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Monday, 16 May 2011

Characters of Colour in superhero Comics - the women (part one)

Someone on the facebook group recently asked where all the strong female characters of colour in superhero comics were.  This is a very good question and one that I feel needs answering.

I think there is a feeling that superhero comics tend to feature only white heroes (and male ones at that).  Whilst historically this was certainly the case, in recent years it has got better.  There are now several characters of colour in the superhero books (although not as many as there are white characters).  They are also in independent publications and manga.  I'm going to use this post to highlight a few particularly great female characters, and then do another post of the male characters.

Firstly, an explanation of the label system. 
On the blog we label all our posts with CoC for Characters of Colour if the character has a significant role in the book.  You can view all posts tagged with this label here, this includes the independent comics.

Don’t forget our manga reviews.  Most of our manga is set in Asian countries so the default ethnicity becomes Asian and there are very few white people in the books.  As such we won't list any manga titles in this post.

You can read our other posts in the series here:
women (part two), men (part one)men (part two), men (part three), the X (wo)men, non superhero comics, men (part four), men part five and finally women (part three) and a Spider-man.

From DC comics:
Amanda Waller.  Head of the Suicide Squad, she's a fat black woman and she's amazing.  She's not superpowered, she doesn't need to be, because nobody fucks with The Wall (as she’s known).  Pam Grier played her on Smallville and Angela Bassett will play her in the new Green Lantern movie (out April 2011!).  We recently did a review of Suicide Squad: Trial by Fire, which gives her backstory and shows you just how awesome she is.

Wonder Woman’s Amazon nation have recently (well, in the last 20 years) had a reinvention and there now exist a ‘lost’ tribe of Amazons, called the Bana Mighdall.  Influenced more by Egyptian than Greek religion, they appear in Wonder Woman: Paradise Lost, amongst others.

Natasha Irons – black niece of Steel, John Henry Irons.  Both forge advanced armour to wear and help defend Metropolis and fight alongside Superman.  I love Natasha.  You can read about her in 52 volumes one, two, three and four.  After something called the Infinite Crisis (discussed here) all DC titles skipped forward a year.  52 was a weekly comic that chronicled this 'lost' year in the DC Universe.  It sounds like you need to do know lots of background to enjoy 52.  You don't.  It's a introduction to a whole range of amazing and interesting, less well known, characters.

Anissa Pierce, or Thunder – black, daughter of Black Lightening (I know, DC aren’t original with their names).  She can increase her density to become really strong, invulnerable and she sends shock waves through the ground by stamping her feet.  She is also the lover of Grace Choi, a Bana-Mighdall Amazon.  They are one of my favourite comic couples.  Read about them both in Outsiders: Looking for Trouble.

Vixen, black woman, carries a totem that grants her animal powers.  I haven’t read much of her but from what I have seen she’s a big hitter and she has been a member of the Justice League of America.  You can read about her in her own mini series - Return of the Lion.  You can download this digitally from the DC shop here.

Anita Fyte – Jamaican teenager.  She uses voodoo and was a member of Young Justice for a while (but not in that book in the link).  More recently she has appeared in Supergirl: Way of the World.  I am a big fan of Anita and I really wish she’d get used more often.

Lady Shiva: the world’s premier martial artist.  She’s Asian and has a really rich story.  Because of her incredible skills she’s quite isolated, but occasionally seeks out company, as she did in Birds of Prey: Sensei and Student.  The art is horrible, but on the plus side you can buy the issues in digital format from DC’s online store.

Cassandra Cain, the third Batgirl.  She is also Asian and was raised without speech by a master assassin Cassandra was trained to kill from a very young age.  As no voiced language was used around her she couldn't speak and she learned to read body movement.  She grew to understand this so well it became a language to her.  She escaped her brutal guardian and ended up in Gotham where she was taken in by Batman.  You can read about Cass in Batgirl: Silent Running.

Linda Parks-West is a journalist and is married the (second) Flash, Wally West.  She is Korean-American.  As per superhero comic tropes, she is a great journalist and a modern career woman.  She loves her job and she and Wally have two kids together, Iris and Jai West.  Linda and Wally's relationships is one of the most romantic in comics.  You can read about her in The Flash: Terminal Velocity.  Unfortunately she gets whitewashed a lot, e.g., drawn as white when she's quite clearly not.  Other characters get whitewashed too, but not as often as poor Linda.

XS, or Jenni Ognats, is a speedster in the future.  In fact, she's one of the few characters of colour who appear to exist in the future.  She is black, related to various members of the Flash family and is a member of the Legion of Superheroes.  I cannot think of any good, accessible trades focusing on her, but she does appear in a number of Flash and Impulse books.

Solstice is a new superheroine in DC's world of comics.  She is a teenager, Indian and Hindu.  She has light based powers (hence the code name).  She first turned up in a 2010 Wonder Girl one shot, but has since joined the monthly Teen Titans book from issue 93.  These have not yet been collected into trade (we are only on issue 94 now) but I am sure they will be.

From Marvel comics:
Storm, aka Ororo Monro.  Most people recognise Storm.   Wonderfully played (in my opinion, others may disagree) by Halle Berry in the X-Men films, Storm is an African princess who can control the weather.  She's a mutant, powerful as anything and very formidable.  She also went through quite an endearing punk phase and sported a mohawk.  Around that, her career path has been vaired, covering street thief, master thief, savannah fertility goddess, paramilitary commander and monarch.

Storm has been a member of the X-Men since the 1975 relaunch and was a constant fixture on the team until her royal marriage about five years ago. She's still on the team but splits her time between the day job and being a queen.  Being a team character her solo exposure has been limited, but you can read about her in X-Men: Worlds Apart.  For a more old fashioned take you could try the Essential X-Men books, but be warned, these books are very dialogue and exposition heavy.

Maya Lopez, Echo, is a Deaf Native American who can mimic any action she sees.  She’s fantastic.  I don’t read much Marvel but I search out Echo stories wherever I can.  We reviewed a book of hers here.  She has a second book named Daredevil/Echo Vision Quest and had appeared in the New Avengers series.

Monica Rambeau.  She has used the code names Captain Marvel, Pulsar and Photon but now uses no codename.  She has energy based powers and is the leader of the nextwave unit, reviewed here.

Runaways a is team up book, published by Marvel, and features 2 characters of colour.  One is Alex Wilder, an African American boy, and the other is Nico Minoru.  Nico is Japanese American and fairly uniquely of Asian heroes, her powers are magic based and not related to any form of martial arts.  She is pretty damn kick ass.  You can read about them both in Pride and Joy, the opening book in the series, or in Rock Zombies, which is volume 10.

These are just a few of my (Saranga's) superhero favourites.  What do you think?  Who have we forgotten?  Who do you want more information on?  Leave your ideas and feedback in the comments!

Male characters of colour post coming up soon.


  1. I love Natasha^^
    Well, I always loved Steel for starters, but Nat's just as great! She was a fun character when she used to pop up often in Superman around "Cir El" era~
    (was it in 2002? 2003?)

  2. Do you know, I've never read any Cir-El so I really have no idea when she was around. I should rectify this and read some Cir-El stories.

  3. Hi Saranga ~

    To the best of your knowledge, have there ever been any superhero characters who had disabilities...such as being blind or deaf or mobility impaired? I realize that this may seem like a contradiction to the concept of a superhero, but I'm just curious if anyone has made an attempt to show that even a character with a disability can still do amazing heroic things.

    I'm reminded of a children's television series that appeared many years ago called "Rainbow's End" - which was created by a Deaf production company. It featured a character named SuperSign - a Deaf female parody of Superman. The role was played by a Deaf woman actress who basically saves the day in the Deaf Community, and teaches us some signs along the way. Kinda cool, actually.

    I know there are some Deaf artists out there who have drawn comics with Deaf superheroes that are publicized within the Deaf Community. However, I don't know if any of them have actually published a comic book for public sale.

  4. Hi Ocean.
    Yes! There is one superhero who is Deaf. Her name is Echo and she has had 2 books focused on her published. We have reviewed the first one here:
    (we actually mentioned this book in the post above)

    I will be getting a review of her other book posted over the next few weeks. I lent both these books to a Deaf friedn of mine and she loved them.
    After these books Echo joined an Avengers team, I am not sure which one or which issues she was in, but I will look into it and include it in the review of her second book.

    The writer Peter David has included a couple of Deaf one off characters in his Young Justice and Supergirl ongoing books, but they had small parts, were ASL users and could lip read perfectly. They only appeared in one or two issues.

    There are lots of superhero characters with disabilities. Off the top of my head:
    From Marvel comics, Daredevil, in whose book Echo was introduced, is blind. Charles Xavier, leader of the X-Men, is a wheelchair user.

    Over at DC comics, Wonder Woman was temporarily blinded. Oracle, the character who was the first Batgirl, is now a wheelchair user (she was shot in the spine by the Joker).

    There are lots of characters (from both superhero companies) with mental health issues.

    Disability is quite common in superhero comics and it's not really used as an impediment or a handicap - the heroic characters are quite able to deal with any threats they may face, even if they are non powered (I'm thinking of Oracle here). Often the hero's power is linked to the accident or incident which resulted in them becoming disabled.

    I think I'll do a post recommending books with disabled and Ddeaf characters. Would that be useful?

  5. Oh, the writers and artists of Echo are not Deaf, but the writer has obviously done his research, the artist less so.

    If you are on facebook try looking up Deaf Bananaman - it's in BSL but you will might be able to follow it (not sure if you know BSL?). It's very funny and uses a lot of facial expression, gestures and classifiers, that might cross the sign language divide.

  6. Hi Saranga ~

    Thanks for your response! I must confess that I am not a big comic book fan, but I do find this information quite interesting. I am wondering if you might be interested in writing an article about Echo (and other Deaf or non-verbal comic characters) for my blog - Deaf Pagan Crossroads? Or at the very least write up something to post here and then I can do a follow up post linking to it at the Crossroads. I think it could be interesting for my readership and possibly help bring more readers to your own site. What do you think?

  7. I would love to write something on Echo. There is another non verbal character called Cass Cain (listed in the post) and there's some links about linguistic differences that can be made.
    Do you want to email me some thoughts? paicomics at yahoo dot co dot uk

  8. Hi Saranga ~

    Haven't forgotten about you or our "project"...just been so busy lately! This will probably continue this month with things that I have to finalize before the new fiscal year begins July 1st (here in the USA many states and private agencies have a July to June fiscal year).

    I will send you an email in the next day or two.