One of the arguments defenders of the re-racing or gender swapping of classic characters used to use, although now they don’t bother since a warped concept of diversity is all they care about, is that new characters of different colors or genders can’t become famous nowadays and since kids need a hero who “looks like them” using the old names will give them the most attention. I’m not sure why being a hero isn’t enough but I’m not against getting some more heroes of color or with two X chromosomes out there. I just reject the notion that the under-representation of LGBT characters means Iceman has to be turned gay. It’s not Bobby’s fault that Northstar is so uninteresting and it’s not like he’s the only one out there with an interest in sex with their own sex. (And why couldn’t he be bisexual? Would have solved everybody’s problem.) I’m in favor of building out the world and creating new characters or using long-ignored old characters so they can find a long-deserved audience.
I reject the notion that new characters can’t be popular. Look at Harry Potter, the house of Stark that wears low-tech armor that does nothing against the constant swords in their guts. Heck, the guy in high-tech armor was created in the 1960s and look how long he took to become famous despite numerous animated credits to his superhero identity. Characters created in recent years can become popular household names, as can ignored characters long overdue to finally get some recognition outside of the four color medium. (Are comics still four-color with modern printing?) I’ve listed a few of them in the past but since new people arrive all the time and others are so thick-skulled they need that same sledgehammer they use to pound messages into their audience, here are six characters and series that rose from the comic page to being famous. “Famous” in this case means becoming household names outside of the comics community, and while cartoons seem to be ignored I’ll be using them as examples as well. However, I’ll put the focus on programs that have live-action counterparts.
(created in 1966, famous in 2018)
Created by two Jewish men in the 1960s, T’Challa has become a symbol of the black community, who run around calling out “Wakanda forever!” (or maybe I watch too much Let’s Make A Deal…nah) and I heard a report that people tried to book a hotel room there not realizing it doesn’t really exist and if it did they have a closed border policy anyway. (I’d like to think he was joking when he said that but I know humanity all too well. I’ve chronicled so many obviously wrong things Hollywood has convinced us was real over the years it makes me cry.) Ignore that Wakanda has great riches and super-advanced technology, including medical, while so much of the rest of Africa white and black are still putting up with poverty, famine, and war because he’s the first black superhero in the movies with a mostly black cast and that’s never been done before, has it?
T’Challa first graced the pages of Fantastic Four #52 and has gone on to be a reserve or active member of both the FF and the Avengers. Outside of comics he appeared in a few animated versions of the Fantastic Four and the Ultimate Avengers direct-to-video movies. (Imagine the Ultimate Universe’s The Ultimates but less dark and less crap.) There was even a cartoon that was so under-animated that Filmation haters should be on their case. The Marvel Superhero cartoons of the 1960s had more animation, and more heroism. This allowed him some exposure to the non-comics crowd to the five people who saw it but it wouldn’t be until the 2018 movie, 52 years after his debut, that most people knew who he was. And it was done by staying true to the comics without being enslaved by them. Or as much as I can tell since it’s on the Finally Watched list.
In fact, most of the Marvel Cinematic Universe qualifies with even less or barely more non-comic representation. The Hulk and Captain America were the only ones from the MCU to even boast a live-action appearance until Spider-Man and Doctor Strange showed up (and who remembers the Doctor Strange pilot), not counting costumes for events or theme parks. Carol Danvers made a few cartoon appearances as Ms. Marvel (though oddly in her Warbird costume), Iron Man had three different cartoons of his own (four if you put the 90s cartoon seasons into two shows to tell the good one from the bad one) not counting The Super Hero Squad Show (which was one of those Carol appearances), direct-to-video movies, various Avengers stuff and guest appearances in other shows. Hawkeye was on two of those shows. In fact the only members of the MCU with even less non-comic appearances was…
Guardians Of The Galaxy
(name created in 1969, modern incarnation created in 2008, famous in 2014)
The original Guardians Of The Galaxy was in the far future, and was pretty much a spacefaring version of the Avengers. If you know comics it’s kind of like the Legion Of Superheroes in form but not necessarily function. The one folks are more familiar with– the combination of Star Wars, Blake’s 7, and Firefly with a hint of Farscape–was created in 2008, only 8 years before the movie made old tunes popular again. The original superhero version never appeared anywhere (although I can’t account for the full membership as I’ve only read one issue from the 1990s relaunch) while the modern Guardians with Star-Lord, the talking don’t-call-me-a-raccoon, and the tree man who talks like a Pokémon also never appeared anywhere until the movie hit theaters. Now they have their own cartoon and popped up on some of the other Marvel toons currently airing but until this movie there were comic fans who didn’t know who they were. Now “I am Groot” is a famous quote and it’s because of this movie and the Avengers that anybody knows who Thanos is…and even he showed up out of comics prior. How many of you even knew about these characters before the movie, or the superhero team before I mentioned it.
However it’s not just the Marvel universe of characters that took forever to become known to non-comics fans. DC has had their share as well, and some of them took longer even after their first movie.
(created in 1959, semi-famous in 1984, fully famous in 2015)
Speaking of characters who never became famous until they at least had a movie, Kara Zor-El was never in anything until the 1984 feature film, and even then it wasn’t until the 199s and Superman: The Animated Series that she showed up again. Since they she showed up in a few other cartoons, including the other DCAU show Justice League Unlimited, some direct-to-video movies, and a couple incarnations in Smallville alone, but she never headlined until CBS picked up the show in 2015 before moving to the CW. Now she’s one of DC’s “Super Hero Girls” and pops up quite often, slowly pulling herself out of her cousin’s shadow, but it was a long process. Let’s see: maybe twenty-five years to get a movie and another couple of decades to get her own series. And that’s with the Superman connection. Guardians Of The Galaxy didn’t even have that going for them.
This is just Kara, mind you. The “prototype” Supergirls never even get an homage while the Matrix Supergirl that was around during The Death And Return Of Superman is only known to people who read the Superman comics around that time, or the novelization I recently reviewed for Chapter By Chapter. Again, despite the Superman connection that doesn’t seem to help any. There are a lot of other Superman supporting casts that didn’t make it unless they were in a show and a whole bunch of them didn’t. It didn’t help Steel much either, and the same could be said for…
(created in 1977, famous…I think…in 2018)
And they took him out of Metropolis while segregating him from the “Arrowverse” (I wonder what they’ll call it now that Arrow is ending?). Even Supergirl gets to visit there and has some other superheroes to pal around with in her own reality. Black Lightning has his daughters and that’s pretty much it. Jefferson Pierce’s road to getting known beyond the pages was full of stop gaps not because of racism but because his (co-?)creator, Tony Isabella, held a tight leash on the character. He was supposed to be a member of the Superfriends but he nixed the idea so Black Vulcan was introduced. Apparently Static Shock wasn’t good enough either so we got Soul Power. His first actual appearance was on Batman: The Brave And The Bold, a cameo or two in his daughters’ shorts—cartoon shorts, mind out of the gutter!–and an appearance on Young Justice I must have blinked during. Sure, they only made the show because of Black Panther and he isn’t allowed to associate with the white heroes…which for some reason is now a good thing because I couldn’t tell you why…but people know who he is. Not everyone has to be the cultural icon overnight. Most of this list really aren’t. Heck, the last one on this list only sticks around because of the conspiracy theory that the comic was based on. I bet most of you didn’t even know it was based on a comic.
Men In Black
(created in 1990, famous in 1997)
The concept comes from UFO conspiracy theorists going as far back as the late 1940s and show up quite often in anything remotely science fiction involving alien abductions, but I’m referring to the franchise. Created by Lowell Cunningham, The Men In Black told the story of a new recruit to an Earth-based alien police force (who also fought monsters) he learned was actually abusing aliens and stealing their technology while pulling an Illuminati, thus merging two conspiracies into one to save time. The film and animated series almost seem like propaganda for the group in the comics or even the conspiracy. It might have been the real-world conspiracy theory that benefited the movie and made the idea even more popular among other media but the franchise is only a few years old and yet who doesn’t know about it or at least hummed Will Smith’s song about how awesome they are? Maybe the celeb takeover of YouTube is really an MIB plot?
As far as a short turnover between comic and cultural icon few really top our last entry. I almost forgot this one but when I saw it in my media library I couldn’t go without mentioning this quartet.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
(created in 1984, famous in 1987)
Granted the adaptation was about as off as The Men In Black outside of the first live-action movie and the early 2000s reboot but only three years between creation and popularity. That’s pretty good for something supposedly impossible. Created as a parody of Frank Miller’s Daredevil run–another character that could be on this list–, with the Foot being a parody of Daredevil antagonist the Hand, the Turtles, like Superman and most of this list, started out popular with the kids outside of comics. It prompted comics to be a hunting ground for kids shows in the 90s, with everything from Spider-Man and the X-Men to Ultraforce and the Savage Dragon getting cartoons, with often mixed results mind you. In addition to the 2000s cartoon I mentioned an animated movie loosely set in the live-action movie universe was later made, two “live-action” movies (the costumes were replaced by CG…UGLY CG) and two different cartoon series came out of Nickelodeon. Now they’re doing the first different owners crossover movie since Aliens Vs. Predator dropped their last bomb–come to think of it, that could be on the list!
Heck, I could list a whole lot more, and maybe I will someday, but I think you see my point. There are great ideas from even further back that could either use a comeback under the right people (and there are fewer and fewer right people in Hollywood regardless of race or gender) or finally being recognized. Some of them are so old that they’re even public domain at this point so you don’t even have to pay licensing fees and royalties to use them. This is how you bring diversity to movies and TV or making new comics, not by recreating beloved characters in “your” image but by giving these other characters the moment they deserve and put them alongside those classic heroes to become new classics. New classics are still being made. You aren’t being more diverse, you’re just being lazy.