September 07, 2014

Racist superhero comics in Cracked

The title of this piece isn't quite accurate. It should be something like "Dozens of Shockingly Racist Scenes in 5 Famous Superhero Series."

Many of the scenes are from the World War II era, when Americans were fighting the Germans and Japanese, so the racism is somewhat understandable. A few are from the ignorant but well-meaning 1960s and 1970s. In a couple of cases I don't agree with the author--such as the X-Men's use of racial slurs to argue against racism.

Racist and stereotypical depictions of Indians make more than their fair share of appearances. Let's take a look:

5 Shockingly Racist Scenes in Famous Superhero Comics

By Seanbaby#5. The Justice League

It's unusual for an elite group of whites to be racist, but the Justice League had some problems with it. For starters, even their space aliens were Aryan. When Hanna Barbera adapted them into a cartoon in the '70s, animators had to invent four ethnic members just so they wouldn't burn through their supply of "flesh" paint in the first season. If you're not familiar, the racial heroes added to the Super Friends were:

1. A Native American named Apache Chief who wasn't either of those things.
Bruce Wayne became a bat to strike fear into the hearts of Gotham criminals, but in China, bats are often considered good luck. So Batman may have decided to murder a few hundred of their people to clear up any confusion. And speaking of confusion, here's the kind of interaction Batman has with Native Americans:There were people on the Justice League with racism that didn't even make sense. Green Lantern is a space policeman. Most of his coworkers and friends are jellyfish or cosmic squirrels, and yet he had no idea what to do when he met a real-life Earth Eskimo.Yes, Hal Jordan had an Eskimo sidekick he called "PIEFACE." And that nickname fucking stuck. Thomas Kalmaku walked around for decades answering to PIEFACE. It was such a bizarrely offensive character that when Filmation created a Green Lantern cartoon in the '60s, they replaced him with a blue (probably) alien boy named Kai Ro. Hal wasn't as aggressively racist towards him, but their relationship was far from appropriate.

Superman handled most racial situations perfectly. He made it through WWII and Korea without calling anyone names and he didn't even ask to touch Black Lois' hair. If he had one cultural kryptonite, it was that he wasn't great with Indians.
In a story called "Superman, Indian Chief!", Superman was called in to settle a property dispute in Metropolis. An evil mogul discovered, through distant Native American ancestry, that he owned all the city's land. He instantly began extorting the citizens of Metropolis and proudly bragged about it right to Superman's face. It was almost suicidally evil, and here's how Superman handled it:Superman had any number of option--everything from diplomacy to super hypnosis to super ventriloquism to punching the evil dick into the sun. He went with: running back in time to screw the Indians out of their land 300 years ago. He didn't even have to think about it. He was already jogging through the 1800s before the guy was done with his threat. Say what you want about Aquaman and Wonder Woman shrieking "Jap!" for the better part of a decade; Superman wove his racism into the very fabric of his universe's chronosphere.

#4. The X-Men

Like the Justice League, most of the X-Men's cultural diversity came in one explosion of poorly thought out ethnic characters. For example, James Proudstar. He's a Native American with the power of being pretty tough and tracking. Almost as if a racist thought, "What super powers would be handy if you had to, like, be an Indian all day?" And sure enough, when we meet him, he's having a wrestling match with a buffalo. A wrestling match with a buffalo.

Actually, the original Thunderbird was John Proudstar. His brother James became Thunderbird after John died.

And yes, a buffalo on the Apache reservation is fairly ridiculous. It's theoretically possible but extremely unlikely.#1. The Marvel Family

Comment:  Seanbaby criticizes other portrayals in the Marvel Family comics, but not the Native portrayals. The Native examples are sidelights, and they're self-explanatory.

Unfortunately, it's still not uncommon to see Native characters wearing headdresses and buckskins, or half-naked, or both. Yes, even in the 2010s. For instance, Grant Morrison re-introduced Chief Man-of-Bats, the Native Batman, a few years ago. (Man-of-Bats may have debuted in the Batman story pictured above.)

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