Look, I don’t know if ALL of these qualify as racist. Some sure do. But I also think most of these were tone-deaf attempts at adding diversity to comics. That’s an admirable goal, but you need to do your research and learn about a culture before trying to write for them. The one unifying feature of all of these offensive characters? Laziness. Either the offensive ideas were dismissed because it wasn’t important or the writer didn’t really bother to understand the people he was writing about or… maybe they were racist. Let’s take a look at some of the ideas that not only got into comics but were PROMINENT.
There was a time when the Irish were looked down upon in our country. Signs would read “Help Wanted – Irish need not apply.” Fortunately, that’s very much in the past. But if this character had come out back then? Hoo boy, there would’ve been riots. Mark Gruenwald created Shamrock for Marvel Comics in 1982 and she was a cliche pastiche of everything we think of the Irish. Molly Fitzgerald is from Dunshaughlin, Ireland and has red hair and good luck powers. She wears a green cloverleaf costume. And, to separate her from Lucky the Leprechaun who’s always hiding his delicious Lucky Charms, her father was a member of the IRA. I’m sure if there was one more page to her first comic, she’d have a drinking problem, too.
Vibe was added to the Justice League in 1984 by writer Gerry Conway. Francisco “Paco” Ramon decided to quit leading a street gang when the Justice League put its headquarters in Detroit and he signed up. His powers were the ability to create earthquakes, but mostly he just wanted to breakdance. Hispanic gangbanger breakdancer to superhero. Sounds like a realistic path.
8. Black Goliath
Stan Lee created Dr. Bill Foster back in 1966 and all was well and good. Tony Isabella gave him powers and he became Black Goliath in 1975. Why Black Goliath? Because he’s black. Isabella is also well known for writing Black Lightning, about a guy who electric powers. Oh, and he’s also black. Here’s what his book’s origin blurb said: “BILL FOSTER – Dr. William Barrett Foster, DSc, PhD – a child of the GHETTO who has pulled himself up out of the Los Angeles slums to become director of one of the nation’s most prestigious research labs. A man whose research has given him the power to instantaneously grow to a height of FIFTEEN FEET, with the strength of a TRUE GIANT. A man who has become… a HERO.” Oh, and what’s up with that hole over his stomach? I get wanting to show off your abs, but I would argue it’s shirt or no shirt, never shirt with hole for your tum-tum.
Gerry Conway was on a roll. In the same issue of Justice League (an annual in 1984), he introduced not only Vibe but also Gypsy. She was a Romani, who bigots call “gypsies.” She called herself this because she was written by a white dude. What are gypsies best known for? Pickpocketing, right? Well, her powers weren’t EXACTLY that. She can create illusions so that she can… sneak around. In her first appearance, she sneaks into the Justice League and follows them until the get in a fight and she helps them. So they invite her to join. With her sneaky sneaky powers.
6. Apache Chief, El Dorado, Samurai and Black Vulcan
In 1978, the Super Friends cartoon decided to add some diversity to the team (they were all white). White writers Jeffrey Scott, Carmine Infantino and Bob Kane (among others) created a quartet of tone-deaf attempts at diversity, which could also be called an attempt at stereotypes. Apache Chief walked around like a Native American from the 1800s and shouted “Enuk Chuk!” to grow. Samurai was a Japanese guy that dressed like a samurai. El Dorado was a Hispanic guy with no nipples who had vague powers that mostly involved him waving his matador-esque cape. Black Vulcan was a guy with electricity powers and DON’T FORGET THAT HE’S BLACK.
5. Gorilla Grodd
Gorilla Grodd doesn’t necessarily seem offensive at first. An evil gorilla is basically a superhero trope. But when you dig into the history of Grodd and his fellow gorillas, as written by John Broome, the parallels between Grodd and racist ideas about Africa become disturbing. You see, Grodd and his gorillas live in their own city, called Gorilla City, in Africa. The Flash is stunned that they can talk. They worship the light, which they believe is white dude The Flash. Grodd eats brains. It’s… not a pleasant look at Africa.
4. The Mandarin
The Mandarin is Iron Man’s arch enemy, but you don’t see him as often in the comics these days. They’ve evolved him into a guy who intentionally envelopes his identity in Chinese history. But when he started, as written by Stan Lee, he was just another Fu Manchu stereotype. They’d color his skin yellow and draw him with buck teeth. He had the stereotypical mustache and was a big Communist. Oh, and he was a martial arts master, too. Probably would be best if he was forgotten or completely re-envisioned.
This one’s rough. Green Lantern’s best friend/sidekick was created by John Broome (yeah, the Gorilla Grodd guy) is Green Lantern #2, volume 2 back in 1960. So he was there right at the beginning of Hal Jordan’s run. His real name is Thomas Kalmaku, but because he’s of Inuit decent, Green Lantern always called him Pieface or Pie. It has been argued that “pieface” is old slang for someone with a blank expression. But it’s also an offensive term for Asians. It doesn’t help that Eskimos aren’t actually Asian – the term was used on anyone who had Asian features.
2. Egg Fu
How many Wonder Woman villains can you name? Even if you’re a fan, probably not many. She has a pretty terrible rogue’s gallery of enemies. Among the worst? Egg Fu. He’s an evil Asian… egg. Created by Robert Kanigher in 1965, he’s actually still around, although they now draw him as just a cracked egg in a spidery chair. But throughout the 60s and 70s, he was depicted as every offensive Asian stereotype possible. Yet another Fu Manchu stereotype but they also went the extra mile to write his dialog in an offensive manner, transposing “L” and “R” whenever they felt like it. He uses his mustache as whips. Oh, and he is an agent for the Chinese army. It’s never explained why he’s a massive egg. He just is.
Tyroc is a racist’s wet dream. Writer Cary Bates was directed to create this character by editor Murray Boltinoff. Boltinoff oversaw the Legion of Superheroes book which was about superheroes in the far future. All of them were white, even Karate Kid. Allegedly, Boltinoff would even have people recolor people in the background to make them all white. The Legion was a very large group and the absence of any diversity became very conspicuous. So in 1976, Tyroc was created. So yeah, Tyroc is black. But why haven’t we seen him or ANY black people? Because all the black people went to go live on their own island. Not only that, but the island DISAPPEARED from our dimension a lot of the time, but would occasionally appear on the African coast. This voluntary segregation, combined with Tyroc’s super angry disposition and odd disco outfit combined to make him nobody’s favorite character. And one of the very, very few black superheroes at DC Comics at the time. Poor showing, DC.