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Black Superheroes: Then And Now (EDITORIAL)

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“Ain’t been a Black Hero since Robert Townsend.”- Wale from “Black Heroes”

That quote from Wale struck me so much for a number of reasons. For one, I respected his knowledge on Townsend and the movie “Meteor Man.” I remembered how epic that movie was with its ensemble cast including Everyone and They Mama or the Who’s Who of Black America at the time. I loved that a teacher sought out to clean up the streets (and the risky task of tackling gangs and one crack house with a scene too funny for words). What also struck me was how right Wale was. At this very moment, I cannot think of a Black superhero that we all have rallied behind in the last ten to fifteen years. Whether we need to rally around them is another conversation, but we’ve always had that tribal instinct to uplift any one that looks like us with some sort of positive spin.

I grew up in the 90s where Batman, Superman, Spiderman, and X-Men ruled the airwaves and most of comics. The only known Black heroes to me at the time were Spawn, Storm, Zack-The Black Ranger, and the aforementioned Meteor Man. I was vaguely aware of Milestone Comics and their heroes Static Shock and Icon. I wasn’t aware of them at all maybe from my young age and being confined to the South where I had to frequent the library find anything about Black culture beyond the mythical views of us in school.

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Superman was quoted saying that no one hit him as hard as Icon did.

Milestone’s co-founder, the Late Dwayne McDuffie, talked about when writing for the Justice League, some critics felt that he was making the League Black to fulfill some kind of quota.  That critique came out of the crazy (not really crazy) decision to add three Black characters onto the roster. McDuffie then illustrated the rule of three and it can be translated into most of Pop Culture. If you have three Black characters on a team or cast, then it’s considered a Black product and how that can turn people off. Thus, you can’t have more than one or two prominent Black anything other than rapping and sports. The 90’s broke that rule with so many Black heroes to choose from and they all had their own personality.  I saw them and I saw my face as I couldn’t relate to Luke Cage and Black Panther then. They were a product of another generation, so I admired the 90s Heroes more.

Now you think that things would progress as time went on, but the 2000s to now says otherwise. The Justice League cartoon did introduce us to Jon Stewart, a Black Green Lantern, who I was unfamiliar with when I swayed towards anime in the late 90s-00’s. Then Black heroes in cinema went away who was not Blade. Black Panther had some good things happen to him through Reggie Hudlin and writing him to be married to Storm. However, when Hudlin left, Marvel broke the couple up during the Avengers vs X-Men storyline after a disagreement,  though Sue Storm and Reed Richards survived fighting Dr. Doom and Galactus for 50 some years and are still together.

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She went from this to….

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…….Wolverine. Yes…I said Wolverine. That ain’t right at all.

Luke Cage grew out of the stereotypical Blaxxploitation role and became a leader in the Avengers, but Patriot (nephew to Original Captain America) did as leader of the Young Avengers after “Children’s Crusade.” I’m like this brotha is just going to quit the job like that and then the Young Avengers started over without even a mention him. My granddad told me not to quit a job until you have another one. Luke Cage is now over the Thunderbolts and the Mighty Avengers. I actually come to love Luke Cage now. They’ve done ok with him thus far. Can’t have two bruhs leading the Avengers I suppose.

Then Hancock.

Jesus, Hancock.

Hancock!

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I like that Hancock was a superhero with flaws, which illustrates that super beings have shortcomings like we all do. I stop my admiration for the movie there. And Halle Berry’s Catwoman has since been mind-wiped from my psyche.

 When Miles Morales was announced as Ultimate Spider-Man, some of the Right cried foul, though I’m sure that they haven’t read a comic book since it was 20 cents. The Blue Marvel and Icon are powerhouses, yet not fully utilized as to not offend the signature Super-strong heroes we see everyday. The successes of comic movies caused the industry not to take much risks anymore. Can’t have Icon showing out over Superman or Blue Marvel taking on Thanos.

It’s like the Rule of Three looms over us again. It seems like we can’t have more than three prominent Black heroes that we could relate to. Even now, I could guess that the majority of us would pick non-Black superheroes among their favorites and though there’s nothing wrong with that, it illustrates a disconnect with current Black heroes. Or maybe the writing and marketing are better with the larger profile heroes. Heck, my favorites were Superman, Batman, Spider-man, Thor, and Goku for years myself. I’m pulling for Miles and all of the Mighty Avengers though. If Miles win, we all win.

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Swing young man. Swing!

  • Samantha F.

    Sometimes I feel like Hollywood doesn’t want to get behind a man of color as a legitimate superhero in the old school style because they still aren’t ready to see a man of color being the symbol of the good guy unless he is the side kick good guy. Hancock had to be flawed or else he would have been seen as truly good with limitless power. Nope, can’t do that, make him an alcoholic. And making a black woman a symbol of strength both mentally and physically while still having her emotions in check…not in my lifetime. The hope is that a real rock star writer will write a compelling book with a lead whose ethnic heritage is such a large part of the story that it would make no sense to change it. Then that the book sells like Hunger Games and the movie deal gets made.

  • Aziz Sannie

    I feel like we’ve come a long way. Spawn was my shit in my teens – him being black was a big deal to me. Another have half decent character was steel, and over in marvel, Bishop was a strong character.

    There’s a still a way to go and I’m hopeful the balance will get better.

    great piece – how about one on black villains next?