It’s Time for a New Universe of Heroes

by Taylor Jackson  

Many Tumblr posts have been written about the cosplay struggle for comic enthusiasts of color. There’s the constant dilemma of either wanting to cosplay your favorite character, who probably looks nothing like you, or wanting to go as a character who looks more like you, but knowing that you will be competing with just about every other POC in attendance for the best costume. Some fans of color just resort to heroes who wear masks or have unearthly skin tones. This cosplay struggle is very telling of the greater struggle for representation for POC in media.

Take the Miles Morales debate.

Miles Morales is a Black Latino Brooklyn native who becomes Spiderman after the death of Peter Parker. Even though Morales is one of the most popular characters in the Marvel Ultimate Universe, the idea of a Black Spiderman on screen had many fans up in arms. While some fans were ecstatic that Morales would finally be on screen, many others were upset at Marvel’s attempts to“force” POC into “untraditional” roles.

The reality of the Marvel and DC Universes is that the vast majority of superheroes fall neatly into the categories of white, male, and heterosexual.

When Sony’s database was hacked in 2014, the Marvel requirements for Spiderman were revealed to be: (1) male and (2) “not a homosexual.” While Morales’s portrayal in film subverts the specified racial barrier, his sexuality is yet to be determined.

The history of superhero comics alludes to a preference for white, male protagonists. In fact, many of our most popular heroes originated as WWII propaganda, such as Captain America, the United State’s golden haired golden boy.

The first Captain America comic came out in 1941, when America was entrenched in both WWII and racial segregation. It wasn’t until 1969 that Marvel’s first black hero, Black Panther, appeared on the pages of its comics. Hailing from the fictional nation of Wakanda, Black Panther appears in many different Marvel series, from the old Captain America comics, to his very own comic series. And over the past few years, Marvel has been pushing to increase the presence of POC in their collection of heroes. Miles Morales is now being accompanied by Kamala Khan, a young Pakistani-American woman living in Jersey City, whose Muslim identity is a formative part of her hero’s arc and informs her sense of justice.

In an NPR interview, Brian Michael Bendis, Morales’s creator, quotes Spiderman in saying that “with great power comes great responsibility,” and he now feels it is his responsibility to create work that is representative of the world he and his kids are living in. Whether the Marvel Cinematic Universe will adopt Bendis’s attitude, however, is still unclear.