By Peter Monaghan
Superheroes have generally been white, like most of their consumers.
But in Super Black: American Pop Culture and Black Superheroes (University of Texas Press), Adilifu Nama hails the many African-Americans who have saved the day with POW!, BAM!, or TAKE THAT!
Nama surveys the pioneering black superheroes and more numerous black sidekicks of white super-aces; the supergirls, super Nubians, and cat women; and the white superheroes who somehow, suddenly became black—and there have been lots of those.
The author, an associate professor of African-American studies at Loyola Marymount University, writes that black superheroes began to appear during the ferment of the 1960s and 70s when "pop culture, the movement for racial equality, and comic books all intersected, resulting in superheroes becoming signifiers of real racial anxieties, desires, and wish fulfillments." The comic books they populated commented on the tensions among black self-determination, racial authenticity, political fantasy, and economic independence.
Born in 1969, Nama grew up in the wake of that era. "I have enjoyed superheroes from probably the age of 5 years old," he says by phone. First, it was the iconic ones—Superman, then Batman and Robin, two "cool characters," he still affirms. "I thought that if I could have a car like the Batmobile when I got older, that would be the pinnacle."
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