A few years ago when Iron Man 2 was in theatres, a friend of mine shared a link to a story that argued that James Rhodes aka War Machine is the ideal black super hero. In the article, writer Graeme McMillan explains how War Machine exhibits so many stereotypes that he is the epitome of the exploited superhero of color. So that got me thinking.
The edgy non-white character isn’t exactly a new idea in entertainment, especially in film, on television, and in literature. The black man is almost always edgy and anti-social, the Latino is always hot blooded or seductive, and the Asian is always the epitome of peace and calmness…unless he’s an angry samurai. Again, this is nothing new. But when we look at comics, there is another trend being used on minority characters. A surprisingly large number of heroes of color are being depicted as not entirely human. Don’t get me wrong, nobody is writing or drawing these characters as stereotypical savages; however, a number of minority superheroes are shown as not 100% human.
Some are shown as half human/half robot. Used mostly for black males, this trope can be seen in such characters as the Avengers’ War Machine, Cyborg of the Teen Titans, and the JLA member Steel. Unlike their white counterparts like Iron Man, and Batman—who are known for their use of advanced technology and suits of armor—these black heroes often struggle with maintaining their human personalities. All three of the heroes have had recent story arcs in which they battled their robotic halves in a fight over their humanity and sanity. Iron Man doesn’t deal with this much trouble with the Extremis virus.
Other characters are shown as being half animal or monster. JLA members Vixen, Pantha, and Wildebeest all have the ability to adapt the physical appearances and abilities of animals. In fact, both Pantha and Wildebeest are always depicted as humanoids, and Vixen always has long canine teeth or claws. Speaking of teeth, there is the vampire hunter Blade. Because he is half human/half vampire, he is known as the day-walking half-breed who has the ability to live like a human.
I’m not sure what is going on here—truth be told, I’m not sure if anything is going on—but this trend caught my attention. It is too easy to point out how having a black speedster, or Native American magic user is problematic;however, the absence of the blatant doesn’t necessarily mean there aren’t any questionable practices being used.