Chadwick Boseman in the film, "Black Panther." (Matt Kennedy/Marvel Studios)

Smith: The Black Super Hero


Black superheroes provide role models for young Black kids, but how should they be represented in comics?

Wylliam Smith

This week is Black Superhero Week, and I have never been more pumped for a university-run event. A whole week dedicated to Black superheroes! How can one not get excited about that?

There have been events such as a public reading of a “Black Panther” comic, a documentary and panel (that I had had the pleasure to sit in on) about Black masculinity in comics, a talk hosted by University of Iowa Professor Deborah Whaley about Black women in comics, and it all ends with a showing of the new Marvel movie Black Panther.

This week combines two of the things I love dearly: comic books and being Black.

I remember growing up as a kid and watching all the comic-book-theme shows on TV. From “Batman” the animated series, “Justice League,” “Spider-Man,” “X-men,” etc. The ’90s and early 2000s were a great time to be alive if you loved comics.

My favorite was always Batman. To this very day, I wear my Batman belt buckle just about everywhere I go, and I can’t even begin to count how many times I’ve been “Batman” for Halloween.

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But growing up Black made my love for Batman problematic. Whenever I’d dress up as him, I’d get comments like, “You can’t be Batman, you’re Black,” or “Why don’t you pick a Black superhero?”

Why didn’t I pick a Black superhero?

There weren’t any Black superheroes for me to like. Sure there was Green Lantern from “Justice League,” and a couple cameos in other shows, but none I could really relate with. That is until I found Static Shock.

Static did something for me I never really knew that I needed: he gave me a hero I could visualize myself as. Static was a teenager a little bit older than me. He had dreads, which I had at the time, he went to school, he had problems, but the best part was he Black like me.

That is why Black superheroes are needed in the media. Just as Wonder Woman and Captain Marvel provide role models and heroes for women, Black Panther and Static Shock offer heroes for Black kids.

Shortly after finding Static, I dove deep into comic books. The comic book animated TV adaptations were mostly a snowstorm, but the actual comic books had plenty of Black characters.

RELATED: Smith: Diversity isn’t killing comics

I started reading Black-superhero-led comics to see if I liked them, but none ever really clicked with me. The problem with them was that they weren’t relatable. They were either the perfect Black revolutionist, a huge stereotype, or white person simply reshaded to be black.

This was a topic that was discussed at the documentary on Black masculinity on Wednesday. A central theme was, Should we question “problematic” Black heroes or just be grateful that there is Black representation in comics at all?

During the infancy of Black superhero comics in the 1970s, yes, the fact that we even saw Black heroes should have been enough. But now it is 2018 — just being Black is no longer enough.

We should expect more from our Black heroes, especially if these will be the heroes for children of color. Explore the untapped well that is Blackness, and create characters like never seen before.

The ’90s and early 2000s were a renaissance for comics. Now, Black Panther has started a new era for comics, both onscreen and on the page. Now more than ever is the chance to create those amazing heroes, and that goes for all races, genders, sexual orientations, and social statuses.


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