Comic books have long reflected the realities in which they were written — and/or the realities experiences by their creators. The X-Men were originally created in the 1960s to mirror what was happening during the Civil Rights Movement and the struggles of Black Americans at the time. Black Panther and the Falcon were created in part for representation purposes, but later became canvases by which creators told stories about race in America, through the eyes of Black characters.
These aren’t meant to sub for actual news or novels or societal awareness at all. But if you’re looking to read a comic or two right now, we’d recommend these selections that shine a brighter light on instances of social injustice. As always, these are all selections you can read on Marvel Unlimited or Comixology.
Black Panther: Enemy of the State — 1998 (Christopher Priest)
Issues No. 6 through 12 of Priest’s run here deal with Black and African identities, T’Challa’s treatment both within his native Wakanda and in the United States, and the ever-present specter of white supremacy. Kraven the Hunter is a capable stand-in for any number of racist figures in American history, and he’s not the only one. The story can be all over the place at times, but is worth spending the time with.
Truth: Red, White & Black — 2003 (Robert Morales)
Anyone that’s read the Captain America comics or at least saw the movie knows the basic gist of how Steve Rogers was given Super Soldier Serum, and became a lauded symbol both in his time and later in ours. Truth gets into the other side of the program and the treatment of Isaiah Bradley. The story has similarities to the real (and obviously horrendous) Tuskegee syphilis experiments, adding to the pain portrayed here.
Milestone Comics — 1993-97 (various)
In the mid-1990s, DC Comics had a “Black” imprint, Milestone. These characters were not part of the DC Universe at the time (they resided in the “Dakotaverse”), were far more diverse than their main timeline counterparts and constantly addressed different aspects of the Black experience in America. Books like Static, Shadow Cabinet and Heroes all have solid elements, and many of these characters developed passionate followings either during or after the fact.
America — 2017-18 (Gabby Rivera)
America Chavez (“Miss America”) is not originally from the primary Marvel continuity, and instead is from the Utopian Parallel, where she was raised by her two mothers. That reality does not look like ours, however, and her arrival becomes a jarring event for the lesbian Latina hero — since now must deal with racism and homophobia for the first time. She also appears in Young Avengers, which has a lot of LGBTQ+ representation in general. Rumors are out there that she’ll be a much larger part of the MCU soon, too, if you’re looking for more.
X-Men: God Loves, Man Kills — 1982 (Chris Claremont and Brian Anderson)
Chris Claremont, one of the authors of this graphic novel, and the most revered of those writers to take on any “X” books, said the following back in 1982 around the release of this book —
The X-Men are hated, feared and despised collectively by humanity for no other reason than that they are mutants. So what we have here, intended or not... is a book that is about racism, bigotry and prejudice.
Post Dark Phoenix Saga, the team is confronted by William Stryker, and the Purifiers, trying to eradicate the mutants. The book touches on and parallels many social issues that were prevalent at the time, and can still ring true today. While some moments in the book show that it was written in 1982, the message and story hold up well almost 40 years later in one of the most definitive X-Men books in the franchise.
Have any picks of your own? Share them below.