Black Power

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One of the coolest things in Gene Demby's piece on black superheroes, is hearing Neal Adams discuss the origins of John Stewart:

But Adams drew and submitted an installment of a syndicated comic strip featuring a black doctor and a white ambulance driver in one panel. When he later saw proofs of the strip, he realized that higher-ups had switched the characters' heads. The higher-ups told him audiences would be confused by a black doctor. 

When Adams got to DC Comics, where he worked on the Green Lantern in the early 1970s, he started to push back. "I asked [my editor] what happens if Hal Jordan gets killed," Adams says. "They tell me they have a backup." That backup turned out to be a blond gym teacher from the Midwest. 

Adams, however, thought that the secondary Green Lantern should be black. So, with his editor's approval, he and writer Dennis O'Neil created John Stewart, a black architect who would later become the main Green Lantern. (In the early drafts, Adams says, an editor wanted to name the character Lincoln Washington; Adams talked him out of it.) "I'm very proud of that," he says. "I'm glad that [my editor] was open to it and malleable. But it did have to be explained to him."

Check out the whole piece. 

For me, the best efforts at diversity are the ones that make you forget diversity. As most of you know, Storm is probably my favorite single super-hero. Her origins have some of the same hamfisted hallmarks that you see in other black characters, but somehow, in the '80s, she transcended all of that. 

I've seen her depowering listed in the "Women in Refrigerators" category. Except that there was something more bad-ass about a depowered Storm. She was essentially an action hero, leading this team of super-powered mutants. I'd never seen anything like it. I didn't bother with her "wedding" to Black Panther. Maybe the book was good. On the surface it seemed like a step back.

But overall, Justice League Unlimited really handled this best. That was a show where you really stopped thinking about "diversity." Diversity just was the air. I can't believe it's been five years since that show wrapped up.
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Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

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