Sign in to comment!

Menu
Home

Fox411

Celebrity News

Captain Obama ... Is It Time for a Black Comic Book Superhero?

0_23_012609_comics3

Barack Obama has appeared in at least two comic series since his arrival on the national stage.

Back in September the superhero Savage Dragon took it upon himself to endorse Obama for president, and days before his inauguration, Spider-Man saved the day for the 44th president by defeating an Obama imposter.

While Savage Dragon is an overly muscular green humanoid, Spider-Man is a real, live human being. And, like Superman and Batman and Captain America and Flash and Wonder Woman, the Web Crawler has a common trait among comic strip superheroes:

He's white.

Since their inception, there have been only a few black superheroes in comic books, and fewer still have achieved mainstream appeal.

But Obama's rise to the presidency now has many people in the business of creating and marketing heroes hoping that a black superhero will finally break into mainstream pop culture.

Marvel Comics, home of Spider-Man, The Hulk, Iron Man and the X-Men, is keeping up with the times. The company recently announced the untold story of the first Marvel superhero of color in the "Adam: Legend of the Blue Marvel" project. The Black Panther, another Marvel mainstay, will undergo a life-altering new storyline and will be featured in an animated series.

Whether any of these developments will mean more big screen time for black superheroes will be up to Marvel readers. "While we're always looking to represent characters from all walks of life, at the end of the day the most important thing is crafting good stories — that's what people are going to respond to," said executive editor Tom Brevoort.

That reader response, for black comic artists in particular, could carry larger sociological implications.

"I figure, the more you see us in a different light, the more doors that open up for African-Americans," says Jerry Craft, the award-winning creator of the Mama's Boyz comic strip, which chronicles the life of an African-American woman raising two teenage sons. The strip has been syndicated by King Features since 1995.

Craft is one of three black comic-strip artists who offered FOXNews.com exclusive drawings of what they would like a black superhero to look like.

Click here to see images of the new superheroes.

"Hopefully seeing us as more positive members of the community, and not just the people you see on the news or 'Cops,' will get them to expand their horizons to include us," said Craft, who has worked for Marvel and Harvey Comics and was editorial director at Sports Illustrated for Kids.

RELATED: What leading artists, authors and editors say about the absence of black superheroes and President Obama's possible impact.

The first black superhero was Marvel's Black Panther, who showed up in a 1966 Fantastic Four story and has gained some popularity. Another Marvel character, Blade, earned big-market attention when Wesley Snipes personified him in a film version of the comic. Some characters have vacillated between races — both Spawn and Catwoman were black in certain iterations, white in others. And characters like Storm, Luke Cage, Static, and Bishop have enjoyed a certain level of celebrity, but not the kind that has netted others their own big-budget Hollywood films.

But with Obama establishing a new role model for blacks in America, traditional depictions of blacks in popular culture could get a makeover, said culture critic David Horowitz.

"I think having a black president will have a positive impact on black images in the popular culture and will move that culture away from some of its politically correct absurdities," he said.

Comic book creators, authors and artists have many explanations for the historical absence of black superheroes in mainstream pop culture.

Savage Dragon creator Erik Larsen, a former Spider-Man author for Marvel, says, "I think part of that is that there hasn't been a breakout character that transcends race the way actors Will Smith and Eddie Murphy have, or the 'Cosby Show' did, or, frankly, Barack Obama has.

"The characters in comics are often too ethnic for a white audience and too embarrassing for a black one."

Adds Craft: "I don't think that the black superheroes of the past were all that interesting. Since most of the creators were white, they based their characters on their perception of black men and women. They definitely were not built to stand the test of time."

Political correctness has also been an impediment. "I think that their creators tried hard not to offend blacks and made many of them too perfect," Craft said. "Many were army heroes or Olympic athletes who were fighting a noble cause. They had no character deficiencies or internal conflicts that are usually needed to make a story interesting."

Before Obama won the presidency, blacks were largely implausible as superheroes, Craft said.

"I think that there is a perception of black people that America is comfortable with, and I'm not sure the hero role was it," he said. "We can be athletes and rappers, but not Superman. Thor saved the universe, Captain America saved the country, Spider-Man saved the city, but Luke Cage saved 125th Street (in Harlem) between Frederick Douglass and Adam Clayton Powell Boulevards."

Spike, a 30-year-old black, female comic artist and the creator of the series "Templar, Arizona," says, "This may have something to do with not only the original audience for superhero books, but the interpretation of the superhero as an unattainable ideal with the broadest appeal. That usually means appealing to society's default perspective, and for decades, especially during the conception of the original pantheon of superheroes, that perspective was unquestionably white and male."

Robert J. Walker is the creator of Delete, one of the only black female superheroes in comics, and "O+Men," a group of characters who are all HIV-positive. Formerly employed by Marvel and DC Comics, he focuses now on addressing social issues through his comics.

"I used to gripe all the time about the lack of ethnic characters at Marvel and DC," he said. "Most people working there were Caucasian. I don't think it was a racist thing. It was just an understanding that, you know, black girls aren't really the target audience for comics, so black girl superheroes weren't really going to be major characters.

"Even black artists there didn't really have the power to push black superheroes."

The dearth of black superheroes in mainstream, big-market comics has driven independent authors and artists to create and market their own through self-publishing and online. It's also resulted in an online Museum of Black Superheroes, which spotlights lesser-known characters and addresses the historical roadblocks that have kept many of these heroes in the shadows of their more famous peers.

Christopher Brown is associate editor of "Bam! Kapow!," an online magazine that pays special attention to comic properties that make the leap to film, television or video games. Brown says Obama's election can only help bring more black superheroes to the forefront.

"Having a black president will significantly change our pop culture depictions, as he is now the primary representative of our nation," he said. "As such, the characters that make up American 'mythology,' such as our superheroes, will change and adapt with the changing times. President Obama is an icon, and will inspire similar icons as well."

Paradoxically, the advent of a black president could mean that science fiction depictions of black commanders in chief — once the stuff of fantasy — will likely fall out of favor. Says Spike, "For decades, black presidents were shortcuts, obvious symbolism that a story was taking place in a far-off and more progressive future.

"Now that there's nothing strange about a black man being president, science fiction writers will have to think of something else. Personally, I think the next go-to improbable minority-figure-in-power for sci-fi authors will be an openly gay president."

ON OUR RADAR

See the latest updates on the hottest midterm races from Fox News

Full Elections Coverage →

Keep up with all the 2014 races in

Coverage →

AROUND THE WEB

TMZ

Celebuzz!

popcrush

Radar

x17  News Online

ET