Tuesday, January 19, 2010

MLK Week Special: Black SUPER Power - Part 1 of 4

Hey, tributes come in all types, okay? In honor of MLK Day, and, er a day late -- my bad-- I've decided to count down the Top 10 black comic book super heroes and the 5 worst. And I have to use the term "black" because it turns out a lot of these characters aren't American, so I can't call them African Americans. Someone wasn't thinking thoroughly enough when they coined that expression. And today, you get a double dose! Try not to O.D.!

#10: Mal Duncan (a.k.a. Hornblower, The Guardian, The Herald and Vox)
Mal Duncan is an oddity, I will admit. He was the first black character to be featured monthly in DC Comics as a member of the Teen Titans. However he really wasn't a super hero. He was simply "Mal" (short for Malcolm) and he wore a plain track suit.

Originally, the Titans writer and illustrator planned to introduce an actual black super hero, named Jericho, but the character came off as too "militant" and DC, scared crackers that they were, squelched him.
Mal was the center of controversy when in one issue, before going on a deadly mission, his white teammate Lilith gave him a hug. A freakin' HUG! But the censors went wild over the idea of a white girl hugging a black boy and the scene ended up being edited via the addition of dark shadows masking the scandalous behavior.

A few strikes against Mal...
Eventually, they tried to make him into an actual super hero, giving him the armored identity of The Guardian.
The Guardian was a white character from the 1940s. Nothing too terrible about making Mal the new Guardian, but it was just another example of a black character that was simply a dark-skinned version of an existing white character. (More examples to come.) But damn, it was better than what came next!
Sweet Jezus! Apparently, this costume was designed by a "fan" named Dave Elyda... perhaps the blind shouldn't be allowed to design clothing, ya think? Also, don't take fashion tips from Robin! Look what he's wearing! And I like Speedy's comment "One more new costume in this group and people are gonna need a scorecard to tell who's who." Trust me, Speedy, no one will need a scorecard to identify Mal in that getup! This time, Mal was given a magical device known as Gabriel's Horn that allowed him to open teleportation portals, and one of the worst code names ever, The Hornblower.In the '80s, DC Comics streamlined and updated their universe and Mal was given a retroactive makeover. In current continuity, he was never The Guardian OR The Hornblower. Instead, he was given the identity of The Herald.
It was as The Herald that he made his animation debut on Teen Titans on the Cartoon Network.

Now, instead of being magical, his Gabriel's Horn was a high-tech device. And most recently, the horn was integrated into his body and he was given yet another new codename, Vox. He, er, hasn't done much else since.
Honorable Mention: The Bumblebee
Mal's girlfriend Karen Beecher created a high-tech suit (which in comic book reality takes like an afternoon) and became The Bumblebee in order to spend more time with her beau. (Not exactly avenging the deaths of one's parents on the motivation-meter.) Her original powers were kind of silly. She shot a stinger out of her ass (no really!) and could squirt "honey" (from her wrists, thankfully) to entrap foes. Eventually, she was updated and given sonic vibrational powers instead.Interestingly, Bumblebee had a much bigger part on the Teen Titans cartoon than The Herald. She was given the additional power to shrink and two devices that shot electrical "stings." Bumblebee became the leader of spin-off team Titans East and on the series had a flirtation with Cyborg. Also, don't you LOVE her afropuffs?! And unlike The Herald, Bumblebee got her own action figure... and a vehicle!!! Unlike Batman, most characters never get their very own vehicle! You go girl!

#9: Captain Marvel (a.k.a. Monica Rambeau, Photon and Pulsar)
Oh sure, you have your Wonder Woman, Supergirl, Ms. Marvel... in the Legion of Super Heroes, you even have characters with names like Shadow Lass and Duo Damsel. But Monica Rambeau was never Marvel Woman or Girl Marvel... she was the first female character to rock out with Captain in her name!
Captain Marvel, with her energy powers, joined the Avengers and by the end of the 80s had become the leader, barking orders to the likes of Captain America and Thor!
At one point, it seemed that Marvel (who has historically never had a strong leading female character) attempted to position Captain Marvel as their leading lady, slapping her on the cover of their popular role-playing game alongside legends like Spider-Man, Cap and The Thing. She was even given two one-shot comics of her own (the comic equivalent of a TV pilot). Sadly, it doesn't appear that they were successful enough as they never led to further solo adventures.
Monica was actually Marvel's second Captain Marvel. The first, alien expat Mar-Vell (clever huh?) who enjoyed a long and somewhat successful career became the first super hero to die... not in combat with the forces of evil, but due to... cancer.

However, Monica as Captain Marvel never quite broke through as hugely as it seemed Marvel hoped, so she was stripped of the title and it was instead bestowed upon Mar-Vell's illegitimate son Genis-Vell.
Monica adopted the new codename Photon and continued her adventuring. Then, for WHATEVER reason, Marvel decided to change Genis-Vell's name from Captain Marvel to... PHOTON! WTF, MARVEL?!?! So once again, Monica was forced to change her name, this time to Pulsar. Then, Marvel realized that no matter what they did, NO ONE liked Genis-Vell, whatever codename he had, so they killed him off.
Rather than allowing Monica to reclaim the name Captain Marvel, which was rightly hers, they decided to make up yet another new Captain Marvel. Monica has since reverted to the name Photon.
Most recently, she co-starred in the series Marvel Divas alongside two of my other favorite Marvel characters, Firestar and Hellcat. In this series, perhaps defiantly, she is referred to as Captain Marvel and no one in editorial seems to have caught it. So HA! Since her Captain Marvel days, Monica's personality has been altered from stoic strength, to something of a smart ass. I kinda like it.
Keep ya head up, girl!

And now the Hall of Shame. Sigh! Not every black super hero can be a "credit to their people."
#5: Black Goliath (a.k.a. Bill Foster, Goliath, Giant Man)
This is the ONLY time I have ever seen a MAN wearing a top with a huge rectangle cut out to accentuate his abs. WHO designed this costume?! My guess, the same person who designed the Chippendales' collar and cuffs with no shirt look.

Another example of a black character simply being a black version of an existing white character, Bill Foster was a colleague of Hank Pym, a.k.a. Ant Man, Giant Man and Goliath. Hank Pym abandoned his growing abilities to become yet another new character, Yellowjacket, so he gave Bill the ability to grow into a giant and his now-abandoned identity of Goliath.
At least Hank Pym had the decency to cover himself! Bill Foster had two costumes and the preferable of the two was this one, with a deep disco v-neck:
Eventually, Marvel realized that calling a black character Black Goliath was silly and he went through phases as simply Goliath as well as Giant Man, another of Hank Pym's discarded identities.

No kidding, the MOST significant thing Goliath ever did was die as part of the recent miniseries Civil War.
Sad, huh?

#4: Spyke

Spyke, from the animated X-Men Evolution series, is the perfect example of what NOT to do when adapting a comic book into a cartoon series. #1-Do NOT introduce an all-new ethnic character to make the group more diverse. People can small a token a mile off. #2-Do NOT try and introduce a new character that is tied to some "current" fad. In this case, Spyke was the resident skateboarder of the X-Men. Because every super team needs an extreme sports enthusiast. #3-Do NOT allow the introduction of this new character to radically alter an existing fan favorite character. In this case, Spyke was introduced as Storm's nephew. Uhhhh... how is that possible? Storm was an only child, right? Guess not. On this show, she had a sister named Vi and Evan (Spyke) was her son. Which allowed Spyke to constantly refer to Storm as "Auntie O." Not completely annoying at all.
Poor Spyke was screwed from the start. He had the power to grow bone spikes and fire them at enemies. They even went the additional step of showing him constantly guzzling milk to build up the calcium to fuel this power, which was a nice touch. Eventually, he further mutated, growing an outer carapace (look it up) which forced him to leave the team (awwwwww... not really) and live underground with all the other mutants that were too ugly and revolting to live above ground like the X-Men. (So much for that whole message of equality, X-Folks!) No one was sad to see him go. They did bring him back for a tiny cameo in the final episode, which was a nice, if vaguely hollow, gesture.

So this is The End of part 1... tune in tomorrow for Part 2!


  1. The recent adaptations of Captain Marvel remind me of Agent NumberIcan'tremember in Y: The Last Man! Any influence there?

  2. I doubt it, other than their hair. Plus, I wish I could have included Agent 355, but she doesn't have enough far reaching appeal.

    Also, in my "research" I saw where someone suggested if they ever use Captain Marvel/Photon in a movie, she should be played by Rutina Wesley from True Blood! Thumbs up!

  3. The Black Goliath costume - I wanted to call him Giant-Man from the start - was designed by John Byrne. I recently found John's trio of suggested designs and, geez, what was he thinking and what were we thinking. When my blog resumes later this year, I'll likely write about them.

  4. Tony Isabella just commented on my blog! I may faint! I can only IMAGINE the costumes that were REJECTED for Black Goliath, considering what he actually wound up wearing! Thank you so much for the comment! I think that just made my year!