Diversity in superhero comics is a good thing. In a genre embarrassingly dominated by lantern-jawed white men and scantily clad babes, it's refreshing when writers and artists acknowledge that heroes can come from any race, gender, or nation. However, this doesn't necessarily reflect a change in the people who write the comics, and often their efforts to create the characters made it appear that they had never actually spoken to any non-white person in their lives. And so we wound up with ...
#6. Vibe, the Hispanic Superhero
When it came time for DC Comics to bring the world a young Hispanic superhero, it came up with Vibe. He started life in 1984 as Paco Ramone, a Detroit street kid with the power to generate vibrations from his hands, which is a skill that would actually be fairly useful in everyday life (think about it), but probably isn't as useful in fighting crime as, say, invincibility or flight. But of course the real reason he joined the Justice League was to heroically play victim to every Latin stereotype the 1980s had to offer:
Actual dialogue: "Wha'chu think?" "Fresh, huh?" "VIBE." "That's chill."
Each panel is like a clinic in oneupsmanship put on by a group of white guys who have never met a Hispanic person and are basing all of their character knowledge on break-dancing videos and the movie Scarface.
Mostly the former.
Despite Vibe's superhuman ability to create force vibrations, the attribute that gets the most attention is his power to wear Bret "The Hitman" Hart sunglasses with sleeveless T-shirts.
Along with his sidekick, the pompadour.
A sample storyline involves Vibe bringing one of his new white friends home so that his parents will be proud of him, because apparently white people are so revered in the Hispanic community that simply being associated with one elevates your personal status to that of a local hero.
"Dios mio! El Rey Blanco!"
The timeless old chestnut about "bringing white folk home to meet the family" is given a hip new twist as the writers, drawing upon all their personal knowledge of the character's ethnicity, have Vibe get furiously pissed at Whitey Poloshirt for acknowledging his younger sister's existence (see Scarface, above):
"Incoherent, thoughtless rage is sacred to my people!"
Respected comic book artist George Perez, who is of Puerto Rican descent, was particularly offended by Vibe, and said in a 1985 interview that the character single-handedly turned him off of the entire Justice League. When he worked on a later Justice League/Avengers crossover comic that was supposed to feature cameos by all the past members, Perez made sure Vibe's "cameo" consisted of nothing more than the bottom half of his legs.
#5. John Stewart, the African-American Green Lantern
When Green Lantern alternate Guy Gardner got hit by a bus, he was replaced in 1984 by a perpetually angry jive-talking black man named John Stewart. John's primary ability appeared to be reminding people of his blackness every other sentence, because apparently his writers forgot that comic books have pictures. They might as well have just called him "Black Lantern" and told everyone to go fuck themselves.
Featured in Panel 2: Green Lantern asking a white man with a dirty face if he has picked any cotton recently.
Maybe some context would help. Back in the 1970s, Green Lantern author Dennis O'Neil and artist Neal Adams tried to deal with complex topical issues like drug addiction and social injustice. John Stewart, who was created in 1971, was their attempt to address racism, but he comes off as being written by a nerdy white man who wants to make sure every panel clearly demonstrates that John is not a coloring mistake.
In one story arc, John starts dating a woman named Rose Hardin, who happens to be an ex-girlfriend of Hal Jordan. Hal gets pissed off that his ex is now dating a black man and challenges John to a mind battle, which might initially sound like he wants to play chess or Trivial Pursuit, but literally means that he wants to fight John inside his mind. When he shows up in Hal's vacuous skull chamber, John appears as several different personalities, each a worse stereotype than the one before (it isn't clear whether this is Hal's or John's doing).
"Lawdy! We's gun need some fried chicken up in here!"
The various shades of John Stewart include a pimp dressed as Robin Hood, a bongo-clutching African, Barry Bonds, and Balrog.
"Fuck tha police!"
Hal realizes that he's being a shithead and agrees to back off, and he and John part ways as friends. While this admittedly is trying to address a legitimate social issue, we argue that there was probably a better way for the writers to tackle latent racial prejudices than having Hal Jordan box the crows from Dumbo with his thoughts.
#4. Brother Voodoo, the Haitian Witch Doctor
In 1973, Marvel thoughtfully decided to add a Haitian character, surely hoping to broaden the horizons of readers with a look into the culture of that small, impoverished nation. The result was Brother Voodoo.
We're pretty sure no one at Marvel realized how badly Diversity Week could go.
The backstory is that after spending 12 years away in college and grad school, Jericho Drumm returns home to Haiti only to find his brother dying from a voodoo curse (part of the curse evidently prevented anyone from using a telephone or postcard to relay this information to Jericho).
"I was gonna shoot you an email, but then I got on TV Tropes, and suddenly 12 years later ..."
After his brother inevitably dies, Jericho visits the local witch doctor, Papa Jambo (sigh), and inexplicably decides to throw a decade of graduate-level education in the garbage and become Brother Voodoo, because the costume happens to be in his size. The costume, by the way, consists of a deep V-neck, green cutoff pants, and a bone necklace, because voodoo operates on a budget.
"We ain't fuckin' sorcery here."
In one of Brother Voodoo's more creepy "adventures," he uses his abilities to possess an attractive young doctor who has come to Haiti to help fight disease and make her fall in love with him.
It's like if a beer commercial was carried to its logical conclusion.
So Brother Voodoo, Marvel Comics' first Haitian superhero and a powerful practitioner of the mystic arts, uses his sorcery to trick a woman into having sex with him. He does this by infusing her body with the spirit of his dead brother, which means that in addition to essentially date-raping a woman, he is also having sex with his brother's ghost. Meanwhile, his white Marvel Comics label-mate Spider-Man is married to a supermodel and gets to swing around punching bank robbers all day long.