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.View article on one page
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.
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."
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.