We Need To Talk About The Whitewashing Of Sunspot In ‘New Avengers’
The current volume of New Avengers is a comic that I’d generally recommend in a heartbeat. Al Ewing’s cross-title examination of what it means to be an Avenger and a superhero in books like this, Mighty Avengers and The Ultimates have been some of favorites of the past few years. However, since the launch of the volume last year there has been one consistent problem with the book that hasn’t been addressed, and that is the continued whitewashing of Roberto da Costa AKA Sunspot.
Roberto was introduced in Marvel Graphic Novel #4 by Chris Claremont and Bob McLoed as a founding member of the New Mutants. He has the power to absorb energy from the sun and convert into physical strength for a limited time. His mother is a white American woman named Nina, while his dad is a black Brazillian man named Emmanuel. Bobby himself was also born in Brazil, and --- as per his very first appearance --- is also black.
Since then he has been a New Mutant, an X-Man, The Black King of the Hellfire Club, an Avenger, and most recently, the head of Advanced Idea Mechanics, the once villainous scientific research group, which he has converted into a force for good under the Avengers banner. As the leader of an Avengers team in a book with Avengers on the cover in a time when everyone and their mother knows who the Avengers are, this makes Sunspot one of the most prominent black superheroes at Marvel Comics.
This is how Roberto looks looks in this week’s New Avengers #13
Asking my friends to identify who this character was based on that panel alone, I was given answers along the lines of Dick Grayson or Bruce Wayne.
Roberto Da Costa is an amazing character, and one of my favorites. Give me enough time on another day, and I’ll tell you why he is the best Avenger. However, Marvel is betraying not only the character’s heritage, but more importantly the heritage of real people who see themselves in Roberto when these miscolorings are allowed to take place.
In a recent interview for TIME, Brian Michael Bendis --- while talking about why Riri Williams is the new Invincible Iron Man --- explained the importance of representation in comic books.
Once Miles [Morales] hit, and Kamala Khan hit and female Thor hit — there was a part of an audience crawling through the desert looking for an oasis when it came to representation, and now that it’s here, you’ll go online and be greeted with this wave of love.
He’s absolutely right, but any forward progress in representation is undermined when characters of color who have existed for decades are whitewashed. I've spoken to fans online who are heartbroken by this development, noting, “He was the first person who looked like me”.
New Avengers #13 credits the art team as Paco Medina (penciler), Juan Vlasco (inker) and Jesus Aburtov (color artist), but the responsibility doesn't rest with them; this is something that should fall under the purview of the editor --- in this case Tom Brevoort --- to get the look of the characters right.
Yet Marvel recently announced USAvengers by Ewing and Medina, and released a design sheet of Roberto looking similarly whitewashed. This isn't just a mistake, this is something Marvel has signed off on.
This isn’t a new problem by any means; just Google image search “Roberto da Costa” or “Sunspot Marvel” and you’ll see panels from throughout the decades of Bobby being whitewashed --- and it was as much an issue then as it is now. However, Bobby is more prominent today than he has ever been. He’s the leader of an Avengers team, and will be the leader of another team in the slate of Marvel NOW books, where he is similarly whitewashed.
This isn’t a one-time oversight, like Mister Miracle being miscoloured as white in one issue of Final Crisis; this is a persistent problem that we see and pay for every month in issues of New Avengers, and it needs to stop. And it's not a problem confined to one character and one book; recent comics have seen a similar whitewashing of the Native American hero Forge, and artist Ronald Wimberly created a celebrated comic about his experiences being told to lighten the skin tone of a character by a Marvel editor.
USAvengers is still several months out, and hopefully Marvel, its editors and the creative team involved can come together to recognize and course-correct before then. Until then, as readers and as fans, it’s important to call out whitewashing when we see it, because it won’t stop on its own.
See Where Sunspot Ranks In The 100 Greatest X-Men Of All Time