Uncovered: Superman's Secret Racist Past?

Illustration for article titled Uncovered: Superman's Secret Racist Past?

It's DC Comics' Superman's secret shame: Was Krypton such a backwards society that all black Kryptonians were banished to their own island... and when did the Superman comic first see a black character?


New Krypton, the storyline currently running in DC's various Superman comics, sees Earth become home to 100,000 refugees from Superman's home planet... although, as they see it, it's a planet that may be ripe for some benevolent conquering action.

What caught the eyes of Newsarama.com's Matt Brady, though, was that it took nine chapters of the story before some non-white Kryptonians showed up. But that, he discovered, was only keeping with a somewhat embarrassing cultural history for the character. Mark Waid, comic editor, writer and (most importantly in this case) Superman expert, explained:

In issue #239 [of the Superman title, published 33 years after the character's creation], a two-page map showed that Kryptonians Of Color had an island all to themselves, which is pretty embarrassing... I cringe to tell you this, but the Kryptonians of Color were all on ‘Vathlo Island, Home of a Highly Advanced Black Race.’

The site even has the map, which, sure enough, shows Vathio Island in the bottom center. But don't necessarily assume that there's any malicious intent behind this, Waid adds:

Siegel and all those who followed in crafting the Superman legend were, indeed, simply following the traditions of the Golden Age of Science Fiction, when one world always equaled one culture, maybe two if they were at war because the plot demanded it. Remember, as absurd as this sounds in an America finally enlightened enough to elect a black man as President, the Civil Rights Act wasn't passed until 1964. The gradual recognition of all races and ethnicities across all of pop culture, comics included, really didn't start to blossom until the late 1960s. Yes, Superman was weirdly late to that party - the first African-American even in a Superman story, and it's from the summer of 1970, believe it or not! - but again, and not to make excuses, that delay was just creative inertia in action.

Well, we can believe that... but, come on; "a highly advanced Black Race"? Seriously? Of course, it could have been worse; Superman could have turned to Lois Lane for advice on matters of race relations.

Flickr image by ax2groin.

Supermen of Color: The Non-White Kryptonians [Newsarama.com]



Wasn't the country 95% white back in the 1930s? No wonder people of color were not in comic books etc. The market at the time was the white majority. Plus I'm sure in places like China & India things are marketed to the native populations there.