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This came up after talking with a friend recently. I commented that, with my relative lack of knowledge of comics, I didn't think I had seen any minority superheroes in comics until I saw the Justice League cartoon on Boomerang and realized they had a new Green Lantern (John Stewart). My understanding is there are more minorities in comics than when I was growing up and got to read the odd comic book or two, but when I look at posters for DC and Marvel, most of the characters seem to still be Caucasian.

When and who was the first minority superhero in the two big comic lines (Marvel and DC) in the U.S.?

Note: My intent here was to look at larger US publishing groups, such as Marvel and DC, who were in a situation where they could, for years, publish stories about people within one group (in this case Caucasian and mostly males). With that group in mind, my thought was, "When did they start to make changes and open up to different groups and move past designing all their characters to appeal to one group." That's why I wasn't looking at independent publishers, or cases where a small publisher was publishing within a minority group.

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    In case you wonder, I deleted my answer because John Steward is 4 years older than Storm. However, seeing that Kal-El is (close to) the only living being of his species, he's the first minority super-hero :) – bitmask Feb 25 '12 at 18:23
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    The question should state by which context we should consider the minority. Culture of primary intended story audience? Culture the character interacts most within canon? Culture of the author of story? Culture of the author of this question? – Ilari Kajaste Feb 25 '12 at 21:14
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    @IlariKajaste: That's true, but considering that I've essentially narrowed it down to DC and Marvel, that pretty much narrows down the culture. – Tango Feb 25 '12 at 21:22
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    @TangoOversway I'd be pretty sure that the "two big comic lines" are both Japanese. Marvel and DC are two medium-size comic lines that happen to be the largest in the US. – Mike Scott Feb 25 '12 at 21:34
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    Kryptonian-Americans are not a minority?? – user14111 Aug 13 '15 at 20:45
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Edited to add in the correct info about the first minority super hero.

In DC Comics All-Star Western #117 published in February 1961 the first Native American superhero appeared with the horrible name of Super-Chief.

All-Star Western 117 cover; female gunner ripping the holster out of a male gunner's belt with a bullet

A summary of his origin can be found here The Crowning of Super-Chief. Super-Chief appeared in the next two issues and then the series was cancelled.

Marvel introduced the Black Panther in Fantastic Four #52 in July of 1966.

FF #52 cover, featuring Black Panther alongside the titular Fantastic Four

However, it may not be accurate to say that the character is a minority. The Black Panther is in reality T'Challa, King of the fictional African country of Wakanda. Although he would be seen as a minority in the United States due to being African he is not part of the African-American minority in the US.

DC introduced its first minority superhero the Black Racer in June 1971 in New Gods #3.

New Gods 3 cover; Black Racer poiting a gun at New God Orion

The Black Racer may not really qualify as a superhero though. The character is part of Jack Kirby's Fourth World series. The corporeal form of the Black Racer is an African-American Vietnam veteran named Willie Walker. When Darkseid brought the war of the New Gods of New Genesis and Apokolips to Earth the Source, a sort of God like universal shared consciousness, contacted Walker and turned him into the deity known as the Black Racer. The Black Racer's job is to collect the souls of the New Gods when they die and deliver them to Hadis the Fourth World version of Hades.

So where does that leave us if we ignore these two entries. Marvel's next African-American hero was the Falcon introduced in Captain America #117 in September 1969.

Captain America 117 featuring the superhero falcon and a litteral falcon

The Falcon is the alter ego of Sam "Snap" Wilson. He was trained by Captain America after he fought beside him against a group of former Nazis working with the Red Skull. The Falcon did have one definite first in that the word 'Black" wasn't part of his superhero name.

DC's next black superhero appeared in Green Lantern #87 published in December 1971.

Green Lantern #87 cover, John Stewart holding a defeated Hal Jordan

This is the previously noted John Stewart. Artist Neal Adams resisted the powers that be who wanted to name the character Isaiah Washington.

However, all that being said these were not the first non-stereotyped or non-racist African-American characters in comics. These were just the first superheroes.

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    Excellent answer: well-researched and covers not just the explicit question but the implicit questions as well as a historical analysis. – Mark Beadles Feb 25 '12 at 21:17
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    @MarkBeadles Unfortunately not researched quite enough. Finally found the real first one. I had to find a better description of his first story to make sure he was considered a superhero though. Edited my answer to add it in. – Legion600 Feb 25 '12 at 21:36
  • @MajorStackings That's why I said it "may not be accurate." Some people are intent on arguing semantics today. Personally, I agree with you that he should be considered a minority superhero. – Legion600 Feb 25 '12 at 21:53
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    @MarkBeadles I'm an unemployed historian. I have nothing better to do than look up insignificant trivia on the net. – Legion600 Feb 25 '12 at 21:58
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    And now I see why they have the Hal Jorden version of GL, not Jon Stewart. They'd have to have cast SL Jackson and he's tied up in marvel.... – AncientSwordRage Feb 27 '12 at 8:45
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Zorro was introduced in 1919 and is a Spanish hero. But I don't know if you could consider him a minority hero as he fought crime in a Spanish colony in California, so he would have been of the majority.

But the character was created by Johnston McCulley who was born in Illinois and was printed in the USA.

  • Zorro fought crime in the Spanish colony of California not Spain. But you are right that he would have been in the majority. – Legion600 Feb 25 '12 at 19:53
  • @Legion600 Thanks :) – OghmaOsiris Feb 25 '12 at 19:58
  • What label was Zorro published under? Was it a major one? – Tango Feb 28 '12 at 20:42
  • It was Disney's comic publisher – OghmaOsiris Feb 28 '12 at 23:02
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Honorable mention to Luke Cage, aka Power Man (of Power Man/Iron Fist fame), since I believe he is the first with his own eponymous title.

First appearance - 1972.

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Marvel introduced the Black Panther in 1966. The Black Panther, one of the Avengers, was originaly from Wakanda Africa. He visited America and lived there for a time where he used the secret identity of Luke Charles, an American teacher.

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    Sounds like a winner to me: "He is the first black superhero in mainstream American comics" (Wikipedia). – bitmask Feb 25 '12 at 19:58
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    I think this is correct, insofar as the Black Panther was the first serious, non-stereotyped, superhero depicted as a racial minority. – Mark Beadles Feb 25 '12 at 20:04
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    The Black Panther's not in a minority; he comes from Wakanda, an African country where he's part of the majority ethnic group. – Mike Scott Feb 25 '12 at 20:43
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    So, we are saying the only racial minority that can be considered for this question are african americans? – OghmaOsiris Feb 25 '12 at 20:44
  • @OghmaOsiris No, but we are saying that the first minority superheroes were African-American. – Legion600 Feb 25 '12 at 20:49
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Tarzan, I should think. Since he spends all his time in Africa, he's definitely in an ethnic minority group.

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    He's not a superhero though. – Legion600 Feb 25 '12 at 20:47
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    He's also the quintessential Great White Male that rules over all the lesser beings in the jungle. He's not a minority, he's a racist stereotype we generally overlook because the story is considered a classic. – Shadur Feb 26 '12 at 9:41
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I'd like to throw Lee Falks Phantom into the mix. The Phantom began as a daily comic strip in 1936 (at that time he was the 20th Phantom, the first Phantom took on the role in the 1500's) and he became a world renown fictional hero. He was the first to wear a skin tight outfit as well as a mask without visible pupils. The location of his base of operations (Skull Cave) varied as time passed from Asia to Africa.

Through the 1940s, strips were reprinted in Ace Comics.

The Phantom was later published by Harvey Comics in the '50's, followed by Gold Key Comics, King Comics and Charlton Comics. Marvel Comics published a 4 issue miniseries in 1987. DC Comics took over in 1988.

Moonstone books began publishing graphic novels in 2002. Check out Legion600's answer to my question Which world-renowned fictional hero was the first to wear a skintight costume and a mask with no visible pupils?.

  • Can you add more context? What year was he introduced, what makes him notable, etc? – user1027 Feb 27 '12 at 4:04
  • The Phantom began in newspaper strips. He wasn't published by either of the big two publishers until 1988. – Legion600 Feb 27 '12 at 4:57
  • @Keen- Sorry, got pulled away from the keyboard. Edited as requested. – Major Stackings Feb 27 '12 at 5:24
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Superman. He was an alien, so definitely biologically qualified to be a minority in any location on Earth.

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    No, while in canon Superman is strictly considering a minority, he does not represent a minority, but instead the very opposite: what is hegemonically considered the majority-in-power of the culture he was introduced in. Superman is a caucasian, strong-built, masculine, heterosexual man, no matter if he's technically alien or not. – Ilari Kajaste Feb 25 '12 at 18:44
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    That little technicality makes him a minority. – OghmaOsiris Feb 25 '12 at 18:49
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    @OghmaOsiris, Probably because whilst the answer is technically correct, it doesn't answer the spirit of the question. I'd agree that "This answer isn't useful" on that basis (though I've held off on a downvote). It's the whole letter of the law/spirit of the law thing, in my eyes anyway. – Rob Feb 25 '12 at 18:51
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    I think it's very clear what the questioner meant, and very clear that Superman is not the kind of answer that is helpful. There is nothing politically correct about the question; it's actually quite interesting. – Mark Beadles Feb 25 '12 at 19:55
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    What a terrible answer. The question is clearly about characters that match-up to real world minorites from a US perspective, not minorities in canon. There is always someone who tries to bring up supes or MM, showing only that they miss the point of such questions entirely. – m3tron0me Feb 27 '12 at 21:48

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