BY JOSEPH STURGEON
In an age where diverse casting and minority-centered media is constantly being promoted, black and brown visibility in popular media is probably at an all-time high. Two decades ago, the average channel surfer would’ve been lucky to find an all-black television series that wasn’t broadcasted by Black Entertainment Television (BET). But today, directors such as Ryan Coogler, Jordan Peele and Ava Duvernay are at the forefront of popular media, actresses Zendaya and Yara Shahidi are arguably two of the most influential voices of the younger generation and it isn’t uncommon to see black families on powerhouse networks like Disney or Nickelodeon.
The evolution of how black and brown people are portrayed in popular media is nothing short of revolutionary. Two centuries ago, it was minstrel shows. Last century, it was gangs and violence. This century, viewers can see healthy black families in shows like American Broadcasting Company’s (ABC) Black-ish, or black women professionals in shows like Home Box Office’s (HBO) Insecure. In a world where the way a group is presented can influence how they view themselves and others, media representation has always been important.
But as far as the visibility of black and brown superheroes go, there is slim to none. Out of the 20 solo superhero movies that have been released in the past ten years by both the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the DC Extended Universe, only two have been led by a person of color. These two movies are Black Panther and Aquaman, with the latter being a character that has historically been white. In light of this fact, here’s a list of black and brown superheroes that are even cooler than these two characters.
Hardware, created by Milestone Media’s Dwayne McDuffie and Denys Cowan, is essentially a black version of Iron Man, except for the fact that he doesn’t have billions of dollars lying in a safe somewhere. Instead, he is employed by another man with such overly excessive wealth, which is a part of the reason he became a vigilante in the first place. A genius since childhood, Hardware, also known as Curtis Metcalf, had been groomed by his billionaire employer Edwin Alva since middle school. Alva paid Metcalf’s way through private schools and college, only on the condition that when he finished his education, he worked for Alva. Metcalf accepted, but several years in realized that Alva wasn’t the role model he’d thought of him as, and that he wasn’t as respected as he’d believed himself to be.
Embittered and enraged, Metcalf used Alva’s own technology to build a high-powered, nearly indestructible suit, using it to foil all of Alva’s secret endeavors as a crime lord in Dakota City. His sole purpose as Hardware was to make Alva just as angry as he felt himself, until later, when he realized that the war between himself and his boss would never end, and that there were more important battles to fight.
Ava Ayala, also known as the White Tiger, is a Marvel Comics superheroine created by Christos Gage and Tom Raney. The fifth character to assume the mantle of the White Tiger, Ayala is powered by an amulet which has been passed down in her family, inheriting it from her niece. Her abilities are similar to Black Panther’s—the amulet she has gives its possessor enhanced strength, speed, agility, reflexes and awareness. Only a teenager in most versions, Ayala is enrolled in the Avengers Academy, a school that was founded to teach youth with superhuman abilities how to become heroes.
Never having had her own series, Ayala is most widely known for her recurring role as Peter Parker’s teammate in the Ultimate Spider-Man animated series, alongside Nova, Iron Fist and Power Man.
Empress, also known as Anita Fite, was created by Peter David and Todd Nauck, but hasn’t appeared in a DC comic book since 2008. A member of the Young Justice team—not the one that was on Netflix—Empress is a master of voodoo, with the abilities of mind control, teleportation, enhanced agility and advanced martial arts. She joined the Young Justice team after being inspired by watching one of its members, Arrowette, stop a thief in a shopping mall. Notably, she is of Haitian descent.
Empress was left out of the Young Justice television series and hasn’t really been mentioned at any point in the series. This is unfortunate, considering the fact that the show is always incorporating new characters and the one other character that was left out, Secret, had an entire episode dedicated to her.
Out of all of the criminally obscure characters that I’ve mentioned up to this point, Static is probably the most well-known. Widely regarded as Milestone Comics’s flagship character, Static had his own animated television series, “Static Shock,” that ran for four seasons from 2000 to 2004. He is also currently a recurring character in the Young Justice animated series, and had a brief stint in which he was a member of the Teen Titans.
Static, whose real name is Virgil Hawkins, got his powers of electromagnetism from an explosion called the “Big Bang,” and decided to use them to fight injustice in his community. The blueprint for who Static is was inspired by none other than Spider-Man himself— Hawkins is witty, intelligent and nerdy, yet also charming. He needs his own comic book run again. Seriously.
Jaime Reyes, the third Blue Beetle, is probably the most incredulously average character mentioned here. By average, it is not to say that Reyes is a boring character to read. He’s not, by any means—there’s just not a single thing that Reyes, created in 2006, excels at. He’s not super intelligent, like Static or Hardware. He’s not incredibly skilled, like Empress or Ava Ayala, either. In fact, he’s an accidental superhero. The reason he became Blue Beetle is because he picked up an ancient Egyptian scarab on the floor, and it fused with his body before anyone was able to interfere. He didn’t even know what it was he was picking up.
But the nature of Reyes’ modest character is what makes him great. His family is of the utmost importance to him, and when he feels that any task is beyond his ability, he thinks of them. He’s also really funny.