Native American Heritage Month in Comics
November is Native American Heritage month and I wanted to not only highlight native characters in comics but also provide a commentary on how they have been routinely stereotypically portrayed and what steps some comic companies are taking to change this.
Apache Chief – DC Comics
One of the most “well known” native characters in the DC Comics Universe is the Apache Chief, first introduced in the Super Friends TV show as a foil for the Legion of Doom’s Giganta. He was created for the show along with characters like Samurai, Rima, and Black Vulcan in an effort to add more nonwhite characters to the show but in this effort, they often fell back upon using ethnic stereotypes for those said characters. For example, Apache Chief shouts “Inuk Chuk!,” when growing in size which is thought to be a reference to the Inuit word inuksuk which in turn refers to large stones in the Nunavut region of Canada, which obviously is not an apache word or saying. He also speaks in the stereotyped long tones of speech that is as often depicted of native characters and is a mystic, communicator with animals, and tracker. In the TV show, and of many of its time and later, indigenous characters are stereotyped in this fashion. The character was given new life as Tye Longshadow in Justice League Unlimited (as a member of the Ultimen) and in Young Justice, and is definitely given more agency. He still possesses his power to grow and shrink in size or to astral project in some cases but is seen as an honorary Justice League member and works in tandem with the likes of Wonder Woman and Blue Beetle more frequently. (He is even thought to be reimagined as the character Chief in the 2017 Wonder Woman film!) Many comic characters start with iffy origins and there is still such a long way to go in changing character archetypes, but I hope we see more characterization in terms of Longshadow and less of that of Apache Chief.
Dani Moonstar – Marvel Comics
Of New Mutants fame, Dani is one of the more well-known and beloved characters in the X-Men world of stories. Dani is a Northern Cheyenne superheroine with the mutant power to create visions into reality from people’s fears and dreams. She is one of the original members of the Claremont and McLeod book New Mutants and her character has continued to flourish in the Marvel universe since 1982. Dani is actually a character that has had a lot of care written into her stories, more often feeling empowering than offensive and she’s had a vibrant history in comics. I tend to shy away from her run as Valkyrie due to crossing over into Norse Mythology seemingly strangely contradictory to her heritage but Dani has so many other stories to tell and has played pivotal roles in several Marvel events, not just those pertaining to the X-Men. She was recently played by Blu Hunt in the 2020 New Mutants film. I, like most, didn’t love the movie but I am excited for the film to open up more opportunities for more indigenous voices on the big screen.
Red Wolf – Marvel Comics
Red Wolf was Marvel’s first ever native character, first appearing in Avengers #80 back in 1970. This was in a time when Marvel’s much beloved editor-in-chief Stan Lee was taking an initiative to include more diverse characters in their titles. I’ve long been a fan of Red Wolf, aka William Talltree, especially the short-lived 2015 Red Wolf series. He is a Cheyenne Native American and is typically characterized as a man out of time. Usually depicted during the old American West, Red Wolf was bestowed his super strength by deity Owayodata and is also oft depicted as a sheriff. He in some stories is sent to the present day and has had many team-ups over the years, though his comic series tend to be in limited runs. I was first introduced to Red Wolf in the Marvel Secret Wars tie-in 1872 and instantly fell in love with the character. In his own spinoff of that title in 2015, with the covers drawn and story influenced by artist Jefferey Veregge, really caught my attention. Veregge is of the S’klallam tribe and has since made many contributions to comics in art and in writing since then. This was the first time I had ever seen a native artist be prominently featured in a Marvel title and I’ve followed his work ever since. Red Wolf the character has not always been prominently featured in the Marvel Comics collective consciousness and is not without shortcomings in his history but is a character that deserves the spotlight and a read if you get the chance!
Echo – Marvel Comics
It is a well-known fact about me that Daredevil is one of my all-time favorite comics and Echo is an extremely unique addition to the ensemble cast of the Man Without Fear’s world. Maya Lopez is also of Cheyenne descent and one of the few major comic book characters who is deaf. After the death of her father, murdered by Kingpin, Maya takes on the alias of Echo and pursues Daredevil after she is tricked into believing that he is the one who killed her father. The two have a dangerous romance, as he usually does, and the two end up uncovering Kingpin’s treachery. She has worn many monikers over the years, mostly as Echo, as well as being Marvel’s first Ronin. She has photographic reflexes, much like Taskmaster, and she is rumored to be appearing in the Disney+ Hawkeye TV show! I hope this is true, and I look forward to more of her appearances in comics and television alike.
Dawnstar – DC Comics
I haven’t been an avid reader of Legion of Super-Heroes but its characters have always fascinated me. Dawnstar is from another planet called Starhaven which was colonized by Anasazi natives, abducted from Earth by an unknown alien race but are thriving as Starhavenites in the 27th century. All Starhavenites like Dawnstar had broad wings like Thanagarians capable of flight and she is an excellent tracker across star systems. She’s a really interesting character, one of the few openly bisexual comic characters I know of and played a key role in major events such as Crisis on Infinite Earths. Her character has not been seen much in the DC Universe lately, but seeing native characters thrive in such a unique sci-fi setting is amazing and could and should be further explored.
Jo – Boom Studios
I did want to include a great YA comic character, Jo from Lumberjanes. She is Navajo and one of the lead characters of this book. Lumberjanes is a book that can be enjoyed by all ages following a group of girls at scout camp solving mysteries and encountering the paranormal on the regular. Jo is the leader and is strong willed, level headed and the voice of reason. Either way Lumberjanes is a great book to read but I found out recently that this character is native, trans, and ended up being one of my favorite characters in the book. The series is coming to an end after six years this December but it is getting new life as an animated show. If you haven’t already, be sure to check it out before it airs on HBO Max hopefully next year!
John Cloud – DC Comics
I was first introduced to this character in the opening scenes of the Darwyn Cooke epic, The New Frontier. Johnny Cloud was a Navajo pilot for the DC comics WWII covert group, the Losers. Even in the 1970’s, World War II stories were incredibly popular with many comic book companies realizing this but the Losers were always unique to me, by means of their team and storytelling. They’ve had a lot of absurd adventures, by means of the Haunted Tank or battling to the death on Dinosaur Island and this is what made me love Johnny’s character. In New Frontier the Losers have been trapped on Dinosaur Island trying to save Rick Flag and Cloud sacrifices himself to save the mission. It’s not lost on me that many comics seem to have a native “spiritual heart” of a team but reading Johnny’s character always felt different. I hope the Losers can return to comics in some way or another soon!
I don’t mean for this list to be a downer because these characters are incredibly interesting and in many cases nuanced and there are so many more great native characters out there, and there is so much work left to be done in making that representation positive and meaningful. Taking time to research and actually including Native authors and illustrators would go such a long way in the industry and in recent years there have actually been a few great releases by native creators that I would highly recommend checking out.
Victoria’s Recommended reading:
Red Wolf – 2015 series cover art by Jefferey Verrege
Werewolf by Night – by Taboo & Benjamin Jackendoff (2020)
Moonshot- Native Writer and Artist Anthology Collection (2015)
Redbone: The True Story of a Native Rockband – Graphic Novel featuring life and career of the famous band behind “Come and Get Your Love” (2020)
Marvel’s Voices: Indigenous Voices #1 – 2020 Marvel comic special showcasing the many native characters and creators currently at Marvel (2020)
Thank you for sticking with me and staying safe, have a great holiday! Bedrock City will be closed Thursday, Thanksgiving day but we’ll be back Black Friday and onward to help you find some of these books featuring these characters and more!
Written by Bedrock City contributor: Victoria Flood