What do Superman, Wonder Woman, Iron Man, The Flash, Batman, Spiderman, Daredevil, Wolverine, The Hulk, Captain America, and Green Lantern have in common? Maybe they are all classic superheroes? True! Maybe they would end up on any list of best superheroes of all time? Again. Very true. But there is something else about this group. We’ll give you another hint: this trait is also shared by all members of Watchmen, all of the original X-Men, the original Avengers team,and the Fantastic Four. Ok. We’ll give you the answer. They’re all white. This isn’t some random trivia fact: it’s a product and tradition of racism. These comics were written by white people for white people. So of course they depict white heroes. People of color were not given heroic roles. If they were given roles at all they were stereotyped and racist. Native Americans showed up very early on in Westerns but as caricatures of human beings, never really given the opportunity to be fully fleshed out heroes. Other People of Color were defined only as racial stereotypes. However, over the years the portrayal of People of Color has gotten better (due to the pressure of People of Color and the influence of People of Color in the comic book industry).
We are currently still in a time of what can be termed tokenization. Meaning, People of Color are often added to comic book teams in order to give the appearance of diversity without actually investing time into dealing with issues of racism, racial diversity or fully fleshing out characters. And we need only look at the controversy behind the new Spiderman (which we will have a lot to say about later) to show that some white people are still not ready to envision their favorite superheroes as People of Color. But ready or not, People of Color are represented in our favorite comic book characters and we will explore them.
Appears in X-Men, Generation X, New Warriors
First Appearance: 1989
When people of Asian descent are featured in comic books, they are generally: 1) not American; and 2) stereotyped. This is especially true for women of Asian descent. They are likely to be portrayed as exotic and sexy and not much more. When Jubilation Lee joined the X-Men she managed to defy many of these stereotypes. Jubilee is NOT exotic. She’s a teenage girl who loves the mall. Jubilee is an orphan looking to find her place in the world. She has street smarts and is able to find her way out of any situation. Jubilation Lee is Chinese-American with an emphasis on the American. She’s not terribly sexualized (given her age) and is more seen as the kid of the X-Men. She looks up to her hero Wolverine (and who here among us doesn’t look up to Wolverine?). Some people are not fond of Jubilee’s character in the X-Men, but one has to admit that her role is groundbreaking and her break with stereotypes is very refreshing.
Appears in Batman
First Appearance: 1993
If your first introduction to Bane was Tom Hardy’s incredible performance in The Dark Knight Rises (2012) you may be really confused as to why Bane is on this list. Especially with Tom Hardy’s delicious accent. But believe it or not, the comic book version of Bane was born on a fictional CARIBBEAN island. Meaning that Bane should probably be considered Latino. We know some people out there probably just fainted so we’ll wait for you to recover. You ok now? Good. We love the Batman trilogy, but we can’t give them a pass on this one. Its obviously white washing and we were disappointed. It’s not often we get to see Latino/as in comics so when we do, and they are mainstream characters, we shouldn’t be changing that. But those issues aside, Bane is an amazing character in the comic. He is someone who’s incredibly intelligent and incredibly strong. After all, Bane is the guy who breaks (both literally and figuratively) the Batman! We hope that future Batman films will make sure to keep Bane the Latino man that he is.
8. Nick Fury
Appears in Fantastic Four, The Avengers, The Ultimates
First Appearance: 1963
Similar to Bane, if your first introduction to Nick Fury was in the film Iron Man (2008), we’re going to tell you something you may find shocking. Nick Fury wasn’t always African American. Really. Nick Fury was reintroduced as an African American character in The Ultimates and was based on Samuel L. Jackson. And no, Iron Man (2008) had not come out yet. So, yes, Nick Fury was based on Samuel L. Jackson and then Samuel L. Jackson was cast to play Nick Fury. There really is justice in the world. African Americans have often been portrayed as sidekicks to white characters or as stereotypes (such as Blaxploitation). And when African Americans starred in comics, comic book shops didn’t carry those titles, assuming white readers wouldn’t be interested (see Milestone Media). Nick Fury doesn’t fall into these stereotypes. He is a leader. And when he is written as an African American man, he doesn’t become any less of a leader. And the fact that he’s based on Samuel L. Jackson just makes him that much better.
Appears in X-Force
First Appearance: 1996
As we have discussed, it is rare to find People of Color represented in comics outside of boring racial stereotypes. It is an even more rare gem to find a mixed race superhero in comics. But as our population in the United States changes, it is likely we will see more and more characters who reflect the beautiful diversity in this country. And that’s one of the reasons we love Risque. She is a trailblazing character who appeared in X-Force in the late 90s. Her mother is Seminole and her father is Cuban, making Risque Native American and Latina. Risque has recently died and has been revived (something that happens with a great deal of frequency in comic books). We hope they do more with this amazing character then they have in the past where she has been relegated to the position as a lesser known member of X-Force who, at times, has proven to be a little useless. Hear that Marvel?
Appears in Teen Titans, Wondergirl
First Appearance: 2010
The author has to admit he had never heard of Solstice before researching this article. But now he is enlightened. This is one really cool girl and we hope that DC continues to use Solstice in their lineup. Solstice is from India and comes to London where she discovers her kickass powers while helping Wonder Girl fight Lady Zand. She is another woman of Asian descent who, like Jubilee, escapes being made into nothing more than an exotic object. Solstice is just a bright ray of sunshine who is a member of the Teen Titans. She wears a very bright yellow costume and is known for her distinctive sunshiney personality. Solstice brings light and joy wherever she goes. She also happens to physically emit bright golden light, so that can’t hurt can it? Solstice is a newcomer to the Teen Titans and we hope to see much, much more of her.
Appears in X-Men, Ultimate Marvel
First Appearance: 1984
Forge is an awesome character for multiple reasons. He is a military veteran from the Vietnam War, a technological genius and a proud member of the Cheyenne nation. And though some of his “magic” connected to his Cheyenne heritage is problematic, we like Forge. He defies the stereotype of a magical connection with nature and is much more at home creating new technology and gadgets. Forge has a long going on again, off again relationship with Storm and it represents one of the few interracial relationships in the X-Men. We imagine the Forge has often played the Quartermaster role in the X-Men Universe (yeah, we just referenced James Bond).
Appears in New X-Men
First Appearance: 2004
Loa is one of the very few comic book characters of Polynesian descent that we were able to find. But that doesn’t mean Loa isn’t awesome. She is a relatively new character known for her laid back attitude, ability to breath underwater and her ability to “swim” through solid matter (that is subsequently destroyed). Loa is definitely part of a wave of new diversity in comic books and it is refreshing to see a Native Hawaiian girl represented as a comic book hero. We hope that she will be used more by Marvel and we will hear much more from Loa in the coming years!
3. The Black Panther
Appears in Fantastic Four, The Avengers, Black Panther
First Appearance: 1966
A great deal has been written about Black Panther. He is incredibly notable as he was the first mainstream Black superhero. Though we are incredibly embarrassed that it took until the year 1966 to create a Black hero who wasn’t a revolting caricature. There are still some problematic features of Black Panther (mostly dealing with tribalism, etc.) but at the time he was an incredibly progressive. For the first time, we had Black hero to look up to. One who fought against racism (notably an epic battle with the KKK and criticism against Apartheid).
Appears in Spider-Man
First Appearance: 1962
One of the things we love about Spider-Man is that he is a lot like us. He’s nerdy, sometimes awkward, has girl troubles, etc. He’s just this awesome kid from New York City who just happened to be bitten by a radioactive spider and develops all these awesome powers. He fights crime in memory of his uncle. So when controversy erupted in 2011 and it had to do with Spider-Man we thought “what did they do? Permanently kill him?” But no. Not at all. They just decided that Spider-Man didn’t really reflect the average kid in New York City in 2011. So they did something totally wacky and decided to make him biracial. And not even in the main line of Spider-Man. In the Ultimate Universe! And people freaked out. We don’t really understand, but then again, this is why race matters in comics. The average kid in New York City doesn’t really look very much like Peter Parker anymore. And that’s ok. In fact, we think Peter Parker would probably love Miles Morales.
Appears in X-Men, The Avengers
First Appearance: 1975
You didn’t think we’d forget one of the best X-Men of all time did you? Seeing how X-Men is supposed to be an allegory for the African-American Civil Rights Movement, it sure took them long enough to bring strong Black characters into the comics. But we suppose the wait was worth it because we got a character as incredible as Storm. She’s one of the very first Black female characters ever introduced into mainstream comics and she’s still an incredibly powerful character. This is a woman who has lead the X-Men, has been worshipped as an African goddess, and has survived numerous attacks for being a mutant. We adore Ms. Munroe and we wouldn’t take our weather-bending goddess any other way.
Honorable Mentions: Echo, Firestorm, Psylocke
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