Like all forms of populist art, comic books have had the unwanted fate of growing up in front of our eyes, constantly shedding its skin and showing off its warts and bad haircuts. And there's no worse wart than that of racism. Seeing your favorite superheroes toss around racial epithets and fight enemies based on their color and heritage isn’t fun, and in some cases it genuinely hurts to see a few of the panels that we’ve included on this list – but we think it’s important to see where we come from and far we’ve progressed since The Shadow was tooling around with an awful caricature of Black culture. This list of the most racist moments in the history of comics should be seen as a historical marker to be learned from, not an unsightly blemish to avoid at all costs.
Living in the 21st century (as one does), it’s hard to contextualize the only representation of non-Caucasian races being either sneering, cowardly villains, or as lazily slapped together distortions of a culture, but somehow almost every comic book writer from 1930 to the late '60s managed to do it. And even some modern comic artists still strive to create racist garbage, and yes, we’ve collected them all on this list of racist moments from comic book history.
Captain Marvel's '40s Sidekick Was An Extreme Racial StereotypePhoto: Marvel
Sometimes when you learn about the buried past of the things you love (comics, old metal bands), you realize that you should have let sleeping dogs lie. In particular, the superhero with with a little boy inside of him, Captain Marvel. In the '40s, Billy Batson had a sort of "valet" named Steamboat who was as much a racist caricature as he was a mishmash of brown and pink balloon shapes that no person of any race has ever looked like. Or acted/spoke like... ever. And it wasn't just Steamboat that acted like that, it was every Black person that had the poor fortune of being drawn in Captain Marvel.
After looking at these panels it's hard trying to understand who Captain Marvel was for. Pre-teen maniacs? Racists with terrible taste (that sounds redundant)? Garbage monsters? All three?
Ebony White, Or, What Was Wil Eisner Thinking?
Anyone with eyes can see why Ebony White, sidekick to The Spirit is an atrocity of racial stereotypes on an apocalyptic level. Created in the 1940s by Wil Eisner, he drew obvious comparisons to an Uncle Tom from critics and fans alike. Eisner reported receiving letters of both praise and criticism for the character at the time. In a 1966 New York Herald Tribune feature by his former office manager-turned-journalist, Marilyn Mercer claimed, "Ebony never drew criticism from Negro groups (in fact, Eisner was commended by some for using him)..."
While we truly believe that without Wil Eisner, we wouldn't have modern comic artists like Dave Taylor, or Juan Giménez drawing wildly creative art - we do think that Eisner's defense of his Ebony White character is total BS and that it set back Black culture in comic books almost 50 years.
Superman, Defender Of White Owned LandPhoto: DC Comics
In a particularly strange and awful story called Superman, Indian Chief!, Superman was called in to settle a property dispute in Metropolis. An evil mogul discovered, through distant Native American ancestry, that he owned all the city's land. He instantly began extorting the citizens of Metropolis and proudly bragged about it right to Superman's face. There was only one thing that the Krypton Kid could do, GO BACK IN TIME AND BUY THE LAND FROM THE NATIVES!!!!! Now that is some Grade-A racism.Not only did Supes decide against using any rational plan that could have helped get the land back to the citizens of Metropolis, but he actively indoctrinated racism into the culture of America. It's like a mobius strip of hate and dishonesty.
Murray Boltinoff Was The Worst
Up until 1976 there hadn't been one Black character presented in DC Comics. "Why?" you ask. Well, we don't know if it's because Murray Boltinoff was a racist monster that wanted to banish people of color to another universe, but we do have some proof that our theory is semi-accurate.
The first Black character introduced in DC comics was Tyroc, a racial separatist who lived on an island off the coast of Africa that could disappear at will. Yes, in DC continuity, everyone that wasn't white lived on an island until 1976. Let that awful thought sink in. And according to Boltinoff, Tyroc couldn't just be a superhero, he had to be a former slave who was a racial segregationist. UUUUGH. Jim Shooter, one of DC's artists at the time called the depiction of Tyroc "pathetic and appalling" and co-creator Mike Grell described Tyroc's segregationist backstory as "possibly the most racist concept I've ever heard in my life."