Posted by: Doc Comics | April 4, 2010

Race, Black Superheroes, and SuperMinorities


Fantastic Four #52, 1966

It makes a big difference if we ponder the origins of the first Black Superhero in comics (that usually goes to Black Panther‘s appearance as Fantastic Four antagonist in 1966), or the first African-American Superhero to headline his own title (the supermercenary Luke Cage in 1972), or the first Negro character to appear in superhero comics (the 1940s Ebony White and Whitewash… No joke).  The MUSEUM OF BLACK SUPERHEROES has pictures and excellent articles that explore the comics superhero “Plantation System,” the emergence of the Black Superhero in the 60s and 70s, and racist representations in Black and (mostly) WhiteBlack Skins & White Masks.

Between 1970s Blaxploitation and a lack of racial diversity across the board in most media, comics are a pretty accurate reflection of American racial anxieties. A couple of must-read articles reflect upon Imagining Black Superpower and Deconstructing Representations of Blackness (even the much-vaunted multi-culturalism of the X-Men).  And if you’re interested in doubling-down on Black Female Superheroines or Asian Superheroes or Islamic Superheroes or Hispanic Superheroes (and the American-Indian SCOUT is incredible) then you may be surprised to discover that comics have been more progressive and inclusive than most other media (though that isn’t saying a lot).  Truth is, most social and ethnic minorities still suffer from tokenism and stereotyping as prime examples of Hegemonic Ideology.

Luke Cage and jive-talking Blacksploitation

There has been a lot of attention paid to advancements made by Milestone Comics (we’ll be reading their black superman ICON), but since it was bought-out by DC Comics there hasn’t been much done with the characters since.  And the example of Black Lightning doesn’t exactly inspire confidence in how minority characters are handled (with the exception of McDuffie’s homage Static Shock and Green Lantern John Stewart).  BET’s new Black Panther cartoon looks interesting (video here) but the Luke Cage toon never materialized. With a past that often gets RetCon whitewash, and a present that reflects upon whether Nick Fury’s race matters or if Obama is a post-racial superhero, The Black Superhero in comics and cinema continues to spark debate over minority representations in the media and American race relations. Such debate must address the enduring difficulties in discussing White [Male] Privilege from institutionalized racist structures.


  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Rick Todd. Rick Todd said: Race, Black Superheroes, and SuperMinorities « SUPERHERO RHETORIC …: It makes a big difference if we ponder the … […]

  2. UPDATE: The comics blogosphere has blown-up over the DCU’s RetCon “whitewash” of minority superhero “legacies”!! Holy unintentional racism!

  3. How I hated the original version of Luke Cage! Thank god Bendis made him modern and relevant without all that original garbage!

    • Indeed, and with Squirrel Girl as a nanny no less!

  4. The Black Panther cartoon for BET has a surprising backstory.

  5. NPR’s article on “Race and Identity in Comics” offers some perspective:

  6. Dr. Bryan Carr presents a lecture on the rhetoric of race and white privilege in superhero comics, movies, cartoons, and other media at the University of Wisconsin – Green Bay.

  7. IO9 asks a great question: “Why Do So Many Black Superheroes Have Electricity Powers?”

  8. “Ultimately, we couldn’t find the right combination of script and director and, also at the time, we were so far ahead of the game in the thinking, the technology wasn’t there to do what they had already created in the comic book,” Snipes says of his BLACK PANTHER movie project during the mid-90s.

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