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Thursday, March 25, 2004

Black, White, & Shades of Grey

Time for more useless superhero trivia, I think. Let's look at characters of colour - that is, comic book heroes with "Black" or "White" in their names. How many are truly black, and how many white? And what does it mean? Let's explore...

First, an experiment: think of a black superhero. First one that comes to mind. I'll wait.

...okay. Who did you think of? I'll bet the character was male, and had "Black" in his superhero name. Furthermore, I'll bet you chose the Black Panther or Black Lightning. Maybe the Black Vulcan, if you watched Saturday morning cartoons.

But how many black characters use "Black" in their sobriquet? Let's find out...

"Black" Characters

Black Canary: Heroine. Wears a black (well, maybe dark blue, depending on the colourist) costume; white as Karen Carpenter.

Black Cat: Heroine. Wears a black costume; white skin, red hair.

Black Cat (II): Another heroine. Also wears a black costume; white skin, white hair.

Blackhawk: Hero. (Collectively: Blackhawks.) A whole bunch of white guys, except for a token Asian. Wore black costumes, flew black airplanes.

Black Goliath: Hero. Grew big. An actual black guy. If he were white, would he be called "White Goliath?"

The Black Hood: Hero. White guy in...a black hood.

Black Jack: Hero. Was not black. Wore black hood.

The Black Knight: Hero. White guy in black suit of armour.

The Black Knight (II): Hero. Ditto. Descendant of the first guy; joined the Avengers.

Black Lightning: Hero. Wears a black costume, and is in fact black. Angry, dedicated schoolteacher by day, ass-busting crimefighter by night. If he were white, would he be called "White Lightning?" Hmmm...that would give a different impression.

Black Manta: Villain. Wears a black deep-sea diving suit, and is in fact black, though this wasn't revealed for many years. (I remember being surprised myself when I read the revelation in the 70s.)

The Black Musketeers: Heroes/Heroines. No, I'm not kidding. They're black, and they're musketeers. They help out the Black Panther.

The Black Panther: Hero. Wears a black costume, and is in fact black. Leader of a fierce, technologically-advanced warrior tribe in Africa.

The Black Pirate: Hero. Wears a black costume, has a black beard. (No relation to Blackbeard the pirate.) White guy.

Black Racer: Force of nature. One of the New Gods; wears a goofy skiiing outfit, acts as the angel of death for the DC universe. Has black skin.

The Black Talon: Villain. An actual black guy, formerly known as The Black Rooster. Again, I'm not kidding.

The Black Terror: Hero. Wears a black costume with a skull and bones motif. Not a pirate. White guy.

Black Vulcan: Hero. One of the Super Friends. Actually black. Cheap Black Lightning knockoff for the cartoon series; the creators didn't want to spend the money to actually purchase the rights to the Black Lightning character.

The Black Widow: Heroine. Wears a black costume. Redheaded spy; white.

Black Bolt: Hero. Black costume, white guy.

Vykin the Black: Hero. One of the New Gods. Yeah, he was black, literally. The token black.

"White" Characters

White Witch. Heroine. A white witch in a white costume. Member of the Legion of Super-Heroes.

Black Characters who don't have the word "black" in their codename:

Amazing Man (II): Hero. As far as I can remember, the only black member of the Justice Society of America. And only retroactively, at that.

Blade: Hero. Maybe you've seen the movies, where he's played by Wesley Snipes. Black guy who hunts vampires.

Brother Voodoo: Hero. May as well be called the black something-or-other, since this name doesn't afford much more dignity.

Cottonmouth: Villain. Has "bionically enhanced jaws." A black character named "Cottonmouth?" This just isn't right.

The Falcon: Hero. Sidekick to Captain America. Has a falcon.

The Human Top: Hero. Spins around. Maybe "The Black Tornado" would have been a better name, at that.

Icon: Hero. Superman analogue; a shapeshifting alien who took the form of a black man, since this was the first example of a human he'd seen.

Moses Magnum: Villain. Holy cow, what a cool name. Too bad his costume is so lame.

Power Fist: Hero. Jive-talkin' hero, in fact. Costume has a disturbing chain motif, though perhaps this is a subtle statement of taking back the chains...or something.

Rocket: Heroine. Sidekick of Icon.

Static: Hero. Has a pretty good cartoon at the moment.

Steel: Hero. Wears a suit of armour. Played by Shaq in a terrible film that really did an injustice to a great character.

The Super Harlem Globetrotters: Heroes. Remember the cartoon? The Harlem Globetrotters received super-powers and fought crime around the world, living up to their name, I guess.

Tyroc: Hero. Sonic scream powers. Wears a white costume; member of the Legion of Super-Heroes.

Whitewash: Hero. Well, more like a comic sidekick. Terribly stereotypical; thankfully hasn't been seen much since his creation in the 40s.

Green Lantern (III): Hero. John Stewart was once the "emergency backup" for Earth's Green Lantern, Hal Jordan. Later on, he became a fully-fledged, full-time Green Lantern in his own right, and in fact it is the John Stewart Green Lantern who is currently being used in the popular Justice League cartoon.

XS: Heroine. Super-speedster. Member of the Legion of Super-Heroes.


Okay, there are lots of characters who use the word "black" in their codename, most of them white. But there are very few characters who use "white" as an adjective - only one that I could even remember.

What if writers felt the need to apply the "white" descriptor to white characters? How do these names grab you?

White Superman (YEESH! Don't even go there)
White Batman (Doesn't make sense)
White Wonder Woman ( it sounds like a porn star name)
White Flash (Hmm. Sounds kind of cool, I guess...)
White Spider-Man (uh-huh)
White Canary (Might actually work, I suppose; makes as much sense as Black Canary)
White Dr. Doom ("White Doom" might be cool, not to mention politically astute)
White Shadow (Hey, wasn't that a TV series?)

Well, no surprises here: comics, at least in their early years, were clearly as racist (if mostly unconsciously) as any other medium of the day. Fortunately, there are many more black comics heroes these days - great examples like Icon and Steel, positive role models with non-stereotypical day jobs. (Publisher and architect, respectively.)

Still, as one minority gains footing, others lag behind; there are still relatively few Asian or (openly) gay superheroes, and even fewer Native Americans. But, one by one, they do appear. Whether they will take hold of the public consciousness like Superman, Batman, or Spider-Man...time will tell.

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