So, last week, it was announced that in the Ultimate Spiderman comic, Peter Parker is being killed off and replaced by a half-black/half-latino teenager named Miles Morales. My immediate reaction was... again?
Not because Spiderman has been replaced with a black character before, but because the list of superheroes who've been replaced by black characters, at least temporarily, is at this point an exceedingly long one.
Just off the top of my head, Superman was replaced by John Henry Irons. Green Lantern was replaced by John Stewart. Firestorm, replaced by black man. Wildcat, replaced by black woman. (Or was she hispanic? Memory fails.) Mr. Terrific is now black. The Invisible Kid from Legion of Superheroes was a black frenchman. Later, Element Lad got the melanin makeover. Green Arrow was replaced by a bastard son whose ethnicity tended to drift based on what artist portrayed him. Mister Miracle, briefly black. The Blue Beetle has also had a race change. Over at Marvel, Goliath became Black Goliath. Captain Marvel was replaced with a black woman. Iron Man was replaced by Rhodey. In the Ultimate Universe, Nick Fury is black.
I cannot deny that comic books for a very long time were dominated by white characters. Hell, between the Hulk and Brainiac Five, there were more green-skinned superheroes than black ones. And, when comics tried to rectify this, they gave us cringe-inducing attempts like the first run at Black Lightning. I can see the temptation to say, "Look! We're not racist! We've got a black Superman! How cool is that?"
The problem, of course, is that these characters always turn out to be benchwarmers and second stringers. Iron Man is black only long enough for readers to clamor for the return of Tony Stark. Sometimes, the black replacements are set up as heroes in their own right. War Machine, Steel, and Black Goliath all got their own books, and all flopped. These characters are just set up to fail.
I don't seriously think the comic creators who make these decisions to revamp white superheroes as black superheroes do so with any racist intent. I'm sure they actually intend to promote diversity and cultural understanding. But, at this point, they are committing a sin worse than racism. They are serving us cliches. It's been almost thirty years since Goliath became Black Goliath. I think at this point, the black hero replaces white hero story has been done to death. Maybe, just maybe, the key to getting more black heroes into comics is to just create some new heroes with some new stories?