Whether in comic books or graphic novels or up on the big screen, today’s American superheroes are — like their creators — as diverse as the nation itself.
In 1966, the Black Panther, the first African-American comic book superhero, made his debut in Marvel Comics’ Fantastic Four series. He was followed by Marvel’s Falcon (1969), Luke Cage (1972) and DC Comics’ Black Lightning (1977), the first mainstream superhero to be drawn by a black artist, Guyana-born Trevor Von Eeden, who dropped out of medical school to bring Black Lightning to life.
As the spread of the Internet empowered smaller- and self-publishers, graphic novelists and graphic artists delivered a kaleidoscope of new superheroes.
In the 1990s, Rafael Navarro came up with Sonambulo, a Latino private detective with uncanny abilities, who prowls the supernatural underworld. His fellow artist Richard Dominguez created El Gato Negro, who fights drug-smuggling gangs. The first issue sold out.
Jon Proudstar’s 1996 Tribal Force is considered the first Native American comic book series. It’s about five young people granted supernatural powers to protect their land from a powerful, high-tech government.
In the 2000s, Jay Odjick, an Algonquin, created a comic series and then a graphic novel about Kagagi, or Raven. Kagagi is a 16-year old boy rooted in the Anishinaabe culture, who turns into his people’s savior from an evil creature.
Both Proudstar and Odjick said they hoped to counter stereotypes of Native Americans.
Asian-American artists saw an opportunity to “use the lens” of superhero comics “to illuminate the many facets of the Asian-American experience,” says Keith Chow. In 2009, he co-edited an Asian American superhero anthology called Secret Identities, and three years later, a second volume, Shattered.
In 2014, the latest edition of Marvel Comics’ Ms. Marvel series, Ms. Marvel, starred a Muslim girl living in New Jersey. It was the publisher’s Number 1 best-selling digital title of 2014.