Superheroes weren’t always, well, heroes. Though they were constantly saving the world and getting the girl, their alter egos weren’t. Their alter egos were the shy ones, the unnoticed ones. Even Superman has his humble origins in the Jewish community of the 1930s, a community not known for its inclusion in mainstream society. Clark Kent is a soft-spoken man; Peter Parker is a science geek; and Shazam is actually 12-year-old boy. However, despite being the “underdog,” they all have one thing in common. They are all adult white males. There have been minority and women superheroes for decades, but they have never been, as a whole, as popular as the white males. In the last few years, we’ve finally seen that beginning to change.
In 2011, the comic community was rife with speculation. We had heard that Peter Parker was going to die, but who was going to be the next Spider-Man? We found our answer in Miles Morales, a troubled, half-Black, half-Latino, 16-year-old kid from Brooklyn.Miles was bit by a radioactive spider, just like Spider-Man. He tried to ignore and discard his powers, wanting only to be a normal kid, but when Spider-Man died saving his family, Miles knew he had to step up. With great power comes great responsibility. Not everyone was thrilled at the choice of new Spider-Man, saying that it was a deliberate publicity stunt, but Marvel’s editor-in-chief, Axel Alonso, denied that is was. Many others, including creator Stan Lee, voiced their support of the choice. They were glad that there was going to be a superhero role-model for non-white children.
Rising Diversity in Heroes
When Young Justice premiered in 2010, it did not have the large, dedicated fan base it has now. The show, which focused on the sidekicks of several Justice League members forming their own group, recruited many well-known teenage heroes. Robin and Kid Flash formed the core, but a new Aqualad took the lead. The original Aqualad, created in 1960, was a white teenage boy named Garth. In 2010, Greg Weisman created a new, black Aqualad named Kaldur’ahm for the Young Justice series and Geoff Johns soon adapted the character to his own comic series. Both series took off in popularity, and the TV show’s second season added another black teenager – a teenage female hero called Rocket.Rocket met the team when the Justice League inducted her partner and fellow black hero, Icon, into their ranks. Wonder Woman had expressed a desire for more female heroes in the League, and so Rocket joined Young Justice. Wonder Woman had a very valid point in Agendas: there should be more serious female superheroes. She only had to wait a couple of years to see it happen.
Breaking Gender Barriers
Ms. Marvel has traditionally been a stereotypical female hero: tall, curvy, blonde, wearing a glorified bathing suit, and thigh-high, high-heeled boots. Carol Danvers ditched the bikini bottom for pants and a promotion in 2012 and became Captain Marvel, a traditionally male hero. Within days of the her first comic issue coming out, the Carol Corps had formed and was growing quickly. Danvers wasn’t the first female Captain Marvel, but
As with Spider-Man, when one hero moves on, another must take his (or her) place. In 2013, Marvel began its “Inhumanity” storyline and Kamala Khan, a Pakistani-American teenage girl, took up the distinctive Ms. Marvel S and Carol Danvers’ place. This past February she moved into the spotlight with her own comic series.Kamala’s creators, one of them Muslim-American, wanted to portray an authentic experience of a minority growing up in America. Her story is not just about being Pakistani-American or Muslim, but about the struggles people face when labels and pre-conceptions are placed upon them.
Diversity in comics is still a struggle on and off the page. Women are quickly approaching half of the comic reading market, but the number of female writers and artists still hovers around 13% of the entire industry. It’s good to see a more diverse cast of characters take up the mantels of popular heroes. If support of these changes continue, in both mainstream and indie comics, there is no reason why the number of men and women of different backgrounds and ethnicities won’t increase and redefine the American superhero.
Did I miss your favorite minority hero? Let me know in the comments!