The new Captain America is actually a promotion: Sam Wilson has been working with Cap for decades, after all. But, just like the all-new all-female Thor, characters have been swapping their ethnicity for years. And not all of them have been quite so elegant as Sam Wilson stepping up.
Generally, there are two ways this happens. The first is that somebody else picks up the mantle, which is what’s happening here. Believe it or not, however, there have been a few times where comics companies just straight up switched the race of a character for an issue or two. And it’s just as awful (and funny!) as it sounds.
Back in the early ’90s, the Punisher reenacted The Watermelon Man with issue #60 when a crackwhore/plastic surgeon disguised him as a Black guy, because plastic surgeons can totally do that. The Punisher then met Luke Cage in a Very Special Issue and learned that it kind of sucked to be anybody who wasn’t a white person. The impact of the issue is somewhat lessened, however, by Luke Cage talking exclusively in pop rap samples.
Admittedly, Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane is the kind of embarrassment DC just doesn’t talk about these days, but issue #106 was a particular corker. Yes, thanks to Silver Age technology, Lois becomes the kind of condescending, obnoxious white person who thinks that just because it took them years to figure out that maybe not everybody is equal even in a free society, you are somehow unaware of this profound revelation they have gone through.
There’s even a moment where Lois basically thinks “Not all white people!” On the other hand, we are talking about comics in the late 1960s here, so it could have been a lot worse.
We just had to post the whole cover, as a reminder that yes, this actually saw print among people who should know better. We’re a little surprised the Mandarin isn’t sporting some buck teeth, just to finish out the stereotype.
Anyway, Elizabeth Braddock, sister of Captain Britain, started out as a white lady with psychic powers and poor hand-to-hand skills. Then she was abducted by ninjas, who made her a Japanese woman because Elektra had cornered the market on heroic European-looking female ninjas. And she was also now a ninja. For some reason. Oddly, Psylocke has never looked into being returned to her original body, or at least fighting for mutant rights in something other than a one-piece.
Non-comics fans might remember Judd Winick as a member of the Real World cast. Winick’s career in DC, which largely seems to be over, was notable for pioneering the kind of smug white-person lecturing you usually find on Tumblr these days and jamming it into comic books whether it made sense or not.
Hence, Kyle Rayner suddenly had a Hispanic father. It was a bit weak for two reasons. One, it was a retcon of an established character; Kyle’s father, Aaron Rayner, turned out to be a CIA agent named Gabriel Vasquez, which isn’t the weirdest twist in the DC Universe, but really, come on.
Two, it came out of nowhere and disappeared just as quickly, having zero impact whatsoever on the story or character in any sort of iteration, to the point where later writers forgot about it. So, yeah, great blow for diversity there, Judd.
Finally, there’s Judge Dredd. Believe it or not, this actually happened to Dredd not once, but twice, and there wasn’t even an in-universe reason. Originally, Dredd was designed by artist Carlos Ezquerra to be Hispanic: Nobody, certainly not the later artists, noticed. Later on, when Mike McMahon took over, he drew Dredd as a Black man. Again… no one noticed.
Admittedly this is partially because Dredd wears a bucket on his head and the comics were entirely in black and white; you only see his mouth. Still, you think somebody would have mentioned this to the incoming art team.
Still, it’s better than Hollywood, who apparently thought that Dredd, underneath the helmet, was suffering from severe brain damage back in 1995. So count your blessings, we suppose.