I’m certain the average American is familiar or at the very least quasi familiar with overt forms of racism that exist in this country, like the criminal justice system, Rockefeller Drug Laws, arguments against affirmative action or that you are 50% less likely to land an opportunity in corporate America if you have a black-sounding name. Conversely, it’s intriguing how racism manifests itself in highly subtle, nuanced ways such as in American comics.
With the recent box office success of Black Panther and Marvel’s popular Luke Cage series (canceled after Season two), detractors may consider historical racism against African American superheroes as null. However, these successes validate the marketability and newfound lucrative black superheroes in this contemporary American and global era. However, it does not prove the intent in the minority hero, initially created by Marvel Comics writers or what abilities or lack thereof they were originally given in direct comparison to white variations. For example, isn’t it particular that hero for hire, Luke Cage, was given a chain belt as his main artillery or that Cage had chained shackles that bonded his wrists in cover illustrations? Does that not give a striking reference to an American institution, which was outlawed in the U.S. less than 200 years ago (with the exception of prisons), building its southern economy and being the focal catalyst for the outbreak of the American Civil War? Why is it that the signature weaponry of Captain America is a near-indestructible shield, Thor’s is an all-powerful hammer mythological exclusive to him (with some exception) that can channel lightning at will and always be summoned back, but Luke Cage’s is a generic metal chain that gives racial overtones of a black man in jail or as a slave? Should a lucid racial disparity really exist in what is supposed to be a surreal, paradisiacal world, where skin color isn’t supposed to apply?
In a recent conversation with my father, he relayed to me the marginality regarding the abilities of his favorite childhood superhero, the Black Panther. For a second, let’s escape the immense success of the highly-grossing 2018 film regarding the Marvel hero that catapulted him into a contemporary pop culture icon and get to the genesis of his creation by Marvel Comics in a racially charged 1960s United States. The Black Panther’s original alias was Prince T’Challa, who ascended to the throne of his African homeland Wakanda after reclaiming it from defeating his arch-nemesis Kill-Monger, who assassinated his father, King T’Challa, in a coup to seize the Wakandan throne for himself. My father told me The Black Panther wasn’t given supernatural attributes but simply granted acrobatic prowess coupled with athleticism. This is evident in that the Black Panther was never given or intended to be given iconic superpowers, such as the telepathy of mutant X-men leader, Professor X or Thor, who is a Norse God, whose pure strength as a Marvel hero is only bested by Hulk, can fly at light speed, teleport between dimensions, has virtual invulnerability, can manipulate lightning and travel through time using his hammer, Mjolnir. The Black Panther’s “abilities” clearly pale in comparison to those of the aforementioned. He may have been bestowed vibranium claws long after origination, but that’s not comparable with the ability to fly between the earth and sun in minutes with near-unlimited strength like Sentry. In comparison to a number of his white contemporaries at Marvel, the Black Panther is glaringly sub-par, and I’m convinced the underlying reason is subconscious racism that coerced writers at Marvel Comics over the decades to place significantly more vested effort in the capabilities of Caucasian superheroes to satisfy mainstream America at the expense of their minority counterparts.
In order to substantiate this notion that there is indeed a racial discrepancy predicated on keeping the black heroes and their superpowers inhibited by Marvel, its superhero, Luke Cage, is an alternate drawing point. Cage was created in the 1970s and received his enhanced physical abilities and resistance from a prison experiment, giving him superhuman strength, unbreakable skin, and the ability to punch through up to four inches of solid steel, as stated in his Marvel profile. Given that Cage has developed superhuman strength and near-impenetrable skin, they don’t make him nearly as strong as the Thing from The Fantastic Four or the Hulk, who were additionally given their superhuman strength from abnormal conditions. Thing garnered his abilities from exposure to cosmic rays during a space exploration mission with his crewmates, while the Hulk got his from a failed gamma radiation experiment. Nonetheless, for Ben Grimm and Bruce Banner, both events resulted in each realizing immense superhuman strengths, easily exceeding Luke Cage, who’s markedly weaker than either. Thing is approximately four times as strong as Luke Cage with the ability to lift 100 tons (Xolitlot, Thing Origin), whereas Luke Cage can only lift 25 tons (Mego_Stretch_Hulk, Luke Cage Origin). So mathematically, if Luke Cage can punch through four inches of steel, as stated in his character biography on the Marvel website indicated, then Thing should be able to punch through sixteen inches of the same material. Comparatively, in several direct encounters between Thing and Hulk in the Marvel comics, Hulk defeated Thing convincingly. Stan Lee, the creator of Marvel, when asked in an interview about who would win between the Hulk and Thing, said head to head, it would be the Hulk, no question. The Hulk’s strength is technically unlimited, as his power only increases the angrier he becomes. Based on logic alone, Luke Cage would stand next to no chance against Hulk if he’s four times weaker than Thing from the Fantastic Four. It’s peculiar that Luke Cage, the sole minority superhero of the three, is unquestionably far less capable in terms of physical acumen than either of the other two. This fact cannot be explained by coincidence.
Perhaps Falcon (credited as the first black superhero) becoming the new Captain America in recent years is a promising precursor to a definitive changing of the guard. However, remember, in his origination, Falcon was created to be subservient to Captain America as no more than a sidekick, whose only original “superpowers” are that he can talk to birds, fly with his weaponized jet pack, is skilled in martial arts and jujitsu and is proficient with Captain America’s iconic shield (Lewis, Falcon Biography). It is apparent that Falcon wasn’t engineered to be even a decent carbon copy of the original Steve Rogers because Marvel’s writers never intended this. Even though Falcon has been given the reins as the “new” Captain America in Marvel Comics in the past several years, it would be at a semi satisfactory level at best, never measuring up skill or strength wise to the iconic World War 2 constructed super soldier. The most plausible insinuation is due to the lesser efficacy methodically bestowed upon him and numerous other Black heroes by Marvel Comics creators/writers that have been comprised for decades.