Published on June 3rd, 2015 | by Carli Spina
Diverse Superheroes For Summer Reading Programs
This summer many libraries will be offering summer reading programs focused on superheroes. While the classic superheroes like Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman are great, they can be a bit lacking in diversity. But, there are a lot of wonderful superheroes with diverse backgrounds, particularly amongst those that have debuted in recent years. This post, which represents the combined efforts of several regular CCGC contributors, offers some of our favorite superheroes and suggests some options for highlighting diverse characters in your summer reading program this year.
Kacy Helwick suggests two of her favorites:
Nico Minoru (a.k.a Sister Grimm): Nico is a goth Japanese-American sorceress who can cast any spell imaginable with the use of her magical staff, but with the caveat that she can only use each spell once. She is the daughter of two dark wizards, but she chose to be one of the good guys. She’s a quick thinker, efficient leader, devoted to her teammates, and she’s got a great sense of style.
Starting place for reading about Nico Minoru: Runaways vol. 1 Pride & Joy by Brian K. Vaughan and Adrian Alphona
America Chavez (a.k.a. Miss America): America is a Latina lesbian superhero who is invulnerable to bullets, is super strong, can kick holes into alternate dimensions, AND she can fly! She’s a smart and loyal bad-ass who doesn’t put up with any of Teen Loki’s bull. She also has great outfits. Instead of one static superhero costume, she wears various practical star-spangly clothes.
Starting place for reading about America Chavez: Young Avengers vol. 1 Style > Substance by Kieron Gillen and Jamie Mckelvie.
Kamala Khan (a.k.a. Ms. Marvel): First, she’s female and Pakistani American, and Muslim American. Women are still under represented in comics, and there are very few Muslim characters as well. The wonderful thing about her gender and heritage is that it’s part of her story, but they don’t exclusively focus on those aspects. She is a very typical American teen who happens to have gotten powers. She’s also a love letter to fans, especially fangirls. She writes superhero fanfiction, follows the news of all her favorite superheroes in the Marvel world like most teens follow actors and musicians, and makes no apologies for her love. She’s just wonderful on so many levels. She’s easy to start with, since her series just started in February of 2013.
Starting place for reading about Kamala Khan: The first collected edition graphic novel of her tale is Ms. Marvel Volume 1: No Normal, which has been out for a bit, and volume 2 (Generation Why) just came out in April.
Miles Morales (a.k.a. Spiderman in the Ultimate Spiderman): Half African American, Half Latino and all spider man. Miles gets to take up the identity of this superhero when Peter Parker passes the mantle to him (in an alternate Marvel universe). Miles is very much a real kid, with real problems. In the same way Peter was the underdog in the 1960’s as an awkward geeky kid, Miles is an underdog because of the world around him (poverty and danger in the streets, and sometimes racism) again without making his story ONLY about those issues. He’s also just as funny and witty as Peter, but with his own spin on humor.
Starting place for reading about Miles Morales: Miles Morales: Ultimate Spider-Man Ultimate Collection Book 1 is coming out in August, an easy way to get to know this character.
Mia Mizoguchi (a.k.a. Maps): She’s not a superhero in the classic sense, but she is the Japanese American half of the main duo in Gotham Academy. This comic deals with a pair of best friends in a boarding school in Gotham, and the adventures they have solving mysteries. A sort of superheroes meets Hogwarts meets Nancy Drew. Lots of famous Gotham heroes and villains make appearances in this book. Maps may not have superpowers, but she has something even better: Brains. She’s extremely smart, and extremely brave, and she never fails to chase after the answers. Her nickname comes from the fact that she can draw elaborate maps in her head, a skill that comes in handy in both her adventures at the school, and the games of Dungeons and Dragons she plays. Maps is a fangirl in her world, and she makes no apologies. In fact she loves to drop D&D jokes even if she’s the only one who gets them. She’s a wonderful example of a girl being herself, being smart, and being as brave as any Batman.
Starting place for reading about Mia Mizoguchi: Gotham Academy Volume 1: Welcome to Gotham Academy comes out in June and collects the first six volumes.
Thomas Maluck picked out three examples of diverse superheroes:
Miiyahbin Marten (a.k.a. Equinox, from Justice League United): Justice League United is still young (just one collected edition out as of this writing), but the artistic conception and in-story origin of Miiyahbin is so well done, I want to see her shine as brightly for DC as Kamala Khan does for Marvel. Jeff Lemire, a Canadian, pulled from Cree culture to give her a mythos and power set that seems to make her the equivalent of a Cree Shazam. When she says the word “Keewatin” she becomes Equinox and embodies the seven “pillars” of Cree life – love, humility, bravery, truth, respect, wisdom, and honesty. Her nemesis is the Whitago, a being that represents the traits of darkness: dominion, control, aggression, deception, greed, selfishness, and fear. The Whitago can never be eradicated, only kept at bay. Miiyahbin’s powers are tied to the earth and change with the seasons.
Now that the mini-wiki explanation is out of the way: what a perfect setup for a superhero, right? There are endless ways to spin that premise, and the inclusion of Miiyahbin’s grandmother, best friend Heather, and father only helps to provide her with a ready-made world of her own to inhabit. Lemire took several trips to Moose Factory Island, Ontario to research Cree culture, including interviewing residents about what kinds of powers they would like to see in a superhero from their community.
In the first several issues of Justice League United, Miiyahbin is generally aware of the Whitago as a terrible creature, but is completely new to her powers and the responsibility of upholding a cultural heritage with them. Her gradual comfort with heroism and risk-taking in her own storyline make her a winning contribution to the team by the time she’s accepted on board.
Starting place for reading about Miiyahbin Marten: Justice League United Volume 1 is already available.
John Stewart (a.k.a. Green Lantern, especially his Mosaic storyline): To me, Hal Jordan is just another Superman. Guy Gardner is sometimes funny/endearing as a hothead, and Kyle Rayner’s recent turn as a White Lantern was the best thing that could happen to his character. Simon Baz ought to be on this list, but his potential has been so squandered. John Stewart, however, is my favorite Green Lantern. In a corps of so many space cops, he actually seems to engage with other species more than any other Earth lantern.
Stewart’s always been my preference over Jordan for having cooler light constructs (owing to his experience as an architect and Marine), but his spotlight moment for me was “Mosaic,” an 18-issue series that started in 1992 and fleshed him out better than anything I’ve read before or since. The premise follows a star system’s worth of societies that have been relocated to share a single planet as refugees while new planets are found for each of them. Stewart is assigned to keep the peace between them all, and ends up exploring the nature of identity, cultural appropriation, and social tensions along the way. Not to mention, Stewart is allowed to share his tastes and intellect with the reader. His musings on music theory – how discordant notes can contribute to an overall harmony – make me want to follow up on his love of Nat King Cole, Duke Ellington, and even Barbara Streisand.
Starting place for reading about John Stewart: Green Lantern Corps Volume 1: Fearsome by Peter J. Tomasi, Fernando Pasarin, and Scott Hanna. While “Mosaic” has yet to be collected in trade format, Stewart features prominently throughout the “Green Lantern Corps” series, with the New 52 iteration working as a jumping-on point.
Hank Chu (a.k.a. The Green Turtle, from The Shadow Hero): Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew’s attempt to correct a historical wrong is all aces as they restore the identity of Hank Chu, a golden-age, Chinese-American superhero who was whitewashed by editors in the 40s but here gets a new origin story. His less-than-aspirational beginnings (it was his mother’s idea) soon give way to training from his dirty-fighting uncle and a tragic turn of events tempers him into serious, if clumsy, business.
The magic shadow that Hank inherits allows him to make wishes, but he proves himself by his own actions throughout the book, often persevering instead of triumphing. The blend of fantasy and realism speaks to the strength of Yang’s script, while Liew’s artwork and creative layouts make the reading experience as unique as Hank.
Starting place for reading about Hank Chu: The Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew.
Elizabeth Norton suggests two great selections, including our second vote for Green Turtle:
Hank Chu (a.k.a. The Green Turtle, from The Shadow Hero): Created by Asian-American artist Chu F. Hing, Green Turtle had a short and mysterious run during the Golden Age of Comics – he lasted only five issues before being nearly lost to history. His (previously untold) origin story is brought to life spectacularly in Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew’s The Shadow Hero (2014), complete with source material and a phenomenal author’s note about the story behind the story. The Shadow Hero was one of my favorite reads from 2014 and I wish I could read it again for the first time.
Starting place for reading about Hank Chu: The Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew.
Natasha Romanoff (a.k.a. Black Widow): Because she’s the female face of the Avengers and just as tough as any of the guys. I just wish Marvel would give her her own movie, preferably explaining that Budapest reference that she and Hawkeye share during the Battle of New York!
Carli Spina highlights a few more superheroes that she loves:
Cece Bell (a.k.a. El Deafo): Ok, so this is not your typical superhero story. In fact, it is actually an autobiographical story, in which Cece Bell introduces readers to El Deafo, her superhero alter ego from her childhood growing up using a hearing aid. The story is delightful and I love the way that it focuses on a real person who thought of themselves as a superhero, at least in some small way. This one is a perfect choice for younger readers.
Starting place for reading about El Deafo: El Deafo by Cece Bell, which was a 2015 Newbery Honor Book.
Cindy Moon (a.k.a. Silk): When Cindy Moon discovers that she too has been bitten by the spider that spawned Spiderman, she takes to New York City to take out criminals on her own. This is a perfect option for fans of Spiderman who want to read more about his allies or those looking for Asian-American superheroes.
Starting place for reading about Silk: Silk Volume 1: Now and Then will be released in October, but until then you can read individual issues.
Barbara Gordon (a.k.a. Oracle): Barbara Gordon is probably best known as Batgirl, but after becoming paralyzed in the controversial graphic novel, The Killing Joke, she took on the name of Oracle. As Oracle she not only learned to fight while using a wheelchair, but also became an important source of research and information for other superheroes and crime fighters.
Starting place for reading about Oracle: The Oracle: Year One story arc is a great place to start with this character, but she can also be found in many of the Birds of Prey comics.
Matt Murdock (a.k.a. Daredevil): Given the newly released Daredevil series on Netflix, many may already know the basic story of Matt Murdock, a blind lawyer who fights crime on the side as Daredevil. But whether or not you are familiar with the series, the comics about this character offer many compelling storylines and a gritty look at both life as a superhero and as a lawyer.
Starting place for reading about Daredevil: There are many great arcs with the Daredevil character, but you can’t go wrong starting with Daredevil Volume 1.