Tag Archives: Minorities in cartoons

 

Clay Walker and Kevin Keller's wedding

Minorities in cartoons: Clay Walker

This week’s minorities in cartoons entry is Clay Walker, a character in Archie Comics.

(SPOILERS aplenty about the “Life With Archie” series below…)

Clay exists in Archie’s “Life With Archie” series, which has just concluded as of this writing. The series presented the Archie gang as twentysomethings. Each issue featured two different alternate futures: one in which Archie married Betty, another where Archie married Veronica. Both futures had similar events. For instance, both futures saw Moose finally dumped by Midge due to his violent temper, which was apparently part of what it took for him to finally clean up his act. Jughead also ended up owning the Chocklit Shoppe in both futures. Differences included the aforementioned Moose becoming Mayor of Riverdale in the “Veronica” future, and Jughead marrying Midge in the “Betty” future. (If curious, the “Veronica” future sees Jughead marry his longtime admirer, “Big” Ethel Muggs.)

Fortunately, Clay exists in both futures, and leads the same life in both. Clay is a physical therapist and native of Baltimore who helps the adult Kevin Keller recover from injuries sustained during an unnamed Asian/middle eastern war (no, probably not the same “generic Asian conflict” Rhodey was in). During the recovery, the two grew close and eventually fell in love. After Kevin recovered, the two decided to get married, with the wedding held at the Chocklit Shoppe and officiated by Riverdale’s mayor. (Yes, Riverdale’s in a state with legalized same-sex marriage… probably out on the east coast, per various references dropped in recent Archie comics stories.) Clay was also supportive of Kevin’s run for the US Senate, while making his own career change—replacing a retiring doctor (and taking over his clinic) in Riverdale.

Clay also fell victim to violence himself, as he was shot while trying to intervene in a convenience store robbery. Fortunately, he managed to recover. Later, Clay found a new client at his clinic (and worker at the Chocklit Shoppe) that started to follow him around for some reason…which turned out to be the shooter at a recent mall shooting in a neighboring town. Unfortunately, while Clay and Kevin were saved from further gun violence (when the shooter emerged at fundraiser for Kevin), Archie wasn’t so lucky.

With the ending of “Life With Archie,” this might be the last we’ll see of Clay. Unlike the Archie gang, Clay doesn’t have a teenage counterpart in present-day stories, especially given Kevin doesn’t meet him until he’s an adult. Of course, this being comics (and Archie continuity never as strong as that of their DC/Marvel cohorts), a teenaged Clay could show up someday…

War Machine

Minorities in cartoons: War Machine

This week’s minorities in cartoons entry is James “Rhodey” Rhodes, an Iron Man supporting character who’s best known as the superhero “War Machine.” Rhodey first appeared in “Iron Man” #118 (January 1979), and was created by David Michelinie and Bob Layton. His debut as War Machine came in “Iron Man” #284 (September 1992).

Rhodey’s backstory states he served in the military as a Marine on tours of duty in southeast Asia. While he was originally involved in the Vietnam War, comic book time’s retconned the war involved in Iron Man’s origin into a “generic Asia-based conflict” (as shown in the movies). Anyway, Rhodey’s helicopter was shot down by Viet Cong (or “generic Asian conflict enemies,” I suppose); while grounded, Rhodey encountered Tony Stark (fleeing in his prototype armor from his captors). Rhodey and Tony teamed up to fight their way through the various war threats and got back to safe territory. Afterwards, Tony offered Rhodey a job as his own personal pilot, which (after several other post-war jobs), Rhodey accepted.

During an early 80s storyline that saw Tony temporarily incapacitated (due to alcoholism) from both running his own company (due to a hostile takeover) and functioning as Iron Man, Rhodey assumed the role. Rhodey fought against various Iron Man foes, and took part in the classic crossover “Secret Wars.” Eventually, Tony regained control over his personal life and business career and resumed functioning as Iron Man, though Rhodey would substitute for him on several other occasions.

In the early 90s, Tony was suffering from a nervous system failure, and turned over control of the company to Rhodey, along with a new experimental suit of armor nicknamed “the War Machine.” Rhodey took over Stark’s company and became Iron Man again, but discovered that Tony was alive and secretly undergoing an experimental life-saving procedure. Insulted that he was lead to believe Tony was dead, the two’s friendship became strained, with Rhodey quitting, but keeping the War Machine armor. The two eventually made amends, and Rhodey continued to have various adventures on his own (and in his own ongoing comic series) as War Machine. A 2013 storyline found Rhodey leaving the War Machine identity to take on a new armored identity, “Iron Patriot.”

As a major Iron Man supporting character, War Machine’s appeared both in his own comic series and in pretty much all Iron Man-related media to date. War Machine’s most high profile media appearances would be in the “Iron Man” trilogy of films. There, Rhodey was played by Terrence Howard in the first film and by Don Cheadle in the next two films. Despite a lot of online speculation as to the change (which became a running gag in the “I’m a Marvel, I’m a DC” series of YouTube parody videos), it turned out Howard was replaced by Cheadle merely due to a contract dispute.

The Princess and the Frog

Minorities in cartoons: “The Princess and the Frog”

This week’s minorities in cartoons entry is Disney’s “The Princess and the Frog.” Released in 2009, “Princess” was Disney’s first feature-length theatrical animated film (and first “Princess” film) with an African-American star.

Based on the old fairy tale “The Frog Prince,” the film’s plot centers around Tiana, a young woman living in 1920s New Orleans whose dream is opening her own restaurant. Not being wealthy (far from it), she’s working hard at a restaurant to try to raise funds to open her own eatery. Meanwhile, Prince Naveen, a fiscally-cut-off prince, is in town, looking to marry someone wealthy so he won’t have to actually do something useful (like work). Unfortunately for Naveen and his valet Lawrence, they have a run-in with Dr. Facilier, a witch doctor who promises he can fulfill their desires. Even more unfortunately, Facilier turns Naveen into a frog (and his valet into resembling Naveen) as part of a scheme to get his royal father’s wealth. Naveen escapes and runs into Tiana, who’s working at a wealthy friend’s ball. Convincing Tiana to kiss him (to try to break the spell), Tiana does—and gets turned into a frog herself. The two end up in the nearby swamp, where they meet various swamp creatures while trying to find a way to return to normal.

The film met with some praise at its release. Some appreciated that Disney finally made an animated film starring an African-American character, while others liked this was Disney’s first traditionally 2D animated film since the 2004 flop “Home on the Range.” Unfortunately, while it was financially successful, it wasn’t as successful as 90s megahits like “Beauty and the Beast” or “The Lion King,” or Disney’s Pixar films. It probably didn’t help that “Princess” was competing with the second “Alvin and the Chipmunks” film (which earned more money) and the massive hit film “Avatar.” That “Princess” did as well as it did against such competition is probably a good thing, but apparently not from the bean-counter perspective. Disney seemed to shy away from further 2D animated fare after “Princess,” aside from a 2011 “Winnie-the-Pooh” feature film. The fact that “Frozen” has raked in an “Avatar”-sized billion-dollar box office probably ensures Disney won’t consider 2D theatrical feature films again anytime soon.

Still, “Princess” has done well from a merchandising and longevity perspective, with Tiana being integrated into the “Disney Princess” line, as well as Disney’s various theme park attractions, etc.; I bought my niece a Tiana doll for Christmas a few years ago.

Nubia

Minorities in cartoons: Nubia

This week’s minorities in cartoons entry is Nubia, a longtime Wonder Woman supporting character. Nubia first  appeared in “Wonder Woman” (vol. 1) #204 in January 1973, and was created by Robert Kanigher and Don Heck.

Nubia was an early example of an attempt at introducing diversity into superhero comics. As such, she was introduced with an unusual origin story—by being retroactively inserted into Wonder Woman’s own origin! Nubia’s backstory stated that she too was sculpted from clay like her sister Diana, with both statues brought to life around the same time. However, as a baby, Nubia was kidnapped by the Amazons’ (and Wonder Woman’s) longtime foe, Mars (or Ares for post-Crisis or Greek mythology fans). Mars then raised Nubia as his planned tool to use to defeat his Amazonian foes. Decades later, Nubia was reunited with Diana (and Mars’ plan was defeated), while Queen Hippolyta revealed her backstory. Nubia only made a few other 70s appearances: one in an issue of Supergirl’s comic, and another in the “Super Friends” spinoff comic. Nubia also had a doll produced (oddly billing her as Wonder Woman’s “super-foe”), as a tie-in to the 1970s “Wonder Woman” TV show, which didn’t use her by name as a character.

Post-Crisis (i.e., after Wonder Woman’s 1987 comic reboot), Nubia’s backstory got retconned into being a more distant relation of the Amazons/Diana (as being a previous chosen champion sent from Paradise Island thousands of years earlier for a mission), with Nubia in charge of guarding a gateway to the underworld. (She also got her name re-spelled as “Nu’bia.”) Nubia, however, didn’t appear much post-Crisis either, also only appearing in several issues.

Nubia’s powers are the same as Wonder Woman’s—superhuman strength, speed, stamina, etc. The post-Crisis version also had the ability to turn people into stone. Nubia also usually possessed a magical sword of some sort.

Modern depictions of Paradise Island/Themyscira depict the Amazonians as an ethnically diverse group. However, Nubia occasionally is referenced by name in some depictions as one of various “sisters” of Diana, without the complex comics backstories noted above. One such depiction is (as of this writing) a quite recent one—Nubia appeared in “Scooby-Doo Team-Up” #9 (digital edition) in July 2014, where she met the Scooby-Doo gang!

 

Fillmore

Minorities in cartoons: “Fillmore!”

This week’s minorities in cartoons entry is the Saturday morning series “Fillmore!” Airing on ABC from 2002 to 2004, the series was produced by Disney.

Fillmore!” focused on its titular character Cornelius Fillmore, a bald 12-year-old African-American kid who was once a juvenile delinquent. Caught planning to steal a shipment of chalk from his school (“X Middle School,” supposedly located in the Twin Cities per Wikipedia), the school’s safety patrol gave him a choice: help solve a case or spend the rest of middle school in detention. Fillmore opted to help, and did such a good job that he was given a permanent position as a safety patrol officer. Later, Fillmore gained (after a few other short-lived partners) Ingrid Third, a goth-like girl who also was a former delinquent. Besides a reserved personality, Ingrid also possesses a photographic memory.

As suggested above, the entire series is a parody of 70s cop TV shows, down to the opening theme song. X Middle School is treated like a “city,” the safety patrol like the police, and the school’s principal like the mayor. As such, the cases all resemble kid-friendly versions of cop shows’ cases: stolen standardized tests; gambling and smuggling involving tokens from snack products (that one redeems for prizes); Fillmore clearing his name; and the obligatory tracking down of fugitives. Fillmore and Ingrid even answer to the safety patrol’s “junior commissioner” Horatio Vallejo, a Latino fellow middle-school student who behaves like the agitated chiefs of police one sees on cop shows and films. Part of Vallejo’s agitation might stem from Fillmore tending to do whatever it takes to solve a case—even at the occasional accidental expense of school property.

“Fillmore!” ran for two seasons on ABC, as one of the final Disney animated shows (along with “Teamo Supremo“) produced originally for broadcast television, before Disney shifted exclusively to producing animated programs for the Disney Channel. Since then, “Fillmore!” turned up very sporadically on cable (Toon Disney ran the series for awhile), but otherwise hasn’t been seen on TV in years. It’s not on VHS or DVD either, keeping with Disney’s poor handling of home video releases for its made-for-TV cartoons. The only home video release it’s received is on Germany’s version of iTunes (dubbed in German).

Finally, here’s the opening credits for “Fillmore!”

Not Invented Here: Runtime Error

Minorities in cartoons: “Not Invented Here”

This week’s minorities in cartoons entry is “Not Invented Here,” a webcomic about the staff of a software development company. The webcomic started in 2009, and is created by Bill Barnes, Paul Southworth, and Jeff Zugale.

The strip’s lead characters consist of Owen and Desmond, a program manager and a developer respectively. Owen, a thin Caucasian man with a goatee, is the goofier of the two. However, that’s not by much, seeing as his best friend Desmond (a heavy-set bald African-American man) is also prone to odd behavior, though is the much better programmer. Typical examples of their antics: Desmond once insisted on using only American-made products, and pressured his coworkers into doing the same, which didn’t go well. Another storyline had Owen somehow get a patent on parentheses.

Similar to “Dilbert” (but more ethnically diverse), the company Owen and Desmond work for is fairly dysfunctional. One of the higher-ups is “Marketroid,” a robot Desmond built in college that was programmed with a marketing executive’s personality and skills. There’s also Umesh, a coworker who seems to hold most of his coworkers with contempt, complete with condescending remarks. There’s also the occasional clash with Eliza, a woman who was once a rival coworker of Owen, but now is the company’s vice president of technology. Eliza also has little patience for the more bizarre aspects of her staff.

Besides its webcomic format, “Not Invented Here” has also been collected into a few book (and ebook) collections. It’s also managed to earn its own TV Tropes page.

Keith White

Minorities in cartoons: Keith White

This week’s minorities in cartoons entry is Keith White, a minor supporting character in the Superman comics. Keith first appeared in “Superman: Man of Steel” #1 in 1991, and was created by Louise Simonson.

Keith was introduced as a young boy sent to live in a Metropolis orphanage after his mother, suffering from AIDS-related complications, was unable to continue caring for him. One day, while wandering underground, Keith was caught and kidnapped by “Underworlders,” genetic experiments-gone-wrong (long story) who were living underneath Metropolis. Telling Keith they were holding his mother hostage and would kill her if he revealed their plans, Keith kept mum even after being rescued by Superman. Keith shortly returned to try to rescue his mother, but learned that the Underworlders weren’t holding her hostage at all. Keith then managed to signal Superman (using glow-in-the-dark spray paint to mark a large “S”-shield), and told the Man of Steel what was going on. Superman, of course, promptly put a stop to the Underworlders’ plans.

Several years later, during the “Fall of Metropolis” storyline, Keith’s caretaker at the orphanage was killed (in “Man of Steel” #35) while protecting the children from a rampaging killer robot. Soon after, Keith met Alice White, the wife of “Daily Planet” editor Perry White. Alice took a liking to Keith, and soon managed to convince Perry that they should adopt the boy. Keith was reluctant at first, but soon afterwards, his mother passed away. After her funeral, Keith agreed to live with the Whites.

Like every other supporting character at the time in the Super-books, Keith was in attendance at the wedding of Lois Lane and Clark Kent in 1996′s “Superman: The Wedding Album.” Keith served as the happy couple’s ring-bearer.

At some point afterwards, Keith seemed to be ignored or forgotten by the Superman book writers, and failed to appear for a number of years. However, Keith put in one more appearance in 2011′s “Superman 80-Page Giant 2011″ #1. There, Keith is shown as old enough to leave Metropolis to strike out on his own, which depresses Perry. Presumably, Keith, like Charlie Brown’s younger sister Sally and various soap opera characters, fell victim to the selective rapid aging of certain characters.

From what I can tell, this is Keith’s final appearance to date, as soon after came DC’s New 52 reboot, which wiped out previous Superman storylines (save somehow “The Death of Superman”). Between the New 52′s emphasis on youth, sidelining or altering of older characters (the Kents, Alan Scott and other Earth-2/Justice Society members, etc.), and that Perry’s children have usually been tertiary characters in the Superman mythos at best (the number of kids, their names, etc. having varied over the years), it’s hard to say if or when Keith will return.

amazing_chan

Minorities in cartoons: “The Amazing Chan and the Chan Clan”

This week’s minorities in cartoons entry is the 1972 Hanna-Barbera series “The Amazing Chan and the Chan Clan.” Loosely based on the Charlie Chan movie series and books, the series featured famed detective Charlie Chan and his 10 children of various ages (ranging from teens to grade schoolers), plus their pet dog, solving mysteries, like Scooby-Doo and his various imitators.

While Mr. Chan gets top billing, most of the episodes center around his offspring, as they attempted to solve the episode’s mystery. Also like “Scooby-Doo” and Hanna-Barbera’s other similar shows, the Chans traveled around in a specialized vehicle, which came with the ability to transform into various other types of vehicles as needed (a taxi cab, a bus, etc.).

Also similar to “Josie and the Pussycats,” “Jabberjaw,” etc., the elder Chan children were also part of a music group, “The Chan Clan.”

From what I’ve read online (Wikipedia, Mark Evanier’s blog, Comics Worth Reading, etc.), “The Chan Clan” was apparently a problematic series for Hanna-Barbera. The show was produced during what must’ve been the studio’s nadir animation-quality-wise in the early-to-mid 70s. The show’s original voice cast for the children were Asian actors, but had to be recast after it was deemed their accents were too thick for American viewers. This led to the show casting, among others then-child actress Jodie Foster. On top of all this was the show’s very large cast (10 kids, a dog, Mr. Chan himself, plus any other characters required for the mysteries—villains, etc.).

Besides Ms. Foster, the other noteworthy voice actor for the show is for Mr. Chan himself, Keye Luke, who played Charlie’s “Number One Son” in the original theatrical film series. This show marked the first (and apparently, only) time someone of Asian descent has played Charlie Chan, as the theatrical films had cast someone Caucasian; such was the time-era of the films’ production. In spite of that, “Chan Clan” might be the first American animated TV series to star characters of Asian descent that weren’t stereotypical.

As for what the show was up against competition-wise during its first and only original season:

ABC: “The Osmonds”: similar to “The Jackson 5ive” animated series, this Rankin-Bass animated show featured the Osmonds singing group in various adventures.

NBC:  “The Pink Panther Show”/”The Jetsons.”

Post-original run, the Chan Clan appeared on Adult Swim’s “Harvey Birdman” as a Japanese singing group (the writers ignoring/forgetting they’re of Chinese descent, not Japanese) who sue Jabberjaw’s group, the Neptunes, for plagiarism. Individual family members also appeared in places such as the “Krypto the Superdog” series (as a classmate of Andrea and Kevin) and “Scooby Doo: Mystery, Incorporated” (as a classmate of the gang).

Finally, here’s the theme song.

Minorities in cartoons: Jason (“Love and Capes”)

Jason and Charlotte, Love and Capes
Jason (left) and Charlotte (right).

This week’s minorities in cartoons entry is Jason, a supporting character in the comic series “Love and Capes” by Thom Zahler. Jason’s first appearance is in “Love and Capes” (first series) #8 in 2008.

Jason is an employee at the bookstore owned by Abby; he was hired to replace the then-departed Charlotte, Abby’s sister and former employee. A film school student, Jason’s previous job was at a video rental store, where he didn’t manage to save much money due to buying too many DVDs. Unlike many of the other characters in the series, Jason’s unaware of the superpowered nature of Abby’s beau, Mark (aka “The Crusader”); upon seeing Mark lift with one hand a heavy box of books, Jason asks why he’s lifting an empty box like that. Otherwise, Jason’s shown as an earnest employee at the bookstore.

As many of the series’ characters are pastiches or analogues of famous superheroes, Jason might be an analogue of Jimmy Olsen, Superman’s friend: both being younger friends/coworkers of their series’ lead characters, both are interested in film/video, and both are unaware of their friend being a superhero. Unlike Jimmy, however, Jason has one difference: he’s gay. Given the romantic comedy aspects of the series, Jason’s eventually revealed to have a boyfriend of his own. Of course, unlike Jimmy, said boyfriend isn’t a Lucy Lane analogue—that role’s already filled by Abby’s sister Charlotte, though Charlotte and Jason both end up as coworkers at the bookstore during the series’ run.

Minorities in cartoons: Dave Stevens and Tina Ames

Dave Stevens and Tina AmesThis week’s minorities in cartoons entry is another two-fer: Dave Stevens and Tina Ames, who (as far as I can tell) hold the distinction of being the first recurring African-American characters in Superman comics. Dave first appeared in “Superman’s Girl Friend, Lois Lane” #106 (November 1970), while Tina first appeared in “Lois Lane” #114 (September 1971); both were created by writer Robert Kanigher and artist Werner Roth.

Astute readers may recall that “Lois Lane” #106 is one of the most (in)famous issues in Lois’ Silver/Bronze Age series: it’s the story “I Am Curious (Black)!,” which features Lois becoming African-American for a day. To summarize the issue’s events: to write a story about the status of African-Americans in Metropolis, Lois ventures to “Little Africa,” an inner-city African-American neighborhood. (Most stories from the 70s to the present suggest “Suicide Slum” is the main inner-city/impoverished neighborhood of Metropolis.) There, she finds nobody is willing to speak with her due to her race, including Dave Stevens, who’s leading a Black pride rally; at one point, he points to the passing Lois as an example: “look at her, brothers and sisters! She’s young and sweet and pretty! But never forget…she’s whitey!” Going on about how Lois’ “kind” won’t let Blacks enjoy the privileges she does (including living in integrated neighborhoods, etc.), Lois walks off, distraught.

Lois Lane as a Black woman
The cover of “Lois Lane” #106, with Lois as a Black woman. Art by Curt Swan.

Running into Superman, Lois has an idea, and convinces Kal-El to use on her a Kryptonian device (used in an earlier “Lois Lane” story) that can perform temporary full-body plastic surgery; in this case, to give Lois African-American features. Heading back to “Little Africa,” Lois tries to do more research for her story; at one point, she’s appalled at the conditions she finds in a slum. Running across Dave Stevens (who doesn’t know of Lois’ transformation), the two befriend each other, with Dave later shot while trying to stop a group of drug dealers. Being rushed to a poorly equipped hospital, the only compatible blood available for Dave is Lois’, who transformed back to normal after the transfusion. (If curious, Lois’ blood type is O Negative.) Dave comes to, sees the now-Caucasian-again Lois, and decides to stay friends with her.

Surprisingly, this isn’t a one-off story; it turns out there’s a sequel. Lois doesn’t become Black again, but in the follow-up issue, “Lois Lane” #114 (September 1971), we’re introduced to Tina Ames. Tina’s a co-worker at the African-American newspaper Dave also works for; similar to Archie’s Chuck Clayton and Nancy Woods, Dave and Tina are also seen dating. This story sees Lois being sent by Perry White to convince Dave to join the “Daily Planet” staff (becoming its first Black columnist). After an adventure involving Lois, Superman, Dave, Tina, and the superheroine the Thorn fighting The 100 (an organized crime gang that made frequent appearances in Bronze Age Superman and Black Lightning stories), Dave agreed to join the “Planet,” with Tina being hired on as well. “Lois Lane” #116 sees another fight with Lois, Dave, and Tina (and Superman) against The 100; Lois’ short-lived public affairs TV show is seen in this story, “People USA.”

After this story (and a few others), Dave and Tina didn’t make many appearances until a storyline in the late 70s run of “Superman Family,” involving a shooting attempt on Dave over his muckraking efforts. The storyline also involved Tina gaining energy powers due to a defective healing device of Professor Potter, which Potter had brought from Earth-2 (where it’d been created by the Justice Society’s Dr. Mid-Nite).

Dave and Tina didn’t appear much past the early 80s, and don’t seem to exist post-Crisis, where the most prominent African-American characters in Superman stories were probably Franklin Stern (the “Planet”‘s publisher) and Ron Troupe, a “Planet” writer. Of course, since it’s comics, it’s always possible for Dave and Tina to make a comeback if some nostalgic writer felt compelled.