Last week, Marvel debuted a new biracial superhero in Ultimate Spider-Man — creators hoped the new half-black, half-Hispanic Spider-Man, Miles Morales, would reflect the diversity of modern society. While some (including your author) welcomed Marvel’s progressive adaptation to a changing market, many fans took to the internet to share their disdain. The eruption of fan backlash was disheartening and, at times, ugly.
Some ranted that Marvel was taking unnecessary steps towards being “politically correct,” while others complained that such a recognizable superhero shouldn’t be open to adjustments. The climax came when Glenn Beck joined the noise, somehow connecting the character to Michelle Obama. For our part, we think it’s important to point out that, while it can be slow to change, the comic-book world is becoming a more diverse place — Miles Morales isn’t the first non-Caucasian superhero and isn’t likely to be the last. To celebrate the Marvel Universe’s newest addition, we’ve compiled a list of our favorite superheroes of color.
Nick Fury (Ultimate)
Many comics fans attested that it wasn’t Spider-Man’s race that outraged them but Marvel’s audacious decision to revise such a major and beloved character. Yet this isn’t the first time the company has made this type of change — the whole purpose of the Ultimate Marvel imprint is to feature superheroes who have been updated and reinterpreted to accurately reflect today’s world. Miles Morales isn’t even the first Ultimate character who isn’t he same race as his mainstream counterpart. Although Nick Fury is traditionally depicted as a white super-spy with graying hair, the Ultimate Fury is a chiseled, bald black man based on Samuel L. Jackson’s likeness. A remarkable tactician, he has unrivaled hand-to-hand combat skills and, thanks to Super Soldier serum, he is equipped with inhuman strength.
The concept of a multicultural league of superheroes was explored early on in the lore of Batman — the Batmen of All Nations featured various men inspired by Batman to fight crime in their respective countries, including the Sioux Man-of-Bats and the Argentine El Gaucho. Legendary writer Grant Morrison revived the idea in the ongoing Batman Incorporated. The series sees the Dark Knight franchising his alter ego, creating and commanding a global team of heroes. In a controversial move, writer David Hine chose Nightrunner, an Algerian Sunni Muslim superhero skilled at parkour, to be the Batman of Paris. While the choice sent right-wing bloggers into a tizzy, Hine’s storyline was thoughtful and timely — France’s immigrant unrest became the hero’s incentive to take action and rise above random acts of violence. Despite conservative fears, Nightrunner is an unbiased symbol of peace and justice.
Brian K. Vaughan’s Runaways is an award-winning series that has been celebrated as one of Marvel’s best original concepts in years. The comic features a group of teenagers who realize they are the progeny of mastermind villains. After learning that they have inherited their parents’ powers, the group bands together in order to fight evil and atone for the sins they feel they have inherited. Victor Mancha is a cyborg who can manipulate electricity and metal, a talent that proves indispensable throughout the team’s trials. Mancha also happens to be Hispanic — he was created from the DNA of Marianella Mancha and the technology of robot supervillain Ultron.
The Black Panther — real name T’Challa, a young African king — is the first black superhero in mainstream American comics, and we can’t think of anyone better to pave the way. While the character defies racial stereotypes and opens young minds, the series’s portrayal of Africa is equally progressive. The Black Panther’s fictional African nation of Wakanda is technologically advanced and completely independent — in fact, it was never colonized.
The Falcon is Sam Wilson, the first African-American superhero in mainstream comics. He was also the first black superhero whose superhero moniker didn’t include the word “black.” With his natural affinity for birds, the hero finds and befriends Redwing, a wild falcon with whom he forms a mental link. After undergoing training with Steve Rodgers, the original Captain America, Wilson takes on the costumed identity of the Falcon and becomes his mentor’s partner in crime-fighting. He even briefly takes on the Captain America identity when Rodgers is believed to be dead — illustrating that race shouldn’t be a barrier to donning a costume, no matter how iconic it is.
The Question (Renee Montoya)
Renee Montoya may be the most progressive character in comic book history, breaking many of the medium’s longstanding prejudices and conventions. Not only is Renee a female hero whose costume design doesn’t rely on her sexuality, but she is also a lesbian and daughter of immigrants from the Dominican Republic — and she is also one tough broad. Once a detective in the Gotham City Police Department, Renee resigned from her position, disgusted by the city’s corruption. Eventually she is recruited and trained by the Question, a faceless, trenchcoat-sporting crime-fighter. After he dies from lung cancer, she takes up his mantle, becoming Gotham’s new hero.
Carl Lucas is a wrongfully imprisoned Harlem youth. Seeking a deal for parole, he agrees to go through an experimental procedure that inadvertently grants him highly durable skin and super-human strength. Following his escape from prison, he adopts the identity of Luke Cage, becoming a hero for hire. While Cage has a somewhat stereotypical origin story — the character was Marvel’s attempt at capitalizing on the ’70s blaxploitation fad — he has since become a respectable name in the comic world and a legitimate star of the Marvel universe, leading both the New Avengers and the newest incarnation of the Thunderbolts. Also of note: Cage is a part of one of comic books’ few interracial relationships.
Blue Beetle (Jaime Reyes)
Jaime Reyes may be the third manifestation of the Blue Beetle, but he is certainly the most charming. Living in El Paso, Texas with his father, mother, and little sister, Jaime is a relatively normal Mexican-American high-school student –that is, until he discovers the Blue Beetle scarab in a disused lot. The talisman is in fact a piece of extraterrestrial technology, the most powerful weapon of the Blue Beetles. While Jaime is sleeping, it fuses onto the boy’s body, giving him access to a powerful suit of armor. Equipped with the Blue Beetle scarab, Jaime becomes a hot commodity in the superhero universe, helping everyone from Batman to the Teen Titans.
Amadeus Cho is a Korean-American teenager gifted with a super-genius mind. Putting his intelligence to use, Amadeus enters and easily wins an online competition, yet his victory is quickly blighted by tragedy. Pythagoras Dupree, the man behind the contest, is in fact a paranoid genius, using the quiz to identify and eliminate other hyperminds. Dupree has the teen’s house blown up, killing his entire family. Since that day, Cho has been on the run, acting as a sidekick to Greek god Hercules and befriending the Hulk. Cho’s intellect is a remarkable power — he is able to calculate and perceive the endless possibilities of a moment. With a car mirror, he can redirect a missile. With a physics equation, he can track the Incredible Hulk.
Mr. Terrific (Michael Holt)
Michael Holt is the third smartest man in the DC world. Prior to his career as a superhero, he became an Olympic decathlete and completed 14 PhD programs. Tragically, he lost of both his wife, Paula, and their unborn child in a car accident. While contemplating suicide, he was visited by the Spectre, a divine spirit, who shared with him the story of Terry Sloane, the Golden Age Mr. Terrific. Inspired by Sloane’s legacy, Holt took on his superhero identity. Mr. Terrific has become one of the foremost scientific minds in the DC Universe, setting a new precedent for black heroes, who are too often relegated to fighting street crime and gangs.