A few days ago, I was looking through my comic collection and found myself focusing on Marvel’s mutant characters who can be considered minorities (whether it be ethnic or racial). I started to study their powers, their real/code names, character portrayals and even their costumes to see if they conform to some stereotypical notions of minorities. Mind you, most of these characters were created by White writers and artists and though they started out as well-written or just plain bad, later creative teams either expounded on the character to make them better and three-dimensional, or just flat-out bastardized them. I took the time to write up analyses of these characters, but also, as an FYI, this piece is written with a heavy modicum of humor and speculative thought, so no offense is intended to any party. Yes, it seems like I’m reaching with all of these examples, but there’s also the added bonus of striking hard at stereotypes. NSFW may technically apply as well.
And, here are the subjects up for analyses:
Cloak (Tyrone Johnson): He was a good student, but suffered from a chronic stutter. He’s from a poor area in South Boston. Honestly, I didn’t think any Black people lived in an Irish-American neighborhood like Southie. His power is that he’s pure darkness. His body is a portal into what’s called the Dark Dimension. He can use his darkness to teleport and suck people into his dimension where they experience cold numbness and their greatest fears. The writers turned the character into a sell-out over the course of his history within the publication. As Cloak, Tyrone doesn’t stutter but speaks with proper English and an enormous vocabulary. Nothing wrong with that, but his partner is a rich suburban White chick named Dagger. She has blonde-hair and blue-eyes (Aryan poster-child, anyone?), she’s dressed in all white and her power is to give off light energy that, for starters, cures drug addictions and mental instability. Basically, the writers created a stereotype with Cloak by giving him a real name that automatically singles him out as Black, making a White woman the only source of happiness for him, having him grow up poor, and gaining powers that reflect his skin color. I’m sorry, he was already Black before he got his powers, now you wanna turn him into Charlie Murphy?
Tempo (Heather Tucker): Her real name is a not-too subtle reference to the famed Black porn star Heather Hunter. Her mutant ability is time manipulation. She can slow down or speed up time for people and objects around her. Think about that. Her power is time. TIME. An obvious allusion to what’s known as CP Time. What’s that, you ask? “CP Time” is “Colored People’s Time”…the stereotypical view that Blacks are always late, except when it comes to singing, dancing and then you can set your watch to them. Though this character is a villain, she has a strong moral conscience. Whe writers are basically saying that if they give a Black woman the power to control time to suit her needs, then real-life Black people/readers will be able to follow suit and do things as scheduled.
Synch (Everett Thomas): One of my favorite characters, but unfortunately they killed him off. He was a well-portrayed representation of a young Black teenager. Straight-A student, thoughtful, middle class background (yeah, the Black middle class DOES in fact exist outside of The Cosby Show. I’m living proof!). Synch’s power was that he could duplicate the powers of any mutants around him, most often he could use their abilities better than the owner. His power is to copy other people’s powers. It’s a reverse reflection of comedian Paul Mooney’s assertion that the “Black man is the most copied man on the face of the planet, bar none”. Also, his rainbow aura (an external manifestation of his power) was not meant as a gay rights reference nor was his character portrayed as such.
Prodigy (David Alleyne): He’s like Synch, same background and academic track record. But his mutant power is to duplicate special skills and knowledge, not powers. He can cook, run track, play piano, recite historical facts as good as the person he gets it from. What’s more, he permanently retains the special knowledge of the individuals from which he taps. Also, he tends to look like Steve Urkel, but without the über-dorkiness.
Storm (Ororo Munroe): The first Black mutant that Marvel introduced. She’s an African with the power to manipulate and control the weather. She’s so powerful, that she is often mistaken for a goddess. As a child, she was a thief. She was a pick-pocket and she’s an expert locksmith (can you say, “all poor Black kids are thieves”?). She recently married the Black Panther, the rich African king of Wakanda. With her power, she can change conditions in Africa. She could cure droughts and probably even make the weather cooler for those in unbearable heat. She grew up as a street urchin and can DEFINITELY throw down in a fight, with or without her powers.
Maggott (Japheth): Like Storm, he’s African and grew up poor. The difference is he’s South African and grew up in Apartheid. His mutant power is that he has a mutated digestive system. His digestive system is in the form of two puppy-sized slugs that can eat through anything. When they get full, they chew their way back into his stomach (somehow sealing the hole behind them) and release vital nutrients into his body. Because he has an external digestive tract, he can no longer eat like we do, so the slugs have to do it for him. As a child, his stomach was swollen profusely like a Somalian and he couldn’t digest solid and liquid foods anymore. Then his power manifested and changed all that. When he was introduced as an X-Man, they made him sexually lustful perpetuating the myth that Black men are lascivious hounds who need sex 24-7.
Darwin (Armando Munoz): Mixed race mutant (half-Black, half-Puerto Rican). His mother was straight hood and typically blamed him for his deadbeat dad’s desertion of them. Another urban stereotype. His power is that he can adapt to his environment, both physically and mentally. When he took an IQ test as a child, his score was so high off the charts that they didn’t even have a classification for him. He was accepted to a prestigious boarding school on a full scholarship which his mother eagerly accepted just so she could get rid of him. She hated him because of his father and his mutation. Even when he saved her from a fire, she rejected him and still blamed him for everything wrong in her life. I’ve seen that in Black mothers….on TV.
Apocalypse (En Sabah Nur): Born over 5,000 years ago in ancient Egypt, Apocalypse is the world’s 1st and oldest mutant. How ’bout that? The first mutant is of African descent. It’s like that scene from Boyz N The Hood where young Tre goes off about how his father taught him that Africa is where the body of the first man was found which means that everybody is really an African. His power is basically an advanced form of shape shifting, which over the years was enhanced by technology grafted in his body. He can change his form to adapt his needs, he once lived as a White guy during the 12th century, but lived as a Black man during the mid-19th century. By the way, he was born blue. But either way, he’s colored.
Shadow King (Amahl Farouk): An Egyptian crime lord. He was morbidly obese because he loved indulging his appetites, wore what appeared to be a red Islamic cap. He was an extremely powerful telepath and even more decadent. Like Apocalypse, he was power hungry and that proved to be his downfall. He was defeated by Charles Xavier, a White Christian man. His defeat is what convinced Charles Xavier to create his X-Men. The inspiration for the mutant Crusaders? An Egyptian.
Frenzy (Joanna Cargill): Three words, one stereotypical/true concept: Angry Black Woman. Her powers are superhuman strength and invulnerability. Uses brute strength to get her way, but she’s really a docile character who’ll do the bidding of any villain. First she was under Apocalypse, an Egyptian. But later she became well known for serving Magneto, a Jewish Holocaust survivor. A Black woman claiming so fervently that a White man is her Lord & Savior is reminiscent of Black sisters in southern Black churches.
Punchout: She looks just like Frenzy and even has the same powers. But this chick is an Uncle Tom, for realz. She was born in Genosha where the government enslaved its mutant citizens. Punchout was one of 4 mutants that sold out to the gov’t and didn’t get enslaved. They teamed her up with 3 White male mutants. They didn’t even like their own kind, they thought they were better. So much so, that they referred to other mutants with such fictional pejorative terms like “genejoke” or “mutie”. The whole island of Genosha was meant as an allegory for slavery and Apartheid. But instead of “Blacks vs. Whites”, it was “Mutants vs. Humans”. Punchout has the strength of a field slave, but she’s really just a house slave.
M (Monet St. Croix): Rich, snotty, bourgeois snob whose powers include flight, telepathy, super-strength, and vast intelligence. Her mutation conforms to her notion of an ideal self. Her stuck-up arrogance reminds me of Black women whose superhuman beauty and ego make them think they’re better than everyone else. She kind of reminds of what Hilary Banks from The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air (RIP to Avery Brooks) would’ve been like if she had super-powers.
Emplate (Marius St. Croix): M’s brother. A genetic vampire who feeds on mutant bone marrow to sustain his life. His feeding also enables him to duplicate their powers. He looks like Snuffleapugus from Sesame Street with a gas mask on. He always needs mutant bone marrow. It’s like Dave Chappelle’s analysis of Sesame Street where he asserts that Snuffleapagus is an elephant with a drug addict simply because of how his voice sounds. A Black man becoming an addict. Well, this Black mutant should change his name to “Pookie”.
Shadowcat (Katherine Pryde): Apart from Magneto, Kitty Pryde is Marvel’s second most prominent Jewish character. Her grandfather was a Holocaust survivor and she grew up as an only child in a Chicago suburb. With her power to walk through solid matter, she kind of embodies that “Jewish American Princess” stereotype with her attributes of attention craving, unrealistic expectations and a guilt complex.
Forge: A Native American who was raised since birth to be his tribe’s next shaman. Then his mutant power popped up, the ability to understand machines and invent any technology he can imagine (if you don’t think that’s a power, I’ll gladly break it down to you for why it is). He’s a walking juxtaposition of the mystic with the machinist. He rebelled against his heritage and joined the US Army, came back traumatized and spent years gaining wealth using his invention power. He denied his heritage for years until he became a super-hero himself. His costume was a nod this, complete with a red headband and yellow buckskin boots. Unlike some Native American characters, I’m just glad they haven’t revealed his real name and didn’t equip him to wear feathers.
Skin (Angelo Espinoza): Born into a South Central LA barrio and joined a street gang in his teens. To escape gang life, he faked his own death. It was during this time his mutant power manifested itself: An extra six feet worth of skin that he can stretch and manipulate like Mr. Fantastic. The downside? His skin is grey, it sags and people think he’s a candidate for a Proactiv commercial. His speaks Spanish and English fluently, has a cynical wit, but his costume makes him look homeless. He’s barefoot and has tight shorts on. I mean, he looks like the way illegal Mexicans are portrayed!
Fenris (Andrea & Andreas von Strucker): Collectively known as Fenris, there two are fraternal twins born to an infamous Nazi war criminal named Baron Wolfgang von Strucker. They’re both mutants with energy-discharge powers that only operate when they’re both in physical contact with each other. Raised by a Nazi, they embody White supremacy and have no sense of camaraderie with even their fellow mutants. They once hunted Storm in her native Africa, referring to her as a ‘kaffir’ witch (go watch Lethal Weapon 2 if you don’t know what ‘kaffir’ means). They’re both blondes with blue eyes and personify the ideal Aryan. Yeah. Nazi mutants. Seems far-fetched, huh?
Sub Mariner (Namor MacKenzie): Namor was one of Marvel’s first characters in publication, making his debut in 1939. He’s product of the union between a Homo Sapiens father and a Homo Mermanus mother. He was retconned as a mutant because of this and is often dubbed “Marvel’s first mutant”. He’s a mutant hybrid, possessing the various traits of his people, the Homo Sapiens and Homo Mermanus, as well as additional abilities unique to him. He was raised by his mother’s people in Atlantis and strongly identifies with being an Atlantean. He has disdain for his father’s people and looks down upon humans with a royal air, despite being an ally to them. He even joined the X-Men after years of ignoring the genetic mutation that makes him a mutant. Namor’s a tragic mulatto with mixed feelings.
All images courtesy of the Marvel Entertainment Group.