Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : December 18th 2014 Contents C8
Guardian www.guardian.co.tt Thursday, December 18, 2014
For decades, comic books have been
in colour, but now they are more and
more reflecting the true hues of Amer-
The new Captain America is black.
A Superman who is suspiciously similar
to President Barack Obama recently
headlined a comic book. Thor is a
woman, Spider-Man is part-Puerto
Rican and Ms Marvel is Muslim.
Mainstream comic book super-
heroes---America s modern mythology
and the wellspring behind several recent
Hollywood blockbusters---have been
redrawn from the stereotypical brown-
haired, blue-eyed white male into a
world of multi-coloured, multi-religious
and multi-gendered crusaders to reflect
a greater diversity in their audience.
Society has changed, so superheroes---
at heart a reflection of life in the US---
have to as well, said Axel Alonso, edi-
tor-in-chief at Marvel Comics, who in
November debuted Captain America
No 1 with Samuel Wilson, the first
African American superhero taking over
Captain America s red, white and blue
uniform and shield.
"Roles in society aren t what they
used to be. There s far more diversity,"
said Alonso, who has also shepherded
a gay wedding in the X-Men, a gender
change from male to female in Thor
and the first mainstream female Muslim
hero in Ms Marvel.
The change to a black Captain Amer-
ica is already having an impact outside
Even before the publication of the
first issue, unauthorised images of the
black Captain America were shown at
a town hall meeting in St. Louis fol-
lowing the funeral of Michael Brown,
who was 18 and unarmed when he was
killed by a white police officer. This
Captain America had his hands up say-
ing "Don t Shoot," a slogan protesters
have used to highlight the number of
African Americans killed by police.
Alonso said Marvel editors knew when
they depowered Steve Rogers and
replaced him with Wilson that they
would be treading on sensitive territory.
"When you take an African American
man and dress him in the red white and
blue of the flag, of the United States
flag, ... there s symbolism in that, that
is more potent and more thought-pro-
voking, evocative" than other kinds of
changes, Alonso said.
"But we re not here to editorialise.
We re here to tell a story," he added.
"This is the world you live in, it s chang-
ing and our characters are reconciling
with that change."
Marvel isn t the only company looking
at diversity. An alternative black Super-
man, one who is president of the United
States, is part of a team in DC Comics
"The Multiversity." DC also brags of
having more comic books featuring
female leads than any other company,
including Batgirl, Catwoman, Batwoman,
Harley Quinn, the Joker s paramour and
Wonder Woman, the longest-running
comic book with a female hero.
"Our goal is to tell the best stories
while making sure our characters are
relatable and reflect DC Comics diverse
readership and fan base," DC Entertain-
ment President Diane Nelson said.
Earlier changes---a half-Puerto Rican,
half black Spider-Man in their Ultimate
imprint, the 16-year-old daughter of
Pakistani immigrants living in Jersey
City named Kamala Khan becoming Ms
Marvel---may have smoothed the way
for the Captain America switch, Alonso
said. But not everyone is happy with
the changes: A contingent of vocal Inter-
net fans are currently protesting a change
coming up in a reboot of Marvel s Fan-
tastic Four property in the movies, turn-
ing one of the quartet---Johnny Storm---
from blond and blue-eyed to black.
Noah Berlasky, author of the upcom-
ing "Wonder Woman: Bondage and
Feminism in the Marston/Peter Comics,
1941-1948," said portions of the largely
white, male comic book audience don t
want favoured characters to change.
"Changing people s race or changing
people s gender can feel more threatening
or a bigger deal than changing Thor into
a frog," said Berlasky, referencing a pop-
ular storyline in which the Norse god
transforms into an amphibian. "Char-
acters are always changing, but there
are cultural lenses which make it seem
like a bigger deal if Johnny Storm is
Movies based on superheroes, like
Marvel s The Avengers, Guardians of
the Galaxy, and DC s Man of Steel and
upcoming Superman vs Batman: Dawn
of Justice, which will feature DC s trinity:
Superman, Batman and Wonder
Woman, are driving a new audience to
comic books. That surge has comic book
companies are looking to have characters
that those fans can relate to, said Cheryl
Lynn Eaton, head of the Ormes Society,
which promotes black female comic
creators and the inclusion of black
women in the comics industry.
"We are dealing with basically the
modern myths, with stories that are
going to be told for decades, and they
shape the way we view ... our world in
a way," Eaton said. "The stories of Super-
man, the story of Batman, we re going
likely to be telling them 40 years from
now, and we ve already been telling them
for decades. ... They are telling us sort
of how to live life and how we relate in
this world, so I think it s important for
everyone, for people of different back-
grounds, to have a say."
There have been black comic book
characters for decades, but rarely have
they been upfront in flagship titles. The
first black character to headline his own
comic book was Dell Comics Western
hero and gunfighter Lobo in 1965, whose
series sold poorly and was canceled after
Marvel introduced the world to
Samuel Wilson as the Falcon, the comic s
first African American superhero, in
1969 as a sidekick to Captain America.
The Black Panther, who had been intro-
duced as a supporting character in Fan-
tastic Four in 1966, was actually an
African king, not an American. The self-
titled comic book "Luke Cage, Hero for
Hire" debuted in 1972, featuring a "Blax-
ploitation" character with an exaggerated
Afro, a catchphrase "Sweet Christmas!"
and super strength as the result of a
prison experiment. In 1977, DC Comics
introduced Black Lightning, a school-
teacher who gains electrical powers and
becomes a superhero.
In 1993, Milestone Media became the
first major comic book imprint to feature
almost all non-white lead characters.
The eponymous Hardware and Static
were black. "Xombi" was Korean American.
Heroes of every race, creed, colour and
sexual orientation populated the "Blood
Syndicate," "Heroes" and the "Shadow
Cabinet," who have been absorbed into
the DC pantheon.
Comic books companies need to rec-
ognize the impact these characters have
before they change them back to their
default identities, Eaton said.
"That having Sam Wilson become Cap-
tain America and having a woman become
Thor, you re stating that everyone is equal
and that race, gender shouldn t not limit
you, and that you re just as good as the
heroes we ve had. But if you pull these
symbols away from them after a short
period of time, you re kind of going back
on what you re saying," she said.
Alonso said they haven t written an end
to Wilson s time as Captain America.
"We have not discussed at this point
the end of Sam s journey," he said.
"That s not been the topic of discussion
yet, so we don t have a clean and easy
way out. We ve just got a great landscape
ahead of us to tell great stories."
Black Captain America leading comic book diversity
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