Royal Flush’s Salute to the multi-racial Superheroes of the 1970′s
Apache Chief, Samurai, Black Vulcan and El Dorado.
By Josh Bernstein, illustrations by Sean Pryor & Josh Bernstein
The show was called Challenge of the Super Friends. The challenge wasn’t the Legion of Doom or another Earth-shattering foe, as they would have had you think. The Super Friends’ real challenge was to integrate minority superheroes into their ranks on national television. Three new heroes would emerge to proudly call themselves Super Friends. For the first time ever, Royal Flush salutes the brave men who crossed the cartoon racial barrier in 1978 and never looked back.
Hanna-Barbera’s Super Friends debuted in 1973 with half-hearted attempts to reach kids by giving the team cheesy sidekicks like Wendy and Marvin, and more famously, in 1977, the Wonder Twins. But when the show returned in 1978 under the moniker Challenge of the Super Friends, Hanna-Barbera added to the cast its greatest creation, the ethnic Super Friends. Their names were Apache Chief, Black Vulcan and Samurai. I’ll give you five bucks to guess each of their ethnicities.
|What “The Man” would tell you – or in this case, Hanna & Barbera – is that the dastardly Lex Luthor gathered the 12 vilest villains in the world to battle the Super Friends. The Friends had already let in Hawkman and a monkey named Gleek, so they obviously were in dire straits. So it was out with the Wonder Twins and in with the stereotypical ethnic superheroes.
The color barrier had been broken in comics a few years earlier with equally insensitive characters like Black Lightning, Black Racer and Royal Flush fave Brother Voodoo. When Hanna-Barbera found out that it would have to pay royalties to Black Lightning creator Tony Isabella, it just created its own identical version of the character named Black Vulcan.
The plight of the Native American was a major topic of the 1970s. Who could forget the crying Indian in the anti-litter commercial or Sacheen Littlefeather’s bizarro 1973 Oscar acceptance speech for Marlon Brando? The time was right for Apache Chief, a gentle giant whose powers allowed him to grow even more massive when letting out his battle cry, “Inyuk-chuk!” The Chief even had his own custom rival in Giganta, a devil white woman who stole his magical pouch of growing powder.
With Bruce Lee kicking his way into the mainstream in 1973’s Enter the Dragon, America was kung fu fighting in a major way and all things martial arts were big with the kids. Naturally, this was the genesis of the final stereotype to join the Friends. His name was Samurai, but he rarely relied on his fighting skills, oddly enough. He mostly used his super legs’ powers, which turned him into a tornado much like the DC Comics character Red Tornado.
These three brave pioneers fought alongside Wonder Woman and The Flash for a full season, helping the Super Friends put an end to Lex Luthor and his Legion of Doom. For its part, Hanna-Barbera had its heart in the right place, trying to spread equality to the living rooms of America. Too bad most middle- American white kids’ first interaction with other cultures was a slow-talking Indian, a jive-talking African-American and a Chinglish-spewing Asian in his tighty-greenies.
When the show went off the air for good in the early ’80s, the guys hit hard times. They didn’t have a back-up career in comics like the rest of the Super Friends.
It was an honor to elect these courageous men into our Hall of Fame during a ceremony last year (See photos above). Much like Jackie Robinson, Cesar Chavez, Gandhi, and Barack Obama, history will judge these men, not just as Super Friends, but as superheroes. ♠