Comics, like any art form, are a product of the generation that created them. In some cases, it's nice to see Captain America channel American patriotism to beat Nazi ass. In other cases, Indian Chief.
Still, like society comics strive to move forward and away from the sins of the past. Sure, they've made some slightly bad racial decisions ("We should call every black superhero 'Black SomethingOrOther,' so everyone knows how black they are"), but at least they tried to progress. Even if their attempts at racial sensitivity are misguided or poorly thought out, you can't fault them for trying, right?
Oh wait, of course you can.
Homosexual characters have been featured in comics prior to 2003, but usually he (it was always a he) would be a mincing effeminate poof who would be either the butt of constant jokes, or beaten up, or both. (Or, you know, Robin.) But the mainstream comic scene had not yet seen a gay title character in a comic, which is actually pretty shocking, when you realize that they'd made room for the roller-disco demographic. So, Marvel decided to team veteran comic artist John Severin with writer Ron Zimmerman to help correct that oversight.
The plan was to revamp The Rawhide Kid, a tough, quick-gunned cowboy from the 50s. They were going to keep his toughness and attitude, just with a gay twist. By making a gay character that was both a hero and a cowboy--typically uber-masculine roles--it was a great opportunity to break away from stereotypes and show the comic-reading audience that not all homosexuals were screaming hairdressers or over-the-top caricatures; they could be just as tough and badass as your favorite action hero. If handled properly, this could be a very important comic series.
So, How'd That Go?
Not, uh... not great.
Rawhide Kid was every negative, damaging gay stereotype dressed in a cowboy hat. Sure, he was still a good fighter and a great shooter, but he was also a nancing, effeminate goon and the exact kind of character people didn't need to identify the gay movement with. He's the title character, but he's still the butt of the joke. Additionally, his antics made him, and we say this respectfully, annoying as shit. He says things like "toodles" and calls out "meow" when he's being bitchy. He gives out douchey fashion advice...
...he speaks in lame double entendres and cracks himself up while confusing everyone around him...
...he practices being a cowboy in nothing but his chaps because he likes the feeling of the "wind on [his] cheeks."...
And what kind of a superhero calls fighting bad guys "boring" in a fucking comic book?!
Marvel could have created a character that positively impacted the homosexual image in the eyes of the mainstream comic audience and maybe given some folks a fresh perspective. Instead, they wheeled out every corny stereotype and made an aggressively annoying character that no one under any circumstances would want to read.
Still, the worst thing that came out of all of this was probably Marvel's reaction. It's bad enough that they lazily embraced every gay stereotype in the creation of their character, but they also slapped an "explicit content" warning on the cover. Now, nowhere in the comic will you see nudity, sex, kissing or even the Kid explicitly admitting he is gay. The fact that he was acting overtly gay however was, according to Marvel, for "Adults Only."
The Irish people deserved a hero. The closest thing they had to a mascot was the Lucky Charms leprechaun, and he was hardly representative of Ireland's rich culture. He was just a green-loving, red-headed little bastard named "Lucky." No, Ireland needed a hero to let the world know there was more to the Emerald Isle than just clovers and superstition.
So, How'd That Go?
Well, her name is Shamrock, and she's a red-haired, banshee-fueled chick whose superpower is that she's really, really lucky. As in "Tony Stark lost his keys but Shamrock found them first because of her superpower!" And we mean it when we say she's banshee-fueled; her power comes from displaced poltergeists and spirits wandering around Ireland. It's like Marvel's only research into the character involved drinking whiskey and watching Darby O'Gill and the Little People.
Thankfully, her well-crafted disguise helped retain dignity.
But that's the thing about Shamrock: She could have been totally awesome. Her power is that she is possessed by the ghosts of dead soldiers who have unfinished business. The potential with a power like that is limitless, but Marvel decided they wanted it manifested as "poltergeists which affect probability within a 20-foot radius of her, altering situations so that she is given an advantage." Because that's what a displaced war veteran wants to do. Affect probability.
Shamrock, whose real name was the overbearingly Irish "Molly Fitzgerald," was not a popular character. She was so pointless, in fact, that Molly eventually retired from being a superhero and became a hairdresser and no one else gave a crap. She didn't turn evil. She wasn't killed off. She just figured that being the vessel for thousands of displaced souls was better suited for cutting hair and she was fucking right. When Spider-Man wants to call it quits, he's reminded by everyone that, "With great power, comes great responsibility." But when Shamrock wants to hang up the tights to give perms, the hero community just says, "Yeah, that's probably for the best."
Led by Superboy, the Legion of Super-Heroes was a club of superpowered teenage do-gooders that banded together to form a sort of ultra-police, like a young Justice League that occasionally time travelled. Since several members were from the future, of course they had members from various species, including a blue-skinned woman and an orange skinned boy. Suspiciously absent from this team? Black people. In fact, in the entire run of the Legion of Super-Heroes comics before 1976, there had not even been a single black character depicted even once.
All white people.
So, DC vowed to rectify this inequity by adding an African American superhero to the Legion. This was a full year before Black Lightning entered the scene, so it was a pretty big deal. His name was Tyroc...
So, How'd That Go?
...and he was a racial separatist. It turns out, (as a way to explain the total lack of black people in the Legion's universe), that all of the black people exiled themselves to an island off the coast of Africa and lived alone, to be away from everyone else. Also, the island disappears every once in a while.
If the idea of a disappearing island that houses all of the world's black people sounds like a racist's wet dream, that's likely because it is. To really understand this move, and everything else about Tyroc, you need to understand Murray Boltinoff, the editor of Legion at the time. We don't want to say anything as libelous as "Murray Boltinoff is a racist," but he's the reason no black people ever made it to a Legion comic and he once ordered the colorists to change a black background character into a white character for no stated reason. And it was because of Boltinoff that Tyroc couldn't be a hero who happened to be black; he needed to be a former slave turned racial segregationist. Also, the disappearing island thing? Because Blotinoff is OK with the idea of black people, as long as they stick to their island that is totally unreachable.
Jim Shooter, one of DC's artists at the time called the depiction of Tyroc "pathetic and appalling" and co-creator Mike Grell described Tyroc's segregationist backstory as "possibly the most racist concept I've ever heard in my life." Grell was so disgusted with the insulting way the character was being handled that he intentionally designed Tyroc to look like a shithead:
Grell says "I gave him a silly costume. It was somewhere between Elvis' Las Vegas costume and something you would imagine a pimp on the street corner wearing."
Yep. That is exactly what that is.
Tyroc rarely had anything to do in the Legion, and eventually went home to Marzal and disappeared again. When writer Paul Lezitz spent 15 years on a Legion reboot, Tyroc, unique among pre-1989 members, never appeared.