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  1. #1
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    Default Superman's Ethnicity

    I've wanted to have this conversation for a few weeks since I joined the forum but honestly I've been a little afraid to do so, given the heated responses it might provoke. So I'd really appreciate it if we all keep cool heads on the topic. Hopefully, my fears are unfounded because you do all seem like a pretty cool crowd.

    I'm a storyteller and when I look at Superman I question what his ethnicity would work best as from a narrative perspective, because lets not kid ourselves ethnicity plays a part in how people live their lives. A really great example of this was shown by Milestone Comics in the 90's with heroes like Icon.

    Now I get the whole traditional angle of maintaining Superman's 'Caucasian' ethnicity, it's a character steeped in cultural mythology and relevance after all. And I also appreciate that established character's don't need to be redefined to appeal to a more diverse audience, there are already a growing number of wonderful fresh heroes ready to fill said void with I've no doubt more to come.

    This discussion, for myself is about the character narrative only. Is Kal-El served better by being of another ethnicity? And specifically I'm talking about an African-American ethnicity.

    Before I explain why I lean in favour of the idea, I think the relevance of the answer depends on when you set Clark's arrival as. This obviously moves to a later era with each audience to maintain relevancy with each new generation of comic-book readers, movie-goers and tv enthusiasts. But let's not forget Kal doesn't really age from our perspective so whether he was born in 1910 or 1980 doesn't make much difference outside of his backstory, personal experiences and supporting cast. Correlating to that statement I think it also holds true as to why we are eligible to discuss his ethnicity, Superman will be around long after we're all gone I imagine and will surely be reinvented countless times as a result. Is it so outlandish to suspect a similar such a reinvention might occur in the future? (And I'm not refering to sideshows like Earth 23's Superman Kalel).

    For me, I think showing Kal growing up in rural poverty adds to his sense of morality. It's all about nurture over nature, Kal doesn't kick off his career with an innate moral compass born of his Kryptonian heritage, that comes from the loss he's endured and I think there needs to be more there to define this core character trait and psychological need to right wrongs. Growing up in poverty of any kind will cast a shroud on you, and for some that shroud is the need to see that it doesn't happen to others, with an ideology that sometimes extends beyond such a cause.

    Now it can be argued that a white Clark Kent can experience the same kind of poverty, if we look at the historics of the USA's agricultural economy over the past century, there have been some very good decades and some very bad ones. If you cast Supes as an orphan in a period like the Great Depression then whether he was white or black, he was going to grow up with little to eat. But if you put him as the adopted child of a black family in a time when white farmers were doing well, that becomes a whole other story, one that I would argue enriches Superman's personal ideology and backstory.

    Add to that the hot-button of racism, growing up in rural america in a time it was prevalent and I think you have a Superman that truly represents the American Dream, someone who can fight for liberty and justice for all and overcome the many social obstacles he'd have in his way both as Clark Kent and the alter-ego to represent something greater than has been, the idealism of human nature.

    Anyway I hope you guys find the conversation interesting and hopefully I haven't pissed anyone off. Cheers.

  2. #2
    Extraordinary Member Lightning Rider's Avatar
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    Superman as a man and idea is malleable enough that depicting him in another era as another race doesn't insult the mythology at all. Plus don't forget about:



    I'll add some more thoughts later.

  3. #3
    Astonishing Member FishyZombie's Avatar
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    If you had to change Superman's race, I'd rather it be Asian or hispanic. Seems more relevant to the immigrant angle.

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    Quote Originally Posted by FishyZombie View Post
    If you had to change Superman's race, I'd rather it be Asian or hispanic. Seems more relevant to the immigrant angle.
    That's a legitimate response FishyZombie. I primarily focused on African-American because of the history associated with the ethnicity and that this ethnicity has been part of Kansas agricultural economy since the Emancipation Proclamation. I'd love to read your exploration of why you feel that way though, if you feel up to it.

  5. #5
    Mighty Member Timothy Hunter's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Wolf.B View Post
    I've wanted to have this conversation for a few weeks since I joined the forum but honestly I've been a little afraid to do so, given the heated responses it might provoke. So I'd really appreciate it if we all keep cool heads on the topic. Hopefully, my fears are unfounded because you do all seem like a pretty cool crowd.

    I'm a storyteller and when I look at Superman I question what his ethnicity would work best as from a narrative perspective, because lets not kid ourselves ethnicity plays a part in how people live their lives. A really great example of this was shown by Milestone Comics in the 90's with heroes like Icon.

    Now I get the whole traditional angle of maintaining Superman's 'Caucasian' ethnicity, it's a character steeped in cultural mythology and relevance after all. And I also appreciate that established character's don't need to be redefined to appeal to a more diverse audience, there are already a growing number of wonderful fresh heroes ready to fill said void with I've no doubt more to come.

    This discussion, for myself is about the character narrative only. Is Kal-El served better by being of another ethnicity? And specifically I'm talking about an African-American ethnicity.

    Before I explain why I lean in favour of the idea, I think the relevance of the answer depends on when you set Clark's arrival as. This obviously moves to a later era with each audience to maintain relevancy with each new generation of comic-book readers, movie-goers and tv enthusiasts. But let's not forget Kal doesn't really age from our perspective so whether he was born in 1910 or 1980 doesn't make much difference outside of his backstory, personal experiences and supporting cast. Correlating to that statement I think it also holds true as to why we are eligible to discuss his ethnicity, Superman will be around long after we're all gone I imagine and will surely be reinvented countless times as a result. Is it so outlandish to suspect a similar such a reinvention might occur in the future? (And I'm not refering to sideshows like Earth 23's Superman Kalel).

    For me, I think showing Kal growing up in rural poverty adds to his sense of morality. It's all about nurture over nature, Kal doesn't kick off his career with an innate moral compass born of his Kryptonian heritage, that comes from the loss he's endured and I think there needs to be more there to define this core character trait and psychological need to right wrongs. Growing up in poverty of any kind will cast a shroud on you, and for some that shroud is the need to see that it doesn't happen to others, with an ideology that sometimes extends beyond such a cause.

    Now it can be argued that a white Clark Kent can experience the same kind of poverty, if we look at the historics of the USA's agricultural economy over the past century, there have been some very good decades and some very bad ones. If you cast Supes as an orphan in a period like the Great Depression then whether he was white or black, he was going to grow up with little to eat. But if you put him as the adopted child of a black family in a time when white farmers were doing well, that becomes a whole other story, one that I would argue enriches Superman's personal ideology and backstory.

    Add to that the hot-button of racism, growing up in rural america in a time it was prevalent and I think you have a Superman that truly represents the American Dream, someone who can fight for liberty and justice for all and overcome the many social obstacles he'd have in his way both as Clark Kent and the alter-ego to represent something greater than has been, the idealism of human nature.

    Anyway I hope you guys find the conversation interesting and hopefully I haven't pissed anyone off. Cheers.
    While you can definitely explore themes of race with a superman - like character, I don't think an actual Superman should be black, (Unless its in some weird alternative universe), because it robs DC to create a potentially popular new character who is also a person of color, also it just comes off as pandering to a black audience.

  6. #6
    Ultimate Member Sacred Knight's Avatar
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    The default "diversity" change is always black. For that reason alone, if I were forced to change Superman's visual ethnicity, it'd be something else like Hispanic, Indian, Asian. The go-to diversity change being African rather defeats the purpose of diversity, because the Earth isn't just white and black. That said though, I don't think it would serve any greater purpose to change Superman's visual. Especially with the multiverse in play where you can do stuff like this.

    That said, the OP's views are very interesting, and if there were a black Superman, it'd be very interesting to touch on all these subjects. Unfortunately you won't get that with Earth 2 Superman or President Superman.
    Last edited by Sacred Knight; 06-12-2017 at 02:35 PM.
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  7. #7
    Not a Newbie Member JBatmanFan05's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Wolf.B View Post
    This discussion, for myself is about the character narrative only. Is Kal-El served better by being of another ethnicity? And specifically I'm talking about an African-American ethnicity. . . Anyway I hope you guys find the conversation interesting and hopefully I haven't pissed anyone off. Cheers.
    No, not main Superman. Elseworld is just fine, exploring an African American Superman. No sideshow about it, if I was kinda pissed it was at your "sideshow" label of Earth 23 Kalel. Earth 23 Kalel actually supports that black Superman can resonate and can be done with skill and quality, even if you create another new black Superman to explore.
    Last edited by JBatmanFan05; 06-12-2017 at 02:38 PM.
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  8. #8
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    Quote Originally Posted by JBatmanFan05 View Post
    No, not main Superman. Elseworld is just fine, exploring an African American Superman. No sideshow about it, if I was kinda pissed it was at your "sideshow" label of Earth 23 Kalel. Earth 23 Kalel actually supports that black Superman can resonate and can be done with skill and quality, even if you create another new black Superman to explore.
    I apologise for any offence caused with that comment, I was referring more to the fact that Grant Morrison wrote Calvin Ellis as a homage to President Obama more than anything else.

  9. #9
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    I think Superman should look biracial. So yeah, I think it would be great to have Superman that isn't a white as the Superman of the main continuity.

    The Kents would also be an interracial couple, so Clark would grow up witnessing and experiencing all kinds of bigotry.

    Another missed opportunity with the New 52.

  10. #10
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    Quote Originally Posted by Clementine - The Worst Poster Ever View Post
    I think Superman should look biracial. So yeah, I think it would be great to have Superman that isn't a white as the Superman of the main continuity.

    The Kents would also be an interracial couple, so Clark would grow up witnessing and experiencing all kinds of bigotry.

    Another missed opportunity with the New 52.
    That would be fascinating as would a black Clark and white Lois relationship in the 50s/60s/70s.

  11. #11
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    I think Superman is a great place to have these conversations, and also for him to be pretty universal. But we've actually had pretty intense topics like this before, and I think it's soooooo important to not look at him as Caucasian at all, as his dark haired features were purposefully created by his Jewish creators to not fit that Aryan/Ubermensch trope that was popular (and overused, and full of cultural misuse) even in the 1930s/40s. It was equally important for the 'most powerful man ever' to be a dark-haired guy punching blonde Nazis in the face. (Which is ironically sort of the opposite of the charm that is Aquaman, who is the pinnacle of the Aryan archetype ... from Atlantis, where the (real freaking life) Nazi Thule Society believed that Northern European "Aryans" or whatever might've actually come from ... and he debuted smashing U-Boats.

    I've always seen Superman's ethnicity (weird as that is since he's in-story, obviously "Kryptonian") as being rather importantly being Jewish.

    But there's catches. There's the science nerd in me, that's like; welllllll a dark-skinned Kryptonian would be better at absorbing solar energy. There's the American history nerd that wants to see more representation of African-American (or, well, Black Kryptonian) characters and thinks Superman would be a good place to tell those stories. (Sidenote; God we need more Steel in our lives).
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  12. #12
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    Quote Originally Posted by K. Jones View Post
    I think Superman is a great place to have these conversations, and also for him to be pretty universal. But we've actually had pretty intense topics like this before, and I think it's soooooo important to not look at him as Caucasian at all, as his dark haired features were purposefully created by his Jewish creators to not fit that Aryan/Ubermensch trope that was popular (and overused, and full of cultural misuse) even in the 1930s/40s. It was equally important for the 'most powerful man ever' to be a dark-haired guy punching blonde Nazis in the face. (Which is ironically sort of the opposite of the charm that is Aquaman, who is the pinnacle of the Aryan archetype ... from Atlantis, where the (real freaking life) Nazi Thule Society believed that Northern European "Aryans" or whatever might've actually come from ... and he debuted smashing U-Boats.

    I've always seen Superman's ethnicity (weird as that is since he's in-story, obviously "Kryptonian") as being rather importantly being Jewish.

    But there's catches. There's the science nerd in me, that's like; welllllll a dark-skinned Kryptonian would be better at absorbing solar energy. There's the American history nerd that wants to see more representation of African-American (or, well, Black Kryptonian) characters and thinks Superman would be a good place to tell those stories. (Sidenote; God we need more Steel in our lives).
    K.Jones I never knew any of that about Aquaman or why Supes was given dark hair and beating up aryan archetypes, how amazing!

  13. #13
    Extraordinary Member Robotman's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Bogotazo View Post
    Superman as a man and idea is malleable enough that depicting him in another era as another race doesn't insult the mythology at all. Plus don't forget about:



    I'll add some more thoughts later.
    That's an excellent point. The idea of Superman as a being who represents the best aspects of humanity and is the ultimate selfless hero does transcend time or race.
    I think Grant Morrison has displayed this well with President Superman. Even though he's from another earth he can still play the same role as classic Kal El because he shares the same values. He seemlessly folds into the story in the Superman role.


  14. #14
    Savior of the Universe Flash Gordon's Avatar
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    The multiverse is really important, for this reason. I love Calvin Ellis.

    I think Superman is very clearly Jewish, and that it is important to the character to remain such. In universe he's just an alien, but the subtext is there.

  15. #15
    Incredible Member NeathBlue's Avatar
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    Superman - Kal El - Clark Kent, is white, why can't it be left at that...
    There's no reason why another Kryptonian can't be introduced as whatever ethnic background you want, but there's no reason to alter Superman's background.

    And speaking of ethnic backgrounds for Kryptonian's, has the history of Krypton ever been explored that way?
    There's been things that have shown parts of the history of Krypton before, but as far as I know there hasn't been a comprehensive one covering everything.

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