Has President Obama paved the way for black superheroes to achieve prominence? That's the claim made by Fox News... but on the day where we see a Black Superman, have they missed the boat?
The black Superman - coincidentally, the President of the United States - appears in the opening pages of DC Comics' final issue of Final Crisis, alongside a black Wonder Woman, as various parallel Earths cross over before the universe is destroyed. The character may never be seen again, but that's not to say that comics are entirely devoid of black superheroes.
Admittedly, mainstream superhero comics do lack high-profile black heroes, and even they are usually relegated to supporting roles (DC Comics have only two black characters headlining their own books this month, both of which are spin-offs of their successful Justice League of America title, and both of which are mini-series; Marvel have three, one of which is a spin-off from X-Men, and two of which are mini-series). Both Marvel and DC are trying to address this, in an admittedly low-key way; DC by bringing back the characters from the 1990s Milestone line - a line focused on ethnic diversity - and Marvel with recent (re)launches of the War Machine and Black Panther titles. We asked friend of io9 - and blogger for comic site 4th Letter - David Brothers, who's written extensively about race in superhero comics, about the companies' current efforts:
The problem with both companies, and one which DC will fix if they can stick the landing of the Milestone relaunch, is that 99% of their black characters fit into a certain character type. There's not really a range of black characters. They have really generic hero motivations. There is some variation (Blade is like the Punisher, but more reasonable because he's killing vampires, Firestorm is a stone-cold newbie, Jakeem Thunder is a horny teenager), but the variation tends to be surface-level stuff. They don't really have the range of differences between say, Superman and Batman, or Cap and Hawkeye, or Wonder Woman and Black Canary. Instead, they're working from that Robbie Robertson archetype — good people in a bad world trying to make better. Sometimes they get a little extra sauce (like John Stewart and that corny "stay black" line from Sinestro Corps War, or any time a black character gets to go "There's no justice here, just us"), but what's the difference between Mr Terrific's personality and John Henry? The Falcon and Goliath? Luke Cage and Jakeem Thunder? Not all that much, I don't think. Both companies may be trying, but they're still coming up fairly short. Sometimes, particularly in the JSA, which has four black characters (none of which did anything of note in the mega-arc of the last two years, save for punching a fake god in the ankle or talking about being atheist after meeting a god), it feels more like lip service.
Of course, even lip service may be better that this:
Ah, the '70s.