What Color Is a Superhero?

More black people are obsessing over comic books than ever before.

Hudlin lets the man down gently. “The character did not turn on his ethnicity,” he says diplomatically, “but he was an African king. That’s about as poignant a statement as you can make.”

At Comic Con, the most poignant statement a fan can make is to dress up like his/her favorite comic book character, explains Mike, 29, who converted an expensive leather jacket into Mr. Terrific’s sleek black leather uniform. The makeup on his face is formed into the black “T” that the super-intelligent Mr. Terrific uses to control his nanotech devices.

Mike, who traveled to New York from Maryland, says that the audience has changed in the nine years he’s been attending comic book conventions. “I’ve seen more ethnic groups coming to the cons and dressing up, even if they’re not ethnic characters, they’re still trying to put their own spin on it.” Still, Mike says, comic book writers aren’t giving black heroes enough play.

“I’m thinking, maybe now that we have a black president, we might actually have some black characters who are relevant.”

It’s possible. Watchmen, for all its acclaim as a graphic novel, lacks any significant black characters. But during the Black Panther panel, one audience member addressed Marvel Executive Editor Axel Alonso, the company’s first executive editor of Mexican descent, and said, “Two words: black avengers.”

“You had me at ‘black,’” Alonso replied with a laugh.

Adam Serwer is a writing fellow at the American Prospect. His writing has appeared in the New York Daily News, The Village Voice and Utne.