One of the fascinating things about comic book history is that you can see the changing morals of American society by the comic books themselves, as things that were acceptable in, say, 1946 would be unacceptable in 1986, but even things that would then be acceptable in 1986 might no longer be acceptable in 2016. We went from seeing caricatures of evil Nazis and Japanese villains to seeing the same thing for Soviets in the 1950s and early 1960s. As society’s views changed, so, too, did the portrayal of these characters in comics.
Over the years, though, comic book creators would often try to “fix” some of the more problematic stereotypical characters by trying to modernize or provide revisions to them. Here are fifteen comic book characters that were based on offensive stereotypes and how later comic book creators tried to “fix” them (NOTE: While the numbers are counting down, this is just a chronological list).
Wing was the chauffeur to Lee Travis and then became his sidekick when Travis became the superhero known as the Crimson Avenger. They were both vague knockoffs of the Green Hornet and Kato. Wing interestingly didn’t bother disguising himself, really, and called himself his real name, so it was nice that no one ever put two and two together to figure out the Crimson Avenger’s identity. Wing was depicted very stereotypically, including his accent (he referred to the Crimson Avenger as the “Climson Avenger”). The weirdest thing is that a superhero peer of the Crimson Avenger was Vigilante, who also had an Asian sidekick, Stuff the Chinatown Kid, but Stuff was actually depicted well. So whenever people act like an era fully excuses stereotypes, you’ll know better.
Crimson Avenger and Wing fought alongside the Seven Soldiers of Victory, but, of course, the Asian sidekick wasn’t actually counted as one of the eight. Years later, Len Wein paid tribute to Wing by having him sacrifice himself to save the other Soldiers and have them finally honor him as a member of the team.
Would have been nice to just have him get treated with respect and live, but I guess one out of two isn’t bad.
14. Ebony White
One of the most divisive comic book characters of all-time is Ebony White, the sidekick to Denny Holt, the Spirit, in Will Eisner’s classic “The Spirit” comic book (which was included as a newspaper supplement across the country). Ebony was always portrayed as a hero and all the other characters in the book treated him with respect. However, he was also clearly drawn as a caricature of a black person, with huge white eyes and huge pink lips and he spoke like he was right out of a Minstrel show.
Eisner defended the use of the character until his death, arguing for Ebony in the context of the time, specifically noting “at the time humor consisted in our society of bad English and physical difference in identity.” There were not a lot of protests of Ebony White at the time, due to his general heroic portrayal, but it is hard to get past Ebony’s general depiction as anything but a mistake on Eisner’s part. Luckily, since everything else about Ebony was good, the simplest solution was just to do what Darwyn Cookedid when he began writing and drawing “The Spirit” – simply don’t draw Ebony like a cariacture and don’t have him talk like he was in a Minstrel show.