In honor of November being Native American Heritage Month, and Thanksgiving allegedly commemorating one of the few positive interactions between Native Americans and European-American settlers, I thought I’d share some information about a few Native American comic book characters—from a variety of genres—known for fighting against injustice. The title of this post is taken from the fact that the names by which Native Americans often called their own tribe was the word in their language that meant “people.” For more information on the portrayal of Native Americans in comic books see the appropriately titled, Native Americans in Comic Books, by Michael Sheyahshe.
The last character on this list is one I created for an as yet unexecuted graphic novel.
(Click on the character images to enlarge.)
LIEUTENANT JOHNNY CLOUD
First appearance: All-American Men of War #82, December 1960
Creator: Robert Kanigher (writer) and Irv Novick (artist)
Nickname: “The Navajo Ace”
Origin: Johnny Cloud was a U.S. Army Air Corps pilot during World War II who initially met with prejudice from the white soldiers he served with, until he earned their respect by single-handedly taking out a squadron of Nazi bombers. Johnny went on to serve with a four-man outfit that also included Captain William Storm, a former PT Boat commander with a wooden leg and an eye-patch; “Sarge” Clay, one of the oldest serving Marines; and “Gunner” Mackey, one of the youngest. They named themselves “The Losers” because each member had suffered the deaths of personnel under their command for which they felt responsible. The fifth, honorary member of the team was Gunner’s dog, Pooch.
Abilities/Resources: Johnny was a remarkable pilot and skilled armed and unarmed combatant. He also had a recurring vision of cloud formations resembling a Navajo warrior on a horse (like the one his father saw at Johnny’s birth) that would spur him onward when the Losers’ outlook for success or survival looked bleakest.
Commentary: Of course, there are no greater enemies of justice in comics or anywhere else than Nazis, and Johnny Cloud distinguished himself as a comic book war hero by remaining a constant thorn in the side of the Axis Powers, like many real life Native Americans who served during World War II. These included the Navajo code talkers, who sent strategic messages translated into their native tongue that stymied Japanese attempts to decipher them.
First appearance: Daredevil #9, December 1999
Creator: David Mack (writer) and Joe Quesada (artist)
Alter ego: Maya Lopez
Origin: Maya Lopez was raised by New York City crime lord Wilson Fisk, the Kingpin, after Fisk killed Maya’s father, a Cheyenne gangster. Because she was deaf, Maya was first thought to be mentally handicapped, but her superhuman abilities soon revealed her to be a prodigy in music, and many other fields. As an adult, she was told by the Kingpin that his arch nemesis Daredevil had killed Maya’s biological father. Initially using her abilities to try and kill Daredevil, she soon falls in love with the hero’s alter ego, Matt Murdock, and learns that it was the Kingpin who was responsible for her father’s death. After taking revenge against Kingpin, she begins using her abilities to protect the innocent from others like him.
Abilities/Resources: Echo can duplicate any physical action that she sees, ranging from musical performance and ballet to martial arts and weapon use. Echo is able to mimic the fighting styles of others much stronger than herself. Because of her superhuman powers, she is an Olympic-level athlete and a highly talented pianist, music composer, artist, ballet dancer, boxer, martial artist, and markswoman. Echo typically uses a pair of nunchakus and a standard katana blade. She has also used pistols and other weaponry in the past. Because she is deaf, her reliance on visual cues renders her vulnerable in the dark. Since she reads lips, she has difficulty communicating with people who are wearing masks or are not in direct visual contact.
Commentary: A fairly straightforward superhero character whose primary focus is conventional street crime, I wanted to include Echo on this list as a member of the minority female superhero community and because, being deaf, she is one of very few superhero comic book characters with a physical disability. And unlike her former lover Daredevil, whose blindness is offset by superhuman senses that essentially render sight unnecessary, despite her other extraordinary abilities, she faces the same challenges from her inability to hear that any real person would. Her character is also unique because it’s the only one on this list whose identity as a Native American is not directly related to her powers or costumed persona.
OFFICER FRANKLIN FALLS DOWN
Tribe: Oglala Lakota
First appearance: Scalped #2, April 2007
Creator: Jason Aaron (writer) and R.M. Guéra (artist)
Origin: Tribal police officer Franklin Falls Down, of the Prairie Rose Reservation in South Dakota, is assigned to investigate the murder of Gina Bad Horse, a former Native American rights activist who had been involved in the ambush and murder of two FBI agents who entered the reservation one night in 1975. Franklin’s wife, Sherry, was killed in a car accident by Parker Louvin, a notorious alcoholic on the rez.
Abilities/Resources: Franklin is the only honest cop on the Prairie Rose Reservation, which is under the control of corrupt tribal leader, Chief Lincoln Red Crow. Franklin’s deputy is Army veteran Dashiell Bad Horse, son of murdered Gina, who is actually an undercover FBI agent assigned to infiltrate Red Crow’s criminal organization.
Commentary: The plot of this ongoing series from Vertigo Comics is partially based on events that took place on the Pine Ridge, South Dakota, Indian reservation in the 1970s, most notably a 1975 gunfight between American Indian Movement activists and FBI agents that resulted in the deaths of one Indian and two agents and the imprisonment of AIM activist Leonard Peltier (after whom the Scalped character Lawrence Belcourt is modeled).
RAIN FALLING & SNAKE STANDING
First appearance: Peace Party #1, 1999
Creator: Robert Schmidt (writer/artist)
Alter egos: Billy Honanie and Drew Quyatt
Origin: Cousins Billy Honanie and Drew Quyatt had taken different paths in life. Billy became a lawyer, working in the big city, while Drew remained on the Hopi/Pueblo reservation where they grew up, working as an artist. Driving back to the reservation after spending an evening together, their car crashed, and the cousins found themselves in a mysterious void, where they were confronted by a mystical being who granted them superpowers and charged them to work to defend the world.
Abilities/Resources: Billy can now control the heavenly rains, Drew the beasts of the earth, becoming Rain Falling and Snake Standing respectively. Now the two unwitting heroes face a variety of problems, from prejudice and pollution to supervillains and the supernatural.
Commentary: Creator Robert Schmidt was only able to release two issues of Peace Party through his Blue Corn Comics before an economic slump in the comic book industry forced him to cease publication. Since then, he has used the Blue Corn Comics Web site to build fan and financial support for a proposed Peace Party trade paperback, and to serve as a forum for discussions about Native American rights and the portrayal of indigenous peoples in comics and other popular culture mediums.
First appearance: Marvel Spotlight #1, November 1971
Creator: Gardner Fox (writer) and Syd Shores (artist)
Alter ego: Johnny Wakely
Origin: After his tribe was slaughtered by U.S. soldiers when he was a child, the Cheyenne boy was saved and adopted by Martin and Emma Wakely. Raised as Johnny Wakely, he was taught to farm, read, and to fire a gun, eventually becoming skilled in the ways of both whites and Indians. Eventually, Johnny’s parents are slain by a renegade party of Indians. Having lost both sets of parents to racial violence, Johnny decides to promote peace between Indians and whites in order to stop the bloodshed. While serving as a scout for the Army, Johnny was shot by some Comanches and fell off of a cliff. He awoke uninjured in the tomb of his ancestor, the first Red Wolf. It was then that the god Owayodata appeared before him and instructed him to go forth and fulfill his destiny as a force for peace on the Great Plains.
Abilities/Resources: Red Wolf was an outstanding horseman and scout and was an expert with various throwing weapons. He was a skilled fighter with much experience in armed and unarmed combat. He was skilled in the use of his coup stick, bow and arrows and a tomahawk. He initially avoided using the tomahawk’s cutting edge on opponents. He was also assisted in combat by his faithful wolf ally, Lobo.
Commentary: Red Wolf is an interesting Western character in that his goal was to bring peace between Indians and whites, leading him into conflict with members of both his biological and adoptive races. However, Red Wolf eventually came to the conclusion that white men would not be satisfied until all Indians were exterminated, and from that point on he only fought on the side of Native Americans against their white enemies. The exception is an adventure set in 1885, as told in the three-issue Marvel Comics miniseries Blaze of Glory, published in 2000, when Red Wolf temporarily joins forces with a group of white Western heroes to protect the mostly African American town of Wonderment, Montana from the sadistic Nightriders.
Genre: Science Fiction
First appearance: Scout #1, September 1985
Creator: Timothy Truman (writer/artist)
Alter ego: Emanuel Santana (war shaman)
Origin: At the close of the twentieth century, the United States is shut off from most of the world, the once-great nation’s allies having bled her dry of resources and turned their backs. Now a third-world country—where ration cards are doled out, and poisoned farmlands produce toxic food—only the few rich fare sumptuously, while the majority starve and waste away. In the Arizona mountains, Apache ex-Army Ranger Emmanuel Santana is contacted by a spirit guide called the “Gahn.” The Gahn explains to Santana that he has been chosen to rid the world of the Four Monsters of Apache legend, who are living disguised as humans with powerful political influence. Santana sets out across the bleak American landscape to fulfill his quest by carrying out a one man war against the corrupt and failing U.S. government.
Abilities/Resources: Scout’s Army Ranger training makes him a skilled survivalist, tracker, and unarmed combatant. He is proficient with most conventional military firearms and explosives, as well as traditional Apache weapons such as the knife and bow and arrow. Scout is also well-versed in traditional Apache folklore and customs and is the only person who can see the Four Monsters in their true form.
Commentary: Timothy Truman‘s Scout, is a wonderfully plotted, scripted, and illustrated series that had a huge impact on the independent comics market when it was originally published in the 1980s, and is a cult classic today. I love its dystopian vision of the (then) future, its Native American mysticism (especially, the Gahn, who usually took the form of a wisecracking chipmunk), and its complex portrayal of the title character who, after reluctantly dealing with the Four Monsters, grows into his new role as a hero for the oppressed and disenfranchised (tragically, I lost all but the first issue of this series—which I have signed by Truman—when my basement flooded last year). Fortunately, the first 15 issues (out of 24) are available in two remastered, recolored trade paperbacks. The first series was followed by the 16-issue Scout: War Shaman, which follows an older, wiser Scout, ten years later as he treks across America with his two young sons in tow. Native American readers and educators have applauded Scout for its respectful, but non-patronizing portrayal of Southwestern Indian culture and beliefs.
First appearance: Uncanny X-Men #120, April 1979
Creator: Chris Claremont (writer) and John Byrne (artist)
Alter ego: Narya/Anne McKenzie-Thompson
Origin: In ancient times, the Inuit Gods of the North battled the mystical Great Beasts for the fate of the world. Ultimately both parties were exiled from Earth, and as such the Gods sought to create an agent to prevent the Beasts’ return. To that end, Nelvanna, goddess of the Northern Lights, mated with a human. With the midwifery assistance of Sarcee mystic Michael Twoyoungmen, Nelvanna gave birth to a daughter, Narya. Michael bound the infant to the lands of Canada, allowing her to assume human form; however, she would weaken if she left Canada’s borders. Michael raised the rapidly maturing Narya as his own daughter, and both were soon recruited into the Canadian super team Alpha Flight as Shaman and Snowbird. Narya was given the human cover identity of Royal Canadian Mounted Police Records Officer Anne McKenzie. Working for the RCMP she met, fell in love with and eventually married fellow officer Doug Thompson. Snowbird and her teammates protected Earth from the Great Beasts and other threats.
Abilities/Resources: Snowbird can mystically assume the form of a female human being, as well as that of any animal native to northern Canada, gaining each animal’s special abilities. If she holds an animal shape for too long, her personality may become animalistic. Snowbird also has mystical senses that allow her to detect magical energies, sense the presence of great mystical evil, and achieve limited visions of the past. Furthermore, Snowbird possesses superhuman strength and is capable of flight. Commentary: Snowbird is a rare example of a native hero based on Inuit culture, although, as far as I can determine, Nelvanna is not actually part of the pantheon of Inuit goddesses (but she was a short-lived 1940s comic book superhero). I’ve always been a fan of this character and her ability to assume the forms and abilities of animals.
First appearance: Shaman’s Tears #1, May 1993
Creator: Mike Grell (writer/artist)
Alter ego: Joshua Brand
Origin: Joshua, the son of a half-Sioux father and an Irish mother, returns as an adult to the reservation he ran away from as a child. There he is chosen by the Great Spirit, Wakan Tanka, to serve as a protector of his people and the planet.
Abilities/Resources: Stalking Wolf shares a mystic connection to the natural world that gives him the powers of all animals (strength, keen senses, stamina, agility, flight, etc.) and the ability to control the elements (in one instance, he summoned a flash flood to wash away his enemies).
Commentary: Mike Grell was one of my favorite comic book creators of the 80s and 90s and I was very excited about the release of Shaman’s Tears, which unfortunately only lasted about a dozen issues. One appeal of the series was its focus on environmental and animal issues and the ethics of tampering with nature. The chief adversary of Stalking Wolf was a corporation creating augmented human soldiers by splicing their genes with those of other animal species.
First appearance: Alpha Flight #19, February 1985
Creator: John Byrne (writer/artist)
Alter ego: Elizabeth Twoyoungmen
Origin: Elizabeth was born in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, the daughter of Michael Twoyoungman of the Canadian superhero team Alpha Flight (see Snowbird entry above). She became estranged from her father at the age of four after her mother died from illness. Michael, a physician, had promised to save her and his failure led Elizabeth to be bitter and resentful toward him. As a college archeology student, Elizabeth was excavating the site of the original Fort Calgary when she discovered a skull. When she touched it an apparition appeared that only she could see. Frightened, she sought out her father, whom she recognized as the superhero Shaman despite a spell he had cast to prevent this. Together they investigated the skull, determining that it was the source of ancient anger or ancient evil. Soon afterward, Shaman and Elizabeth were attacked by Ranaq the Devourer, one of the Great Beasts of the North. Under Ranaq’s barrage, Elizabeth found herself growing stronger until she was able instinctively to turn the force of Ranaq’s attack back against it. Shaman launched an attack on Ranaq as well and together they defeated the beast. Shortly thereafter, Elizabeth reached into Shaman’s mystical medicine pouch at his bidding and withdrew the Coronet of Enchantment. Placing it on her brow, she was transformed into Talisman, with the power to manipulate vast magical energies and command the spirits of nature to do her will. Talisman joined with Alpha Flight, only to be horrified to later learn that she was unable to remove the Coronet without enduring unbearable, agonizing pain.
Abilities/Resources: Much of Talisman’s powers stem from the ancient Coronet of Enchantment, which she wears on her forehead (although even without the Coronet, she has shown to possess the ability to absorb and redirect magical energy used against her). Talisman possesses vast supernatural powers, primary among them being the ability to command the Spirits of the Land. This makes her literally part of the Spirit World itself. Her other abilities include astral projection, exorcism, matter manipulation, the ability to see prophetic visions, telepathy, teleportation over vast distances, animating the dead, generating wind blasts and lightning, summoning air spirits, calling forth spirit animals, creating magical shields of light, and generating blasts of magical energy.
Commentary: Like Snowbird, Talisman is a rare example of a Native American superhero character from the northern most part of North America.
Born: March 1768
Died: October 5, 1813
Biography: Tecumseh was the leader of a large tribal confederacy that opposed the United States during Tecumseh’s War and the War of 1812. He grew up in the Ohio country during the American Revolutionary War and the Northwest Indian War, where he was constantly exposed to warfare.His brother Tenskwatawa (see below) was a religious leader who advocated a return to the ancestral lifestyle of the tribes. A large following and a confederacy grew around his prophetic teachings. The Native American independence movement led to strife with settlers on the frontier. The confederacy eventually moved farther into the northwest and settled Prophetstown, Indiana, in 1808. Tecumseh confronted Indiana Governor William Henry Harrison to demand that land purchase treaties be rescinded. Tecumseh traveled to the southern United States in an attempt to unite Native American tribes in a confederacy throughout the North American continent. Before he left, he warned his brother against fighting the Americans. His brother ignored him. While Tecumseh was traveling, Tenskwatawa was defeated in the 1811 Battle of Tippecanoe. During the War of 1812, Tecumseh’s confederacy allied with the British in Canada and helped in the capture of Fort Detroit. The Americans, led by Harrison, launched a counter assault and invaded Canada. They killed Tecumseh in the Battle of the Thames, in which they were also victorious over the British. Tecumseh has subsequently become a legendary folk hero. He is remembered by many Canadians for his defense of the country.
Commentary: The life of Tecumseh was depicted in two graphic biographies by Scout creator Timothy Truman. The first was the 1990 Wilderness: Bloody Ground, the second book in Truman’s two-volume black and white biography of 18th century frontier guide Simon Girty (which includes the page pictured above). The second was the 1992 full color Tecumseh!, based on a play by historical novelist Allan W. Eckert.
First appearance: Red Prophet, 1988
Creator: Orson Scott Card
Alter Ego: Lolla-Wossiky
Origin: Lolla-Wossiky, troubled, one-eyed, Indian drunk, leaves General William Henry Harrison’s fort and heads north in order to find his “dream beast,” the spirit that can save him from the pain of his memories. On his journey, he meets young Alvin Miller and assists the boy in making an ethical decision that will shape his life forever. In appreciation, Alvin heals Lolla-Wossiky’s painful memories, allowing him to give up alcohol and become in touch with the land once again. Lolla-Wossiky grows into “the Prophet” although he prefers to be known as Tenskwa-Tawa. He preaches both pacifism and separatism, believing that “Reds” should live west of the Mississippi and “Whites” should live east of it. After Harrison and a band of white settlers massacre some of Tenskwa-Tawa’s followers, the Prophet curses the white men and creates a mystic barrier along the Mississippi River that prevents European settlers from travelling any further west across North America.
Abilities/Resources: Like all Indians, Tenskwa-Tawa can hear the beautiful green music of the Land. By the sound of that green music, an Indian can run all day and all night without catching his breath and live in harmony with the earth and all its beings. Tenskwa-Tawa also possesses extremely heightend empathy (as a boy, he used to cry each winter as he sensed the dying off of the bees). His remarkable connection to the Land grants him prophetic visions and the ability to move unhindered through the natural world (for example, he can walk on water).
Commentary: This fictionalized version of the Shawnee prophet first appeared in the second book of Orson Scott Card’s fantasy series, The Tales of Alvin Maker. The series is set in a pioneer America where folk magic works, resulting in an alternative history to our own. In this world, hex signs are powerful, good and evil presences roam the land, and many people have special talents, or “knacks”—uncanny abilities to do such things as start fires, find water or sense life. In 2006-07, Marvel Comics adapted Red Prophet as a 12-issue comic book series written by Card and Roland Bernard Brown and drawn by Renato Arlem and John Rhett Thomas. The series has since been collected in two trade paperback editions (the image above is taken from the cover of volume 2).
Tribe: Oglala Lakota
First appearance: Unpublished (see Commentary below)
Creator: Richard De Angelis
Alter egos: Mary Wakinyan/Rachel Tatankawin (college student/forest ranger)
Origin: Born on the Pine Ridge Reservation, Mary Wakinyan and her brother John were raised in the traditional ways by their grandfather, until they were sent away to a U.S. government Indian school. Once home again, Mary enrolled in college while John became depressed with life on the reservation and joined the Army. Troubled by the war and the disintegration of her family, Mary embarked on a vision quest, and after three days alone in the Black Hills without food or sleep, she received a vision of Ptesan-Wi (White Buffalo Calf Woman). Holding the wotai (sacred stone) given to her by this spirit and speaking the words “Awanyanka Ina Maka” (“Protect Mother Earth”), she becomes Totem Woman, the chosen champion of Wakan Tanka (the Great Mystery). Fighting mostly in the Pacific Theater during WWII, Totem Women argued against the U.S. military’s confiscation of reservation lands for sites such as the Badlands Bombing Range. Working today as forest ranger Rachel Tatankawin, as Totem Woman, she often uses her gifts in the service of groups like AIM and Earth First!
Abilities/Resources: Although Totem Woman always possesses superhuman strength, endurance, and resistance to harm in this form, as long as she is in contact with the ground, her physical power is virtually limitless, she stands over seven feet tall, and no force can move her against her will. She can also communicate with animals, mimic their senses or mode of travel, and summon the Master or Mistress of each species. Her arrows unleash the powers of earth, air, water, and fire, and the smoke from her chanunpa (sacred pipe) causes anyone who breathes it to speak the truth.
Commentary: Totem Woman is a character I created for a proposed graphic novel titled The Good War. She is a member of the Spirits of ’76, a World War II era team of seven super women that the rest of the public believes were just characters in old comic books and movie serials (In the story, Wonder Woman co-creator Harry G. Peter drew Totem Woman in comic books and Loretta Young played her in movie serials and USO shows). In fact, the War Department had kept their real existence secret for reasons of “national security” (mostly fear that the Spirits’ exploits would deflate the morale of male soldiers and foster feelings of independence in female civilians). The Spirits’ aided the Allied war effort as part of their mission to preserve FDR’s Four Freedoms: freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom from want, freedom from fear. The Nazi’s eventually found a way to immobilize the Spirits, whose bodies remained frozen in time for 70 years. When the Spirits reenter military service, the War On Terror brings back memories of objectionable U.S. policies during WWII.