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When Superman Ran Into Muhammad X In Harlem & Other Race Dealings In The Comic

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by Tambay A. Obenson
April 15, 2013 8:01 PM
6 Comments
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In light of all the current buzz over the upcoming Man Of Steel movie (after a General Zod clip went viral in the last 24 hours), which sees Laurence Fishburne playing Perry White, I suddenly felt the urge to see what I could learn about race in the Superman universe - specifically, whether Superman has ever dealt directly with race/racism in the comics, at least.


First, I found the below comic book panel which I encourage you to read before moving on... click on it for an enlarged view.

I'm no comic book enthusiast, so I don't know how many times Superman serials have actually dealt with race. Maybe those of you who are comic book experts can educate the rest of us on this. I came across the sheet above on the Black Superhero Fan blog, with the heading, "Poignant Panels," and was humored by the content as I read it (out of context); I wasn't sure if it was genuine, although, at the bottom of the BSF page, it states the specific Superman issue (v2, #179), and year it was published (August 2002).

Naturally, I Googled "Superman v2, #179, August (2002)," and the first item returned was a link to Wikipedia (of course) for a character by the name of Muhammad X. Yes, he's a black Superhero!

I followed the link, and found the following, on Muhammad X's Wikipedia page:

 
Muhammad X is a fictional character in the DC Comics universe. Real name unrevealed, his first (and so far sole) appearance was in Superman v2, #179 (August 2002). Muhammad X is the self-proclaimed protector of Harlem NY, using his ability to alter density and gravity to protect the community. When Superman runs into him, Muhammad browbeats him, accusing him of ignoring Harlem and, in essence, the black community. This causes the Man of Steel to question his understanding of race relations and leads to his seeking advice from his supporting cast/colleagues such as Lois Lane and Natasha Irons. Natasha names a few black superheroes Superman has never heard of, but are apparently well known in the black community, such as Rush & Silence, Stoneyard and Underground. Indeed the heroes named here have yet to appear in any DC Universe comic. The issue concludes with Superman confronting X a second time, telling X "...I can't change the color of my skin... what I try to do is something far more difficult... to be a human being. And hopefully, someday, we'll see each other only in that way." Superman flies off, to which Muhammad replies to himself "Yeah, well... I guess that's how you sleep at night."

Hah! Tell'em Muhammad! 

I did some further googling and came across this on a site called MillionairePlayboy.com.


The writer shares a story of his trip to his local comic book store where he uncovers this issue of Superman, which featured a story centered around Lois Lane, titled I Am Curious (Black), in which Lane transforms into a black woman for 24 hours to get a story and, in the process, gets to see what it's like being black and female.

Here's the writer's story along with images:

blacklois4

blacklois1

The story begins with Lois assigned to do a story on Metropolis’s urban area that Lois refers to Little Africa. It seems that all black people refuse to submit to an interview done by Miss Whitey. Young children, old blind ladies, and even people on the street hate white people. With Superman’s help Lois is placed inside the Plastimold and the Transformoflux Pack invented by Dahr-Nel, Kryptonian Surgeon. Apparently this machine is meant to change white people to black people. You have to wonder if Superman uses this machine often?

Disguised as a black woman, Lois proceeds to experience what it is like as an African American. Benny the friendly neighborhood taxi-driver refuses to pick up Lois the black woman. On the subway, the white men stare at her, making her feel completely uncomfortable. Lois eventually meets the radical anti-white black rebel who earlier called her “whitey.”

blacklois7

The radical Dave Stevens, taken in by this fine black woman, is distracted when he witnesses a drug deal going down. Telling Lois to “Stay here! This is a man’s business!” Dave really enforces the social inequality of the story. Refusing to let the gangsters sell their poison, Dave confronts them and is shot during the struggle. Superman, who always keeps his eye on Lois, saves the day flying Dave and Lois to the hospital.

blacklois9

At the hospital Dave needs a blood transfusion but, the hospital is out of O negative blood. Realizing that she can help, Lois states in a very shocking way “I—I’m O-negative!” Here we see the underlying theme of the book highlighted; underneath, we are all the same. After she donates the blood, her 24 hours are up and she reverts back to the white Lois Lane. When Dave awakes to see that Lois is not a beautiful black woman, but the cracker he snubbed, he is at first shocked, realizing then you can’t judge a book by its cover. Superman informs Lois “If he still hates you… with your blood in his veins… there may never be peace in this world!” Luckily for us they all get along in the end.

All of that, including the panels themselves, made me laugh! Maybe consideration should be given to the time it was created - November, 1970.

Although the Muhammad X story is much more recent; it was created about 11 years ago.

So, like I said, I'm no comic book pro, so I'm not aware of many other instances in which Superman dealt directly with race in the comics. I certainly hope these aren't the ONLY attempts. 

Help me out here folks...

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6 Comments

  • Aaron_a_DC_Fan | June 15, 2013 11:51 AMReply

    I've always appreciated DC for attempting to deal with real issues. Maybe the delivery wasn't always that great but unlike Marvel, which has a history of maintaining an undercurrent of the 'good ole boy' vibe, DC supported artists and writers of color. After all, DC picked up the late Dwayne McDuffie's Static Shock, a black superhero who had his own series and cartoon for years. He also wrote many of the Justice League episodes which besides race, dealt with politics such as the Patriot Act.

    To fully understand Superman, you must understand his parents the Kents. I would suggest picking up the stand-alone comic 'The Kents', which analyzes their family tree. It discusses the fact the Kents were abolitionists and over the generations aired on the side of good. And lets not forget Steel, who since coming on the scene in the 'Death of Superman' canon, has been an intricate part of the Superman mythology. A black man without superpowers who builds a steel suit with an 'S' on his chest and goes against some of the most powerful villains in the universe armed with nothing more than sheer strength and intellect--he's an amazing character and even Superman was in awe of him, as he faces the real prospect of death with each battle.

    So no, DC doesn't have a 'terrible track record'.

  • HarveyDent322 | April 16, 2013 5:21 PMReply

    I'm a huge fan of superheroes and a collector of comic books and have been for over thirty years. I love the medium still but as I got older I always had to look side eye at some things the Big 2 (Marvel & DC) have done and continue to do. Things like not supporting books about heroes of color, tone deaf representations of race relations, and the old boy network that discourages new talent from getting a larger platform. The rise of Black creators taking the indie route is a start because just like Siegel and Shuster in Cleveland in the 30's all it will take is one hit to open the floodgates.

    As far as the subject at hand, unlike many of my friends I've always been a fan of Superman. Batman is still my favorite but Superman is not far behind him because Christopher Reeve got me young when he made me believe a man could fly. I understand why many Black readers don't like the character because he's looked at as the all-powerful super white man but I've always liked him because of the example he embodies: do good to others. That selflessness he brings to comics is something many readers can't get behind but it's always spoke to me because I consider that universal. Clark Kent/Kal-El/Superman is a square guy from a farm in Kansas who has no frame of reference for that life but that doesn't stop him from learning about it.

    Check out ALL-STAR SUPERMAN for the true essence of the character and the great thing about it to me is that he interacted with characters of color, good and bad, all through the series.

  • Julian Chambliss | April 16, 2013 4:11 PMReply

    Superhero characters reflect unease connected to the urban experience in complex ways. On the one hand, Superman, like most superhero comics, has been relatively quiet on questions of race directly. Nonetheless, Superman draws much from the Jewish experience of his creators. Indeed, many creators of early superhero characters were Jewish and infuse those characters with subtext that reference their experience. Overall, since assimilation was their goal, overt question of bigotry were rarely directly addressed.

    Racism against African-Americans is largely never addressed in most superhero comics. Instead, comic book company signaled racism was wrong by introducing black characters into formerly all white stories. In the 1960s, Marvel Comics was first to incorporate supporting characters and then superheroes of color. DC eventually incorporated a black superhero with John Stewart (the black Green Lantern 1971), Karen Beecher (Bumblebee, 1976), and Jefferson Pierce (Black Lighting, 1977).

    Black Lighting is notable for being the first black superhero at DC to start in his own comic book. He also intersect with Superman. Pierce, like many black characters in the 1970s was dedicated to protecting his community. His community however, happen to be in Superman's back yard. Suicide Slum, which was introduced as a part of Metropolis in 1970 offered the kind of urban ghetto many white creators believed black heroes would dedicate themselves to saving. A reaction to critique associated with Black Power politics on one hand and blaxploitation's popular appeal on the other. Black Lighting battles characters such as Tobias Whale and The 100 in his effort to improve the neighborhood while Superman fly overhead. The dichotomy highlights the central problem linked to racism in comics, superhero characters tend to promote a status quo focused on law and order. For characters of color, the implication that this would lead to an effort to end racism is an obvious one, but avoided in favor of "colorblind" ideology that ignores the oppressive nature of racism. The result is black heroes are given to space to be, but not the will to act in a manner that reflect societal concerns they are suppose to represent.

  • Mr. Oyola | April 16, 2013 12:09 PMReply

    I frequently write about race/gender in comics on my blog "The Middle Spaces", if you'd like to check it out.

    Anyway, I'm going to have to disagree with Samuel's comment above, for two reasons:

    1) While superheroes may be saving the world "for everyone" - the superhero genre is all about the use of power to maintain a status quo racial, gender and economic disparity. They reinforce the ideological underpinnings that keep people oppressed and the overwhelming absence of black and latino superheroes (and their crude depiction when they do exist) just reinforces that. The genre can afford to mostly ignore them or only include tokens.

    2) The tradition of the masked men who work outside the law to correct that which "legitimate" channels won't fix sounds familiar, doesn't it? Which is to say, as much as I love comics, I can't help be see a correlation between this set up and the Klan. Not not to mention, that at one time many comics revolved around narratives of urban crime, so while the criminals depicted were not often black, everyone knows who is indicted in the arc of post-war urban decay and crisis. Spider-Man can't beat up HUD, but he can fight muggers. "Urban crime" strikes me as a dog-whistle.

    It doesn't help that the Big Two (Marvel & DC) have a terrible track record when it comes to black artists and writers.

  • Samuel | April 16, 2013 11:02 AMReply

    The above scene is just a bad redo of an old black guy that caused Green Lantern to feel guilty for not helping Black people. Paraphrasing "you helped the blue, the red and the green people but not the black people." And Green Lantern felt sorry. These premises don't really work, because Superman or Green Lantern don't just help only white people and aliens, they save planets. This means they save all people. Superheroes aren't police that only keep white neighborhoods safe. They are no super-villain that only attack the black neighborhood, which Superman supposedly avoids.

    As far as his interaction with black people, read Superman vs Muhammad Ali, where Superman and Ali are equals. It's also drawn by one of the best Superman artist, Neal Adam, who captures Ali perfectly. The stuff posted above is just bad writing.

  • kid video | April 16, 2013 3:15 AMReply

    I got a kick out of that...im not a serious comic book reader/collection...i do have a copy of black comic Hardwear #1.

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