In recent months, there's been a wide-ranging debate about racism in modern society, but something most decent people can agree on is that racism is a horrible thing. Stereotyping and attacking people for the color of their skin is a known evil, so it's a good (and relatively easy) way to make readers hate the bad guy. That's why you probably wouldn't be surprised to find out that a lot of supervillains are racist in comic books, but racism isn't just for villains. No, there have been quite a few racist things said and done by known superheroes as well.
Just so we're clear, in this list, we're going to talk about the uncomfortable times when a superhero said or did something terribly racist in comic books. Some superheroes have been racist only because they've been around so long that their behavior is a relic of an older time. Other superheroes are heroes in name only, so racism is almost the least of their problems. Some other superheroes have been created for the sole purpose of being racist. A fraction of superheroes started out racist and became better people in the long run. Get ready to walk on the dark side of heroism with 15 heroes who are filthy racists.
15 WONDER WOMAN
Today, Wonder Woman stands as a symbol of equality and feminism, but that wasn't the case in the beginning. When she was created in the 1940s, she was steeped in racist stereotypes of the time. After all, the Amazons were an all-white group of women whose first minority member didn't appear until 1987!
One of Wonder Woman's greatest villains was Egg-Fu, a gigantic egg with a stereotypically Asian face and giant mustache. In Wonder Woman #19, she fought the improbable combination of African tribesmen working with the Nazis -- they even had little swastikas on their loincloths. In case you argue she was just surrounded by racism but wasn't racist herself, during World War II, Wonder Woman threw around the word "japs" to refer to Japanese spies and saboteurs. It was a darker time.
14 CAPTAIN MARVEL
Captain Marvel always had a troubling relationship with African-Americans, and you can start by talking about his valet, servant and sidekick, Steamboat. Steamboat was a classic example of a minstrel character who spoke in an exaggerated accent, had coal-black skin and was easily frightened and confused. Ironically, Steamboat was added to appeal to black readers, but the character offended them so much that Steamboat was pulled only a few years later. Yet that was nothing compared to what happened in Whiz Comics #12 in 1941.
In this issue, Captain Marvel's alter ego Billy Batson decided to disguise himself on a boat as an African-American named Rastus Washington Brown. Master of subtlety that he is, Batson rubbed burnt cork all over his face and said things like, "Ah is gonna see ma mammy in Alabamy sho' nuff?"
It didn't take long for Batman to get his own TV series and movies. You may be more familiar with the Batman movies or maybe the '60s TV show, but you most likely haven't seen the first live-action Batman, a 13-episode serial in 1943. That's a good thing.
In Batman's popular serial, racism was rife. Taking place during World War II, Batman and Robin didn't fight supervillains but Japanese saboteurs trying to steal the city's radium supply for a new weapon. The leader of the Japanese ring (Dr. Tito Daka) was a stereotype of the Yellow Peril mastermind with a pencil-thin mustache and a thick accent. Fitting propaganda of the time, Batman and others made ethnic slurs and even the narration called them "shifty-eyed Japs."
12 HAL JORDAN
Since 1959, the name Green Lantern has been synonymous with Hal Jordan. While he's not the first or the only Green Lantern, he's one of the oldest and best known. Jordan is a fearless hero, but he's not without his flaws, some of which have only become more glaring over time. Let's start with his best friend and sidekick, Tom Kalmaku, an Inuit who Jordan decided to nickname "Pieface" because (as he put it) the only Eskimos he knew were Eskimo Pies.
Throughout his adventures, Jordan fought for justice on Earth and across the Galaxy, but pretty much only for whites and alien races. In 1970's Green Lantern #76 (Denny O'Neill, Neal Adams), Jordan was confronted by a black man about how he had helped people with blue skin instead of black skin. When African-American John Stewart became a Green Lantern in 1972, he confronted Jordan's racism head-on.
What if Thor was racist? That question you never asked was answered by Stormfront, who made his first appearance in The Boys #31 by Garth Ennis and Carlos Ezquerra. In public, Stormfront was a reincarnated Viking who led the superhero team Payback, a group made up of heroes who couldn't get into the Seven. Stormfront had electrical powers and weather control so everyone believed his cover story.
In reality, Stormfront was a former Hitler Youth in World War II who became a super-soldier created by the Nazis, which made him, by virtue of his association if not his nature, extremely racist. The fact that he shared the name of a racist neo-Nazi website wasn't a coincidence. He kept up the charade for years until he was beaten to death by the CIA hit squad, The Boys.
10 THE FIXER
After the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in 2001, legendary writer and artist Frank Miller announced plans to create in his words "propaganda" against Islamic terrorists in the form of a graphic novel starring Batman called Holy Terror. Eventually, because DC rejected the idea, Miller removed Batman and replaced him with another superhero of his own creation, the Fixer.
The Fixer launched his own war against Islamic terrorists in the fictional Empire City, slaughtering with equal parts brutality and racism. At one point, the Fixer sneered that a captured terrorist's name was probably Mohammed, and the Fixer and his partner attacked worshippers of Islam and terrorists as if they were both the same. The world of Holy Terror supports his racism, though, because it portrays a world where all Muslims are evil.
9 JUDGE JURY
In 1990, the miniseries Bratpack explored the dark side of being a superhero's sidekick with the story of four teenagers adopted by a group of psychotic antiheroes. In the miniseries, the teens quickly discovered their heroes were driven more by commercialism than by justice, and were corrupted by their mentors' desires.
One teenager became the new Kid Vicious, led by Judge Jury. Judge Jury was a straight-up Nazi who encouraged his ward to take steroids, tortured him by making Kid Vicious crawl through broken glass, and killed suspects. More than justice, he preached racism. He criticized Kid Vicious for taking him to a store run by Jewish owners, wore a Klu Klux Klan-style hood and targeted minorities over white criminals. He was a brutal satire of the fascist superhero.
8 STORM SAXON
In 1988, V For Vendetta (Alan Moore, David Lloyd) imagined a revolutionary named V fighting against a modern-day fascist government in Britain. After a nuclear holocaust, the Norsefire government took control and massacred all "undesirables," including minorities. The government used a number of tactics to control the people, including near-constant surveillance and propaganda. One of the government's most popular forms of propaganda was Storm Saxon, a superhero TV show steeped in racism.
In the world of Storm Saxon, African-Americans are oppressing the Caucasian race, constantly in search of white property to destroy and white women to rape. Storm fights exclusively minorities in the name of the white race, calling them "black cannibal filth." He's openly racist in a world of racism, which fits him perfectly. Thankfully, V shut him down along with the rest of Norsefire.
In 1937, two Chicago ad execs Bob Stark and C.L. Nutt created the Golden Age superhero, Hoverboy. During World War II, Hoverboy was an openly racist superhero who opposed immigration and fought the Japanese as a threat both within and outside the United States. In one issue, he helped the military chase down a Japanese-American who escaped from an internment camp, and accuses him of being guilty of "being a Jap."
In the '50s, Hoverboy was revived as a propaganda cartoon fighting Communist Koreans with just as much subtlety. Just kidding. In reality, Hoverboy was actually created in 2000 as a short satirical film by the National Film Board of Canada, written and directed by Marcus Moore. The allegedly classic cartoon is a scathing satire of racism and propaganda in the era.
6 THE JUSTICE SOCIETY
Before there was the Justice League, there was the Justice Society of America, the superhero team of the Golden Age made up of heroes such as the Spectre, Sandman, Atom, Flash and Green Lantern. They worked together to fight crime, but during World War II, the comics sent them out to fight on the battlefields. Sadly, the Justice Society's adventures were colored by the propaganda of the time, specifically against the Japanese.
In All-Star Comics #12, the Justice Society went up against the Black Dragon Society, a group of Japanese saboteurs who tried to steal American weaponry. The comic made no distinction between Japanese Americans and invading Japanese, and the Society tended to throw around the slur "Jap" a lot during their battle. It's a stain on the history of a noble group of heroes.
5 CAPTAIN METROPOLIS
In 1986's Watchmen (Alan Moore, Dave Gibbons), Captain Metropolis was a minor character who helped form the original superhero group, the Minutemen. Later on, in the '60s, he tried to organize the other heroes into a group he called the Crimebusters. The meeting ended in disaster, and Captain Metropolis faded from the story.
His character was fleshed out more in Before Watchmen: Minutemen by Darwyn Cooke in 2012. Metropolis was a retired Marine who used his wealth to become a superhero, but he had a lot of skeletons in his closet, starting with his homosexuality. He was also a racist who was described in the original Watchmen as having made negative comments about black and Hispanic Americans. He's apparently meant to question the racist tone of Golden Age comics of the time.
4 CAPTAIN BOOMERANG
For most of his time in comics, Captain Boomerang was a supervillain. As a member of Flash's Rogues, he became a gimmicky Australian criminal whose trademark was a variety of trick boomerangs he could throw. At one point, he even gained the ability to throw himself like a boomerang, so you'd be forgiven for not taking him seriously. That's why his time on Suicide Squad transformed him into an antihero.
In exchange for pardoning his crimes, Captain Boomerang became a government agent sent on dangerous missions. He wasn't that successful as a hero, but became known more for how he disrupted the team. Besides his cowardly and back-stabbing nature, his racism came out as he kept calling African-American team member Bronze Tiger an "Abo," which is a slur for aboriginals in Australia.
3 THE HOMELANDER
In 2006's The Boys #3 (Garth Ennis, Darick Robertson), a team of CIA operatives worked together to stop rogue superheroes and one of the worst was the Homelander. The Homelander was an allegedly patriotic superhero, one of the most powerful on Earth. Along with his team called the Seven, the Homelander was outwardly a loyal and noble defender of justice, but was secretly a megalomaniac who took advantage of others for his own gain.
One of the Seven's worst failures was during September 11, when the team tried to stop the terrorist attack. Instead, one African-American member of the Seven codenamed the Deep caused one of the planes to crash and destroy the Brooklyn Bridge. In frustration, the Homelander hurled racial slurs at him, showing that the Homelander cared less about people than his image.
2 KID MIRACLEMAN
In the original series, Marvelman was a thinly-veiled rip-off of Captain Marvel about a young man who could transform into a superhero by calling out the word "kimota." By his side were the Marvelman Family that included a young boy named Kid Marvelman. In 1982, Alan Moore worked with Garry Leach to revive the characters in a revisionist story that turned Marvelman and Kid Marvelman (later renamed Miracleman and Kid Miracleman for copyright reasons) into a reluctant superhero and a psychotic supervillain.
In the new series, Kid Miracleman had spent years growing in power and also hatred for others, especially Miracleman. When he unleashed his power, he also unleashed racism while calling a black hero the N-word. Considering he also turned all of London into a slaughterhouse, racism isn't Kid Miracleman's worst trait, but it's worth mentioning.
1 MANCHESTER BLACK
For a long time in comics, there was an open hostility towards the idea of noble heroes. In their place, comics became about antiheroes who brutally murdered criminals. They were the exact opposite of Superman, which is probably why DC decided to put Superman up against the Elite, a team of superheroes who looked down on him with scorn. Their leader was known as Manchester Black.
First seen in Action Comics #775 (Joe Kelly, Doug Mahnke), Manchester Black was a powerful telekinetic who believed letting criminals live was a waste of time. He and his other team members led a brutal campaign to wipe out evil, one which Superman argued was overkill. Manchester Black was also prone to using racial humor about black and Asian people, but insisted it was okay because he claimed to be part black and Asian himself.
Which superhero were you surprised to see on this list? Let us know in the comments!