Marvel Comics brings back Native American superhero

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Kate Haskell/Flikr

By Renee Lewis / Al Jazeera America / Sept. 9, 2015

Marvel Comics is creating a new comic book starring a Native American superhero, Red Wolf, the publisher confirmed Wednesday. The character uses grit, wits and knowledge of his environment to battle crime and “hold his own in the universe,” one of his creators said.

The project is part of the publisher’s reboot aimed at making characters more diverse, including an “all new, all different” Avengers team with a female Thor and a black Captain America, digital media website Mashable reported.

The Red Wolf character was introduced in 1970 as “William Talltrees” in the Marvel series Avengers #80, and appeared in his own “Old Western” style, nine-issue series that started in 1972.

Starting in December, the new Red Wolf  — now a gritty crime-fighting hero — will make a comeback with his own book. Although the new story is set in the U.S. West similar to Marvel’s “1872 Western Universe” of the character’s previous stories, Red Wolf will have a new backstory and powers, Mashable reported.

One of the members of the creative team behind the book is artist Jeffrey Veregge, a member of the Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe based in Kingston, Washington, Mashable said. He is also of Suquamish and Duwamish decent.

“There’s not a character like Red Wolf out there right now,” Veregge told the site. “As a native I’m really excited to see that he can do things, he can figure out things and stand with Captain America, and hold his own in this universe. That’s what’s awesome about it: You have all these characters of different nationalities and ethnicities, but it’s not all about their culture. It’s about them being a hero.”

The announcement was welcomed on social media, where many pointed out Red Wolf was not Marvel’s first Native American character.

Danielle Moonstar, a fictional Cheyenne superhero, and Warpath — also called James Proudstar or Thunderbird, also appeared as Native American-themed heroes commonly associated with the X-Men series. However, neither character had its own book.

Nathan Edmondson, the Marvel writer working on the new book, said Red Wolf will not be linked to any existing Native American tribe — a scenario that some found troubling.

“I think it’s worth pointing out that character from made-up tribe is no win for diversity,” Navajo journalist Lita Nadabah Beck said on Twitter.

Although industry experts have noted that large publishers including Marvel and DC Comics have been including more Native American characters in recent years, the publishers have also drawn some accusations of presenting stereotypes.

To counter those, Native American writers have been producing their own comic books with Native heroes. Moonshot, published this year by Toronto-based Alternative History Comics, was a collection by 18 Native writers and artists from a variety of different cultures depicting traditional indigenous stories and legends — set in the future, and in space.

Jay Odjick’s “Kagagi,” published in 2011, included the usual villains and superhuman power themes, but its characters and storyline were deeply rooted in Algonquin culture. Jon Proudstar’s 1996 series “Tribal Force” was a story of five young people given superpowers to protect their land from being destroyed by the government.

Marvel writer Edmonson told Mashable that the creative team is approaching the character in “as authentic a way as possible,” and that Veregge’s input was vital to that aim.

Above all, Red Wolf’s character is “resourceful,” Edmondson said.

“He’s kind of in a sense the Jason Bourne of the West, who can find a way out of any situation, or a way to use the resources of whatever room or position he may be in — he’s not a gunslinger but he might use a gun if he has to … But beyond all that, he’s just a brawling, tough-as-nails fighter.”

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