I hope I don’t end up inadvertently offending anyone here. I don’t talk about race that much because I’m white and I am aware of my privilege and that I know so little about being an ethnic minority and none of it is first-hand knowledge. But this is something that I was thinking about recently…
I think that it’s important for Superman to be white because I see him as this obnoxiously powerful Christ-figure who is prone to going on apocalyptic fascist benders at the slightest provocation.
That said I think that a no-bullshit Red Son-style exploration of a negro Superman who lands on Earth pre-civil rights would be really compelling.
That’s what I keep coming back to as I consider this, that his experiences as a black person in America (not even pre-Civil Right America, just America) would color (no pun intended) his views on heroism and duty to the people and it would take a lot to put him on the same track as the actual Superman is.
I think we can also consider how a black Superman would be received by the public, and how that would affect him.
I think that if anything it would strengthen his convictions rather than disenfranchise him. It ironically becomes more personal even though he’s already a literal alien. While he would certainly become exposed to an uglier side of humanity, he would also have the eyes to see an even brighter one. If Superman’s core value is faith in humanity to the bitter end, making him black would only accentuate this rather than weaken it.
I think with a Black!Superman the unwavering faith in humanity would have to be explicitly learned, rather than just taught to him by the Kents growing up and accepted as how things should be. I’d be interested in seeing a story that shows him learning that lesson and embracing it, dealing with the subtle and not-so-subtle racism and prejudice he might receive but still finding the strength to not give in and pay back hatred with hatred, or just indifference (‘Why should I waste my time saving some white people?’). I think it would ultimately make him a stronger character than White!Superman, but it would have to addressed and made the subject of the story itself, rather than the default of the actual Superman just being an all-around nice guy.
This is why I was wondering if, or just how closely, a Black!Superman could be done. I think at the very least there would need to be an in-universe acknowledgement of how he’s had a different upbringing and path to heroism than White!Superman, something which was necessary when making the Kingpin or Heimdell black. While it wouldn’t necessarily mean he’s not Superman, it would set him apart in a marked way.
What if [white] Superman had landed in the Reconstruction-era South, and been taken in by black sharecroppers instead of by Ma and Pa Kent? Then his experience as a child would have been witnessing and experiencing the way his parents were treated, perhaps having to defend them against lynchings or vandalism.
Assuming “Black Pa Kent” was of a similar mindset to what’s canon, and that Jor-El’s lessons for his son were the same, how would the treatment he witnessed and experienced put him into conflict with what he’s told is his purpose on Earth?
THAT would be pretty interesting.
Well, myself, I don’t much care for the ‘Jor-El sent Superman to be a beacon’ idea put forth in Man of Steel (or, I guess, the earlier movies). I don’t know if the comics have that idea, but it just seems ridiculous to me because if Jor-El had enough time to do more than build the spacecraft and find a planet that could sustain his son (ie., if he had time to learn what humans are like and how the yellow sun radiation would affect Kal-El and how this is now a Jesus parable) then he should have had time to build a larger craft to hold him and Lar-El. In other words, I can get behind Jor-El finding a planet that can support his son and figure out how to send him there, but not much else.
Frankly I can do without the whole ‘Superman is Jesus, Jor-El is God’ nonsense. Superman as Moses I can get behind (and yeah, Jesus was in many ways a rip-off of Moses) but the religious subtext doesn’t need to be actual text.
Anyway, the question is whether ‘Black Pa Kent’ would raise Clark with the same lessons and morality as canon Pa Kent, but if we start redefining the ethics of the Kents and how they raise Clark we’re just opening a huge can of worms full of possibilities (tons of which are interesting, I’ll grant). My initial question is how closely Black!Superman can adhere to the established mythos.