top of page
BLAK POWER art catalogue (saved)26.jpg




Blak Power is an art anthology documenting the first retrospective of First Nations superheroes held in August 2023. The catalogue features an essay on the history of Indigenous representation in comics by Jonathon Saunders (creator of Zero-Point) and Aboriginal Timeline in Comic Books and Capes by Luke Pearson (IndigenousX).

Featuring art by Tony Albert, Karla Dickens, Layne Dhu-Dickie, Dennis Golding, Molly Hunt, Emily Johnson, Dylan Mooney, Donovan Mota, Ray Mudjandi, Jonathon Saunders, Kaylene Whiskey and work by Basically Black, Redback
Graphic Iwantja Young Women’s Film Project & Neomad.

Produced in partnership with the Northern Centre for Contemporary Art.

ATOHF images 1.jpg



This is no fantasy…

no careless product of wild imagination.

These are matters of undeniable fact…

– Jor-El, Superman (1978)

 Action Comics #1 (DC Comics,1938) 

Mandrake the Magician  (Lee Falk, 1934)

Still from “Electric Earthquake”, Superman animated series (May 1942)

The Spirit #7 April, 1975) by Will Eisner 

All-Negro Comics #1 (June 1947). Cover artist unknown.

Cover of Fantastic Four (Marvel Comics, 1966)

 Gateway featured in Uncanny X-Men #249 (Marvel Comics, 1989)

Bishop first appearance in The Uncanny X-Men #282 (Marvel Comics)

Thunderer in Multiversity (DC Comics)

Cleverman (ABC TV) and Cleverman comic  (Gestalt Comics)

Zero Point #0  first  published 2016 (Undergrowth/Wild North Comics)


Dark Heart #1 (Gestalt Comics)

Blak Power exhibition art catalogue (Wild North Comics) 

Thylacine character from Suicide Squad (DC Comics)

Kyle Burton AKA Zero Point  from Zero Point: Origins #2  (Wild North Comics) 

The cradle of comic book superheroes


From the first epic of Gilgamesh,to the gallant tales of King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table, heroes have always existed in human cultures. The ‘monomyth’ as Joseph Campbell famously named it, is the universal narrative pattern which is in almost all human storytelling traditions, from disparate times and regions, yet sharing fundamental structures and stages.


Throughout the world, the epic forces of natural phenomena were commonly ascribed to powerful beings. No matter the time, no matter the place, ancient stories of figures who step forth into worlds of supernatural wonder: encounter incredible forces, fight overwhelming odds, and return from this mysterious adventure with a new power or boon to gift to humanity. Elemental forces of thunder and lightning evoked the Nordic imagination to create the God known as Thor, while in Japan, it is Raiden who strikes electricity from his palms and here in the Northern Territory there is the Lighting Man, Mamaragan (or Namarrkon), of the Djadjan dreaming.


In 1938, two young Jewish men from Cleveland, Ohio, caught lightning in a bottle by mixing ancient tales of Hercules and Moses with contemporary science fiction to create a new type of hero. A man that could leap tall buildings in a single bound, change the course of a mighty river! Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster’s Superman changed not only the course of comics, but became an international icon; a cultural milestone of the 20th Century. Although the term ‘superhero’ has been around since 19171 to describe a public figure of great talents or accomplishments, it was only after the appearance of Superman in Action Comics #1 that it became used exclusively for

costumed heroes. SUPERHERO was now a genre in and of itself.


Action Comics #1 opened the floodgates to a boom of superhero comics in the 1940s – a period widely considered as ‘the Golden Age of Superheroes’. Most were basic rip-offs, trying and failing to ride on Superman’s slipstream, but from this flurry of creation came many iconic characters that were a perfect mix of the contemporary and the mythological. Bob Kane and Bill Finger’s Batman was a cross between pulp heroes like The Shadow and Zorro with a gothic horror twist. William Moulton Marston and artist Harry G. Peter brought the Amazons of ancient mythos into the modern world with Wonder Woman, ambassador of Themyscira on a mission to bring peace to the world of men (though Fletcher Hanks’ Fantomaho beat Wonder Woman as the first female superhero).

In the 1960s DC Comics walked so that Marvel Comics could run, with a more contemporary universe that drew from science fiction and social issues as much as it borrowed from mythology. In the Silver Age of Superheroes (1956-1970), Marvel’s twin godfathers Jack Kirby and Stan Lee created iconic characters from the cosmic sci-fi of Fantastic Four to the classic characters: Iron Man, Thor, Hulk (and eventually the entire Marvel Universe). Marvel folded wartime propaganda into Joe Simon and Jack Kirby’s Captain America, the wartime hero that grew into an icon. Steve Ditko and Stan Lee’s Spider-Man showed a more human, grounded superhero tale, where great power comes with great responsibilities. Whereas DC had created a world of myth and wonder, Marvel Comics were ‘the world outside your window’ - superhero tales reflecting the contemporary world, with a few fantastic changes.


Blak representation in the comic world


At first, the CMYK pages of comics rarely included people of colour. Minorities were simply sidekicks in the Superheroes’ orbit. Lothar, ‘the strongest man in the world and Prince of the Seven Nations’, is the best friend and companion of Mandrake the Magician (Lee Falk, 1934) and could be considered the first black comic book character. In DC Comics, it was not unusual for Hal Jordan aka Green Lantern to be saved by his Inuit friend, Thomas “Pieface”Kalmaku - a smart, talented mechanic at Ferris Aircraft. The Spirit (Will Eisner) was often helped by his loyal and resourceful black partner Ebony White. These minority sidekick characters were portrayed through the lens of racial stereotyping which pervaded the mainstream culture of the time, and which Will Eisner would have conflicted feelings about later in life2: “I suppose if I denied it nobody would believe me. But I if you go back and examine how I handled Ebony, I was aware that

I was dealing with something that was volatile and had a responsibility. The only excuse I have for [that portrayal] is that at the time humour consisted in our society of bad English and physical difference in identity. Later I attempted to depart from it by having a black character, a detective, who spoke proper English and I had an airplane pilot that was black.”


Some characters in comics and animations bucked this trend. The 1942 Fleischer Superman Theatrical Short Electric Earthquake features an unnamed Native American scientist as the antagonist (probably the first in fiction). In cartoons of the time, the common depiction of Native Americans was in feather headdresses and wielding stone axes, but here we are introduced to a man in a three-piece suit who explains that Metropolis/Manhattan belongs to his people. He demands that the Daily Planet publish the truth and have the island vacated immediately or he will unleash electronically induced earthquakes to make them ‘think differently’. For the 1940s, this was a remarkable and powerful portrayal of a minority, which rebuked the stereotypical representation of Indigenous Peoples. In 1945, World’s Finest #17 (DC Comics) featured a story in Johnny Everyman, about struggles of African American soldiers risking their lives for their home country in World War II, only to return to racial prejudice.


The first comic book heroes actually created by African American artists were Ace Harlem and Lion Man in 1947 who appeared in All-Negro Comics, an independent comic book featuring all black writers and artists. Orrin C. Evans was the first African-American writer to cover general assignments for a mainstream newspaper in the United States3. Evans said the goal was to create a series that was ‘jam-packed with fast action, African adventures, good clean humour and fantasy’.


All-Negro Comics star character was Ace Harlem: a fearless and intelligent police officer fighting crime across the North America. Lion Man was a young African American scientist sent by the United Nations to watch over ‘Magic Mountain’ in Africa, to prevent treacherous invaders from mining its abundant uranium for nuclear weaponry. Sadly, there was only ever to be one issue of All-Negro Comics, as Evan was unable to purchase the newsprint paper required. One theory is that Evans was blocked by Parents Magazine Press and Fawcett Comics, who were producing their own black themed titles, Negro Heroes and Negro Romance and didn’t want the competition4.


The strengths and personality of these early comics helped open the door for diverse characters who would soon become superheroes themselves! Black Panther (created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby) is famously recognised as the first black superhero. Interestingly, his first appearance in the pages of Fantastic Four #52 in July 1966 predates the revolutionary organisation of the same name by three months.


The Australian comic world


While I knew of some Australian Indigenous superheroes when I was getting into comics, they were mostly North American creations. While these characters were made with good intentions, they were still steeped in stereotypical iconography, such as the lone boomerang wielding warrior in the bush with a connection to the Dreaming, Gateway (The Uncanny X-Men). Marvel’s most famous Aboriginal superhero is the mutant Bishop created by John Byrne (also from The Uncanny X-Men). A time traveller from an apocalyptic future, Bishop broke the stereotype of the Aboriginal ‘noble savage’ or ‘magic man’. Instead of boomerangs, he is adorned with tactical gear, endless pouches and big guns that could only come from the Exxxtreme comics of the Nineties. I was also impressed by Grant Morrison’s Thunderer in the recent Multiversity series that hails from Derby, Western Australia.Having worked extensively in this region through my old job at the peak advocacy body Arnhem Northern Kimberly Artists (ANKA), it was a pleasant surprise tosee a major DC comic reference Mowanjum community and evoke the mythological figures known as Wandjinas.


When Australia entered World War II, the Government placed a ban on the importation of US comic books and syndicated proofs, and the local comic industry flourished as a result. This saw the creation of Captain Atom, Jet Fury, Phantom Ranger, Devil Doone, The Crimson Comet and Molo the Mighty, an alien stranded on Earth after his ship crash lands in the outback. Molo befriends Willy Willy, an Aboriginal boy who teaches him to speak English. Unfortunately,

much of Australia’s comic history was never comprehensively archived, so any other Indigenous heroes from Australia’s Golden Age are hidden in the pages of history.


The trend towards diversity


While Gateway and Bishop might appear in the newest X-Men reboot, it is important for artists and writers to create new Aboriginal heroes; to write new and diverse chapters in the Hero’s Journey that empower and entertain viewers of all races and backgrounds.


Today, superheroes are the biggest business in Hollywood. But after years of oversaturation, audience fatigue is setting inwith the genre. People are ready to experience stories that dance to the beat of a different drum. Advances in self-publishing and print-on-demand have opened the doors for new voices with new stories, including ones about Indigenous heroes.


It is a positive trend in contemporary comics and movies to introduce racially and culturally diverse characters, However, I find it concerning that a lot of new minority superheroes are simply gender/

raceflips of established white characters, usually accompanied by a press release stating that this new take on an old character is the first (insert minority here) in comics/ animation/film, while usually throwing other characters of that established minority under the bus. It is easier to say you made the first minority superhero than say you made a good one! Far too often with these minority flipped heroes, the writers fall into the trap of focusing only on the character’s race, gender or other identities and not what the character does for the story. These characters become like cultural ambassadors and the writer avoids giving them the character flaws, hardships or mistakes in case they are accused of portraying that group negatively. Add in whatever sociopolitical hot topic of the day is, and you get the modern corporate minority superhero: a boring, twodimensional wish-fulfilment that does not even appeal to the group it was catered for. Gender, culture and race are not interchangeable ingredients. At best, it becomes a form of cultural hand-medowns; at worst, it is cynical cultural appropriation. It reveals that for all the talk of inclusivity and diversity, the entertainment industry does not really want to take a risk on original characters. They just want to appear as if they do.


As a light-skinned blackfella, I always felt I was not ‘black enough’ due to my upbringing and interests. Being called a ‘coon’ by white kids and then called a ‘coconut’ by black kids was my daily confusion. When I discovered Richard Bell’s art piece ‘Forget It’5 – a cheeky parody of Roy Lichtenstein’s ‘Forget it! Forget me!’ (1962) remixed with Bell’s self-insert ‘Richie’, it was eye-opening. Seeing an urban Aboriginal man drawn in that classic comic book style gave me permission to break away from the Dreamtime Warrior stereotype. It was OK to make characters that reflected myself and other urban Aboriginals. I realised, there is no right way to be Aboriginal, and I became free to express my own experience.


Superheroes are a power fantasy. When we read comics or watch superhero films, a part of us would like to imagine that we are the ones with incredible powers, flying around righting wrongs and saving the world. So, it is not surprising that superheros can also be seen as a selfdetermination fantasy. Through superheroes, Indigenous peoples and minorities can reclaim power on how their stories are told. To inspire ideas of selfdetermination and the rights of people to shape their own lives.


While many non-indigenous writers have used Indigenous culture and stories in their writing (and used quite well in the case of Grant Morrison’s Thunderer) it important for Aboriginal writers and artists to tell their stories and use their experiences, to empower others to achieve great things!


Indigiverse: the new golden age


Today, there is a new generation of Indigenous created superheroes that are populating the world of Australian and international comics. The genesis of my character Zero- Point came during my Bachelor of Visual Arts at Charles Darwin University. Zero-Point may not be the first Aboriginal created Aboriginal superhero (Gary Foley and Bob Maza’s Superboong clearly earned that title), but I would like to think he is the first in the next generation, continuing the legacy set by the Indigenous comic book Elders that came before him.


I knew I wanted to make a unique, exciting superhero that just happens to be Aboriginal, instead of being an Aboriginal Superhero. Zero-Point draws on a tapestry of influences that stretch beyond a

typical superhero narrative: from Japanese and Western animation, to comic books, manga, mythology, techno-thrillers, 1960s crime films, Westerns, noir, cyberpunk and everything in between.


Scott Wilson’s Dark Heart is a superhero series that aims to share Australia’s rich Indigenous culture through comic books, using the Hero’s Journey to tell an exciting story of a young man coming to terms with his metaphysical powers and destiny. Cleverman by Ryan Griffen (ABC TV), took stories from the Dreaming and placed them in a contemporary science fiction context to explore themes of racism, asylum seekers and border protection. Thylacine is the newest hero in DC Comics created by Melbourne Writer Tom Taylor, and is the newest member of the Suicide Squad (and the first Indigenous member). Taylor consulted with actor Shari Sebbens (The Sapphires, ABC’s The Heights and Black Comedy) and Cleverman creator Ryan Griffen to bring a real sense of authenticity to the character. There is also Maloo, created by Queensland writer and artist Timothy Wood in his work Australi, an epic fantasy set in a distinctly Australian landscape following the journey of a young indigenous boy who discovers the Heart Stone, the source of all magic in Australi, and is thrust into a journey that will affect the world.


The exhibition, Blak Power: 50 Years of First Nations Superheroes in Australian Art, brings together the works of many Aboriginal artists exploring themes of power, heroism and identity (secret or otherwise). Tony Albert is a descendent of the Girramay, Yidini and Kuku-Yalanji peoples in QLD. Albert collaborated with children and artists from Warkurna, WA to create Warakurna Superheroes, a photographic series that explores how we can all be empowered by overcoming our fears. Karla Dickens, a Wiradjuri woman from NSW, explores the theme of loss from colonisation, in her work Mothers Little Helpers. Bruce Pascoe takes the form of Mother Nature, looking like a wizard, is a symbol of ‘Mother Earth Country’. Layne Dhu-Dickie is a Banjiyma comic book artist from WA is the creator of the Indigenous superhero Captain Headland. A homegrown Port Headland superhero that tackles real drug and alcohol issues with in the community. Dennis Golding is a Kamilaroi/Gamilaraay man from NSW. His work is well-known for referencing science fiction and pop culture archetypes of the superhero with Indigenous culture and identity, and wishes

to create new identities of contemporary Aboriginal culture. Molly Hunt is a Balangarra and Yolngu artist, animator and journalist working in WA and the NT. Her work is bold, graphic and pops out, showing moments in everyday live in communities in a cheeky, colourful style. Emily Johnson (Barkindji, Wakka Wakka, Latjilatji, Biri Gubba people) is an illustrator and Tik Tok artist from NSW, and her work focuses on issues surrounding race and body image. Emily also was the cover artist and contributed to Blacklight: Ten Years of First Nations Storytelling, an anthology of writing produced entirely by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander creatives. Dylan Mooney is a Yuwi man from the Torres Strait and QLD, his art focuses on survival, pride and power.


Addressing and creating works and characters that amplifies and uplifts Indigenous culture. And Ray Mudjandi, a Mirrarr man from NT who mixes traditional ochre bark painting and carving with modern superhero and comic book iconography. I also had the pleasure of working with Ray, and seeing him develop his superhero story ideas. All the artists in Blak Power add their own unique twist to the superhero genre, mixing traditional and contemporary to explore themes of empowerment and cultural identity within the modern Australia landscape, pushing the concept of the superhero and how it has changed 80 years on from the four pages of comics.


All these Indigenous artists and heroes represent an important cultural shift in storytelling. I believe the motto ‘be the change you want to see in the world.’ It is not enough to simply talk about diversity and in new voices in media, you must take the steps to change it yourself, to be the model for emulation, to journey forth and lead by example. All these new Indigenous heroes are carving their own chapters in the Monomyth, following in the footsteps of their mythological elders that came before. And like those heroes of old, I hope these new Aboriginal heroes inspire and empower not only First Nations people, but all Australians. Heroes allow us to see ourselves as powerful, to accept our flaws, and to be liberated by our imaginations to strive towards the heroic ideal.



1 Mike Benton, Superhero Comics of the Golden Age: The Illustrated History, Dallas, 1992


2 Will Eisner quoted in Andrew D. Arnold, Never too late, TIME, New York, 19 September 2003, (cited online:,8599,488263,00.html)


3 Tom Christopher, ‘Orrin C. Evans and the story of All-Negro Comics’, 2002. Archived from the original on March 7, 2009. Retrieved July 1, 2011. Reprinted from Comics Buyer’s Guide February 28, 1997, pp. 32, 34, 37-38. Article includes reprinted editorial page “All-Negro Comics: Presenting Another First in Negro History” from All-Negro Comics #1


4 ‘Orrin C. Evans: The First Black Comic Book Publisher’, 11 February 2016.

5 art/works15.html


bottom of page