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Who Are The Native American Heroes of the DC Universe?

Chris Peruzzi is a comic book superhero historian who is passionate about how today's comic book heroes are the new mythology for America.

This was from a 1958 issue of the Cheyenne Kid, a product of Charlton Comics, now a product of DC Comics.

This was from a 1958 issue of the Cheyenne Kid, a product of Charlton Comics, now a product of DC Comics.

Have you ever had real disappointment? No, I mean real disappointment. I had just finished writing the counterpart to this article for Marvel and had started doing the research for DC. With the way that DC has treated many of its characters after 1986, I would have thought for sure that there would be some really excellent character development with some of their Native American characters.

Really! Given the plethora of mysticism from that culture and their proud history, you would have thought that Neil Gaiman, Alan Moore, or even Frank Miller would have found something brilliant to begin a new storyline for any of the characters that have been part of this publication.

Well, the sad part was that there weren’t many characters to draw from. I was leery from the start that DC could invent a good Native American character after coming up with embarrassing concepts like ”Pow Wow” Smith (who I will briefly touch upon).

And it’s not like DC can’t write a good western. The Vertico line of comics (for more mature audiences) included a great Jonah Hex story and threw in a great tale of reanimated corpses. They have the talent and they have the tools. All they need now is a couple of good characters and a good story. This is who they have in their arsenal.

DC's Native American Characters

  1. Arak, Son of Thunder
  2. Black Bison
  3. Hawk, Son of Tomahawk
  4. Firehair
  5. Superchief
  6. Manitou Raven and Manitou Dawn
  7. Dawnstar
  8. Pow Wow Smith
  9. Scalphunter
  10. Strongbow
Arak, Son of Thunder

Arak, Son of Thunder

1. Arak, Son of Thunder

This Native American version of Conan the Barbarian had plenty of potential for good stories. While Conan had the benefit of a rich history of pulp novels going as far back as the early thirties and had to do battle with monsters that could have only come from the mind of H.P. Lovecraft, the writers of Arak settled for the myths of every other culture outside of Native American folklore.

Arak’s mother was attacked by an Indian serpent god and was rescued from certain poisoning by He-No, the Indian thunder God. He-No heals Arak’s mother and conceives his child. Naming him Bright-Sky-After-Storm (as an allusion to his father, a storm god – the sun (son) follows the storm (father)), Arak’s tribe was attacked by the serpent god tribe and all are wiped out except Arak – who is safely away from the battle in a boat going out to sea.

Arak is found by Vikings and raised as one of their own. He is renamed “Arak” (mispronounced as “Eric”) and is taught how to fight as a Viking warrior. Arak’s main fighting weapon is an axe – which he uses as a blade, shield, and club.

As far as powers go, he really doesn’t have any. You’d think that if he had the power of a demigod, he’d have something. He has the typical “really good fighter” and the obligatory “shamanic training” (although where he gets this in his origin is not quite known) that comes with almost every Native American character that they churn out.

I do find it interesting that the writers of this character decided to use the Leif Ericson piece of history of the Vikings making it over to this country prior to Columbus. It would stand to reason that there may be some kind of Norse influence within the Native American culture.

2. Black Bison

This one is just painful.

Black Bison is a man from Queens, New York born Black-Cloud-in-Morning. He was raised as a typical Anglican and changed his name to John Ravenhair.

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His grandfather, however, was an extreme Native American who was part of a cult called the Black Bison Cult and he detested the fact that Ravenhair had changed his name, ignoring his heritage. When John started dating a white woman, his grandfather found it intolerable. The grandfather gives John a mystic talisman as a gift.

John’s grandfather is killed in a mugging (while doing a mystic ritual in Central Park), before dying he transfers his spirit into the talisman and then takes possession of John. John becomes a Native American vigilante who is out to avenge all the crimes perpetrated against his kin.

He’s a supervillain who’s more a nuisance than anything else. He heads up the Black Bison Cult that his grandfather was part of and really doesn’t have control over his own actions.

He doesn’t have any powers, personally. He derives all of his abilities from his talisman and his coup-stick. The talisman along with the coup-stick can control the weather and animate inanimate objects. He is limited by the fact that he can’t affect organic biological matter (living things).

Hawk Son of Tomahawk

Hawk Son of Tomahawk

3. Hawk, Son of Tomahawk

DC had their own version of Davy Crockett. Tomahawk (Tom Haukins) was an expert trapper and guide who lived in the 18th Century. He’s complete with the coonskin hat.

Back in the day when writing a story about the wild frontier was actually marketable, a character like Tomahawk could attract a good audience. Tomahawk had his adventures keeping the peace between the new expansionist population of this country and the Iraquois. His preferred weapon – you guessed it – a tamahaac axe.

Well, Tomahawk fell in love with a Native American and married Moon Fawn. The union produced many children, among which was Hawk (Hawk Haukins).

Sigh.

Hawk was costumed much like the King in his “Elvis Apache Tour”. I really don’t know what the DC artists were thinking with this one. I include this entry as Hawk is fifty per cent Native American. While Tomahawk was a wild frontiersman who would not shy from a bareknuckle brawler, Hawk was a bit of a pacifist. However, like most children, the apple does not fall far from the tree and he can fight, use firearms, track, hunt, and survive in the wilderness.

He eventually teamed up with another almost Native American, Firehair (see entry below). Hawk became a contemporary of Jonah Hex, Bat Lash, El Diablo, Madame .44, and Superchief (see entry below).

Firehair

Firehair

4. Firehair

I’ve read Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book as well as The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling. (And if anyone asks you if you enjoy Kipling, say, “I don't know. How do you kipple?”) So, the concept of being raised by ghosts or wolves is not unfamiliar to me. As a matter of fact, it was a concept that Terry Pratchett used in his creation of Carrot Ironfounderson, the six foot six inch dwarf.

And then we have Firehair – the almost Native American.

In the early 1800’s, Firehair was the lone survivor of an attack by a Blackfoot Indian raid. The baby who would become Firehair was found by the Blackfoot Chief Grey Cloud. Firehair got his name from his long mane of red hair and his fair skin and freckles. He was also better than any of his peers at horse riding, weapons, hand to hand combat, and hunting.

Firehair eventually became the protector of that region while being despised by the whites and his own tribe as he belonged to both yet neither world. Later in life, he became the partner of Hawk. His last days of adventuring have not been recorded.

On a personal note, I find this character somewhat hackneyed and slightly offensive as it is implied that in the heredity versus environment debate that all a Caucasian would need is an equal upbringing to be better than any of the Native American peers. At the same time, this character did have some potential for more sophisticated stories.

Super Chief

Super Chief

5. Superchief

There have been a few Superchiefs that have made their marks within the DC Universe.

The original Superchief was a hero in the 15th Century and part of the Wolf Clan. He was exposed to the Manitou stone which gave him powers for an hour at a time. In essence, he’s the Native American version of Hour Man. All he needed was a bit of Miraclo and he’d be in business. The stone would give super strength, super speed, and flight for one hour. Prolonged use has been known to give beneficial longevity to its wearer, however later recipients have gotten poetic over the levels of their strength – strength of a thousand bears, the speed of a thousand running deer, the keen senses of a thousand wolves, and the power to leap over the tallest of trees.

One of the recipients named Saganowahna was a villain of the Justice League.

Currently, the latest Superchief is John Standingbear who has the lofty poetic version of the powers.

What is necessary for any of them is that they wear the Manitou stone for their powers.

Manitou Raven, the comic book version of Apache Chief

Manitou Raven, the comic book version of Apache Chief

6. Manitou Raven and Manitou Dawn

I am truly a product of my time.

When I was a kid, I got to watch Challenge of the Superfriends. Okay, it was a bit lame compared to today’s superhero cartoons because a board of standards and practices didn’t want kids to see violence in cartoons. So there was a gap between the violent fighting cartoons of the sixties and the reemergence of cartoons that showed real fighting. The Superfriends were part of that middle generation.

But I digress.

One of the Superfriends was a character called Apache Chief. His power? He could grow to be a giant – which was a pretty cool power to have. All he had to do was yell, “Inukchuk!” and he’d grow. Still he was a bit of a one trick pony who was placed in this cartoon to show racial diversity and to have someone go up against Giganta.

We took what we could get.

Unfortunately, he never really made it to the comic books. That is until we got to meet Manitou Raven and his wife, Manitou Dawn. Incidentally, ”Manitou Raven” translates out to “Raven God”.

In comparison with everyone else here, his origin seems kind of trite. Shaman, medicine man, magician, using Indian powers… yadda, yadda, yadda… superhero. In this case, not so much as he was taken from Atlantis 1000 BCE. He was part of the heroes of that time in the Obsidian Age and had helped the time displaced JLA back home.

And, yes, he can grow into a giant.

The “Inukchuk!” shout works with all of his other magical skills, too. He comes to the present day and is recruited by Vera Black’s JLE (Justice League Elite) along with his wife. The JLE was the JLA’s black ops team that skidded along the very edge of the whole good/bad thing.

Unfortunately, Manitou Raven gets killed absorbing the brunt of a bomb. However, you can’t keep a good Native American mystic down and his ghost is now working with his wife, Manitou Dawn and tutoring her in the use of magic.

If you get a chance and can pick up the JLE limited series (twelve issues) by Joe Kelly, I recommend it highly.

Dawnstar

Dawnstar

7. Dawnstar

A group of unknown aliens were busy tinkering around in America’s past. Back in the 13th Century some took a whole bunch of the Anasazi Indian tribe and transplanted the Starhaven planet and then did their own special brand of genetic engineering on them… just because.

The former Native Americans that are now in the 30th Century and have developed wings. So they all look like angels.

In his quest to create an interstellar justice force, R.J. Brand (the guy who organized the Legion of Superheroes) recruits Dawnstar for the Legion Academy. Incidentally, “Dawnstar” is her real name – it’s not a code name. She’s accepted to the Legion at age 16.

She’s got two powers that are nothing to really write home about. She has a tracking sense (which I guess comes with every Native American in the DC Universe, apparently) and she can fly with her wings – which given the Legion issued flight ring makes that redundant. But then again, that’s typical of the Legions characters when you look at Ultra Boy.

I don’t know what to make of this character as it seemed the writers wanted to have a Native American without her being an actual Native American. Was the message they wanted to convey that the white man has pushed the Indians past Alcatraz and got them all the way off planet? Why aren’t there reservations in the future?!!

To make matters worse, one of the sources that I use to do some research on these characters didn’t even give her an entry within the DC Comics Encyclopedia. She not even listed within the Legion’s role sheet within that book.

Sigh.

Pow Wow Smith

Pow Wow Smith

8. Pow Wow Smith

In one of my other articles about obscure comic book characters I mentioned Pow Wow Smith. So, I’ll just summarize here.

He’s a Native American Sioux with a badge. He’s a detective of old western stories. A good solid politically correct character that had a lot of potential.

The townsfolks nicknamed him “Pow Wow”. Isn’t that nice? What did you expect? These were the common clay of the new frontier.

You know… morons.

Scalphunter

Scalphunter

9. Scalphunter

Out of the frying pan and right into the fire.

It’s one thing to have a character like Firehair, it’s another when you repeat the tale.

Brian Savage (Scalphunter) was the son of Mathew Savage and was kidnapped by Kiowa Indians and raised as one of them. They renamed him Ke-Woh-No-Tay ('He Who Is Less Than Human'). He is trained by the Indians to hunt, track,… blah, blah, blah… you’ve heard this story before. He finds out about his real roots and returns to the white civilization where he becomes a lawman.

Are you sensing a theme here?

Well, to make the story complete, after he dies he’s reincarnated to an Irish Redheaded family as Mathew O’Dare, one of the cops of Opal City.

He’s an expert horseman, tracker, gunfighter, hand to hand combatant.

Strong Bow

Strong Bow

10. Strongbow

A real honest to God Native American.

Prior to Columbus’ landing, Strong Bow, real name “Strong Bow”, lived on the continental North American land in the land beyond the misty mountains. He is a dead shot with the bow and arrow and had a keen intellect. He travelled everywhere by walking (as horses hadn’t been introduced to America yet).

Interesting character, lots of potential, and went completely nowhere.

When Were They Active?

CharacterTime PeriodHero or Villain

Arak

Past

Hero

Black Bison

Present Day

Villain

Hawk, Son of Tomahawk

18th Century

Hero

Firehair

Early 19th Century

Hero

Superchief I-III

15th Century, Present Day

Hero, Villain, Hero

Manitou Raven and Manitou Dawn

Obsidian Age and Present Day

Hero

Dawnstar

Future (30th Century)

Hero

Pow Wow Smith

Late 19th Century

Hero

Scalphunter

Late 19th Century, Reincarnated Present Day

Hero

Strongbow

13th Century

Hero

Hero Quiz DC

For each question, choose the best answer. The answer key is below.

  1. What really happened to Jonah Hex's face?
    • Cut shaving
    • Mystic Curse
    • Disfigured by Apaches
    • War injury from the far future
    • Bullet wound
  2. Which one of these characters would call himself more a lover than a fighter
    • Jonah Hex
    • Scalphunter
    • Firehair
    • Bat Lash
    • El Diablo
  3. Which one of these characters was taken out of his time to fight in a war that time forgot
    • Superchief
    • Firehair
    • Pow Wow Smith
    • Bat Lash
    • El Diablo
  4. Which one of these characters is cursed with a minor demon?
    • Jonah Hex
    • Firehair
    • El Diablo
    • Scalphunter
    • Dawnstar
  5. Which one of these Native American characters was a member of the Justice League?
    • Superchief
    • Pow Wow Smith
    • Black Bison
    • Firehair
    • Manitou Raven

Answer Key

  1. Disfigured by Apaches
  2. Bat Lash
  3. Firehair
  4. El Diablo
  5. Manitou Raven