Where are the powerful black superheroes?

The question was posed “Where are the ‘Omega Class’ superhumans of color in the comic genre? Where is the black Superman? Why isn’t there one?”

This was posed in a debate to question why comic book creators have always claimed that black superheroes were not profitable. (What about Spawn?) They reported the heroes were’t connecting with their audiences. (Black Panther, Black Lightning and The Falcon did okay for 40 years.) Black heroes were too hard to manage economically and this was why they didn’t create a bevy of new heroes with powers capable of matching the great white heroes of comics: Superman, the Hulk, Thor, Iron Man, Wonder Woman, The Silver Surfer, and the Phoenix.

The real answer is complex and fraught with politically-correct terms. But the bottom line is this: in a society designed to create profitable divisions amongst peoples, designed to promote a singular point of view, mediated to ensure a secondary state for anyone not of the dominant class ruling this society, THERE WILL BE NO BLACK SUPERMEN!

The very idea goes against every media promoted stereotype of black men to be seen being and remembered as visibly heroic, becoming role models or being defined in any manner that is positive outside of their currently defined roles of minstrels, entertainers (sports, media entertainment) and servants of the Empire promoting the ultimate status quo of white superiority. This is why when you see black men in media, they are playing sports (showing off their only defined attribute, physical prowess), involved in media (making sales for their corporate masters), or protecting or promoting the interests of their owners (corporate or government leaders).

Otherwise, they are shown in handcuffs, shown in homo-erotic videos promoting money and women over good sense, employment or hard work. They are show in acts of violence against other blacks and of course, against defenseless whites, who without the draconian controls of police forces everywhere would run amok, so their slaying can be reconciled as “justifiable homicides”.

Icon – Milestone Comics’ Superman Analogue – he first appeared in Icon #1 (May 1993), and was created by Dwayne McDuffie and Denys Cowan. The only semi-active Omega-class black superhero whose powers are clearly equal (or even perhaps superior to) Superman. After the DC Reboot of 2011, it is unknown if he and the other Milestone heroes will continue to exist.

Omega-class Superheroes
Such an important idea needs a baseline to reference. The term “Omega-class” was initially associated with mutants (beings with extraordinary physical, mental or spiritual abilities beyond the normal range of human beings) in the Marvel Universe (MU). There is no such associated term within the DC Universe (DCU). If a being’s power is being scaled in the DCU, they are usually scaled against one of its strongest active characters, Superman. There has never been an official reference system to classify superheroes in either the DC or Marvel Universe even though both tried to quantify their heroes with very limited success (anyone remember the Handbook to the Marvel Universe or the Definitive Directory to the DC UniverseSeries? Nuff Said).

A quick rule of thumb is a metahuman that can only affect one person at a time, only some of the time or with some other limitation is a Gamma. They are likely unskilled in the use of their powers or their powers are simply too weak to be a deterrent to the current level of technology. Gammas can be brought down in a variety of ways and overall are not considered a threat, except to the unaware.

If a metahuman can affect one person effectively or larger number of things or people intermittently, then they are a Beta. Betas may be more effective, but can usually be counted with a minimum of force. Most Betas who remain untrained will simply use their powers for personal gain because they are aware of their limitations in comparison to any Alphas who may exist. If no Alpha’s exist, a Beta could be a threat if they orchestrated the circumstances of the power use well.

If a metahuman can use his powers all of the time, in a variety of ways, affecting more than one person at a time, for an extended time, the he or she is likely an Alpha. If a metahuman is able to do extraordinary things completely unable to be replicated by machines or current technology, they are an Alpha. If a metahuman can create things that were never seen before they existed or conceive of things in ways, previously unknown, and do that regularly they are likely an Alpha. In a world without other Alphas, an Alpha is nearly a godlike being depending on how their powers manifest, and how they use them. In our world, Alphas would be conscripted by governments or killed by assassination details, if it was even possible to kill the Alpha. Alphas usually have one or two weaknesses they keep under wraps.

If a metahuman can their powers and effect dozens, hundreds, thousands or in the exercise of your powers affect the lives of millions, you are likely an Omega. If a metahumans powers could conceivably destroy all life on Earth and there is little or nothing that can stop them they are likely an Omega. In the MU, this is the most feared class of metahuman. The DCU is only a little less paranoid about Omega-class beings.

Descriptions of each class

Gamma: Metahumans at this level of ability usually have a single power or capability they are able to manifest. Young mutants in the Marvel Universe fall into this classification. This power may make them capable of performing at a level equal to the physical prowess of the best of the human species or they possess a single power beyond the normal range of human abilities. Often metahumans at this level may have greater abilities but they may lack perfect control or have some other limitation that prevents them from being able to be more effective with their power(s). Marvel’s Alpha Flight storylines discussed Gamma-class metahumans and trained them in their facilities. Most Gamma-class metahumans are unfortunate enough to be killed before their powers can manifest properly, either by the failure of their powers, or through interactions with more powerful beings.

Beta: Metahumans who are Beta-Class tend to have more reliable powers, more effective capabilities and potentially with the proper training or stimulus rise to being an Alpha-class metahuman. In the DCU, the Legion of Superheroes is an example of Beta-Class metahumans actively using their powers in superheroic activities. The Betas who comprise more than 50% of the Legion are in support of a limited number of Alphas and an even occasional Omega in their ranks. Legion examples include: Matter-Eater Lad (able to consume and destroy any form of matter), Dawnstar (has the ability to form a psionic lock on a single target and follow it anywhere, across any distance), Bloc (high-order invulnerability). Many of the Golden Age Heroes, might also be considered Beta Class since their powers, while extraordinary in comparison to normal humans, seem a bit outclassed and out-performed by Modern heroes. Consider the Invaders: The Original Human Torch and Toro (flight, defense aura, fireball throwing), Captain America (indestructible shield, superhuman athletic and combat abilities), Sub-Mariner (flight, superhuman strength and resistance to injury), the Whizzer (superhuman speed and reflexes).

Alpha: Metahumans in the Alpha-class range are the mainstay of Modern comics. These metahumans have a bevy of superhuman capabilities at their command, utilize various technologies, and whose powers can affect an entire city when they are at peak performance. One modern hero today can command as many powers as an entire team of Golden Age metahumans. The list is numerous and can be thought to be the norm when considering a superhuman today. Heroes from the Golden and Silver Ages, if they still operate today, are usually upgraded to Alpha-class performance and power levels (or on occasion, allowed to slip back to Beta-class as they age, showing a reduction in their power levels, compensated by their experience). Most Modern age metahumans have amongst their powers at least two of the following:

  • damage resistance or damage reduction,
  • some level of superhuman strength,
  • advanced sensory awareness,
  • flight or super-fast movement,
  • energy projection or manipulation,
  • increased damage output,
  • increased damage resistance or outright invulnerability (basically proof against nearly all attacks; you can knock them down but never out),
  • telekinesis or other form of molecular or energy base control,
  • advanced mental ability such as telepathy or mental domination.

Example: The X-man codenamed Cyclops (Scott Summers) is a Silver Age, Beta-class hero who has evolved into a Modern age, Alpha-class hero. His single power, his optic blast has grown into a diverse energy power capable of being described as: Energy Projection, increased damage, extreme range, capable of deflection (using his optic blast), indirect attack (bouncing his optic blast off of other substances), precision attack (able to control its strength, duration and amplitude from flipping a coin to destroying a mountain top).

He supplements his physical vulnerability using an armored uniform, hand to hand combat training, and regular intensive combat simulations to hone his skill with his power. As a member of a team engaged in the same intense training and supportive combat systems, their group synergy enables them to be even more effective than their individual power levels would suggest.

Omega: The Omega-class metahuman is the Alpha taken to an extreme. An Omega-level mutant is one with the most powerful genetic potential of their mutant abilities. The term was first seen in the 1986 issue Uncanny X-Men #208, but was completely unexplained (beyond the obvious implication of it referring to an exceptional level of power). The term was not seen again until the 2001 limited series X-Men Forever. Some abilities depicted by mutants described as Omega-level include immortality, extreme manipulation of matter and energy, high levels of psionic ability, strong or extremely versatile telekinetic, or the potential to exist beyond the boundaries of the known physical universe.

No firm definition has been offered in comics. Mutants that have been confirmed as Omega-level include Apocalypse, Jean Grey (telekinetic; user of the Phoenix Force), Vulcan (vast superhuman physical capabilities), Rachel Summers (daughter of alternate timeline Jean Grey), Iceman (cryo-hydro-kinetic), Legion (schizophrenic personalities with vast psionic powers), Proteus (reality-altering psychopathic vampire) and Franklin Richards (reality altering powers). The Omega has either a single power whose diverse usage and extreme power level allows them to perform a variety of feats at a level beyond any single Alpha’s ability; Magneto’s control over magnetism, Charles Xavier’s mental/telepathic prowess are two examples of this type of ability.

The other type of Omega has a wide range of powers that are normally found on entire super-teams and pushed to an obscene limit. Marvel’s Gladiator or the DCU’s Superman are an example of such a metahuman. Super-strength, superhuman levels of speed and reflex time, internal life support (proof against radiation, poison, no need to eat, sleep or excrete), invulnerability, energy project powers, superior senses, and flight. What makes these two Omega-class is their virtually inexhaustible energy supplies. They are able to use their powers at full performance long after Alphas have become exhausted due to strain or fatigue.

There are the occasional non-powered or technologically assisted heroes who can move out of the ranks of the Gamma or Beta class to be considered Alpha-class material due to their preparation, quality of technology, or are simply just so bad-ass they can hold their own against superior metahumans. Bronze Tiger, Black Panther, Captain America, Batman, Green Arrow, Hawkeye, Lady Shiva, the new Batgirl are all unpowered humans whose prowess or skills allow them to interact at a higher level than would initially seem possible given their unpowered state. They will never, however, be considered Omega-class beings without outside intervention such as the introduction of the Uni-power.

Power levels of known Black Superheroes
Now to the question of Black characters with Omega-Class powers or abilities. Since we understand that comics, storytelling and mythology share a common heritage, there are very few examples of heroes of color in general in the mainstream comic universes. Considering the socio-economic and socio-political climate of the United States and media in general this should not surprise anyone. Common excuses for why there are no metahumans of color, let alone, of capability include: lack of interest in comic reading demographic, can’t sell them to distributors, no longevity in the marketplace, no mythic source material able to be exploited or adapted to comic formats.

These are simply excuses, since most heroes of the Golden Age were white because people of color were simply without significant rights during the time when comics were in their infancy (1930s and 1940’s) and likely never developed a taste for them. During the Silver Age, most heroes were adaptations from their Golden Age counterparts with only a few writers willing to risk creating heroes of other races due to the very white, very segregated comic industry of the time. As to the lack of mythic material to be used or adapted from, heroes have always taken their cues from the science or mysteries of the time. Golden Age heroes often had super-science, ancient unknown magics or Oriental mysticism as the source of their abilities.

Modern heroes ply their genetic heritage, alien origins, magical construction, extra-dimension existence or quantum-variant parallel universe origins quite proudly so that is not likely to be the issue, not to mention much of the mythic ideas being recycled today come from ancient cultural myths adapted for modern times. So the real reason is they can’t be bothered with empowering people of color in any form of media, particularly one as likely to alter the consciousness of impressionable youth. And they absolutely cannot or will not have metahumans on the same level as their classic big guns, thereby implying there is a level of parity between people of color and the myth of white superiority. Now that we have that out of the way, let’s get back to the analysis at hand.
In keeping with the traditions of barely allowing people of color to exist in mainstream media, there have only been a few heroes of color at all. Most of them have, unless they have been very fortunate never progressed past the power levels of their origin.

BETA-CLASS EXAMPLES:
Amazing Man (DCU – I, II, III) – he had the ability to take on the characteristics of any material and later any energy. While this power lead to an awesome supervillain in the Marvel Universe (Crusher Creel, the Absorbing Man, who during his 40 year stint has dared to take on the All-father Odin and to tangle with the Mighty Thor on a regular basis) the DCU has never done anything useful, interesting or unusual with the character other than kill him two different times and bring the character back with a different costume and same lame writers. He has always been a complete waste of an awesome power suite.

Black Goliath – Bill Foster (MU): presumed dead, adapted the enlarging aspects of the Pym Particles and growing to immense size and strength but lacking superior damage resistance. The power made you larger, but not invulnerable, so there was simply more of you to hit, with a paltry amount of super strength to boot (10-50 tons depending on who was writing). Not sure what made them think this was a good superpower, by the time Bill Foster got it, its creator Hank Pym (Ant-man, Goliath, Yellowjacket), had already deemed it a failure and moved on so it is a mystery what they thought they could do with it by giving it to Foster. Another case of hand-me-down powers amounting to zip.

Bronze Tiger – (DCU – Suicide Squad): non-superpowered martial artist, arguable one of the best in the DCU, ranked fourth, after Lady Shiva, Green Arrow II and Batman) all things considered, this is a step up for him as a character, but he has never been allowed to shine enough to keep a book or maintain a storyline, though I thought he was brilliant during his time with the Suicide Squad.

ALPHA-CLASS EXAMPLES
The Falcon – (MU – Avengers): Quipped by Hawkeye and never forgotten: “They chose you over me? Your only power is flying and rapping with birds.” This sums up the Falcon quite nicely. Using a flight harness of unknown design, he fights crime with Captain America after being exposed to a “cosmic cube” somewhere along the way and acquiring the power to communicate with birds. (in the beginning it was a single bird, but later someone decided that was lame and made it possible for him to utilize and communicate with other birds as well. Wow. What an upgrade.) He is ranked an Alpha only because he has become an institution in the Marvel Universe. Physically he is Beta-class at best. The trick with seeing out of the eyes of six million birds was a nice one.

His flight harness is later destroyed (mostly because it was ugly) and rebuilt by the Black Panther with some minor technology upgrades and a whole lot better looking (GPS, magnetic thrust pack for increased speed, IR vision, jamming technology, and some armor). In a world with reality-altering mutations, cosmic awareness, and godhood on demand (Crusher Creel, a criminal gained his powers from an elixir created by Loki, Norse god of Evil), someone thought it was a good idea to create the Falcon as a sidekick for Captain America back in 1969.

The Falcon is technically the first African-American superhero (Black Panther is from Africa…) He appeared three years before Luke Cage and six years before Storm and is the first black superhero who does not have the word Black in his name. He also appeared two years before John Stewart of the DCU’s Green Lantern fame. (And to be technically correct, the first black character starring in comics is Dell Comics’ Old West gunfighter, Lobo, introduced in 1965.

Black Panther (MU, Avengers): Technically, his power levels only rate him a Beta-class, but he has managed just by being “Bad-Assed” enough and arguable one of the first and likely most well known of black metahumans to make it to the Alpha team. He has just barely superhuman strength (800 pounds), preternatural agility and reflexes. He later supplemented his physical abilities with his culture’s advanced technology. It would appear he will be losing said technology and taking over Daredevil’s beat in NYC asBlack Panther: The Man without Fear in late 2010 or early 2011.

The writers giveth and the writers taketh away. Christopher Priest is credited with the recent resurgence of interest in the Black Panther, (making Wakanda awesome, giving the Panther cool tech, portraying him as scary intelligent, coldly calculating, and wonderfully brilliant). Thank you, Mr. Priest for showing the Black Panther could have always been awesome if someone had cared to do the job.

Black Lightning (DCU – JLA): With the last Crisis on Infinite Earths (the DCU way of retconning anything they do not like about their current universe, and pushing back the clock on anything that should be getting older but now isn’t), Black Lightning’s powers were internalized (he used to wear an energy belt) and he became capable of a variety of electro-magnetic feats including: flight, lightning projection, and simple electromagnetic force fields. He would be classified as an Alpha-class metahuman, if a bit uninteresting, and usually poorly written. The most interesting thing to happen to him in years is his two adult daughters, predictably called Thunder and Lightning, and the question of whether he was Static’s father. The most interesting thing I have ever seen him do was blow up an Imperiex Probe. You had to be there. I waited at least 30 years for that.

The second black superhero of the DCU, Black Lightning has had an on-again, off-again relationship in publication. His books have never done well enough to stay in print, mostly due to spotty writing and poor character development (his and his cast of characters). In recent years, he has experienced a resurgence and even become a member of the Justice League of American White Superheroes. (Don’t get it twisted, I love the JLA, JSA and all of their spin-offs, it just annoys me that 40 years after Civil Rights we still don’t have an original character of color as a member of the League that is notable, interesting or useful. John Stewart is the man, but he is the third or fourth man to be Green Lantern of Earth.) Maybe the DCU’s writers will figure out no one will care about the character until they do.

Storm (MU, X-men): The first Alpha-class African hero whose powers reflect this. Exhibiting molecular control allowing for weather manipulation and flight. Her precision with her powers allowed her to create microclimatic events inside of a room so she could water plants or create ice-storms. She is a highly skilled martial artist, security systems expert and team leader. Until recently (likely the period after she married the Black Panther), she had been a member of every iteration of the Modern X-men. For a time, she lost her powers, but none of her popularity, even when she was sporting a mohawk, wearing a leather dominatrix outfit and beating people down with her fists! Eventually she got classy again, and started wearing something akin to her early uniforms, only a bit more tasteful. For a time she acquired the power of Thor but was unwilling to stay in Asgard. (That clause obviously did not apply to Beta Ray Thor.) Marrying the Black Panther was interesting and we will wait to see what comes of it.

Triathalon aka 3D Man (MU, formerly an Avenger): A metahuman with three times the strength, speed, reflexes and agility of a normal human. He also had increased sensory acuity as well. He recently appeared in the Marvel Civil Wars and could detect the presence of shape-shifted, possessed or illusory images. I know that does not sound like much, but he was able to lift over 2 tons, had a level of agility and flexibility that could make an Olympic-level athlete blush, a reaction time that allowed him to dodge bullets, and could run at speeds of over 100 miles per hour for nearly an hour. In a group like the Avengers, he was wildly outclassed, almost mortal-seeming, but in the right hands, he could have been very interesting. Currently missing in action, presumed dead.

Luke Cage – Power Man (MU – Heroes for Hire, Avengers): Hated his origin, he gained his powers as a victim of experimentation while in prison. His power level has varied widely, but it is almost always some variant of superhuman level strength (lifting anywhere from 10 tons to 70 tons) and superhuman levels of resistance, definitely bullet-proof, sometimes more depending on whose writing him. To be honest, I did not enjoy what I call “Blackploitation” Power Man (that yellow shirt and tiara thing, really worked my nerves), the period before he worked with Iron Fist, I did enjoy him more while he and Fist worked together as Power Man and Iron Fist: Heroes for Hire, and almost liked him during his stint as an Avenger. To be fair, he is one of the only other regularly working heroes of color in the Marvel Universe. As to the lack of development, well are you really surprised?

POTENTIAL OMEGAS:
Photon – (MU – formerly an Avenger) transformed in an experiment into an energy being she is capable of manipulating high-order energy fields for feats of energy projection and control, flight, and super-speed. Her powers rivaled any known in the Marvel Universe and for a time caused fear amongst its mightiest team, the Avengers, of whom she was, for a time, a card-carrying member. Her powers have been stripped back a bit from the days of her origin (technically she started off as an Omega-class being), likely to allow stories to be written about her without driving writers crazy.

Vixen – (DCU – JLA) – by using a mystic amulet, she is able to utilize the red morphegenic field to take on characteristics of any living being. She could use her powers to emulate the physical characteristics (the strength of an elephant or the ability to fly) of any animal. For a time, she was able to even replicate the metahuman characteristics of any living being such as a Kryptonian. It was later retconned, claiming the deity, Anansi, hiding in a pocket dimension within the amulet had altered her powers for his protection. Her ability to replicate superhuman powers is presumed lost.

KNOWN OMEGAS
Black Adam (DCU): Technically an Egyptian, though almost never drawn with any real color to him, he is currently depowered and presumed dead, his previous power-level rivaled Superman’s. Always portrayed as just a bit right of center, he has been one of the more dangerous beings in the DCU. As such, I do not think he will be sitting out very long. Even though he was a villain for most of his career, he did try to be a hero for s short stint, before it went terribly wrong. No surprise there.

Spawn (Image Comics): A black intelligence operative, Al Simmons, is killed and ends up in Hell. Making a deal with his universe’s devil he becomes bound to a powerful entity which gives him superhuman capabilities. Spawn’s body is quite dense and is infused with necroplasm. This gives him superhuman strength, speed, agility, senses, durability, endurance, a regenerative healing factor, jumping, ectoplasmic manipulation, etc. His necroplasm also gives him necro-magic, a variety of supernatural powers including teleportation, phasing, resurrecting the dead, necro-energy blasts and more. He becomes omnipotent after eating from the tree of Eden.

Spawn’s existence and success belies everything the industry has ever said about black superheroes. The Spawn series has spun off several other comics, including Angela, Curse of the Spawn, Sam & Twitch, and the Japanese manga Shadows of Spawn. Spawn was adapted into a 1997 feature film, an HBO animated series lasting from 1997 until 1999, and a series of action figures whose high level of detail made McFarlane Toys known in the toy industry.

Blue Marvel: The Blue Marvel (what is it with black heroes being color identified?) is clearly an Omega-class metahuman. Easily able to defeat the Avengers in combat, including the Sentry, is no mean feat. He has superior superhuman levels of strength, speed, flight, resistance to injury. Physically god-like in every way. He is one of the most powerful humans ever seen in the Marvel Universe. And likely to never be seen again. (I am certain, they do not want to have him saving the Marvel Universe too often, so he will either be, depowered, psychologically depressed, killed, absorbed, transformed, transmorgrified or defanged as so to leave him unable to be a role model to anyone.

In a case of retroactively ADDING color to the relatively colorless lineup of the 1960’s, Marvel Comics created a hero recently called, The Blue Marvel. The twist? He was supposed to have stepped down from a career as a superhero to allow the Civil Rights acts to pass. The claim was he might incite race riots by using his powers in public. He is given some Presidential medal and moves quietly with his cosmic powers into a nice suburban neighborhood and stays there until a villain, linked to his origin, of course, appears to thrash the local incarnation of the Avengers. This incarnation, while lacking Thor, who is usually the heavy on the Avengers team, is boasting The Sentry, one of Marvel’s Superman analogues (they have several, The Sentry, Gladiator, and Hyperion to name three easy ones) and a bunch of other heavies, who promptly get their asses handed to them. He comes out of retirement, offers to help, gets told to get lost, watches the Avengers get thrashed, fights the Avengers and tells them to stay out of his way, knocking the Sentry into orbit, and fighting and defeating his nemesis. Did I say knocking the Sentry into orbit? If you can find this bit of retroactive chicanery, it is worth reading for those panels alone. Especially if you do not like the Sentry. (hint, hint.) And while I was doing some image hunting, I came upon some new notes for the Blue Marvel to reappear…

SuperMAN: (DCU/Tangent Universe): Clearly an Omega-class metahuman with a wide array of mental powers gained by experimentation with and experimental version of Miraclo. Harvey Dent’s powers were the equivalent of Captain Comet for a moment, super-intellect, telepathy, telekinesis, mind control, remote viewing. But they continued to expand until he could detect events before they happened, he could detect people thinking about harming him as they approached, he was able to create energy, read computer hard drives no matter where they were, and eventually capable of performing feats equal to that of the Phoenix Force. He was able to alter his physiology to give himself new powers, temporarily or permanently and eventually became the mightiest being on his world.

In a conflict with his planet’s nemesis, The Ultra-Humanite, their struggle destroyed the Moon and rendered it into parts small enough they were no threat to the Earth. While very few people have heard of the TU’s SuperMAN, during the run of the books, he was one of the most interesting of the TU’s versions of the DCU’s classic characters. So much so, when the DCU was experiencing one of its Universe altering Crisis’, the SuperMAN is involved in the establishment of the new DCU. He is easily as powerful as the Big Blue Boy Scout and unfortunately as unknown as Big Blue is known.

The SuperMAN of the Tangent Universe is a being who was conceived of as an alternative to the standard idea of Superman, where the emphasis was on the Super, not the Man. In this experiment, SuperMAN was a black police officer whose powers were triggered by a fall from an office window. Upon landing without serious injury, it was clear he had begun to evolve. His mind, thinking processes and eventually the ability to manipulate all forms of matter and energy came under his control. Not quite reality manipulation, I would call it the ultimate expression of all forms of quantum energy waveforms in his universe. If he could conceive of it, it was possible. With an intellect in the supergenius range, it was soon impossible to challenge him sufficiently. He began to consider world domination, clearly from a sense that he knew more of what would be right than anyone else. Unlike the DCU, in the Tangent Universe (TU) the existence of metahumans WOULD change all aspects of worldly life. In the TU, SuperMAN came to rule the world and considered moving his dominion to other parallel worlds.

The question was asked where are the Omega-class black superheroes? This was not meant to be an all inclusive list of metahumans of color. This was simply an exploration what has happened in the industry and to question why an industry that has several thousand heroes, across half a dozen well known companies, can count less than fifty well-recognized, well-respected or even well-developed heroes of color. The mission of my post was to talk about the very nature of the question, why they barely exist, why the industry speaks with two tongues, the successes and failures of some black heroes, mostly due to poor handling and a lack of interest in doing it right at all. I believe the black heroes of the future will belong to us when we stop stereotyping ourselves and allowing them to define what a hero is to us and our children. I believe we can create believable ideals that speak to our core values (or speak to values we would like to incorporate into our lifestyles) and create mythic beings that can resonate with out children, promoting new ways of thinking, believing, working, growing, having families, living well, leaving legacies and dying gracefully. No one should have a monopoly on those things. Neither should any particular group of mythic heroes. To quote the famous heromaker himself, Stan “the Man” Lee, “we can all make heroes, we can all be heroes, all we have to do is want to.” So let’s get to creating.

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34 responses to “Where are the powerful black superheroes?

  1. I just wanted to tell you how well written and paced your blog was. I’m 47, African American, born and raised NYC and have had a long love affair with filmmaking, writing, music and comics. This has been a long discussion between myself and many of my like-minded friends. It recently raised it’s ugly head again when the movie Avatar came out. I enjoyed the film, thought the story was fairly predictable and some of the dialog was on the nose. However, that wasn’t what got me griding my teeth throughout the movie. My girlfriend didn’t understand why I wouldn’t give James Cameron full praise. I tried to explain to her that Avatar is what I term the “Dances with Wolves” Scenario. It’s what somewhat liberal white filmmakers create to sort of elivate any sort socio-racial guilt they may have about the ancestors treatment of people of color.

    The Hero (always male and always white) with side with culture at first, get seperated from said culture. He is then thrusted into a world he doesn’t understand and is almost consumed by the “strange” environment–then rescued by the “natives”. He is broken down by the natives, remade, reborn and even best their better warriors. He even gets the tribes princess. He now “sees” the world as they do–it must be protected from the encroachment of his own people (who are always technically superior but have lost their connection to the natural world). He is “given” command of the tribe because he knows his people’s tactics, fears and beliefs. He defeats his people, goes into the sunset with his princess prize and becomes defacto new leader of the brave, truthful, natral people. Once I explained to my girlfriend that it’s something that’s constantly repeated in Sci Fi, and other genres and gave other examples she began to agree with me.

    After reading your article I just realized the gaggle of superhearo films coming out soon. All them made by white directors starring all white super-characters. What happened to the Powerman film (although I do agree with you about early Luke Cage), I remember John Singleton was set to direct and produce a movie. What happened to the Black Panther film? I know Wesley Snipes was supossed to star in some version–but he went into the Blade series (btw, the first one was the best–Blade was surrounded by black allies like the Alchemist); unfortunately, Mr. Snipes has bigger worries on his plate right now. With any future novels or screenplays I commit myself to creating I made a silent promise to myself. All of my main characters will be Black and or people of color. As you said, it’s time stop talking and getting to work.

    • Examples of white guilt movies:
      Avatar- like you said
      Dances with Wolves-of course
      The Last Samurai- Tom Cruise character trains with the samurai for only a year and he best their best swordsman in training what a joke!
      Dangerous Minds- She’s just so understanding isn’t she?
      Dune
      District 9-Look at the film oh my God it’s so apparent
      Lawrence of Arabia

    • Yup, I agree with that mindset that it’s time to stop talking and start getting to work, but here is the thing…creative black people (in comic books since that is what we are talking about here) need to help each other. I believe white comic book creators, from writers and artists, have helped each other and have gotten ahead in the industry because of that. With that said, black comic book creators (and I am not just talking about well-known comic book creators in and of the black community, but also not-well-known black comic book creators who have the writing ability and/or the art skills, but don’t know where to go) NEED to help each other.

      I think one of the issues today within the black community is that people of color (not all) tend to stereotype each other because of the brainwashing going on through the media. Intelligent African Americans/black people need to realize this, and not give into the stereotyping of one another and help each other. Money is needed. How about sitting down with a person of color who has the money. It could start out like this…several African American artists and writers (anywhere from 7 to 12 at least) come together. non-famous literary writers have get-togethers/meetings with other non-famous literary authors of various genres and meet each other at a restaurant or park to discuss things about writing, and I don’t mean a book club. Aspiring black comic book creators can come together as well to sit down, discuss ideas of how to start this company, and discuss then come to an agreement of the 1 or several black entrepreneurs then think would be willing to fund and finance their ideas. NO SECULAR RAPPERS for several obvious reasons.

      I read Dwayne Mcduffie’s short bio on how he started his company (Milestone Comics), and he did it with his friend (who was the artist), and with just 400 characters. What McDuffie did not do, I think, was talk to an individual African American entrepreneur about financing his project, but instead sought out companies, which I think is somewhat of a mistake. I don’ think McDuffie had a group of writers and artists with him as well, but was just he and his artist friend.

  2. Hey man, this is something I’ve thought about to. I’ve started writing and planned a series that is akin to myth-making…even if I takes place off-world. I’d like to talk more.
    Since we’re both in the SF Bay Area, perhaps we could meet?

    V.

  3. Pingback: American Heroes. | deathpop.com

  4. Just to let you know, Black Adam isn’t dead. He’ve just turned to stone
    at some point and also, in case you didn’t know, BA was a hero first
    before he became a villain back in ancient times.

  5. I think the reason you gave about how limited people views of African-American men and how that effect Black Superheroes is true, at the very least for some people who create and even buy comics.

    and this also plays into why there are people who say black characters aren’t profitable, they don’t take into account that many of the character are either stereotypes or treated as secondary characters.

    It’s also a circlur arguement people in the comic industry think comics with black leads wont sell so they don’t create them or in if they do they, store owner may order less because they don’t think they will sell which leads to them not selling.

  6. The idea of black omega level super heros has plagued me a long time. I used to read a great deal of marvel, until the lack of such characters frustrated me into giving up my obsession. First, I don’t blame Marvel. Their audience is clearly the young, white male and in it also their view (presumably) that heros possessing the power to save the world, galaxy and universe should have white faces. This “matter of fact” attitude is basically universily accepted, because of the influence that europeans have had on all cultures and races, for the last 1000 years or so. A

    This influence has led Europeans to feel, even if not openly admitted by some, superior. And the cultures affected by eurpean influence subconsciously feel the same. This is the reason you will see faces of all colors watching Superman, Batman, Thor, Ironman and other white-faced dominated super hero films – It’s the norm.

    This is not a racist rant or a call to boycott. It is an observation designed to awaken us non-europeans from this hypnotic trance of accepting white superiority induced by the subtle and sometimes not so subtle bombardment from the media.

    But please understand that this is only a trance and we can awaken from it by making a choice to no longer accept this norm – Think differently

    Anyone who possesses the artistic talent is capable of drawing a non-white faced super hero who can easily best superman and save the universe.

    Ofcourse the question always arises about whether these super heros can be marketed. If the aim of the creator is to gain great acceptance from a white audience, maybe not. But why is this necessary, when people of color far out populate those of european decent? Can a super hero only be legitimized through white acceptance? I say to both questions: NO!!!

    But if the person possessing the skill to create such characters is asking this question, that only demonstrates the point I’m trying to make in how successful (intentionally or not) euopeans have hypnotized us into believing that they are superior.

    I wrote this post after discussing the issue of no black or very few black “Anime” characters with my white colleagues. They are not racist in the classical sense. But still one “jokingly” asked, who would buy books, movies, or games with leading black characters that are not criminals, thugs and gang leaders. I said, kids who don’t have white faces. ….But would they?

    The time for blaming white owned companies like Marvel and DC is done. We must do something ourselves. I would love to have anyone write me with a positive note about this subject. There are many black stars who have enough influence and resources to put a project in books, cinemas and or on DVDs than can give non-european audiences super heros they would love to see and be proud of.

    If someone has any good ideas, please email me. Let us see what we can accomplish together. I hope to hear from writers, artists and creative thinkers. If interest is sparked, I will start a website, where we can come together and discuss possible projects. Who knows where it my lead?…

    Thank you for writing this wonderful post.

    • I would love to get involved. I’m a 15 year old white kid from England and this topic has been bothering me. I live in a very white area and, therefore, a lot of other kids are not so sensitive on the topic, but for me I see the need for non-white super heroes very important indeed. I would defiantly buy comics with black protagonists and I have done before. Why would’t I seeming that most of the art, music and culture I am into is mainly black anyway?

    • Have you considered developing a shared world/universe? (There may be something like this out there somewhere, but I’ve not seen it.) Creating a Web-site and a core group of characters from which contributors could write stories, submit art and add depth to? Readers could also submit new characters to expand the universe. Members might vote on which characters could be included and which stories would become canon. If it grows enough, you might even try crowdsourcing it as a digital comic (which future graphic novels & regular comic distribution, should it become popular enough).

      In theory, if the concept proves popular, it could expand to rpg’s and video games. There are a number of table-top rpg systems, like Mutants & Masterminds, that could easily support an independent world. So, the site could also become a resource for gamers. Creators would keep ownership of their creations and anything published on the site would be considered ‘fan fiction’ or ‘fan art’ which requires permission from the creators to be otherwise used.

      I actually run a DC Adventures game (it uses the Mutants & Masterminds gaming system). We use it to create heroes all the time. My particular campaign is a Science-Fiction/Super-Hero setting that is way off Earth (mostly to avoid continuity issues and give my players who read DC Comics heavily a bit of a challenge), but developing an Earth-centric universe shouldn’t be that difficult – once you establish the parameters you want (time period – likely modern, but you never know, tone, maturity (pg, pg13), etc..).

      That’s one idea … what were you thinking?

  7. I’m a little disappointed we’re still asking this underlying question. “Why won’t Massa give me more stuff I like? Waaaaaah!”

    There are zero Black writers at DC Comics. Zero at Marvel. Zero at Dark Horse. One at Image (two if you count the Bomb Queen minis).

    http://www.komplicated.com/2012/01/comics-every-black-writer-in-mainstream-comics-got-fired-today-dccomics.html

    http://www.komplicated.com/2012/02/lucky-number-seven-interview-the-last-black-man-standing-enrique-carrion.html

    We haven’t collectively built up our own “alternative” resources (we didn’t show up for Milestone in sufficient numbers to make it work and we haven’t shown up in decent enough numbers on any “indie” products to where they could make an impact). I say this having bought two and three copies of every issue around and after Long Hot Summer, fearing the end of the world. True, some of the product isn’t up to par. True. But some of it is, and many of us give up, fatigued with pawing our way through dreck, before we get to it.

    • To be fair, I bought every book Milestone ever published, even the ones I didn’t care for such as Blood Syndicate. So not everyone is unaware of the potential that was being created when Milestone came into existence. I think the forces we are fighting against make an effort to deter, distract or prevent the creation of powerful Black archetypes as part of a social conditioning structure that I believe remains in place even today.

      Despite protestations to the contrary and the fact that the President of the United States is a Black man, I still contend, we are not equal, we are not safe, we are not secure, we are not considered to be viable members of American society. From chattel slavery, to Black Peonage, to Jim Crow, to Civil Rights, to Post-literacy, to the Presidency of Obama, we have struggled against an undercurrent of racial tension and hatred. It’s that simple.

      And as I have said before, I did not wake up and decide to be Black. So if there is a stigma associated with my Blackness, I did not create it. I may have to bear it, but it is not mine. All I can do is what I always do. The best work, the best ideas, the best teamwork, the best coordination and the best effort I can make to be a man worthy of respect. If the burden of the stigma becomes unbearable, remember I did not create the stereotypes that it promotes, nor do I sponsor them, nor do perpetuate them. I am simply forced to bear it until those people where the stigma originates, change their mind and grow up. Anyone willing to work with me will see my prodigious ability in everything I do and if they still can’t change their minds, how do they know they still have one? (Apologies to Ashleigh Brilliant.)

  8. Very good analysis. I always wondered why Marvel writers (almost said whiters) didn’t do more with photon and blue marvel. You’ve highlighted one of my central issues with mainstream comics, in that heroes of color are depowered, undercut, or otherwise invalidated and it really sucks as a person of color that happens to enjoy reading comics. I’d like more omega-class heroes of color, most definitely, and I’m going to spend entirely too much time using the ranking system you created to group black heroes.

  9. My only issue with all this goodness is that if I’m not mistaken, Storm is an Omega class mutant as stated by Shield in a few issues. not sure which. It’s based on her extreme weather manipulation and the ability to change the climate of a given landmass. IDK but I don’t think she’s simply Alpha class.

  10. Great article. You left out War Machine. White male readers don’t like Powerful black characters. It’s a reflection of our racist white supremacist society.

  11. It also reflects human simple-mindedness. We are uncomfortable with things that require more than one definition. Once you define a character as “black” or “jewish”, or “gay”, humans have trouble adding any more definitions.

  12. Black Panther recently received a massive upgrade in Fantastic Four #608. He’s has all the strength and knowledge of every Black Panther that has existed. I sent this article to Marvel some time ago, along with my own thoughts on the disparity between T’challa and the Monarchs of MU (Doom, Black Bolt, Thor Sultan Magus and Namor).

    So it’s wait and see right now. Great article.

  13. I think a lot of people are coming at this from the wrong direction. Most popular superheroes today were created in the 30s through to the 60s/70s. The question of diversity wasn’t hugely weighing on anyones minds then. Hence pretty much everyone was a white male with a few women thrown in.

    In todays market its pretty hard to launch any sort of new character and have him be succesful. Particularly so for new super-powerful characters, who tend to be resented by the fans of older super-powerful types (see perhaps the author of this blogs reaction to The Sentry). Its not just because white readers or white creators aren’t interested in creating ethnic heroes. I know several black comic fans who are huge fans of characters like Thor and Superman and will gleefully pour scorn on any character who might try to compete with their fave in terms of saving the day. Its just about the characters they grew up with and they are fiercely loyal to them.

    As for the Blue Marvel – Marvel editor Tom Brevoort was pretty clear that its unlikely he will pop up much for one simple reason – none of his stories sold very well.

  14. Great article. I don’t really feel qualified to add to it, or the many excellent comments above, but one of those comments did make me curious about something and I’d like to ask what black comic book fans/readers make of the Eisner nominated blaxploitation comic ‘Afrodisiac’?

  15. I think the point of view of this article is skewed into the “racism is the reason” a little too much. It’s not easy for ANY superhero whether they’re white/asian/latin/black to just be given OMEGA powers AND have the backing of good artists AND great and compelling writing to push them into popularity where everyone starts buying the comic. For every Superman, there are hundreds if not thousands of other Superman-esque failures regardless of race. Race alone does not dictate success for a superhero and “Omega” doesn’t always equal “best” anyway. I always scoffed at a hero being automatically given “Invulnerability, super strength, flight, energy projection (what is that anyway?) yada yada yada”, the typical cliche bundle of super powers. Give a Black superhero all of Superman’s powers and we’d all be like “Oh! He’s like Superman, except he’s black. So what?” I’d rather read about a hero who has unique powers and uses them in a interesting and clever way. Putting themselves at risk to save people WITHOUT the benefit of being able to withstand a nuclear explosion is brave…e.g. Batman is braver than Superman, hands down. If you don’t like that analogy because Batman is white and setting off your racism alarm, I guess replace Batman with Mr. Terrific.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mister_Terrific_%28Michael_Holt%29

  16. Okay Larry, I didn’t edit your comment but you might want to talk to people before you assume others aren’t working to change and improve things. The Black Science Fiction Society is a collection of writers and artists doing exactly what you are talking about; they are working toward changing this. The essay was written not as a complaint but an analysis of a trend.

  17. The ulternate universes which spawn our beloved superheroes is derived from our very familiar universe where Blacks control none of the media (at least to a degree where we have control over the creation and dissemination of our own image. We as members of the Black Race on this Planet Earth are tasked with a superior burden and campaign- we must become our own real-life superheroes. Our mission: to own, control and increase our commercial holdings on this planet and others as needed. Every one of us has faced a terrible adversity from which we can draw strength and propel us towards our superhero destinies. In this world, we can be the heroes – WE MUST BE THE HEROES for our own sake and the sake of all of Human-Kind……the Universe is watching.

  18. Pingback: Rationale | mengistu_etim/illustration

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  20. It only takes one black media powerful personality (Oprah, Tyler Perry, Spike Lee, etc..) to make a DC Comic “Icon” or “Tangent Superman” a household name through television and/or movies. Unfortunately way to often these powerful black media moguls think in the one-dimensional realm rather than three dimenional as it relates to television and movies. One focuses heavily on women issues, the other on comedies, and the latter on ‘Hood films’. I’m not saying that the other focal points are negative because we need them as well. I’m saying that there should be more emphasis on other parts if the media in our culture which would also provide jobs and niche opportunities for many black artist.

    • My thoughts and words almost verbatim. .Even the reference points which is frustrating that that point isn’t understood..

  21. I am in full agreement with this article and yes it has frustrated me for years. Even submitted a black omega character in the early 70’s to marvel who could stand toe to toe with Galactus with no response. Black heroes were under skilled, minimal in strength, with no special powers… but there’s another issue even young black artists are so hypnotized by what they read even their main characters are white. There’s nothing wrong with that but give yourself some credit and create top tier characters that look like you.

  22. Pingback: Black ‘superhero’ mistaken for public nuisance | The La-La Lander

  23. You forgot Blade. He’s a vampire so his abilities include superhuman strength, agility, stamina, speed, accelerated healing factor, ability to sense supernatural beings, immunity to mind control, and a good hand to hand combatant. Some of the toughest superheroes (including Superman) don’t have some the abilities he does. Superman isn’t immune to mind control and neither are many of the toughest superheroes. Plus Blade has his own series and hit movies. I think Blade qualifies to be in the ranks with other alpha comic charters.

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