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Black Heroes

Do the superheroes in American comics represent positive impressions of black males? How does the superhero archetype change from 1970-2000s?

Nicholas Pineda

on 20 April 2010

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Transcript of Black Heroes

A History of Black Superheroes in America
by: Nick Pineda 1899 SAMBO Originally a story of a clever black boy named Sambo who outwitted a group of hungry tigers. Though the story was based in India, the name “Sambo” came to be known in the US as a derogatory term for a black person. Animation in the 1930s and 1940s used “Sambo” imagery to portray blacks. Characteristic elements include cluelessness, large lips, head scratching, and black complexion.
1941 WHITEWASH Marvel’s first black superhero , Whitewash was portrayed as a helpless buffoon whose purpose was to provide laughs to reader audiences. In context, Young Allies was a pro war comic and was the first recorded example of an African American appearing recurrently in a comic. Whitewash was clearly a negative characterization of blacks in America but was also an important first step.
1966 BLACK PANTHER One of the first black heroes to be portrayed in a positive light the Black panther made his first cameo in the Fantastic Four in 1966. The Black Panther faced some controversy as he was created in tandem with the incarnation of the Black Panther Party (1966-1976) and even had his name changed for a time to the Black Leopard, though the name did not stick.

The Black Panther Party (for Self-Defense) was a militant organization fighting for the self-defense of black people in the US between the 60s and 70s.
1972 LUKE CAGE Born and raised in Harlem, NY, Luke Cage was a gang member. His best friend set him up by planting two kilos of cocaine in his apartment, landing him in jail. With the offer of parole, Cage agreed to be the subject of experiments which gave him steel hard skin and super strength. Cage decided to use his new found abilities to make a living and began working as a Hero for Hire.
1973 BLADE Blade, or the Daywalker, is a half vampire, half human mix. Obsessed with vengeance for his mother’s death, Blade uses his super strength and martial arts expertise to hunt vampires. Constantly armed with an arsenal of weapons, Blade is representative of a hyper-masculine archetype with no alternate identity.
1980 CYBORG Cyborg (“Victor Stone”), joins the Teen Titans initially for the benefit of a support group of fellow outsiders. After an accident, Cyborg was placed in his experimental mechanical suit which gives him super strength, speed, endurance and the ability to interface with computers.

Cyborg is the first leap for African American Heroes into a century of technology and more modern manifestations of “super power.” Though, in later 2008 revivals Cyborg speaks in a “Ghetto” vernacular, representing a population often stereotyped.
1993 STEEL Steel was an iconic heir to the throne of Superman, the original super hero. Steel, also known as John Henry Irons, was a former weapons researcher turned hero once Superman died. Unprotected, Steel took on the role of protecting Metropolis.

Steel in his own series later on returns to his hometown of Washington DC were he fights gang violence and protects his family from several gun related attacks.
Steel was based off of one of the earliest African American role-models. John Henry was a liberated slave that forged a sledge hammer from the chains that bound him. John Henry had herculean strength. The folktale goes that Henry faced a mechanical hammer that threatened to take away his land. Henry died in the competition but he is regarded as a messiah of sorts for delivering land to his fellow workers.
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