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Celebrating Black History Month - The First Black Superhero

HippieVan at 12:00AM, Feb. 27, 2015
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In 1966, in the midst of the American Civil Rights Movement, Marvel Comics introduced the first black superhero - Black Panther.

Black Panther, real name T'Challa, was the King of vibranium-rich Wakanda, a fictional African country (the first African-American superhero would be Marvel's Falcon). A special herb and his connection to a Panther God gave him his superpowers, which include super strength, speed and agility. T'Challa is something of a Tony Stark-type character - a super genius with a PhD in physics from Oxford who also happens to be incredibly wealthy from selling Wakandian vibranium.

In 1968 Black Panther joined the cast of the Avengers, where I'm most familiar with him. His most notable story arcs, however, were in Jungle Action issues 6-24: “Panther's Rage” and “Panther vs. the Klan.” These stories apparently arose from Marvel writer Don McGregor's complaint that the comic company was re-printing old, racist stories in the Jungle Action series. He was subsequently given the Black Panther project to write. McGregor wanted the character to directly confront contemporary issues of racism, and originally was going to set the character's second story arc in apartheid South Africa before settling on Black Panther's battle against the KKK. (See this article for more from Don McGregor about Black Panther.)

Despite McGregor's intentions for Black Panther, however, the necessity of mass appeal prevented the character from becoming too political. Although the character predated the Black Panther Party by several months, he briefly changed his name to “Black Leopard” in the 1970s to avoid the connection to the controversial group. He explained to The Thing: “I neither condemn nor condone those who have taken up the name, but T'Challa is a law unto himself. Hence, the new name—a minor point, at best, since the panther is a leopard.”


While Black Panther was followed by a number of other black comic characters including Nick Fury and Storm, his appeal evidently remains. I won't go any further into the character's timeline which like most Marvel characters has become incredibly complicated, but it is exciting to see that a Black Panther movie has been announced for 2017! Hopefully the film will do the character justice.

Do you think comics have done an adequate job of including black characters? Who are your favourites? Comment below! Personally I'm hard-pressed to name more than a handful, and unfortunately can only think of one on DD off the top of my head!


In any case, I hope all you DDers were able to take some time this month to celebrate black history! Even my rinky dink Canadian city has managed to pull together some pretty neat events (including a rad gospel night that I went to last weekend), so I imagine there have been some very cool things going on elsewhere!


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comment

anonymous?

meemjar at 4:54PM, Feb. 27, 2016

@Ironscarf: MY ancestors WERE taken from their homeland and made slaves too. The Irish. But because they were white they were able to assimilate easier into the white dominated society after their emancipation. Sometimes it doesn't matter what color you are society can throw you a raw deal but I sympathise with the minorities but I still don't tolerate the malcontents. My philosophy is simple: If you play your cards right you can turn a raw deal into a winning hand!

Peipei at 10:10PM, Feb. 28, 2015

To get a better idea of what this sort of thing might mean, think of it like running a marathon race. Imagine 2 runners of equal ability and value in a race, racer #1 gets a 400 minute start on the race track and once those 400 minutes have passed, racer #2 is expected to catch up with racer #1 despite the fact that racer #1 had an almost 7 hour start and on top of that, thumbtacks and spike balls are randomly appearing in front of racer #2's path. This may be a terrible analogy but it's somewhat similar to the current situation that has taken place in America. It's not really about trying to get ahead or trying to win a race, it's about having an equal shot at this thing called life.

Peipei at 9:45PM, Feb. 28, 2015

I actually agree with both Kim and Ironscarf. At the end of the day, the concept of race is all in our minds! Skin color and facial features have nothing to do with "race"and more to do with our ancestor's geographic location during earlier times, that is honestly it! But on the same note, Ironscarf is correct as well in saying that certain humans have benefited from colorism which has resulted in many inequities among the humans who's ancestors were at a disadvantage because of said colorism/racism.

Ironscarf at 5:42PM, Feb. 28, 2015

Kim, you're right, there are no real differences between us. But sadly, there are historical differences between us. My ancestors were not stolen form their homeland in vast numbers and transported to another place to be slaves, to suffer their lives in servitude, for no reward. I wonder if they would have felt better to know there was no such thing as race? My ancestors probably were the ones who benefitted from that special arrangement. As such, I do not get to decide how black someone has to be to be Miss Black America. It's not about tangible differences in the human genome, it's about history. If people are socially disadvantaged, it's no good telling them we're all the same, you have to live with the reality. It's not about giving people certain things based on a concept of race. They took those things for themselves, based on a concept of not putting up with that shit anymore!

KimLuster at 4:13PM, Feb. 28, 2015

Everyone: Science, by studying the human genome, has proven there's really no such thing as 'race' - we're all homo sapiens and that's the end of it. That many today, and in the past, prejudice against their fellows humans is something that should be combated hard! But to then give certain peoples things based on this concept (race) that doesn't even exist, I can't help but feel we're sort of admitting that 'racists' are right - that there are tangible differences between us.... When really, the differences are superficial! The real differences is only in our minds and we don't change that by constantly acknowledging the differences in our skin colors! (oh well I've been on this soap box long enough - I'll get off now haha)

VinoMas at 4:00PM, Feb. 28, 2015

Great read. I really appreciate all the sensitive aware comments that are being made below regarding race, race relations, and times of change. A terrific article that should be seen outside of The Duck as well. Too bad the facebook share tab never works. :(

KimLuster at 3:35PM, Feb. 28, 2015

@Ironscarf: I just think it's divisive in the long run... How 'black' do you have to be to be able to participate in a Miss Black America pageant? If I'm one-quarter black, is that enough? Is one half enough? How do you measure such things...? I have a fair amount of Native American ancestry... Can Native Americans have their own pageant...? Can my daughter (who is blonde and blue-eyed) participate? Is it right if they disallow her? I think exclusive singling out of any race for ill reasons, or for what is perceived to be good reasons, is never a good thing. I strongly agree with you that efforts had to be made to include ALL races, but making exclusive things based on race, in attempt to balance history... I fail to see the wisdom!

Ironscarf at 4:13PM, Feb. 27, 2015

Sorry Hippie :( . So the reason that comic stood out to me was because it suddenly opened my eyes to the lack of representation of various groups in the media I knew. I come from a very multi cultural area but somehow I hadn't noticed this disparity before. Then there was Luke Cage Power man and also The Falcon, who used to be in Captain America. He was the first African-American superhero, at least in the mainstream comics. Marvel were clearly trying to move with the times, although black women didn't seem to get in on the act. On which topic, if you're black and female and make comics, you can get proactive by joining The Ormes Society at http://theormessociety.com/ (sorry Kim!)

Ironscarf at 3:53PM, Feb. 27, 2015

I get a little nervous when people say things like Black History Month or Miss Black America are part of the problem. There needed to be Miss Black America because no black woman was ever going to be Miss America. Without the black history movement, people wouldn't know black history existed at all. Louis Armstrong was probably the greatest musical genius of the 20th century, but he had to play a ridiculous stereotype to be heard, if he was heard at all on white radio. When Nina Simone made Young Gifted and Black and James Brown Said It Loud about how he was Black And Proud, these were shocking, revolutionary things. It's not that long ago people! I was shocked myself when I walked into a newsagent in 1976 and saw issue one of Black Goliath (remember him? - I guess not!). That was the first time I'd seen a black superhero get his own title (they never had Black Panther, who I knew from The Avengers too) and I didn't have the few pence to buy it! I finally did get ten years later.

HippieVan at 3:37PM, Feb. 27, 2015

Oh Jesus, just logged off Facebook because everyone was talking about Leonard Nimoy and I'm feeling broken-hearted. :(

Ironscarf at 3:29PM, Feb. 27, 2015

Leonard Nimoy writes as Mr.Spock in teen mag Fave, 1968. He is responding to a letter from a mixed race girl who was having trouble fitting in. http://mystartrekscrapbook.blogspot.co.uk/2013/02/1968-article-spock-teenage-outcast.html

tupapayon at 2:10PM, Feb. 27, 2015

A little unrelated… I've just heard about Leonard Nimoy, he passed away… Spock Lives!… though he could be used as an example how his ethnicity affected his portrayal of Spock…

KimLuster at 10:20AM, Feb. 27, 2015

@Hippie: DeadFingers does has a HUGE archive but it's totally worth reading the whole thing!! It is EPIC!!

Peipei at 9:46AM, Feb. 27, 2015

Exactly Kim! I wish more mainstream movies would stop placing so much emphasis on a characters race (ie. bringing up their race or placing racist connotations within the story.) I actually noticed Kim and her hubby kind of just existed as a human couple, without any one acknowledging their ethnic differences, which is excellent (sort of like R&R in DeadFingers. It's plain as day but it's never really acknowledged or mentioned, and I intend to keep it that way, People are people dangit!) And you know what, I actually remember that scene in Crimson Tide, totally marred the film when they did that x.x hahaha!

Peipei at 8:50AM, Feb. 27, 2015

Thanks HippieVan, and i'm so sorry for the big Archive! xDDeadFingers is an extremely long comic haha! There are several black and bi-racial characters within the story, but for the most part, all of the characters within my comic are very diverse, ethnically and culturally. What the hell, I just love diversity!

KimLuster at 8:47AM, Feb. 27, 2015

@Peipei: I agree. I included a black Colonel in my story, the Godstrain, but I never have him, or anyone else, mention that he is - he just is!... My main character, Kimber Lee, is white (like me), but she's married to an Hispanic of Mexican descent (I've dated non-whites but have yet to marry one lol), but otherwise I try to not draw attention to it! It just is - I don't denigrate nor applaud it! That's my take on it! One my favorite Actors is Denzel Washington... I remember the movie Crimson Tide - thought it a fantastic movie... until the scene where the Captain (Gene Hackman) tells the Executive Officer (Denzel - and these two have been fighting for control of the Sub) about a certain Breed of Prize Horses , and how they're WHITE! Hunter responds that when those particular horses are born, they're BLACK! The metaphors were blatantly obvious, and I'm like - really GUYS!! What the hell!! Great, intense movie without nary a mention of race and you go and do THAT!! Why!

Peipei at 8:47AM, Feb. 27, 2015

I Totally agree with you HippieVan. All of these temporary fixes aren't doing anything for the real problem at its core. I find that it is often times very difficult to even talk about issues related to race in America because people tend to get offended/feel uncomfortable at the mere mention of them. Speaking of which, i'm actually quite thrilled at this open dialogue we're having here! :D As for Black History month, the only real thing that I have an issue with is the fact that we only highlight a select few events and people to talk about during the month (primarily Martin Luther King jr.). It's as if Black Americans didn't exist or didn't do anything important until the 1960s which is far from the truth. So if Anything, Black history month is actually a heavily reduced, heavily edited version of the robust, real Black history, or at least that's how it comes across :s.

tupapayon at 8:28AM, Feb. 27, 2015

I'm Mexican… mostly Caucasian… in forms when asked about race I check both Hispanic and White boxes… my best friend is black and we do discuss racial issues from time to time… I agree that in media race should just happen… but we can't be color blind either… cultural background should b part of the characters too… avoiding stereotypes can b tricky, and no matter what, someone will get offended… we also tend to segregate ourselves…

HippieVan at 8:28AM, Feb. 27, 2015

I'll have to check out your comic btw, Peipei! The length of the archive has always been a bit overwhelming to me so I don't think I've ever read it, I'm sorry to say!

HippieVan at 8:26AM, Feb. 27, 2015

As a history student who is very passionate about my field, though, I tend to put Black History Month in a slightly different category. I think it's super important because most people don't spend a lot of time thinking about history and how what they were taught in school may or may not be accurate/the whole picture. I like that it calls attention to an area of history that gets ignored (by laypeople, anyway) more than others and if it were up to me, we would have lots of other "____ History" events for groups that have been underrepresented in high school syllabi. In particular, I'd like to see more emphasis on indigenous and Metis history in my city. I think a full understanding of history can help dispel racist notions that people didn't even know they had. Sorry, nerdy history spiel over!

HippieVan at 8:25AM, Feb. 27, 2015

Peipei, I think you're absolutely right that a lot of these organizations are a temporary fix until the bigger problems of representation and segregation are ameliorated. I know some people who I really respect have supported things like Miss Black America (e.g. Curtis Mayfield, although that's going back a while).

Peipei at 8:08AM, Feb. 27, 2015

@To KimLuster: Very true about segregation and racism here in the states, there's been some progress since the civil rights days, but oh my god, there is still SO much wrong in America today, the struggle is very real :s. As a black woman, I actually hate the fact that there are so many labels for "black stuff" here in America. It's actually pretty alienating and just downright offensive! Many of these outlets such as BET aren't doing a great job at representing black Americans either, (especially black women, gah! x.x) I do believe that once the mainstream media catches up with the rest of the 21st century and begins to represent everyone equally and properly (non-stereo-typically that is, stereotyping is just as dangerous!)I think people will feel less inclined to seek representation through outlets such as BET, Miss Black America etc. which btw, I absolutely abhor BET for obvious reasons x.x...

Peipei at 7:43AM, Feb. 27, 2015

Awesome news post! I remember going to a panel several years ago and learning the history behind Black Panther the character. My cosplay group C3 ended up doing a feature plug of him later on as well. And yeah, there are a few comics here on that duck that I can think of off of the top of my head that feature black characters, mine included! :D *P.S. to Ironscarf: Pam Grier FTW! <3

KimLuster at 7:42AM, Feb. 27, 2015

Well, I do applaud this article, so don't take my statements as an indictment on your work, Hippie :) .... Not sure how I feel about 'Black History' month...! On one hand, I know the terrible history of racism and segregation in the U.S., and it's something we should never forget. I also know that elements of it still linger (the aforementioned lack of diversity in comics and other media). .... On the other hand, I do truly believe that labeling anything as specific to an ethnicity is inherently divisive. Black History month, Miss Black America, BET, even the term African-American... I think all these things subtly add to the problem... . I sometimes think creators should just include ethnicities as a matter-of-fact, without an overt attempt to draw attention to them. And that also means a creator shouldn't feel obligated to include them just to say they did! But then I think that's ignoring an issue that's real!! .... Nothing is ever easy!!

HippieVan at 6:52AM, Feb. 27, 2015

That sounds really interesting, scarf! I'll have to see if I can find any of that.


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