In the 70's, Marvel Comics had a rearrangment of management personnel. Stan Lee, who in the 60's had been both editor-in-chief and writer of multiple titles, took the position of publisher. Roy Thomas assumed the duties of editor-in-chief. Together, these two began mapping out a plan for introducing more diversity into Marvel's titles. Les Daniels slyly refers to their mission as a form of affirmative action, one that still clung onto stereotypes (though this time it would affect minority heroes, rather than villains). Much of these characters were simply minority ("tokenized") versions of the popular, white superheroes who were iconic staples of Marvel.
As Singer writes in his essay, "to create numeorus minority superheroes who are marked purely for their race...the potential for superficiality and stereotyping here is dangerously high. Yet in recent years, some comics creators hve demonstrated that the superhero genre's own conventions can invite a more nuanced depiction of minority identity." Indeed the introduction of minority superheroes paved the way for future stories where race many dissassociate itself from its previous, fundamental role as a catalyst for conflict and instead, become central element to that character's everyday life and strength.
Below are two examples of the "tokenized" heroes of the 70's. To the left is Black Goliath, a copy of the more famous Goliath (not white in his name), both published by Marvel. At the right is Black Lightning, owned by DC Comics who followed suit and began introducing its own brand of minority superheroes.
With America's involvement in Vietnam coming to an end, the 70's began to mark a new era in the comic medium, where Asians were not predominantly portrayed as the "yellow terror." Their shift from foreign evil to defender coincided with the popular impact Bruce Lee and his films made in the US. Many of those enamoured with Lee's cinematic presence were among the demographics that Marvel considered its primary audience (teenage boys). In response, Marvel published two titles, The Deadly Hands of Kung Fu and Master of Kung Fu. The former title was a magazine that combined both comics and martial arts articles; the latter was an actual comic series that featured the Kung Fu artist Shang-Chi (Daniels, 1991 & Sanderson, 1996). According to Les Daniels, Shang Chi was an interesting character in that he was the product of perhaps Marvel's repentence over their countless Asian villains. To connect this idea of good and evil, writers actually had Shang Chi be the son of the evil Dr. Fu-Manchu. The series was immensely popular and lasted from its 1973 debut all the way to 1983.
Taking a step back, it is important to note that both the 60's and 70's were revolutionary in the gradual shift that is present in the portrayal of Asians. The 60's brought about an artistic change of direction; even though there were still characters (such as Egg Fu) who derived their designs from the Fu-Manchu archetype, there were now many villains whose designs were not caricatures. The 70's brought about a change that shifted Asians' role from that of "yellow terror" to hero. Again, this status as hero was still bound by a dominating archetype (in this case karate superstar). Gradually though by the 80's and 90's Asians and minority characters in comics would start to become less dependent on their respective stereotypes and instead develop into richly developed characters, for whom race was not the singular key aspect to their adventures.
1. Daniels, Les. Marvel : Five Fabulous Decades of the World's Greatest Comics. New York: H.N. Abrams, 1991.
2. Sanderson, Peter. Marvel Universe. New York: H.N. Abrams, 1996.
3. Singer, Marc. ""Black Skins" and White Masks: Comic Books and the Secret of Race." African American Review 36 (2002): 107-119.
Comic book covers courtesy of en.marveldatabase.com and Black Lightning and Black Goliath images were found on their respective wikipedia entries.