For decades, comic books have been in color, but now they are more and more reflecting the true hues of American society.
The new Captain America is black. A Superman who is suspiciously similar to President Obama recently headlined a comic book. Thor is a woman, Spider-Man is black-latino and Ms. Marvel is Muslim.
Mainstream comic book superheroes — America’s modern mythology and the wellspring behind several recent Hollywood blockbusters — have been redrawn from the stereotypical brown-haired, blue-eyed white man into a world of multicolored, multireligious and multigendered crusaders to reflect a greater diversity in their audience.
The struggle to portray the full diversity of America is nothing new for the source material for these adaptations, the great American comic book. Although superheroes had arrived on the scene with Superman’s debut in 1938, it would be another quarter of a century before a black superhero would appear with the Black Panther’s premiere in 1966.
Historically, superheroes have enjoyed their greatest popularity at times when national confidence is under strain. In comic books, the superheroes’ popularity peaked during World War II, enjoyed a creative renaissance during the turbulent 1960s, and are now meeting a new national hunger for heroes as the country faces military threats from radicalized groups, renewed tension with Cold War adversaries and shadowy cyber-attacks.
In this new climate, I look forward to experiencing a culture in which portrayals of black people as super-powerful people are standards in the mainstream. On the one hand, could such heroes become even more potent icons for a new Millennial generation that expects diversity? On the other hand, perhaps these heroes will not resonate in quite the same way that icons like Cap do, and we won’t see white males attired like the Black Panther.