The Most Racist Moments in Comics
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?Photo: The Best of the Spirit / DC Comics
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."
The Comics Code Censored Judgment Day
At the height of its powers, The Comics Code committed a glut of sins against art. From the early '50s to the mid '90s, the Comics Code Authority presided over the content of all mainstream comic books, censoring content as they saw fit in order to protect the impressionable young eyes that might see it. The biggest publisher that the CCA put out of business was EC Comics, the infamously pulpy company behind titles like Tales from the Crypt. The Authority’s biggest crime when it came to EC wasn’t its blanket refusal to approve anything that allowed their horror comics to be horrific (gore, monsters, violence, unhappy endings), but the time Comics Code wanted them to recolor a character to be white instead of Black.
Judgment Day was a pivotal comic strip of its era, which handled issues of racial prejudice so well it belied its original publication date of 1953. When EC sought to reprint the story in 1956 – after the formation of the CCA - the Authority demanded that they change the story’s end panel where it’s revealed the astronaut protagonist was a Black man. They had no reasoning beyond their own prejudice, seemingly unaware of the irony considering the story he featured in. The response of writer Al Feldstein and publisher Bill Gaines was, literally, "F*** you!" When EC printed the story unaltered, it turned out to be the last comic they ever published before going bankrupt.
Should we really be shocked that a blonde-haired white kid was ignorant towards other cultures? In states, we weren't inundated with the Tintin mythos the way that our brethren from across the pond were. Maybe it's because we have the ability to look at the Tintin comics with fresh, adult eyes, but it seems like Georges Remi (the creator of Tintin) is a wee bit prejudiced against anyone with a little extra melanin in their skin. At one point in Tintin in the Congo, a Congolese woman bows in front of Tintin and proclaims “White man very great. White mister is big juju man."As eye rollingly bad as that is, the book serves as a gateway into the way that information was disseminated in the early 20th century. The misconceptions of racial differences were not only bred into people, but they believed to be gospel. And with artists like Remi spreading this misinformation, generations of children grew up believing in the myth of the noble savage. We understand that Remi couldn't have hopped on Google to get a glimpse of the language of the Congolese, but he could have treated his characters like human beings.