Wanted: Movie Superheroes Who Aren’t Straight White Men

| June 5, 2014
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Photo: Marvel

Photo: Marvel

Superman. Batman. Iron Man. Captain America. Wolverine. All beloved comic book superheroes with big screen adaptations that live up to their legends. And all heterosexual white guys.

Not that there’s anything wrong with heterosexual white guys (some of my best friends are heterosexual white guys), but when the world is made up of a significant amount of different kinds of people, why aren’t there more big screen heroes to reflect that? It’s a question that I pondered especially hard when I found out that Ant-Man is getting his own movie. Yes, Ant-Man; another heterosexual white guy and a third-string hero at best (apologies, diehard Ant-Man fans). Why are we resorting to an Ant-Man film when comic books have some great heroes to choose from that reflect the rest of the population with compelling stories of their own?

Here are some of the best superheroes beyond the usual heterosexual white guys, who deserve a big screen outing of their own. Some are classics (Storm, The Question) and some are a little less known (Apollo and Midnighter), but all are needed to bring a little diversity to the current crop of caped crusaders on screen today.

Black Panther (Marvel Comics, African American)

Photo: Marvel

Photo: Marvel

Black Panther has the distinction of being (arguably) the first African American superhero. Before the Falcon, Storm, Luke Cage or the John Stewart-era Green Lantern, there was T’Challa, a.k.a. the one and only Black Panther. T’Challa’s story starts in Africa, where he is the chief of the panther tribe of Wakanda and defender of his hidden nation. As chief, the Panther has access to magical artifacts and herbs that enhance his agility, strength and senses to superhuman heights. Later in his career, he joins the Avengers, but not before he meets his true love, a girl from a neighboring tribe named Ororo Munroe, a.k.a. Storm. The two are eventually married, making for one of the best superhero couplings since forever. Another fun fact: Black Panther’s publication actually predates the founding of the Black Panther Political Party by about four months.

Mantis (Marvel Comics, Vietnamese and German)

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Photo: Marvel

The half-Vietnamese, half-German Mantis has a celestial backstory more complicated than even Wolverine’s amnesia plotlines (at one point, she’s thought to be some kind of outer-space Madonna primed to birth an alien messiah, you know, as one does). Her powers include a mastery of martial arts, advanced control over her autonomic functions (heartbeat, blood loss, body temperature) and an ability to astral project. Mantis is such a powerful empath she’s even able to find weakness in Norse God Thor and quickly overpowers him. One of her more compelling character arcs is a period as a sex worker in Vietnam. Let’s see that in the next Avengers movie (a team Mantis eventually joins).

Storm (Marvel Comics, African)

Photo: Marvel

Photo: Marvel

I know that Storm has already technically had four big screen outings in the X-Men series (five if you count her childhood cameo in X-Men: First Class), but seriously, let’s talk about an underused character. Mystique and Jean Grey aside, most of the women in X-Men are criminally underused. If ever there was a Marvel woman worthy of a spin-off, it’s Storm. Between her childhood divided as a orphan pickpocket in Egypt and a weather witch worshipped by an African tribe as a goddess, her superior superpowers (seriously, she could end this drought in twenty minutes with a white-eyed summoning of heavy rain) and one of the most iconic heroine looks in all comiclandia, she’s got more than enough heft to carry an entire film. What makes Storm’s underuse all the worse is that Academy Award winner Halle Berry keeps coming back to the part desperate to do something other than play sidekick to the men. Bryan Singer, please consider a standalone Storm feature. I want to see Halle “let it go” like that chick in Frozen and freeze an entire slew of baddies in a magical CGI blizzard. If Halle is tired of the role, wouldn’t Scandal‘s Kerry Washington be a great new choice? She’s got the acting chops, the attitude and she’s already a sort of heroine on TV.

Vixen (D.C. Comics, African)

Vixen_002

Photo: D.C. Comics

From the minute I saw Lupita Nyong’o, I hoped that Hollywood would wake up and cast her as one of the best black heroines since Storm. Since then, there’s been a few rumors this might actually come to pass! Vixen’s powers and backstory are tied to her African roots, making African born Nyong’o a match in more ways than just her incredible resemblance to some incarnations of the character. Born Mari Jiwe McCabe in the fictional nation of Zambesi, Mari is the latest in a long line of Tantu descendants to wield the power of the legendary Tantu Totem, which gives her the power to assume animal abilities to protect the innocent. To get the totem, she first has to battle her warlord uncle and (gasp) survive life in the fashion industry as a model. A superheroine of color who also serves as an indictment on the white-ideal-obsessed modeling industry? Yes, please! In the meantime, let’s just hope Nyong’o’s role in the new Star Wars film contains enough action that D.C. decides they’d be fools not to build a Vixen series around her.

Aztek (D.C. Comics, Latino)

Aztek_011

Photo: D.C. Comics

Not since Wonder Woman’s origins in Greek mythology has a superhero used existing myths and legends to such great effect. Aztec was born Uno, a child raised to one day be the champion of the god Quetzacoatl to battle the evil Tezcatipoca. Like Wonder Woman, he uses a magic suit of armor handed down by the gods to enhance his powers and abilities. His superpowers include flight, god-like strength, body camouflage, as well as manipulation of his body mass. Another cool aspect of this hero is that he was blind for a while (like Daredevil before him), adding him to the list of differently-abled heroes that includes the great Charles Xavier.

Apollo and Midnighter (Wildstorm, Gay Couple)

Apollo-Midnighter

Photo: Wildstorm

Authority members Apollo and Midnighter are as close as superhero partners can get. Well, actually…they’re closer. If Batman and Superman were in a romantic relationship, they’d basically be Apollo and Midnighter, the gay superhero couple from Wildstorm’s Stormwatch series. The gritty, not always clearly moral characters (there’s far more killing in Wildstorm comics than in Marvel and D.C.) are dark and conflicted, but never waver in their marriage. I wish all gay little boys could get their hands on some Apollo and Midnighter comics. Not only would they learn heroes come in all forms and sexualities, but they’d also get to hope to one day meet an Apollo or Midnighter of their very own.

The Question/Renee Montoya (D.C. Comics, Latina, Lesbian)

87_ReneeMontoya

Photo: D.C. Comics

I know the lesbian Batwoman Kate Kane is the most obvious choice for a gay female superhero film, but I’ve always had an overwhelming admiration for her lover, former Gotham City police detective Renee Montoya in her mantle as The Question. Although not the first to take up the blank face, Montoya is a great metaphor for all the faceless women of color she gets to represent in her vigilante incarnation. Hardened by her police work and her past, the recovering alcoholic Montoya is complicated and a bit of a loner at times, but her intentions are always in the right place. Plus, Montoya’s Question has some of the best gadgets in Gotham, including a non-fatal energy pistol and that iconic blank mask that protects her from poison gasses.

Northstar (Marvel Comics, First Superhero to Come Cut as Gay)

Photo: Marvel

Photo: Marvel

As a kid, there was always something about Alpha Flight/X-Men member Northstar that drew me to him… When he came out of the comic closet in 1992 (the first comic book character to do so), it all made sense. We were compatible, so to speak. The French Canadian hero has a great backstory: he was a one-time Olympic athlete and he’s super close to his twin sister Aurora, who’s another character worthy of the big screen. In addition to being the first out comic character, Northstar (real name Jean-Paul Beaubier) also adopted an HIV-positive infant, who was abandoned at birth in one of the first major comic storylines addressing the crisis. His powers are also remarkable; Northstar can channel his kinetic energy into his body for super speed, super power and even super stamina and endurance. In 2012, Northstar had another comic first: he married his longtime partner, Kyle Jinadu, in Astonishing X-Men #51.

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About the Author ()

Tony Bravo is a San Francisco freelancer covering fashion, menswear, lifestyle and entertainment stories. He is a regular contributor to The Bold Italic and the San Francisco Chronicle's Style section.
  • Fay Nissenbaum

    How about movies with actual, ORIGINAL writing? Every action film out is based on some old comics or a re-boot. Remember writing?