Most black super heroes don’t actually have super powers. So the question occurred to me, what is a superhero? Blade is a vampire, Superman is an alien and Batman doesn’t have any special abilities, unless being a rich white guy could be considered a super power. Wikipedia suggests that a superhero is a” fictional character of unprecedented physical prowess dedicated to acts of derring-do in the public interest”. In which case our highly under appreciated and relatively unknown class of black super heroes is indeed worthy of the title.
Since the beginning of the metamorphosis the comic book culture has undergone into the mega blockbusters in today’s theatres, the black superhero has gotten a raw deal. It has become commonplace to portray white super Heroes as altruistic, god-like creatures who, if they lose their way, do so only momentarily. From the beginning black superheroes have been plagued by gang affiliations, hand me down special powers, and of course drug abuse. It would seem as though the black super hero is actually nothing more than a super cliché.
It is clear that stereotypes have infected the comic book world when the most popular black superhero in modern cinema – Hancock – is an alcoholic homeless man with a bad attitude. Hancock can’t even fight crime without causing serious harm to those he’s trying to protect. Who ever heard of a hero that can fly, take bullets straight to the forehead, but can’t handle a bottle of rum? That’s like seeing Superman getting addicted to crack (probably sold to him by the Green Lantern), and then watching him fly to outer space so he could hit the pipe on the dark side of the moon. It’s ludicrous to think of Superman as a crack head, and yet it seems to require no stretch of the imagination to believe that a black man has fallen on hard times and turned to booze for answers.
Unfortunately the black super hero’s career in the movies has been consistently sub par. Whether they are portrayed as comically ridiculous or morally questionable, black superheroes always seem to lack the heroic qualities embodied by their white counterparts. Blankman, for example, was a ridiculous hero played by Keenan Ivory Wayans. The story is about a man who is genius enough to build a bulletproof super suit but is too stupid to use it properly. Claiming to be the most low budget super hero ever, Blankman is arguably one of the most insulting of all black superheroes only rivaled by Halle Berry’s brilliantly awful role in Cat Woman. In Halle’s defense, competing with the white cat woman was a losing battle from the start. Michelle Phiffers cat woman was directed by Tim Burton, starred Danny Devito as the Penguin and Michael Keaton as Batman. Halle Berry’s co-star was Sharon Stone. Enough said.
Arguably two of the coolest and most respected of cinema’s black superheroes are Spawn and Blade. Spawn’s entirely malleable cape controlled by his mind is badass. Blade’s sword and ninja vampire fighting skills kind of make you wish you where half black and half undead too. Unfortunately both of these crime-fighting brothers are indirectly associated with evil. Blade is a vampire and Spawn is actually from hell! Not the kind of guys you want saving your grandmother from a purse-snatcher.
The struggle for racial equality, it seems, has flown past the tangible world of equal rights movements and marches on Washington and found a valid battleground in the imaginary realm of comic books and action movies. The situation may seem grave on the surface but the black super hero has come a long way. From the dark days of DC’s black spider man who got his super strength by weight lifting in jail, to the hit Blade trilogy is progress. So stay strong black super hero, for one day the color of your skin will no longer determine the budget of your special effects or the quality of your super suit.
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