When it comes to superhero fiction, there are certain iconic archetypes; Superman is the iconic whitebread hero, Batman the iconic OCD loner. But did you realize that Iron Man’s James Rhodes is the accidental iconic black superhero? We’ll explain. [...]
He’s A Sidekick At Heart
If there’s one rule for black superheroes, it’s that they’re never the stars of the show (Or, at least, not for very long; attempts like Black Lightning or the Milestone books are always, sadly, done in by falling sales). Yes, you could make an argument that Black Panther contradicts that, but I’d just invoke the “He’s the exception that proves the” clause and move on quickly*. [...]
He’s A Replacement
And how did Rhodey get his start as a superhero again? Oh, that’s right; he replaced Tony as Iron Man. Just like John Stewart got his start replacing Hal Jordan as Green Lantern. And John Henry Irons, replacing Superman back when he died. Oh, and don’t forget Monica Rambeau, Marvel’s second Captain Marvel. Or, hell, the Justice Society of America’s Mr. Terrific or Johnny/JJ Thunder, the Legion of Superheroes’ Computo and Invisible Kid, DC’s Mister Miracle (and, for that matter, Manhattan Guardian) or even The Spectre (And, again, who can forget Black Goliath, who replaced Hank Pym’s original White Goliath – except, of course, the “White” was silent in his name). Even the characters that aren’t actively replacing existing characters somehow manage to be replacing people we haven’t seen – DC’s Vixen and Marvel’s Black Panther are both continuing long lines of heroes. When do we get to see white superheroes picking up the mantle of black characters? Only once – and even that was the result of a retcon to offer political commentary (Captain America, who it turned out was following in the footsteps of an earlier black Cap – who not only never called himself Captain America, but also was unknown to Cap when he took up the shield. So maybe that doesn’t count after all).
— Graeme McMillan, Why James Rhodes Is Comics’ Ideal Black Hero, published at io9 (click the link to read the full article)