Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Panthers, Widows and Wolves: Marvel Widens the Spectrum

Superheroes represent an ideal of human perfectibility, and Stan Lee, Roy Thomas and the artists at Marvel Comics clearly thought that ideal ought to embrace a wider spectrum of humanity.
So they introduced the world’s first black superhero,  (the Black Panther in Fantastic Four 52, July 1966), then launched a female superhero into her own solo feature (the Black Widow in Amazing Adventures 1, Aug. 1970) then unveiled an Asian superhero (Shang-Chi, Master of Kung Fu in Special Marvel Edition 15, Dec. 1973). And in between, they introduced a Native American superhero (Red Wolf in Avengers 80, Sept. 1970).
Created by Roy Thomas and John Buscema, Red Wolf was William Talltrees, a young man whose Cheyenne family was extorted and murdered by corrupt businessman Cornelius van Lunt. To avenge them, he adopted the legendary persona of Red Wolf, gaining vaguely defined powers from the Native American god Owayodata and a partner, an actual wolf named Lobo.
A 19th century incarnation of Red Wolf was presented when the superhero was featured in his own short-lived title.
I always suspected that had Red Wolf’s power set been a little more unique and sharply defined, he might have proven more durable.
“Red Wolf marked the first time that an America Indian had assumed the role (of mysterious avenger), and it certainly should be remembered at least for breaking ground in a new direction, even if it proved temporarily unsuccessful,” Maurice Horn wrote in Comics of the American West.
In the movies at roughly the same time, actor and writer Tom Laughlin introduced his half-Indian ex-Green Beret avenger, Billy Jack.
“We must applaud Red Wolf for many reasons,” wrote Michael A. Sheyahshe in Native Americans in Comic Books. “The comic contains a character who is the first major Native superhero, one who is a complex character, more human than many other Indigenous characters, and one that even has his own sidekick.”
Of course, DC Comics had already introduced a Native American superhero — wincingly called Super Chief — almost a decade before. But that, as they say, is another story…

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