Black Batwoman v. White Jesus
Untangling the images that shape our thinking
I haven’t really been much of a superhero fan since my childhood days, when Adam West played Batman, Lynda Carter played Wonder Woman, Christopher Reeves was Superman, and Michael Gray as Billy Batson in Shazam!
Of course, like most kids back then, I watched superhero cartoons every Saturday morning.
The Wonder Twins. Wonder twin powers, activate.
Aquaman. Home is calling.
The Green Lantern. In brightest day, in blackest night, no evil shall escape my sight.
Batman and Robin. Holy Hamlet, Batman.
Superman. It’s a bird… It’s a plane… It’s Superman.
Wonder Woman and her invisible airplane.
Until I was about 13, I looked up to these heroes who, it turns out sort of looked like me, albeit more muscular. I wasn’t conscious of it, but looking back, they were all white, and most superheroes still are.
When The Black Panther hit the big screen a few years ago, my interest in the superhero world was piqued again. Probably because of my work on racial issues, but I started watching a few Marvel and DC movies again. Deadpool. Spiderman. Wonder Woman. Okay, maybe Gal Gadot is the reason I watched the last one.
The Black Panther got me thinking, though. We had popular green superheroes before we had Black ones. Actually, we had a white superhero dog before we had a popular Black human hero. There’s no need to fear, Underdog is here. I still remember all the words to the theme song.
Until only recently, superhero comics regularly portrayed Black characters as villains. I counted over 80 Black supervillains on this list. Of course there were white villains in comics, too, but given that there were no real popular Black superheroes, people were left with only one impression. Most people over the age of 30 were, as kids, unsuspecting viewers of white superheroes oftentimes fighting Black villains. Black Spider-Woman, Lady Marabunta, Black Manta, Bantam, Kingpin, Fatality, Prowler, Fara, and Shadow Thief were the more well-known Black villains among comic book aficionados.