Like all art forms, superhero comic books have had a rough time depicting race. Since the dawn of the superhero, there have been consistent issues ranging from an overabundance of caricatures, too few jobs offered to people of color and just a general lack of role models. Granted, there have been efforts to correct these issues, such as the boom of black superheroes in the late ’60s and ’70s, but more commonly we have seen well-meant efforts turn into embarrassing failures.
It took almost 80 years, but another golden age has come to comics. There are some new heroes of color and also diverse incarnations of Marvel’s most famous, traditionally white heroes. The epicenter of this phenomenon began in 2011 with one of comic’s biggest bombshells: Peter Parker would be killed and replaced with a half-African American, half-Latino teen named Miles Morales. After an incredibly successful launch, Miles became a pioneer for the wave of diverse characters who would become superheros and replace established ones. Sam Wilson dropped the mantle of the Falcon to replace Steve Rogers as Captain America, Pakistani-American Kamala Khan took up the mantle of Ms. Marvel after Carol Danvers renamed herself Captain Marvel and a Korean-American Amadeus Cho will become the main Hulk.
Given the dramatic change in the status quo, the very familiar outrage ensued, breaking out the usual laundry list of arguments. But one seemingly reasonable argument worth addressing is the question of why don’t they just make new heroes? Interestingly enough, a co-publisher for DC comics, Dan DiDio, best summed up the need to bring new looks to characters: “…The world has changed, and we’ve got to change our characters along with them and diversify our cast, our voice and really be able to connect with as many of our readers as possible.” This isn’t just about adding diversity, but letting a generation of kids know they can truly be anyone they want to be. Children are now going to learn that being history’s greatest, most iconic heroes doesn’t hinge on being white.
What makes someone worthy of the titles Spider-Man, Captain America and Ms. Marvel is not skin pigment. Anyone who believes that having power means using it for good can be Spider-Man, anyone who believes in standing for the rights of every American is Captain America and anyone who wants to show the strength of women is Ms. Marvel.
In a world where prejudiced thought is often the norm, children need to know that heroism doesn’t discriminate, that the best roles aren’t automatically given to certain races. These stories, however insignificant they may seem, help shape children’s psyche for the rest of their lives. Kids need to see people of every color as role models and be reminded that regardless of who they are, every hero stands for justice.
A version of this article appeared in the Thursday Oct. 22 print edition. Email Carter at [email protected]