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The Power of the Black Female Teenage Superhero

by  in CBR Exclusives Comment
The Power of the Black Female Teenage Superhero

On August 13, Entertainment Weekly and various other media outlets announced a new monthly series from Marvel Comics titled “Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur.”

Written by Any Reeder and Brandon Montclare, the main creators of the critically-acclaimed Image Comics series “Rocket Girl,” and illustrated by Natacha Bustos, the series stars Lunella Lafayette. The Moon Girl of the Marvel Universe is apparently Black.

If true, it would represent another move by Marvel Comics to embrace diversity through character creation and creative team, with women on both the writing and illustrator fronts for Moon Girl’s adventures.

Marvel Comics would join the ranks of various American comic book publishers, publishers that paved the way for them with Black female teenage heroes.

In 2011, Action Lab Entertainment released the first issue of “Princeless.” Created by writer Jeremy Whitley and illustrated by Mia Goodwin, “Princeless” is the story of Adrienne Ashe, a princess who goes against all expectations placed on her by her parents and abandons the trappings of her title. Escaping from a castle and donning a suit of armor, taking a sword and enlisting her guardian dragon to be her ally in battle, Princess Adrienne goes off in search of adventure. Her first mission is to save the other six Ashe sisters from their own prisons, literal and self-imposed.

Adrienne’s character and story fly in the face of stereotype, of princesses, of “normal girls” and goes so far as to fully embrace the character’s diversity. Adrienne’s complexion is referenced in a humorous way when a Caucasian Prince arrives at her castle to save her, and finds Adrienne to be anything but a person in need of rescuing.

Nominated for an Eisner Award and winner of the Glyph Award, the “Princeless” series has been published in four volumes, “Save Yourself,” “Get Over Yourself,” “The Pirate Princess,” and a trade paperback of short stories, with the latest volume, subtitled “Be Yourself,” releasing its third issue this week.

Earlier this year, DC Comics took the name “Power Girl,” belonging to a blond, Caucasian female character for almost four decades, and bestowed it to a Black girl.

Tanya Spears, introduced in 2014 in issue #23 of the publisher’s “World’s Finest” series, is a Boston-born prodigy with high aptitude in various sciences who gains super powers after an explosion.

Empowered with superhuman strength and invulnerability to go along with her extraordinary intellect, Tanya is the new Power Girl who joins DC Comics’ popular team of modern-day teenage superheroes, the Teen Titans.

Similar to their main competitor Marvel Comics, DC Comics has introduced a notable number of characters of color in their superhero universe in the last handful of years.

What’s distinctive about the new Power Girl is her aptitude for the STEM fields of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. The STEM fields have been a subject of debate, showing a significant disparity between male and female presence in the related industries, so it may not be a coincidence that DC Comics chose to make a Black female teenage superhero (with a name quite recognizable to its fan base) a person with skills in those fields.

While DC Comics has dabbled with Black female teenage superheroes before with Natasha Irons, a character created by Louise Simonson and Chris Batista who later took on the identities of Steel and Starlight at various points in her publication history, the new Power Girl will hopefully stick with a more streamlined path of growth and character development.

A Black female teenage superhero that has managed to maintain a clear chart of growth, with over twenty years of publication under her belt, is Rocket.

Created by Milestone Media, Inc. and first appearing in the series “Icon” published by DC Comics and Milestone Media, Inc., Rocket is Raquel Ervin, an inner-city Black girl with dreams of becoming a writer like the famous novelist Toni Morrison.

Raquel’s encounter with a wealthy superpowered, politically Conservative Black man (secretly an alien from another planet) compels her to challenge him to stop excluding himself from the Black communities of lesser means, and to use his powers to uplift all people.

Conceiving the superhero identity of Icon for the alien, with herself as the sidekick Rocket, Raquel took on the role of superhero and fought with Icon to make a difference in her community, a town of people with few options and even less hope.

While the book was called “Icon,” Raquel Ervin as Rocket was the heart and core of the series, with her growth as a character taking her through an unintended pregnancy, motherhood, and a forced acceleration into adulthood when her grandmother unexpectedly passed away.

Created by people of color at a time when diversity in comic books was far from the buzzword it is now, Rocket represents a historic benchmark for Black female teenage superheroes as the one with the longest publication history. Rocket is expected to return in the upcoming relaunch of the Milestone superhero universe from the company Milestone 2.0 and DC Comics.

The presence of Black teenage female heroes across at least four companies and three publishers speaks to the growing recognition of that demographic in American society.

Popular Black culture websites like Madame Noire post columns geared toward identifying role models in film and television for young Black girls, and various departments within The White House are collaborating on initiatives to improve and accelerate education in specialized fields for girls.

Additionally, the emergence and increase of Black female groups and bloggers in comics comes with a vocal collective desire to see more Black female characters of various ages in the American comic book market, the top-selling publishers of said market specializing in the superhero and fantasy genres.

This desire will be addressed by more publishers in months and years to come.

7 Things We Hope “DC Super Hero Girls” Can Achieve

DC Comics is doubling down on their targeting of young Black girls with the inclusion of the Black teenage female superhero Bumblebee as part of their DC Super Hero Girls line, which will result in original graphic novels as well as product from partners such as Random House, LEGO and Mattel.

However, an interesting contender for a new Black teenage female hero is coming in the form of “Niobe,” a new comic book series created by teenage actress and activist Amandla Stenberg from “The Hunger Games” and “Colombiana,” illustrated by Ashley A. Woods and published by Stranger Comics.

With the character of Niobe clearly modeled after Stenberg, the young hero could be poised to achieve media translation into film or television sooner than its peers, connecting with the Black female teenagers of the world with impressive reach and visibility.

That would qualify as intellectual property superpower.


Joseph Phillip Illidge is a public speaker on the subjects of race, comics, and the corporate politics of diversity. In addition to his coverage by the BBC and Publishers Weekly, Joseph has been a speaker at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, Digital Book World’s forum, Digitize Your Career: Marketing and Editing 2.0, Skidmore College, Purdue University, on the panel “Diversity in Comics: Race, Ethnicity, Gender and Sexual Orientation in American Comic Books” and at the Soho Gallery for Digital Art in New York City.

Joseph is the Head Writer for Verge Entertainment, a production company co-founded with Shawn Martinbrough, artist for the graphic novel series “Thief of Thieves” by “The Walking Dead” creator Robert Kirkman, and video game developer Milo Stone. Verge has developed an extensive library of intellectual properties for live-action and animated television and film, video games, graphic novels, and web-based entertainment.

His graphic novel project, “The Ren,” about the romance between a young musician from the South and a Harlem-born dancer in 1925, set against the backdrop of a crime war, will be published by First Second Books, a division of Macmillan.

Joseph’s newest comic book project is the upcoming Scout Comics miniseries “Solarman,” a revamp of a teenage superhero originally written by Stan Lee.

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