Growing up, I was a huge comic book fan, but I often wondered where all the Aboriginal comic book heroes (or villains) were. I knew of Gateway from X-Men comics, Condoman from health promotion posters and ... Well, that was about it. However, when I finally went looking, it turned out there was a lot more than I realised.
After listing as many Australian Indigenous representations in the superhero worlds, I noticed that many of the early characters' powers are connected to the conceptual 'Dreamtime'. Although this is presented in different ways, it's often done using separate dimensions within the extended comic multiverses. Very little have any mention of actual Aboriginal nations, and do not seem to have had much research or thought towards any level of authenticity.
However, the more recent characters appear to have had much more understanding put into these characters; their origins, and their characteristics. But sadly, very few entries here are designed by Aboriginal artists or written by Aboriginal authors themselves, but given the positive development from the 1980s to today, hopefully this is something we will see more of in future.
First Appearance: The Coming of Molo the Mighty (1943)
Created by: Syd Miller
Molo, an alien, was stranded on earth after his rocketship crashed in Australia. He was befriended by an Aboriginal boy named Willy Willy who taught him to speak English, and was seen sitting atop Molo's shoulders.
First Appearance: Marvel Super Hero Contest of Champions #1
Created by: Mark Gruenwald, Bill Mantlo, Steven Grant, John Romita Jr. and Pablo Marcos
Talisman is a 'mystic' who focuses his powers by whirling a bullroarer above his head. This allows him to transport himself and others to the 'Dreamtime dimension' and to know the true nature, and the past, present, and future nature, of any person or object, and can flawlessly track any object, person, or creature. He was abducted in order to battle against several other abducted superheroes in a game between Death and the Grandmaster. Talisman was crucial to defeating the villains and to helping the captured superheroes to eventually escape.
The Wombat (1986)
First Appearance: Badger #15 - Enter the Wombat
Created by: Mike Baron
The Wombat is a war veteran who left the Seato courtesy forces to return to Australia and protect the animals of the land, with twin swords!
Created by: Professor Gracelyn Smallwood, along with various other Aboriginal health workers.
Most of us who were around in the late 80s and early 90s were familiar with Condoman, the Phantom-inspired Aboriginal superhero who told us, "Don't be shame be game".
But did you know that he was relaunched in 2009, with the help of Inception Strategies, with a female counterpart, Lubelicious, and that they fought against the 'super-villains' Stigmalien, HIV, HPV, Chlamydia, Hepatitis B, Gonorrhea, and Herpes?
First appearance: Uncanny X-Men #229
Created by: Chris Claremont and Marc Silvestri
Little is known about the iconic character Gateway, a powerful mutant with the power to create teleportational 'gateways' that can traverse time and space by 'whirling his bull-roarer over his head'.
He is also a powerful telepath, and has the powers of precognition, remote viewing, and total recall. In order to save a site sacred to his (unnamed) people, he was forced into servitude of an evil group of mutants known as the Reavers. He was eventually freed when the Reavers were defeated by the X-Men, and for a time became an unofficial member of the team, transporting them wherever they needed to go.
Believed for a time to be mute, he is known to have spoken only once, saying the name of the mutant Penance who he had brought Xavier's School for gifted children. He later revealed himself to be the great-grandfather of Bishop and Shard. He was killed off in Uncanny X-Force #27 (2012), at the hands of Ultimaton.
First appearance: Detective Comics #591
Created by: Alan Grant
A one-off character, Umbaluru is technically neither a superhero or villain, he is a man who has come to Gotham on a mission of justice. Kerry Rollo, an artifact collector, has a 'power bone' stolen from a tribe near Uluru, and Umbaluru plans to get it back and to kill the man who stole it. Batman interrupts Umbaluru and Rollo, and once Umbaluru explains it to him, Batman tells him that Rollo will stand trial. Umbaluru rejects his 'white man’s justice' and dives with Rollo out of the window. Rollo falls to his death, but Umbaluru escapes.
Betty Clawman (1988)
First Appearance: Millennium #2
Created by: Joe Staton and Steve Englehart
According to the DC Wiki, "Betty Clawman was recruited by the Guardians of the Universe, the creators of the Green Lantern Corps, who planned to create their successors, a race of new Guardians on Earth. One of the Guardians and a Zamaron, the Guardians' female counterparts, channeled their powers into the Millennium Project."
Gathering ten individuals together and teaching them about the nature of the cosmos, they endowed their "Chosen" with immortality and metahuman powers. One of these was a young woman named Betty Clawman, to whom the Guardians gave the power to merge with the inner being of the earth in Dreamtime, which allows her to enter and manipulate others' dreams" - which makes perfect sense to me.
Aboriginal Gods (1989)
First Appearance: Marvel Comics Presents Vol 1 #16
First mentioned by Thor (in Thor #301 in 1980), this collection of Aboriginal deities were not actually seen in Marvel comics until 1989.
Based on actual Aboriginal creation spirits, this is the perhaps the weirdest and most surreal addition to this list. Just as Marvel have made characters of Norse Gods like Thor and Zeus, and Greek gods like Hercules, they attempted to do the same with Aboriginal spirituality; the line up includes Baiame, Daramulum, Gnowee, Marmoo, Mamaragan, Narahdarn, Julunggul, and Altjira. According to Marvel lore, these gods are true immortals who cease to age after reaching adulthood. They all possess superhuman attributes and powers ranging from shape-shifting, flight, superhuman strength and the ability to travel between dimensions.
First Appearance: Uncanny X-Men #282
Created by: John Byrne, Jim Lee, and Whilce Portacio
According to the Marvel Wiki, "Lucas Bishop was born in the 21st Century A.D. of an alternate future timeline in which the mutant-hunting robot Sentinels had taken control of North America. Bishop's parents escaped to America shortly before the island nation of Australia was destroyed in a tactical nuclear strike. They were soon captured and interred in a mutant relocation camp in Sheep's Head Bay, Brooklyn, New York. There, Bishop and his sister Shard were both born and, like other mutants, they were branded with "M" tattoos over their right eyes for identification."
Bishop traveled back in time to track down an escaped criminal from his own time and became stranded in history. Here he joined the X-Men and fought to avert the future he came from from ever happening. Here he met his own great-grandfather, Gateway.
Bishop is a mutant with the power to absorb energy, either ambient energy or that directed towards him, and to project that energy from his body in the form of concussive blasts. He also instinctively knows his location at all times.
First appearance: Uncanny X-Men #314
Created by: Scott Lobdell, John Romita Jr
Sister of Bishop, and great-grand daughter of Gateway, Shard was a powerful mutant in her own right. She had the abilities to fire photonic energy. After a series of incidents, she was believed to have been killed but her essence was actually converted into a photon-based life form (basically a hologram), although she retained her photonic energy firing ability. Shard was eventually returned to a human body, was transported into an alternate future where she died for the second and final time, saving her brother Bishop from a criminal from the future, Fitzroy.
First Appearance: Force Works #9
According to the Marvel Wiki, "Willie Walkaway grew up hearing tales and legends from his Aboriginal family. However, he chose to live in the city and joined the police force.
While investigating sightings of 'monsters' with his partner, Willie suddenly realized that the legends his grandfather told him were true. He returned to his home and made a tribal costume as well as a boomerang to ward off the spirits.
He came upon the superhero team Force Works who were also investigating. They learned that all the town's citizens were trapped in a dreamlike state as 'nightmares' ran freely all over the area. They found a being that called itself the Orphan in the 'Dreaming Country.' It explained that the Aborigine 'dreamguards' had taken care of it in the past, as it could make a person's dreams manifest in reality. However, two robbers had killed an old man and stumbled upon it. Both robbers were eventually killed by their own nightmares.
Willie agreed to serve as the new Dreamguard, as he possessed the 'dream sight' the previous guardians did. Force Works left a communicator in case Willie needed more assistance"
(Is it just me, or are there a lot of Dreamtime/Dreaming based superpowers going on here? Anyway...)
Dark Ranger (formerly Scout) (2008)
First Appearance: Batman #681
Created by: Grant Morrison, and Tony S. Daniel
A tattoo artist from Melbourne, Johnny Riley was originally known as Scout and was the sidekick of the original Dark Ranger who was killed by Wingman. After his death Johnny took up the mantle of Dark Ranger and joined the Club of Heroes and Batman Incorporated.
First Appearance: Secret Warriors #4
Created by: Jonathan Hickman, Stefano Caselli
Eden Fesi, aka Manifold, grew up dreaming of being a famous rockstar and a lead guitarist but was instead destined to become a superhero due to his powers (very similar to Gateway) of being able to mold reality to tear open space and time connecting one place to another thus allowing him to teleport to just about anywhere.
First Appearance: Guarding the Globe #2
Created by: Robert Kirkman and Benito Cereno
It was hard to find any official info on Kaboomerang, other than his real name being 'Daniel', but according to the site World of Black Heroes, "Kaboomerang is a member of an unnamed Aboriginal tribe in Australia. He is highly skilled in the use of Boomerangs and is a highly trained hand to hand combatant. After using his skills to make a variety of boomerangs with different effects he made a costume and cut a swath through the crime of Australia. After years of operating on his own he joined the Global Guardians."
Created by: James Fosdike
A three-part miniseries, Deadly is a post-apocalyptic, zombie (well, 'mutant carnivores' to be precise) story set in an Australia where everyone except for Aboriginal people have fled the country.
Created by: Brenton E McKenna
A graphic novel series by Yawuru writer and illustrator Brenton E McKenna, Ubby's Underdogs tells the story of a street smart young girl named Ubby in 1940s Broome WA, who leads a group of kids called the 'Underdogs' on all sorts of high stakes adventures.
First Appearance: The Multiversity #1
Created by: Grant Morrison, Ivan Reis
Thunderer is described as a Weather God of the Mowanjum people and the last survivor of Earth 7. He eventually forms and leads a team of superheroes from across the Multiverse. Thunderer is also one of the few comic characters who does not come from either an unnamed or an imaginary Aboriginal nation. The Mowanjum community is based near Derby in Western Australia.
Super Boong (1973)
From the highly recommended Koori History website: "Basically Black was a program which featured a comedy skit “Super Boong.” Here was a hero with a decidedly racist term for a name, even in the days of the early 1970’s. Super Boong was a parody of Superman in the camp style of George Reeve and was the brainchild of legendary activists and civil rights leaders Gary Foley and Bob Maza. The character was designed to afford a few laughs but along with the rest of the characters of Basically Black, Super Boong gave audiences something rare and important – a glimpse at black Australian people, away from the evening news where we were invariably portrayed as victims or criminals. The show was imbued with a deliberate layer of social commentary which acted to tackle racism head-on."
Kaptn Koori (1985)
Created by: Lin Onus
Lin Onus wanted to create an Indigenous superhero for his son, Tiriki. Although it never made it into an actual comic book Kaptn Koori is an iconic image that helped to create the drive and desire for more Aboriginal heroes.
Created by: Kids from Roebourne, in collaboration with Big Hart
In 2011, a group of young people from Roebourne got together to make a zombie film about how the energy of youth can transform and bring about change to things/situations that are stuck. The idea was that zombies just needed a bit of love and fun and they would come to life again. It was set to the song ‘What the World Needs Now’ and the characters the kids created for themselves became known collectively as the ‘Love Punks’.
Created by: Kids from Palm Island in collaboration with Inception Studios
Developed by Inception Studios (the team who revamped Condoman in 2009) in a workshop they ran with Indigenous youth at Bwgcolman School, Palm Island. Murrilicious is an healthy food superhero, and you can read the full story here.
Captain Reg Saunders (2015)
Written by: Hugh Dolan and Dr Adrian Threlfall
The story of real life Indigenous war hero, Reg Saunders, was turned into a graphic novel in 2015, titled 'Reg Saunders: an Indigenous war hero'. He is acknowledged as the the first Indigenous Australian to become an officer in the Army. The graphic novel is available via the National Library of Australia.
Created by: Ryan Griffen
Although not a comic book, we couldn't make a list of Aboriginal superheroes and comic book characters without giving a shoutout to Ryan Griffen's amazing series, Cleverman. A drama set in an alternate reality where Hairypeople, endowed with incredible strength, speed and longevity, strive to survive among humans who want to destroy them. (I think Season 2 should be getting pretty close too?! I hope so, anyway.)
Created by: Lee Falk
I couldn't make a list like this without giving a nod to The Phantom too...
The Wuluti Tribe (1989)
In the story, Wuluti's Secret, written by Team Fantomen (Swedish) the 14th Phantom travels to Australia hunting down an art thief during the early days of European invasion. He spends extensive time with the 'Wuluti tribe', who are being harrassed by British colonisers. The Wuluti assist the Phantom in capturing the art thief and the Phantom assists them with their mistreatment by the British. Years later, in the story The Black Fire, the 21st Phantom returns to Australia to track down an artwork stolen in the time of the 14th Phantom. The villain is an ancestor of the art thief in the original story, and the Phantom is again assisted by the Wuluti. The Wuluti also appear in The Kings Cross Connection storyline, though here they are spelt as 'Waluti'.
One-off Phantom stories:
There has been at least three one off Phantom stories funded by various government agencies targeted at Aboriginal people, due to the overwhelming popularity of the Phantom.
Phantom Enrols & Votes (1988);
the Phantom learns how to enrol to vote;
Vote 1 Phantom (1990);
where the Phantom stands for election in a local council election;
The Wisdom of the Phantom (1996);
Sees the Phantom advising separating Aboriginal parents to speak to counselors from the Family Court. The couple, Pug and Ruby, do not get back together but they do agree to let the children spend time with both parents.
NB: A big thanks to everyone out there who helped NITV in the compiling of this information.
Grace Beside Me airs from Friday, 16 February at 7.30pm on NITV (Ch. 34). #GraceBesideMe