Posted by: Doc Comics | April 12, 2010

Re-Imagining a Multicultural Super-ICON

Race, Black Superheroes, and SuperMinorities

Superhero comics have long had a ‘diversity problem’ when it comes to representing minority characters. Dwayne McDuffie and “ICON: A Hero’s Welcome” (1993) from multicultural Milestone Comics provides a fascinating text for reflection upon issues of minority representations in comic books via Black Superheroes. McDuffie presents readers with an engaging “Black Superman” mythos but also offers some metatextual critiques of SuperWhiteness in comics in clever ways. Also note how his protagonists, Augustus and Raquel, illustrate enduring debates over the “double consciousness” of African-Americans struggling with ‘Black Skins & White Masks‘ in a culture still presuming White Supremacy, continuing the conversation on race sparked by WEB duBois and Booker T. Washington. Who or what is the ‘villain’ of this story if not our real-world stereotypes, prejudices and the Paradoxes of African-American Superheroes?

1) In terms of Coogan’s mission/powers/identity, how is ICON both similar to yet different from Superman? What differences emerge from this hero being raised African-American during the US’s long ignoble history of slavery? Before he encounters Raquel, has Augustus Freeman been “passing” or “selling-out”… or is he a shipwrecked alien just getting by?

2) Why is this story told from Rocket’s perspective, and with what effects? Why does she insist that Augustus become Icon? Why is he reluctant? And who is whose sidekick here? Any echoes of the GL/GA “Hard Traveling Heroes” stories? Is there a traditional Batman/Robin, Superman, or X-Men vibe that it is tapping into with archetypal themes?

3) How does ICON break new ground in terms of the narrative characters, setting, and superheroic action being depicted? Does it perpetuate any stereotypes, or are such representations reflexive of hegemonic “common sense”? That is, how is “racial representation” itself problematic as a “double-bind” for either too much difference or too little? Is this inherent in the superhero genre, OR is it because the genre must also succeed as mass-marketed commodity? Is there a racial double-standard in assuming that ‘White’ audiences won’t read ‘minority’ heroes?

4) How does an African-American Superhero trouble some of our categorizations of superheroes thus far? Or does minority representation through superheroes still “play” well? Is this superalien a living history of African American struggles, a metatextual challenge to Black creators, or a radical re-imagining of a Black superhero who matters for contemporary times as all the above? What’s new here aside from “race”? Then again, how does race bring new perspectives to the table?

One episode of the animated series Justice League, “In Blackest Night“, focuses upon Green Lantern John Stewart being placed on trial and opens with a sequence of him walking around his old neighborhood that winkingly evokes the African-American Superhero’s history of Blacksploitation stereotypes (we’ll have a look at part one, but you can check out part two and part three here).   Of course, this Green Lantern’s trial recalls the critique of O’Reilly’s article “Superheroines on Trial” from the course reading packet in that this minority also has to defend their legitimacy rather than presume it.  Class discussion and reflection on these themes on FREAKY FRIDAY!



  1. From an e-mail exchange with Dwayne McDuffie about this course blog:

    “That’s terrific! I’ll mention it on my blog. Two things, the Icon cover is actually from April 1993, not 2007, and I didn’t write “In Blackest Night.” I wasn’t working on Justice League yet.”

    Proof that even the Prof can get details wrong from time to time.

  2. Bollywood superheroes are coming! And China is getting into the superhero act as well! BUT will this boost comics??

  3. Icon and Rocket make an animated TV appearance on the YOUNG JUSTICE cartoon, even as the struggle for a cinematic superhero of color continues for Black Panther. But check out this cartoon inspired by the Trayvon Martin verdict… dang.

    Meanwhile, since DC now owns the Milestone characters, some recurring problems with representation in DC’s New 52… yet again raising the specter of racial politics of RetCon.

  5. More minority superhero discussion on The 99 and The Burka Avenger, even as the new Ms. Marvel is a Packistani-American!

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