Some comic characters are timeless. Superman embodies dutiful citizenship, Spider-Man is about becoming an adult and Wonder Woman will always be a role model to girls interested in BDSM.
DC forgive us
While Don Rickles-Man appears wherever a racist joke needs telling.
Other characters belong squarely to the moment of their creation. Scholars estimate a full third of punches during World War II were thrown by racist caricature sidekicks. And if anyone other than Jack Kirby had created The Forever People (don't look them up), their best story would have been the issue where Lyndon Johnson stomped those dirty hippies to death.
Yet some characters survive the time-bomb on their relevance. What you are about to see are real panels not recreated by actors, though that would be hilarious.
If you have to hire them, are they really heroes?
Luke Cage was an innocent prisoner who became Power Man in an invulnerability experiment meant to satisfy the nation's hunger for indestructible convicts. Iron Fist wasn't Marvel's first martial artist, but he was the only white one (sorry, Shang-Chi), which made him marketable despite his goofy clothes. It's called the Elvis Principle.
It would have been called the Pat Boone Principle, but Iron Fist gave due credit to the black man.
Quick: name two popular film genres from the '70s. If you said westerns and gangster films, you're right! But those tickets cost nearly a dollar, which is more than comic creators make in a week. The only movies the Marvel bullpen could afford were matinees: blaxploitation and kung-fu.
How they survived:
Look, the '70s were a weird time when people were only comfortable enough in interracial company to do things they hid the rest of the time, like crimefighting, cocaine, and disco. Cancellation loomed for both characters, but if you know one thing about Power Man, it's that he's not going anywhere until he gets paid.
Luke Cage asks Dr. Doom what a bitch sounds like.
The only way to carry on was to team up on a buddy cops title, even though Lethal Weapon was so far in the future Murtaugh was not yet too old for this shit. With half an audience apiece, these two starred in what has to be the greatest comic ever written about an exonerated convict in a canary blouse and his slippered Asian-fetish buddy.
There's no culture, religion or sexuality prepared for that kind of mismatch. By the time readers were no longer stunned, buddy cops were de rigeur, which is French for "of rigeur." They made a good team, since Cage lacks the gene that puts up with people's bullshit, and Iron Fist is obviously incapable of shame.
Hey, speaking of coke and disco ...
Xanadu all up in this bi-wait, why is Cyclops blinded? All his eyes do is emit bright light.
Dazzler is a mutant who can turn sound into light and bell-bottoms into fabulousness. She turns down a job with the X-Men because her first love is disco -- and disco will NEVER die!
What spawned her:
Printing comics takes a three-month lead time, meaning any cultural fad with its own superhero has been dead at least that long. Now you know why Dazzler debuted in February of 1980. If she'd reached print in the '70s, Olivia Newton-John would have sued Marvel via sexy dance number, but the calendar changed, the thrill wore off and a mortified America agreed never to talk about what we'd done to ourselves that decade.
Roberta Bayley / Sire Records
Except for the Ramones, who agreed to sniff glue and kick ass ... and they were all out of glue.
Dazzler was usually too busy on tour to attend the X-Men's battles, and when she did, she wore roller skates to remind them they were wasting her time. She didn't suffer much prejudice, because nobody ever hated lithe blondes with the power to put on a great concert until Perez Hilton started his blog. Dazzler probably caught more scorn for moving into adult contemporary than being a mutant.
How she survived:
Wherever there's a comic character, there's a fan dying to write a 100-issue series for them, and that number multiplies rapidly when the character's one of the non-fuzzy X-Women. Throw in the fact that she gives fuck zero what either music fans or mutants think of her, and you've got yourself a sassy cult favorite despite being Marvel's version of Disco Stu.
Expect to see Lady Gaga wearing this any day now.
And after him: that punk Mr. Rogers
Frank Castle was a Marine who survived three tours in Vietnam only to see his picnicking family randomly gunned down by mobsters. He declared war on crime, beginning with that menace Spider-Man.
What spawned him:
A freaked-out 'Nam vet who can't distinguish friend from foe is a concept explored thoroughly in The Deer Hunter, Taxi Driver, Platoon and your neighbor's basement. Too slow, Hollywood! The Punisher started this wave of PTSD violence. The only troubled vet to debut earlier was the book version of Rambo, who was trying to live and let live.
But Vietnam's old news, baby! We're blowing up way less humid countries these days. That's bad news for the Punisher's relevancy. His character is tied into what that down and dirty war means to the national psyche (apart from the freedom rock), and the mistreatment of its veterans (quite entangled with the freedom rock).
How he survived:
Dude, he's the Punisher. Surviving is all he knows how to do. It's right there in his origin story when survival becomes his curse. Marvel's tried four times to kill him, and he just comes back more existential. At this point, he's a 60-something-year-old man who's been raised from the dead more times than Keith Richards.
Dave Wilkins / Marvel
And, frankly, looking better
Unlike everyone else on this list, he survived the trend by internalizing it. Marvel keeps Vietnam integral to his story, because hate prevents wrinkles. Comics Punisher is the victim of meaningless violence, and sees society as a lie built atop the truths of the jungle. He's a man in an unwinnable war against human nature. Movie Punisher, who sucks, is the target of a mob hit for being such a swell cop, while being hunted by the law for wasting the time of three great action stars.