Looking at my artwork, I'm sure it's not hard to tell that I'm a superhero fan. As a kid, I consumed every bit of superhero media I could, including cartoons, live action TV shows, movies and vinyl records. I had the toys, Halloween costumes and of course, the Underoos.
I have a lot of fond memories of my father taking me to 7-11 or People's drug store and buying a bunch of comic books that I'd grabbed from the spinner racks. After reading them a few times, I'd reach for the pencil and paper and begin to draw characters and scenes from the books. Then one day, it hit me...
None of the heroes that I was drawing looked like me.
Not Spider-Man. Not Batman. Not Superman. All of the popular characters that appeared on TV, in the toy aisles and on my lunchboxes were white. The only black character that I saw on a regular basis was Black Vulcan on the Superfriends cartoon. He wasn't close to being an interesting character and… I mean… look at his costume!
Since I hadn't quite figured out the racial dynamics and history of our country at that point, I remembered being a little confused. Confusion led to sadness, which eventually led to anger. I didn't think it was fair. Faced with this injustice, I took action.
Yeah, I grabbed my crayons and colored Sergeant Rock brown. It was a natural choice to pick him. Back then, my father was a 1st Sergeant in the U.S. Army and we were living on an Army base in Washington, DC. The military was a big part of my life and I figured I'd join when I grew up (didn't happen). I had several Sergeant Rock comic books and I recognized him as being a strong, fearless and capable leader. Those admirable qualities made the Sergeant the perfect character to balance the scales of justice.
After I'd used my crayons to strike a blow for comic book equality, i still wasn't satisfied. I figured there had to be some interesting heroes of color out there, so I started doing some research. Unfortunately, the Internet was about 15 years or so from being invented, so I asked older comic book readers and thumbed through every comic I could at the stores. That's when I began to find characters like the Black Panther, Luke Cage, Black Goliath, Black Lightning, Storm and the Falcon. I didn't appreciate that a lot of them had to have "Black" in their name, but that was better than nothing, I guess.
Through the years, some of these characters managed to get a little spotlight here and there. Wesley Snipes was great in the Blade movies, which in the minds of many, helped kick off the superhero media renaissance that we find ourselves in today. And hey, if you liked Shaquille O'Neal as Steel, it's all good. No judgement. However, many of the characters were still relegated to being underdeveloped team members and sidekicks.
Things appears to be looking up, though. War Machine and Falcon are Avengers in the MCU. Regardless of whether or not you were a fan of 2015's Fantastic Four reboot, Michael B. Jordan, an African-American actor was the Human Torch, a character who has been portrayed as white since 1961. Mr. Terrific appears on the Arrow TV show along with John Diggle. Vixen had a web series on CW Seed. The Luke Cage Netflix series debuts later this year and the Black Panther will have his solo movie in 2018.
In the comic book arena, there’s clearly been a push for characters that are more reflective of our society. In fact, two of Marvel’s most popular characters are Spider-Man (not Peter Parker, but Miles Morales, a teenager of African-American and Hispanic descent) and Ms. Marvel, a Pakistani American teenager.
I'm encouraged that kids growing up today won't have as hard of a time as I did trying to find heroes that they could identify with without having to use so much of their imagination. Of course, you hope that kids would admire the qualities that make the superheroes super heroic like selflessness, courage, strong moral centers and the willingness to take responsibility for the well-being of others. But how cool is that they can more readily find those qualities in characters that could be their next-door neighbor?
This mashup includes several of those Heroes of Color that I discovered in the '80s, 14 of them to be exact.
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