April 05, 2007

Minority superheroes

Normally moonbatty comics commentator Steven Grant asks

... why does almost every superhero from a country other than the USA have to have some motif identifying them as representative of that country? Is the perception out there that American readers can't keep straight that a hero's home nation is, say, England if he doesn't wear a British flag or have a name like Captain Britain or Union Jack? Does every hero from Japan have to wear samurai armor or a rising sun emblem? Would South Americans even dress up as conquistadors? Does everyone really think Americans are that stupid, or are we trying to draw the attention of readers of those nationalities portrayed (usually with only the most fleeting knowledge of the mores, behavior and culture of those nationalities), or is it just a running exercise in benign bigotry? (Link.)

Of course Grant would have to stick that last sentence in there; however, given the politically correct state of modern comics I believe it to be a ludicrous assumption. I would have liked to read some specific examples of what Grant was referring to. But sure, there are plenty of superheroes who explicitly or implicitly "represent" their country. As Grant noted, there are Union Jack and Capt. Britian (England), the Red Guardian (the old Soviet Union), Vindicator/Guardian (Canada), and Sunfire (Japan). But these are all creations many years after the emergence of the famous Captain America whose first appearance was in 1941. Thus, if the United States can have a superhero symbol, why not other nations?

Perhaps in the Silver and Bronze Ages of comics there was more "stereotyping" of superheroes from other nations, not to mention ethnicities within the United States. In the 1960s and 70s, for example, it seemed African-American heroes (and villains) had to have the word "black" somewhere in their superhero moniker: The Black Panther (which actually makes sense, but still...), Black Goliath (which actually was changed to mere "Goliath" years later), Black Lightning ... Even the black heroes without "black" in their name had to be made "relevant" to issues surrounding the African-American community. Luke Cage (Power Man) often fought pimp-like villains in the 'hood, as did the Falcon. He spoke with that "jive" twang. Even African (not African-American) hero Black Panther got drawn into the issue of American race relations in late-60s/early 70s issues of The Avengers.

But consider the timeframe: In the 60s and 70s, black Americans still had quite limited access to the American mainstream, including pop culture in many respects. Marvel Comics was actually quite ahead of the curve in its progressivity, offering thoughtful stories about American culture woven into their fantasy/science fiction superhero yarns. The aforementioned Black Panther, for instance, didn't seem totally aware of the difficulties black Americans faced. (The Panther is a [wealthy] African prince from the fictitious nation of Wakanda.) Black Goliath (real name: Bill Foster) was a brilliant scientist, originally an assistant of the original Goliath (not to mention Giant Man, Ant Man and Yellowjacket) Hank Pym. He used Pym's growth formula to become a hero himself. His and the Panther's characters portrayed African-American males as genius-level men of science who used their abilities for the good of all; this, in contrast to the plethora of "blackspoitation" films of the time.

More contemporary comics, in my view, do not necessarily agree with Grant's thesis. The recent The Ultimates featured a representative hero of each of the major Western nations (with titles such as "Capt. France" and "Capt. Italy," etc.) but there didn't appear to be anything blatantly French or Italian about these heroes. But even if they did, a big difference between the US and many other nations is the heterogeneity of the former. It's actually hard to "pin down" exactly what the "US culture" is. Homogenous societies do not have as much difficulty in this regard. Thus, if many Japanese heroes are frequently depicted as wearing samurai armor, it's because samurai are national symbols for the all the Japanese people. And unlike Grant, I do believe that, unfortunately, too many Americans are ignorant of geography. And since the majority of the market for comicbooks is the United States, a little -- if elementary -- lesson in [cultural] geography cannot hurt for its main audience now, can it? Only a cultivated moonbat like Grant can attribute "bigotry" to such.

Grant says "almost every superhero from a country other than the USA have to have some motif identifying them as representative of that country..." No! There are countless examples that do not fit this assumption. Northstar and Aurora from Canada. Ditto Wolverine, Box, Shaman, Puck and Sasquatch. The Crimson Dynamo and Titanium Man from Russia. Ditto the Black Widow. Latinos Living Lightning and Firebird. And these are just but a few examples from Marvel Comics.

Posted by Hube at April 5, 2007 07:05 PM | TrackBack

Comments  (We reserve the right to edit and/or delete any comments. If your comment is blocked or won't post, e-mail us and we'll post it for you.)

You're exactly right. The US has iconic American superheros, why shouldn't other nations?

Posted by: Jeff the Baptist at April 6, 2007 09:09 AM

He also overlooks a few things:

Comics in the 60's and 70's were firmly targeted at kids. Not so today.

Comics are a business and creating a niche for African American kids is smart business.

Posted by: Duffy at April 6, 2007 10:01 AM

"Would South Americans even dress up as conquistadors?"

What an idiot, the conquistadors were Spaniards. More likely they'd be Captain Aztec or something Mayan. What about a Mexican hero called the Coyote, who uses his powers to help oppressed migrant workers sneak across the border?

Oh, and what was the name of the black militant hero comic from Chasing Amy?

Posted by: G Rex at April 6, 2007 02:46 PM

The title of the comic was 'White Hating Coon.'

As Hooper says: "The hero's name is Maleekwa, and he's descended from the black tribe that established the first society on the planet, while all you European motherf****ers were hiding out in caves and shit, all terrified of the sun."

Posted by: Ryan S. at April 6, 2007 04:12 PM

So, did Captain France turn tail and run whenever he had the opportunity? I'm sorry my bad. I couldn't resist.

Posted by: AnonymousOpinion at April 7, 2007 02:03 AM

"The title of the comic was 'White Hating Coon.'"

Thanks Ryan, all I could remember was Hooper X.

"What's a Nubian?"

Posted by: G Rex at April 9, 2007 10:27 AM

"...almost every superhero from a country other than the USA have to have some motif identifying them as representative of that country."

Well, what about Alpha Flight? Aurora and the Northstar are natural phenomena of the arctic circle, Snowbird and Sasquatch are more or less from Northern American Mythology, there is an aboriginal shaman just called "Shaman", and somebody even pointed out that the name "Puck" does not come from Shakespeare, but from a hockey puck. Even the wolverine is Canadian fauna. That's stereotyping. Do something like that for another country, and most people would just sadly shake their heads.

Posted by: Axel M. Gruner at May 6, 2007 06:22 PM

I'm having a problem that relates to this. I'm trying to creat a 70's black hero character, but I'm out of my depth when it come to names.

One guy seriously suggested "Leroy X" as a name!

My idea is for a 70's hero that would be iconic and inspirational to a wide section of Americans. I guess I'm on my own with this one, unless I can actually find some non-idiots to talk to online.

Posted by: ZeroArmour at June 13, 2007 09:02 PM

Don't forget Omega Red!

Posted by: Duffy at November 7, 2007 09:36 AM