Franchesca Ramsey, host of MTV's Decoded, spent the weekend at New York Comic Con asking self-proclaimed comic book "superfans" if they could name seven superheroes of color.
Disappointingly, most of the fans struggled to recall more than the big three that everyone knows: Storm, the mutant weather goddess whose solo series was recently canceled; the Black Panther, whom Ta-Nehisi Coates will be writing next year; and John Stewart, the definitive Green Lantern of our age.
When Ramsey asked the people why it was so hard to name more than a few heroes of color, the most common answer was that there simply weren't enough characters to choose from. This is only partially true.
By and large, most of the classic superhero teams that we're familiar with feature predominantly white, male rosters. Recent calls for more diverse characters from fans have resulted in the creation of new heroes like Kamala Khan, the Pakistani Ms. Marvel, and Miles Morales, an Afro-Latino Spider-Man.
While new characters are always good, focusing only on them is somewhat problematic. The issue at hand here isn't really that there aren't black and brown crusaders running around saving the world, it's that they aren't being highlighted enough. This is one of the many reasons that the first substantive step toward creating more diverse comics is the hiring of more editorial voices of color.
Here's seven lesser-known superheroes of color who deserve to be just as popular as Storm, GL, and the Panther, but tend to be overlooked.
Monet St. Croix, code name "M," is one of the most underrated Muslim, female characters of color to have come out of Marvel in the '90s. Like Superman and Wonder Woman, M takes the idea of the "traditional" set of superpowers like flight, strength, and invulnerability and combines them into an interesting commentary on model minorities. Unlike Superman and Wonder Woman, M doesn't see her powers as some sort of predestined call to action—they're just an everyday part of who she is.
As a character whose mutant power is literally superhuman perfection, it would be easy for the character to become a stereotypical, cautionary tale about how too much of a good thing can be bad. Instead, though, Monet leans into her powers and fully embraces that she's usually the baddest X-Man in the room when she decides to actually work with a team.
Where Wonder Woman and Superman strictly adhere to old-fashioned moral codes grounded in an old-school style of justice, Monet's a much more pragmatic kind of hero. Sometimes you decide to erase a villain's mind, sometimes you tear them in half—that's just how it is.
When Dani Moonstar first became a student of Charles Xavier's, she was a young Cheyenne woman with a deep distrust of caucasians and the ability to manifest visions of peoples' greatest fears and desires. In time, she would learn to control her psychic abilities, develop a close familial bond with her fellow young mutants, and become co-captain of her X-Men team.
As one of mainstream comics' few Native American characters, Moonstar's genesis is an interesting one that reflects the evolution of the medium. At times, in her early appearances, certain elements of her abilities and personality smack of stereotypical depictions of Native people.
Her hostility toward white people and focus on spirituality feel like the sort of characterization of a strong-headed Cheyenne woman that a white man would write. As Moonstar's moved throughout the Marvel universe, though, her perspective, and the way writers treat her, have evolved.
Being one of the most senior alumna of Xavier's school, she's become one of Marvel's most experienced adventurers, surviving the decimation of mutant kind, losing her abilities, and being reborn as an mystically empowered Valkyrie. In terms of the sheer number of plots that a character has moved through, Moonstar's right up there with Storm.
Miss America Chavez literally punched a hole in the fabric of reality to leave her all-female home dimension in search of something more interesting to do—like fighting intergalactic evil. In the short time that she's been a part of the mainstream Marvel Universe, America's become one of the most popular queer Latina characters in contemporary comics
Though Chavez has spent time on a number of different Marvel teams, she's set to become a core member of the newest iteration of The Ultimates, Marvel's cosmic-level hero team. She's joined by the original Captain Marvel, Monica Rambeau (a black woman) and Blue Marvel, one of Marvel's most powerful black men who's a living "antimatter generator."
Dr. Mirage is one of Valiant's headlining heroes who works in the magical, supernatural side of its universe. After losing her husband to an accident involving the underworld, Mirage throws herself into her work investigating the paranormal while searching for her lover's missing soul.
When David Alleyne was first introduced as one of the Xavier Institute's New Mutants, he was just a young mutant from Chicago with the ability to know whatever those around him knew. As time has gone on, though, he's become one of Marvel's most distinct depictions of how telepathy can affect a person.
After losing his mutant powers, David has all of the information he ever absorbed restored to his mind and subsequently becomes a new person. The experience leaves him with permanently broadened horizons, expressing that he's no longer bound by any sexual, gender-based, or ideological identity.
What secret agent Deep Singh lacks in conventional superpowers he makes up for with traditional super espionage know-how. Eileen Aden and Supreet Singh Manchanda created the character to be a depiction of how a modern Sikh would handle the jet-setting life of an international crime fighter while remaining true to his beliefs.
Jaime Reyes is the third and most recent hero in DC's universe to take the name Blue Beetle after being symbiotically bonded an alien exoskeleton scarab embedded in his spine.
Jaime's relationship with the sentient scarab technology that gives him his abilities thrusts him into the adult world of large-scale heroics more quickly than what you normally see in teen-focused comics. His experiences working with the Justice League aren't just the sort of superheroic fantasies that young kids have reading comic books.
They're also a not so subtle reflection on what it's like being the new, minority member on a team of established players. Blue Beetle explores that idea not just through race, but through age and time-displacement as well.