' kids

    Court documents show Philip Seymour Hoffman rejected his accountant's suggestion that he set aside money for his three children because he didn't want them to be "trust fund" kids.

    July 23, 2014

  • Another author boosted by 'Colbert Bump'

    The "Colbert Bump" is becoming contagious.

    July 23, 2014

  • 7-22-14 Emily Evans 7 seek pageant crown CLINTON — The time has come for Miss Clinton County Brandy Herrington to pass her crown on to the next lucky contestant and this year the competition is thick.When the event commences on Saturday at the DeWitt Central Performing Arts Center, seven yo

    July 22, 2014 7 Photos

  • kyle.jpg Voices lifted for Habitat (with VIDEOS)

    CLINTON — Members of the community came out in droves Sunday afternoon to attend a Concert for a Cause, a first-time event benefiting Habitat of Humanity of Clinton County.More than 70 voices joined together in the Vernon Cook Theater for the CHS Alu

    July 21, 2014 5 Photos

  • Fonda, Kardashian voice Fox animated episodes BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. (AP) — Jane Fonda, Sarah Silverman and Nick Offerman are among the guest voices on “The Simpsons” this fall, while Kim Kardashian lends her voice in the final episode of “American Dad.”Fox said Sunday that Kardashian plays an al

    July 21, 2014

  • Garner Film, TV legend dies NEW YORK — Few actors could register disbelief, exasperation or annoyance with more comic subtlety.James Garner had a way of widening his eyes while the corner of his mouth sagged ever so slightly. Maybe he would swallow once to further make his poin

    July 21, 2014 1 Photo

  • Showboat 'Wonderful Town' performance to begin CLINTON — The Clinton Area Showboat Theatre will showcase its fourth production of the summer this week.The Leonard Bernstein musical "Wonderful Town" will begin its run on the Showboat stage at 7:30 p.m. Thursday. A reception will follow the perform

    July 21, 2014 1 Photo

  • UK court orders 'Glee' name change in legal row LONDON (AP) — Glum news for “Glee” — Britain’s High Court ruled Friday that the musical TV show must change its name because it breaches the trademark of a chain of comedy clubs.A judge told Twentieth Century Fox that it had to re-name the series in

    July 19, 2014

  • Brooklyn 'Brooklyn Nine-Nine' cast has fun with Q&A stenographer BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. — A funny thing happened during a Q&A for Fox’s “Brooklyn Nine-Nine.”The show’s producers and cast, including Andy Samberg and Andre Braugher, gathered on the set Wednesday to take questions as part of the Television Critics Ass

    July 18, 2014 1 Photo

Facebook
Parade
Magazine

Click HERE to read all your Parade favorites including Hollywood Wire, Celebrity interviews and photo galleries, Food recipes and cooking tips, Games and lots more.