Mainstream comics have kept Indigenous characters on the fringe, but a new exhibition is focused on unlocking their superpowers
In 1988, while Australia was disingenuously promising a treaty to placate the First Peoples protesting against bicentenary celebrations, an Aboriginal character called Gateway appeared in the comic Uncanny Xmen #229. The mutant superhero Wolverine was perplexed, muttering, “Old Abo must be some kind'a teleporter.” Gateway had no reply. In fact, he had no dialogue in that or any subsequent issue. Like most Indigenous characters in superhero comics created by non-Indigenous writers, the voiceless Gateway occupied an uneasy space in the narrative, neither hero nor villain, good nor evil; a troubling part of the flora and fauna of the Marvel universe.
A new exhibition, Marramb-ik, at Melbourne museum's Bunjilaka Aboriginal cultural centre, provides something of an antidote to this precarious positioning of Indigenous characters in the world of comic superheroes. Featuring the works of Victorian Aboriginal artists Lin Onus, Jade Kennedy, Heidi Brooks and Cienan Muir, this small but powerful show gives voice to Aboriginal superheroes created by and for Aboriginal people. It represents an empowering reversal of the genre – one focused on unlocking Indigenous power and potential.