The television series Cleverman has been hailed for its sympathetic and complex portrayal of Aboriginal people, as well as for its trenchant commentary on Australian society, seen through the lens of the superhero genre.1 Koen West, the titular hero of Cleverman (played by Hunter Page-Lochard) becomes the reluctant protector of the Hairypeople, a persecuted minority possessing extraordinary powers – a scenario which invites comparisons with the X-Men, a team of “mutant” superheroes who were feared and ostracised by society. The parallels between the X-Men and Cleverman were never far from writer-producer Ryan Griffen’s creative vision for the series. “I would love for it be an Aboriginal X-Men”, he said.2

The X-Men, appropriately enough, was one of several American comic books that were among the first anywhere in the world to portray Aboriginal superheroes. This paper undertakes an historical survey which traces the origins of this remarkable trend back to the 1980s, and critically examines the construction and interpretation of Aboriginal identity and culture in modern American superhero comics. It will look at how American creators have appropriated elements of Indigenous art and culture to portray Aboriginal superheroes, whose quasi-mystical powers place them at the dangerous intersection between the ancient and modern worlds – a dilemma shared by the Hairypeople in Cleverman. These Aboriginal characters, however, remain marginal figures in the fictive constellations of superheroes, and have never attained the same degree of prominence, nor enjoyed the same level of audience approval as their more famous American counterparts. Their fleeting appearance in American comics, it will be argued, largely coincided with America’s superficial fascination with Aboriginal culture during the late 1980s and early 1990s, which was in turn fuelled by the equally brief vogue for Australian films throughout this same period. Nevertheless, these American comic books, whatever their shortcomings, legitimised the concept of Aboriginal superheroes decades before Cleverman made its television debut.

“You must follow me – into Dreamtime!”

The “Marvel Age of Comics” began with the premiere of The Fantastic Four in November 1961. This group of reluctant superheroes, endowed with strange powers after being exposed to cosmic rays, bickered and quarrelled among themselves even as they fought colossal villains from the ocean depths to the farthest reaches of outer space. The Fantastic Four laid the foundations for the Marvel Comics empire, which capitalised on the unexpected success of its “superheroes-with-problems” formula. The company unveiled an exciting cohort of emotionally-complex superheroes, such as The Avengers and Iron Man, who today form the central pillars of Marvel Entertainment’s multimedia ventures.

Marvel Comics frequently staged cross-over appearances between their expanding roster of superhero titles – The Fantastic Four, for example, appeared in the debut issue of The Amazing Spider-Man in 1963. This laid the groundwork for the “Marvel Universe,” a “fictional construct” in which all its heroes’ adventures became “intertwined with greater complexity.”3 This trend reached its apotheosis in 1982 with the release of Marvel Super Hero Contest of Champions, which, according to the first issue’s cover blurb, featured “every single superhero on earth – in the greatest battle of all!” This was, of course, an exaggeration – but only just. The mini-series featured every known hero in the “Marvel Universe”, along with new characters created expressly for this publishing event. And chief among these new recruits was Talisman – the first Aboriginal superhero seen in American comics.

The series’ premise was undeniably cosmic in scale. The world’s greatest superheroes are abducted by the omnipotent Grandmaster, who imprisons them inside a giant orbital space arena. The Grandmaster is playing a high-stakes tournament against a mysterious opponent, simply addressed as the Unknown. These celestial contestants choose their own team of champions, plucked from the imprisoned superheroes, to retrieve the Globe of Life, pieces of which are hidden in different locations around the world. If the Grandmaster wins, his opponent promises to grant him the power to restore life to his dead brother, a supervillain known as the Collector. The Grandmaster informs the assembled superheroes that he has placed Earth’s entire population in a state of suspended animation. If they refuse to participate, humankind will remain frozen in time – “If you do play, Earth will be freed at game’s end.”4

The Grandmaster selects his first team of champions, comprising Daredevil, the female Soviet superhero Darkstar and Talisman, who are teleported back to the Arctic Circle to retrieve the first piece of the Globe of Life. When Darkstar asks Talisman for his name, he replies:

To give one’s name is to risk one’s soul, young woman. But I may be called Talisman, from among the Aboriginal people of Australia. I am a shaman of sorts – one who communes with the Altjeringa – the Dreamtime.5

Talisman’s costume blends tribal and superhero aesthetics – his face is adorned with an X-shaped symbol, and he wears a large ornamental band around his shoulders, while his feet are shod in buccaneer-style boots. Talisman’s spirit can leave his body at will, allowing him to travel in astral form through the Dreamtime, which is described as the “myth-realm of the eternal past adjacent to real-time,” and search for the missing piece of the Golden Globe of Life.6

 

Talisman and Sue Storm – Contest of Champions, no. 2 (1982)

Talisman grapples with one of the Unknown’s opposing team members – Sue Storm, a founding member of the Fantastic Four. Talisman’s astral form returns to his dormant body, so he can attack her by summoning the “senses-staggering song of Tjurunga,”7 a whirling bullroarer that plunges her into the Dreamtime.8 When Talisman’s ally Daredevil seizes the first piece of the Golden Globe of Life, both teams are whisked back to their orbiting prison. Talisman is determined to discover the Unknown’s identity, fearing that the Grandmaster’s plans to resurrect his dead brother could disrupt the balance between life and death. He urges Sue Storm to follow him into Dreamtime, so that they can both unmask the Unknown without fear of detection. She objects, arguing that there are other, more powerful heroes among them who can help him, but Talisman insists that only she can aid him:

Dreamtime is overwhelming to the uninitiated. They would need time to adjust – whereas you have experienced it fully before … And it is your strength of will which allowed you to cope in Dreamtime that will also enable you to retain a hold on your sanity when you confront the Unknown.9

Talisman and Sue Storm unmask the Unknown, who is, in fact, Death itself. The Grandmaster must sacrifice his own life to energise the Golden Globe of Life and resurrect his brother, thus ensuring that the balance between life and death is maintained.

Uncanny/Indigenous

The Hairypeople in Cleverman are marked as outsiders, not least because of their thick facial and body hair. The so-called “Hairies” are not only stronger than humans, but their DNA is significantly different from homo sapiens, and they are thus classified as a separate species. Those who choose to adhere to their traditional ways are soon rounded up and quarantined by authorities in containment zones, while others chose to become “Shavers,” who remove their body hair and learn to speak English to blend in with human society. Cleverman bears undeniable similarities to the X-Men, a team of young mutants who used their extraordinary powers to serve and protect humankind, under the guidance of their telepathic mentor, Professor Xavier. But they were frequently shunned by society, which feared and hated them in equal measure. Launched amidst a fusillade of new Marvel Comics titles in 1963, The X-Men – originally billed as “the strangest heroes of all” – did not initially attain the same level of popularity as The Fantastic Four or The Avengers, and faced cancellation by the mid-1970s. Marvel Comics’ decision to relaunch the title in 1975 with new team members, drawn from different countries, was taken in part to make the company’s comics more appealing to international markets. The X-Men’s outsider status was reinforced by its members’ ethnic diversity, which further distanced them from mainstream (American) society. Ramzi Fawaz argues that the X-Men, who debuted at the height of the civil rights campaign which swept America during the early 1960s, eventually became “visual allegories for racial, gendered, and sexual minorities,” and were united by “shared ethical goals rather than national or ethnoracial identity.”10 The new formula exceeded Marvel Comics’ wildest expectations, making The Uncanny X-Men one of its best-selling titles, and placed the characters at the forefront of the company’s renewed push into television and cinematic productions.11

It was during the X-Men’s latter phase that the mysterious Aboriginal elder known only as Gateway first appeared. He lives on the outskirts of a ghost town located somewhere in the Australian outback, which serves as the makeshift headquarters for the Reavers, a vicious cyborg gang. Their leader, Bonebreaker, forces Gateway to summon a trans-dimensional portal that teleports the Reavers to anywhere in the world to commit spectacular, violent robberies, and return to their outback base undetected. Bonebreaker threatens to destroy Gateway’s “holy place” if he refuses to co-operate: “Your people will never know peace – they’ll wander the dreamlands, slave to outsign spirits, to the end of time an’ beyond.”12

The X-Men pursue the Reavers to their ghost-town hideaway, and quickly overwhelm them. Bonebreaker and his few surviving henchmen order Gateway to open the portal, and narrowly evade capture. Wolverine, the most ferocious member of the X-Men, witnesses their escape, and decides to deal with this situation in the only way he knows:

Old Abo [sic] must be some kind of teleporter – no way to follow the trail – but I can at least make sure that this “gateway” doesn’t open again.13

Wolverine goes to kill Gateway with his razor-sharp claws, but his African teammate, Storm, orders him to stop. “Sheathe your claws,” she commands. “For all his actions, I sense this man is no more villain – or Reaver – than we.”14

The X-Men temporarily occupy the abandoned town under Gateway’s unflinching gaze. One team member, Rogue, gradually befriends Gateway, who in turn opens the trans-dimensional portal to her companions, allowing the X-Men to conduct clandestine missions around the world. But Gateway’s relationship with the X-Men is ambiguous, and his actions are not always easily understood. He does not intervene when one team member, Madelyne Pryor, suffers a psychotic breakdown, because, we are told, “that is not his purpose in the scheme of things.”15 Gateway thus takes on the role of the enigmatic Aboriginal “mystic,” not dissimilar to Nandjiwarra Amagula’s character, Charlie, in Peter Weir’s film The Last Wave (1977). The proliferation of Aboriginal characters in American superhero comics could be attributed to America’s heightened awareness of Australian culture, fuelled in part by the international box-office success of such Australian films as Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior (1981) and Crocodile Dundee (1986).16

Gateway never became a major protagonist in the sprawling, ever-changing “Marvel Universe”, but he occupies a special place in the X-Men’s narrative continuity – not least because of his ancestral links to Lucas Bishop, who played a pivotal role in the X-Men franchise throughout the 1990s and early 2000s. Bishop was introduced as a member of Xavier’s Security Enforcers (XSE), a futuristic police force dedicated to apprehending criminal mutants, who travels back in time to present-day America and joins the X-Men’s ranks.17 Bishop was born to Aboriginal mutants who fled Australia for the United States, shortly before their homeland was devastated in a nuclear attack.18 Although Gateway was later identified as his great-grandfather, Bishop’s Aboriginal ancestry was never a central part of his fictional persona, and in no way accounted for his extraordinary powers. (This is evident in the casting of Omar Sy, a French actor of West African descent, as Bishop in the feature film X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014), which suggests that his ethnicity was not a defining aspect of his character). Bishop cannot be truly considered an “Aboriginal” superhero to the same extent as Talisman, and therefore remains of peripheral interest to this critical survey.

Alien Message Down Under

American comic-book writers frequently emphasised the spiritual relationship between Aboriginals and the Australian landscape, which explicitly connected Indigenous characters to their own unique environment, in ways that either informed their “super” identities or served as the direct source of their extraordinary powers.

This was true of Dreamguard, an Aboriginal superhero who briefly fought alongside Force Works, a rapid-response team which handled emergencies that civilian and military authorities were ill-equipped to deal with. Led by Iron Man and the Scarlet Witch – former members of The Avengers – the team consult their ship’s Chaos Computer to respond to disturbances in global hotspots. Force Works is summoned to Kagoona Crossing in southwestern Queensland after receiving reports that local police have been battling extra-terrestrial creatures. Willie Walkaway, an Aboriginal police officer, first encountered these monsters while he and his partner Barry Jardine were on night patrol.  Force Works joins the battle, but they are quickly overwhelmed by the creatures. They are rescued by Willie Walkaway, who hurls a giant hunting boomerang that levels the monsters with one throw.  But Walkaway has discarded his police uniform, and appears covered in body paint, clad only in a loincloth. He leads Force Works to the source of the disturbance – a raving drunk hiding behind the local pub, surrounded by dozens of slavering monsters. Once Iron Man subdues the hysterical man, the creatures dissolve into nothingness. Another Force Works member, an alien known as Century, concludes that the monsters might be the physical manifestations of people’s dreams – or nightmares.

Dreamguard – Force Works, no.9 (1995)

With the town no longer facing immediate danger, Willie Walkaway explains how he overcame the creatures:

 [I’ve] been a cop here for three years, playing the white man’s game. But I was raised on the old traditions of my people … When I saw the demons, I figured only the old ways would get us out of trouble … and it all came flooding back to me, all the ritual stuff, just like my granddaddy taught me19

The hysterical man is identified as Alf Robbins, a petty crook who’d been on the run with his accomplice, Shane Mundy, after they committed a bank robbery in a neighbouring town. Robbins reveals that they had been hiding in the old tribal lands near the Gowanga Gorge, where they met an elderly Aboriginal “shaman” who summoned one of the creatures to warn them off. Mundy fired his shotgun at the creature but wound up killing the elderly Aboriginal man instead. Mundy went to sleep, but Robbins recalled seeing Mundy’s body enveloped in a strange glow, before the creatures appeared again and chased Robbins out of the gorge. Walkaway declares that the threat they face could be far greater than they’d realised:

Gowanga Gorge is Dreaming country! This fool and his mate broke into our sacred territory. That’s off limits to whites! If he’s been touched by that place, no wonder his dreams came to life.20

He leads Force Works to the Gowanga Gorge, but their hi-tech, all-terrain vehicle is overturned by the malevolent spirt that possess Mundy’s body, who then plunges each team member into their own personal nightmare, from which they struggle to escape.

At that moment, Willie Walkaway is mentally transported back in time, where he establishes telepathic contact with Orphan, a sentient form of alien intelligence that inhabits the wreckage of a spacecraft that crashed in the Gowanga Gorge over a million years ago. The strange vessel was discovered generations ago by a local Aboriginal tribe, who watched over the crash site ever since. “They came to venerate me as a sacred place,” Orphan recalls. “A place of dreams.”21 Orphan explains how it was designed to be controlled by the power of the mind and could therefore tap into people’s “mental rhythms,” turning their dreams into reality. Shane Mundy was simply dreaming through Orphan’s mental link, his evil subconscious manifesting itself as the monsters terrorising the township.22 Force Works and Willie Walkaway eventually free themselves from their psychic prisons and try to recover Mundy’s unconscious body to sever his mental link with the spaceship. But Orphan intervenes by killing Mundy, thus banishing the evil creatures from his subconscious that brought harm to the land’s ancient custodians. Their mission concluded, Walkaway tells Force Works that he’s decided to remain in Gowanga Gorge. “Orphan needs a new Dreamguard to watch over it,” he explains. “I’ll try to teach it a thing or two about the world it’s landed in.”23 Willie Walkaway’s identity as “Dreamguard” is fused with an omnipresent belief system that has deep, inextricable roots in the physical world, in much the same way that Koen West’s mantle as “Cleverman” is drawn from the spiritual and narrative traditions of different Aboriginal communities throughout Australia.

Force Works was more successful in capturing everyday Australian vernacular and attitudes than most American comic books of its era. When Willie Walkaway first appears in his “traditional” body paint and garb, his police force colleagues are more bemused than shocked. “Hey! It’s Willie! An’ he’s got no strides on!” exclaims one. “Looks like he’s gone walkabout in the head, Graham!”24 More controversial, however, is the suggestion that Gowanga Gorge’s significance as “Dreaming Country” was brought about by an alien intelligence that tapped into the “mental rhythms” of its Indigenous inhabitants. This recalls the premise of Erich von Däniken’s popular book Chariots of the Gods, which argued that the technologies of early human civilisations were given to them by “ancient astronauts,” who were revered as gods on Earth.25

 Return of the (Dark) Ranger

While Marvel Comics made their “mystical” Aboriginal characters part of their own superhero cosmology, DC Comics made more sporadic efforts to portray Aboriginal characters of any description during the 1980s, let alone weave them into the company’s own complex fictional universe. The sole exception was the Dark Ranger, a relatively minor character in the Batman canon, who was recast as an Aboriginal superhero, decades after his namesake’s first appearance.

By the mid-1950s, the legend of Batman and Robin was known throughout the world. Their exploits inspired several would-be crimefighters to imitate the “Caped Crusader” as they fought evildoers in their own countries, far from Gotham City. The Ranger, dressed as an outback stockman and wearing a mask beneath his bush hat, was Australia’s answer to Batman. Impressed by the Ranger’s exploits, Batman summoned him to attend the “Batmen of all Nations” conference, which would also play host to the Knight and Squire (Britain), the Gaucho (Argentina), the Musketeer (France) and the Legionary (Italy), all of whom followed the Dynamic Duo’s example.26 The team was briefly reunited – minus the Ranger – in 1957 as “The Club of Heroes”. John Mayhew, a millionaire philanthropist, offered the team their own headquarters, so long as they chose the club’s chairman from their own ranks, who must emerge victorious from a contest held between the club’s members.27

This scenario was typical of the novelty plots that were the hallmark of Batman comics throughout the 1950s. The Club of Heroes lay dormant for decades, until they were revived by Grant Morrison, the Scottish writer acclaimed for his darkly sophisticated reinterpretations of DC Comics’ obscure superheroes, Animal Man (1988–1990) and The Doom Patrol (1989–1993). Morrison reintroduced Batman and Robin to their international acolytes when they were all summoned for a Club of Heroes reunion held by the now-reclusive millionaire John Mayhew on his private Caribbean island. Rejoining the Club’s ranks was their Australian compatriot, who now called himself the Dark Ranger. He had abandoned his “boy scout suit” in favour of an armoured combat uniform, jetpack and a plasma pulse gun. The changes, he explained, were necessary in these violent times:

[You] know how it is: The bad blokes get tougher and meaner every time they see a new gangster movie … You’re almost obliged to go the bad ass route these days, mate. Hence the Ned Kelly style protective headgear and the old riot street look.28

These measures, however, were not enough to prevent the Dark Ranger from being murdered by a disgruntled teammate, Wingman, who was conspiring with Mayhew to kill Batman and Robin and eliminate the Club of Heroes.

Morrison subsequently took the surviving members of the Club of Heroes and made them part of Batman Incorporated, a global superhero coalition sponsored by the Wayne Foundation. Readers were introduced to the Dark Ranger’s former sidekick, Johnny Riley, an Aboriginal tattoo artist living in Melbourne. Riley had relinquished his own super-alias, “Scout”, after his mentor’s death. Nevertheless, he was formally invited to join Batman Incorporated – but only after proving his combat prowess by successfully fending off the Knight, who ambushed Riley in his tattoo parlour. “[Batman] sent me to see if you lived up to your reputation”, the Knight explained. “I’ll tell him you passed the test with flying colors and we can stop fighting.”29

But Riley confesses to Knight’s female offsider, the Squire, that he let his partner down, and was reluctant to join Batman Incorporated. Squire reassures him that Dark Ranger’s decision not to let Riley join him on Mayhew’s island retreat was what got him killed. “But if Batman says you’re ready,” she warns, “you’d better be ready when he turns up looking for you.”30 Riley eventually agrees to rendezvous with Batman in Melbourne, but on one condition: “You gotta let me try out one of your Batarangs.”31 Riley assumes the mantle of the Dark Ranger and – in a sequence that could have been lifted from Mad Max 2 – helps Batman overpower a pair of chainsaw-wielding maniacs atop their armour-plated SUV.32 When the Knight is subsequently killed in the line of duty, Squire assumes his identity, and invites Johnny Riley to join her in avenging his death, thus forming a “British Commonwealth” crimefighting duo within the ranks of Batman Incorporated. 33

Batman and the Dark Ranger – Batman Incorporated, vol.1 (2013)

Johnny Riley’s Aboriginal identity is totally concealed by his Dark Ranger outfit, which looks less like a standard-issue superhero costume than a hazmat suit. Ironically, his dark-visored helmet, white coveralls and pulse-ray pistol recall the sinister clean-up crews seen in The Chain Reaction (Ian Barry, 1980), an Australian film set in a nuclear waste storage facility. The Dark Ranger is thus not a recognisably “Aboriginal” superhero, but instead has more in common with DC Comics’ 1950s-era science-fiction heroes such as Adam Strange and Space Ranger. Batman Incorporated’s members are themselves nothing more than nationalistic caricatures, whose dress codes, choice of weapons and even modes of speech are symbolic representations of their homelands. Yet Johnny Riley is denied the opportunity to convey his Aboriginal identity through even these superficial modes of expression. This is in marked contrast to his Native American counterparts, Man-of-Bats and Raven, whose costumes explicitly invoke their Sioux heritage. More significantly, their crime-fighting activities on reservation lands, plagued by alcoholism, drug addiction and widespread unemployment, provide ample insights about the plight of Native Americans, which draws obvious parallels with the historical experience of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders.34

The “Super Aboriginal” Hero

If Talisman and Gateway embody popular conceptions of the “Aboriginal-as-mystic,” then Kaboomerang is the Aboriginal character that comes closest to resembling the archetypal, American-styled superhero. Kaboomerang’s identity is (barely) concealed by a face mask, while his body is encased in a skin-tight costume, complete with trunks, boots and gauntlets. His greatest weapons are the small, explosive boomerangs strung from his (utility) belt, which he guides with unerring accuracy using his telekinetic abilities. There is a stylised boomerang motif on his chest, which stands out against the burnt gold and orange hues of his costume, colours that reflect the sun-bleached landscape of his homeland, which is simply given as “the Australian outback.”35

Kaboomerang – like the Dark Ranger – was a solo operative who was invited to join the ranks of a global superhero organisation. The Guardians of the Globe is the resident super-team of the fictional universe that straddles numerous titles published by Image Comics (US). Its members report to Cecil Steadman, director of the Global Defense Agency, a secret US government organisation created to protect all nations from global (and extra-terrestrial) security threats. With the team’s ranks depleted through resignations, retirement and the untimely deaths of several key members, Steadman embarks on a radical strategy that will both strengthen the Guardians’ collective capabilities and demonstrate their commitment to global security. En route to Nepal, Steadman outlines his plans to Brit, a veteran team member:

The fact is we haven’t been a true Guardians of the Globe since the original team died. There’s no denying our focus lately has been almost exclusively on the United States … We want to show the world that the Guardians of the Globe aren’t just a bunch of Americans policing the world. We want the world to be represented in our ranks36

The Guardians’ recruitment drive takes them to the Australian outback, where they first see Kaboomerang locked in a violent struggle with his lycanthropic opponent, Dingo, and his canine minions. Kaboomerang puts Dingo down for the count with comparative ease (“This is your last hunt ever, mate!”), and subsequently accompanies the Guardians on the journey back to their secret mountain headquarters in Utah. There he is met by the team’s other international recruits, Outrun, a South African woman who can travel at supersonic speeds, and Yeti, a childlike monster from the Nepalese mountains possessing enormous strength.

Kaboomerang – Guarding the Globe, vol.1 (2012)

Kaboomerang soon proves his mettle, fighting alongside his new teammates as they battle members of The Order, a mysterious organisation hellbent on global domination and destruction. These epic confrontations are nothing like Kaboomerang’s typical missions, which normally pit him against wildlife poachers in the bush or crime syndicates in the big cities. But when his African-American teammate Black Samson asks Kaboomerang why he decided to join the Guardians of the Globe, he reveals that his motives were far from altruistic:

I don’t want to big-note myself, but I’ve done all an Aussie [superhero] can. I’ll never get anywhere just busting heads out in the bloody sand, you get me? I thought the best way to make a name for myself, and maybe make a buck, you know, was to go O.S. and join up with you “Seppos.”37

Kaboomerang is a refreshingly pragmatic superhero, whose desire for international fame and fortune is at odds with most American superheroes’ noble pursuit of truth and justice, or – in the case of Batman – vengeance. And, in many respects, he – like the Dark Ranger – is not an identifiably “Aboriginal” superhero. There was no quasi-mystical explanation given for his telekinetic powers, and, aside from his explosive boomerangs, his costume does not invoke “traditional” Aboriginal motifs. Yet these cosmetic references to his Indigenous origins are in keeping with the other superficial markers used to denote his teammates’ cultural origins, such as Japandroid, whose red-and-white costume is modelled on her country’s flag.

Conclusion

The superhero genre, perhaps more than any other, is inextricably linked with the medium of comic books. The birth of the modern-day superhero is frequently traced back to the 1938 debut of Superman, not least because he was the first comic-book character to embody the genre’s defining traits. Superheroes became recognizable through their unique codename/identity, extraordinary powers, and distinctive costumes, and pursued a “pro-social” mission as self-appointed champions of the oppressed.38

Cleverman’s invocation of Aboriginal artefacts and visual motifs has much in common with earlier portrayals of Aboriginal superheroes seen in American comic books since the 1980s. Some of them, such as Gateway, were cast as enigmatic, shaman-like figures, who possessed near-supernatural powers. Others, like Talisman, bore a closer physical resemblance to “conventional” (American) superheroes, but nevertheless drew their strength and unique abilities from their spiritual connection to Dreamtime, which was typically portrayed in science-fantasy terms as either a parallel universe or a magical dimension. But some characters, such as the Dark Ranger and Kaboomerang, hew even closer to the modern-day American superhero, clad in masks and costumes, and reliant on advanced weapons and technology (instead of Indigenous artefacts) to provide them with “super powers.”

These representations of Aboriginal superheroes are, for the most part, one-dimensional, and convey a largely superficial (and often misinformed) understanding of Aboriginal culture and history. But the same criticisms can be levelled against American comic-book publishers’ infrequent efforts to create international counterparts to their own all-American heroes – the members of Batman Incorporated, for example, are little more than picture-postcard symbols of their respective homelands. None of these Aboriginal characters have ever posed serious challenges to the popularity of Superman, Spider-Man or the Avengers, and remain peripheral figures in American comic-book culture. Yet for all their shortcomings, these American comic books pioneered the idea of Aboriginal superheroes and no doubt provided many readers with their first glimpse of Aboriginal life and culture, decades before Cleverman made its television debut. They serve as an important link between the superhero genre’s American origins and dramatic, televised works like Cleverman, which are localised interpretations of the superhero idiom that challenge and deepen audiences’ understanding of Aboriginal culture in ways that American comic books could not hope to match.

Endnotes:

  1. Matt Norman, “Violence, Superheroes and Cleverman”, Overland, 7 July 2016: https://overland.org.au/2016/07/violence-superheroes-and-cleverman/
  2. James Mottram, “Hunter Page-Lochard: Becoming Cleverman”, Filmink, 1 June 2016: https://www.filmink.com.au/hunter-page-lochard-becoming-cleverman/
  3. Sean Howe, Marvel Comics: The Untold Story (New York: Harper, 2012), p. 3.
  4. Bill Mantlo, Marvel Super Hero Contest of Champions 1 (June 1982) (New York: Marvel Comics), p. 17.
  5. Bill Mantlo, Marvel Super Hero Contest of Champions 2 (July 1982) (New York: Marvel Comics), p. 6.
  6. ibid., p. 8.
  7. “Tjurunga” is an Aranda word used to refer to sacred objects or practices. See “Tjurunga,” Encyclopedia Britannica, 20 July 1998: www.britannica.com/topic/tjurunga
  8. Mantlo, Marvel Super Hero Contest of Champions 2, op. cit., p. 9.
  9. Bill Mantlo, Marvel Super Hero Contest of Champions 3 (August 1982) (New York: Marvel Comics), p. 20.
  10. Ramzi Fawaz, The New Mutants: Superheroes and the Radical Imagination of American Comics (New York: New York University Press, 2016), p. 5.
  11. Derek Johnson, “Marvel, X-Men, and the Negotiated Process of Expansion,” in Convergence Media History, eds. Janet Staiger and Sabine Hake (New York/London: Routledge, 2009), pp. 14–23.
  12. Chris Claremont, The Uncanny X-Men 229 (May 1988) (New York: Marvel Comics), p. 9.
  13. Chris Claremont, The Uncanny X-Men 230 (June 1988) (New York: Marvel Comics), p. 22.
  14. ibid., p. 22
  15. Chris Claremont, The Uncanny X-Men, 234 (September 1988), p. 11.
  16. Roger W. Wiley & Carlton S. Van Doren, “Movies as Tourism Promotion: A ‘Pull’ Factor in a ‘Push’ Location,” Tourism Management 37 (3): pp. 267–274.
  17. Whilce Portacio, The Uncanny X-Men 282 (November 1991) (New York: Marvel Comics).
  18. Duane Swiercyzinski, X-Men: The Times and Life of Lucas Bishop 1 (April 2009) (New York: Marvel Comics).
  19. Dan Abnett & Andy Lanning, Force Works 9 (March 1995) (New York: Marvel Comics), p. 16.
  20. ibid., p. 17.
  21. Dan Abnett & Andy Lanning, Force Works 10 (April 1995) (New York: Marvel Comics), p. 3.
  22. ibid., p. 3.
  23. ibid., p. 22
  24. Abnett & Lanning, Force Works 9, op. cit., p. 13.
  25. Erich von Däniken, Chariots of the Gods? Unsolved Mysteries of the Past, trans. Michael Heron (London: Souvenir Press, 1969).
  26. Edmond Hamilton, Detective Comics 215 (January 1955) (New York: DC Comics).
  27. Edmond Hamilton, World’s Finest Comics 89 (July–August 1957) (New York: DC Comics).
  28. Grant Morrison, Batman 667 (August 2007) (New York: DC Comics).
  29. Chris Burnham & Grant Morrison, Batman Incorporated, vol.1, Demon Star (New York: DC Comics, 2013), nn.
  30. ibid., nn.
  31. ibid., nn.
  32. ibid., nn.
  33. Grant Morrison, Batman Incorporated, vol.2, Gotham’s Most Wanted (New York: DC Comics, 2013)
  34. Grant Morrison, Batman Incorporated: The Deluxe Edition (New York: DC Comics, 2012), nn.
  35. Robert Kirkman, Guarding the Globe, vol.1, Under Siege (Berkeley: Image Comics, 2012), nn.
  36. ibid., nn.
  37. ibid., nn.; “Seppo” is an abbreviation of “septic tank”, which is Australian rhyming slang for “Yank” (American).
  38. Peter Coogan, Superhero: The Secret Origin of a Genre (Austin: MonkeyBrain Books, 2006), pp. 30–60.

About The Author

Dr Kevin Patrick has written about Australian comic books, pulp novels, and media fandom for numerous journals, and was a contributing author to A Companion to the Australian Media (2014). He curated a major exhibition on Australian comics at the State Library of Victoria (Melbourne, Australia) in 2006, and is the author of The Phantom Unmasked: America’s First Superhero (University of Iowa Press, 2017). He teaches media and communication studies at Fordham University, NY.