If one were to peruse through DC's Silver Age comics, you would have found a dearth of African-American characters while Marvel had the Black Panther, Gabe Jones, Joe Robertson, Bill Foster and in the early 70s, Luke Cage, Hero For Hire/Power Man. DC slowly began changing this with Jackie Johnson (Our Army At War), Mal Duncan (Teen Titans), August Durant (Secret Six), John Stewart (Green Lantern), Melba Moore (Lois Lane) and Jim Corrigan (Jimmy Olsen). But none of them were "super-heroes". The closest was Vykin the Black from Jack Kirby's The Forever People. During the mid-70s, Legion of Super-Heroes artist, Mike Grell began campaigning for more ethnic representation in the 30th century. He accentuated Karate Kid's Japanese heritage for the first time. Two characters from his run were designed to be African-American: Science Police Officer Dvron from Superboy #207 and Soljer from #210 but both times they were colored Caucasian. Despite this, editor Murray Boltinoff assured him that a Black Legionnaire was coming. And one was, though many wished he hadn't.
Writer Cary Bates came up with the concept of TYROC, a young angry black man with poorly defined powers who lived on an island in the Mediterranean Sea, Marzal, totally populated by an ultra isolationist Black race who declared themselves separate from the world. Now in Bates' defense, nowhere in the story does it say that ALL the black people on 30th century Earth live in Marzal so I'll give them the benefit of the doubt though others have claimed that that was the reason we never saw any people of color in the future.
Grell was horrified to say the least. So disappointed was he that when it came time to design Tyroc, he gave him the terrible outfit seen above. Now it could have salvaged if he had pants and decent boots and they dropped the chains (Cage had them first). Facially he was fine: strong, handsome and defiant. Unfortunately they gave him the power to do practically ANYTHING just by yelling! In his first scene alone, his dialogue consisted of "EEYYAHH!" (explosions), "RRYGGG!" (connected force bubbles), "AHRRRRR!" (force field), "UAAGGG!" (Force blast) and "OYUUU!" (teleportation).Not only was it an audio power in a visual medium, it just sounded ridiculous!
And they gave no thought about his background. He had no origin at first nor did he have a real name. He was simply Tyroc, the Champion of Marzal. He also appeared to have been so for a while. This will be important later.
As for Superboy starring the Legion of Super-Heroes #216 (Ap'76), the highlights are:
It's a quick paced story with useless villains and too much preaching. Tyroc is supposed to be righteously angry but the Legion can't understand it. They still don't at the end. Because we know nothing about Marzal, we can't even see their point of view. Tyroc comes off as bitter, stubborn and self-absorbed but he does get better.
Next: "Welcome to the Legion, Tyroc! Hope You Survive the Experience!" OR "Clothes DO Make the Man!"
Ah . . . Disco Lad, a.k.a. Tyroc.
For me, the '70's Legion of Super-Heroes was a bad experience. The fan-boy writers were constantly contradicting established facts in the series' continuity---because they were going by faulty memories, rather than, you know, doing the professional thing and looking things up to make sure.
And, with the caveat that all art is subjective and one artist's work will be gold to some and dross to others, I'm sorry, but ten years earlier, Mike Grell never would have gotten past DC's lobby at 575 Lexington Avenue. His art was flat, lacking dimension; his sense of anatomy and posture was awful---particularly in his facial features, which were too large and broadly set for a genuine face; and his composition was poor, making many of his panels look jammed.
(If you look at the above cover of Superboy # 216, Tyroc's foot is proportionately too small; it's smaller than his hands. And the leading arms and fists of the Legionnaires swooping into the scene don't follow the line of direction set by the position of their faces; their arms and fists are cantilevered about ten degrees off the line, making their postures look awkward. The arms are also too short. And lastly, Grell dodges the difficult work of drawing the Legionnaires' entire bodies in flight by pulling the cheat of masking their lower bodies in swooping speed-lines. Curt Swan never would have taken that easy way out.
The background figures, behind Tyroc, lack depth; they appear to run along the same vertical plane as the building "behind" them. The overall effect is the same---and as bad---as when a science-fiction film of the '50's used a painting as a matte backdropped behind the actors to depict an alien landscape.)
As to the character of Tyroc himself: I get it; Cary Bates was going for relevancy. He wanted a character which reflected the Black Experience. As this was the character's introduction, the heaviness of his attitude is acceptable. However, if you don't want many of the readers to immediately tune out whatever message an antagonistic character like Tyroc is meant to convey, the other aspects of his depiction better have credibility
Unfortunately, Mike Grell undermined that credibility by putting Tyroc in a costume that looked like he just got home from Disco Night at the Apollo Theater. And, as you pointed out, Philip, saddling him with a "sonic-scream" power just comes off as looking goofy in a written medium. (The Banshee, over at Marvel Comics, had a similar super-power, but it came off much less ludicrously---mainly because whenever the Banshee used his power, the letterer had the good sense not to append it with a bunch of "OYUUUUUUU!!" and "UAAGGGGGGG!!" sound effects, that made Tyroc sound like he was straining at stool.)
Even afterward, when Tyroc became more of a mainstream character, he never quite fit into the Legion mould---the writers were never sure how to handle his personality. They didn't want him to be just "one of the guys", but at the same time, they were tentative about keeping the "black militant" personality of his debut. That's why he showed up about as often as Lieutenant Hanley did on Combat!
Agree with you about the speed lines, Commander. Definitely a shortcut!
As I will explain later, DC wanted Tyroc to be special and relevant, at least as a symbol of diversity. But obviously incoming scribe Paul Levitz had no desire to use him even as "one of the guys".
All I can say about Tyroc is that I was excited when I first saw him as a member of the Legion, then quickly nonplussed when I saw that he basically had zero personality and powers that could do pretty much anything, which turned him into Captain Everything, only less interesting.
In my 31 years of service with Los Angeles County, which encompassed my short Army service, I spent a lot of time with people of all ethnicities. This was as a subordinate, a co-worker, a supervisor, and a friend. Amazingly, they all had different personalities and ways of looking at the world. I happen to be white. The overwhelming majority of the 70s black comics characters were written by white quasi-hippies who didn't seem to have ever met an actual black person. I guess their hearts were in the right place, but the result was usually very poor. Maybe it was a shorthand thing, like showing a man was tough by having him smoke a cigar.
Throughout the '80's and the first half of the '90's, I heavy into fiction writing just for the fun of it. As a boy, I had been a big fan of the adventure-hero pulp magazines---Doc Savage, the Avenger, the Shadow, and the like. I loved the idea of creating a hero and supporting characters and then "playing God"---as I called it---with the mythos I had created.
I had a reference file two inches thick of various bits of esoteric information---historical, scientific, geological, sociological---anything that might come in handy as a useful plotpoint, and I'd spend hours a day at my electric typewriter, cranking out stuff. Eventually, I had fourteen manuscripts about the same hero. Now, it wasn't for publication; it was just for the fun of it. Even if it was any good, it wasn't suitable for publication; I had ripped off too many ideas and plotlines from stuff I had read. Oh, I put my own spin on it, but it was still a pastische of stuff that others had done before me, and better. I just did it because I enjoyed it.
(In all of that, the one thing I was proud of was the one idea that was mine and mine alone, that I had never read in another story or even anything close to it. It was when I had my hero captured by the villain's henchmen, who then restrained him in a straitjacket, took him up in an aeroplane, and some twenty thousand feet in the air, they then tossed our hero out into open space. I had actually worked out a credible way for my hero to survive that experience all on his own.)
Now the point of all that lead-in is that, from experience---because I had never read this in any of my books on writing---I discovered the way to write women and minorities as believable, credible, and strong characters. I think too many writers are thrown off by then notion that---if they're white guys---then they have to write females a different way, or a minority character a certain way, and those ways are based upon how the white guy perceives the thinking of a female or a minority to be.
That's where the stereotypes of the strident feminist or the militant black come from. Certainly, those folks exist in real life, but they become stereotypes when white-male writers use those attitudes as templates for the female and minority characters he writes.
Now, there's nothing wrong with using one of those stereotypes as an ancillary character in a story; if such a character is only going to get a few pages of copy, then it's an easy shorthand way to get his personality across. But if it's going to be a significant character in the story, or perhaps even a regular character, if it's a series, then shorthand techniques like that don't work. Not if you want the character to be believable.
The trick I discovered that makes such characters believable goes to what you said, Mr. Willis: everyone---both sexes, all races, all nationalities---have different personalities and ways of looking at the world. No single demographic group has a monopoly on one attitude or one viewpoint.
So if I was going to give a large part of a female or a minority in one of my stories, I simply wrote the character as I would have if he had been a white male, and then go back and apply the proper gender-pronouns and descriptions. It resulted in strong, believable characters---no "damsels in distress" or "angry at the Man" characters. And if the character wasn't intended to be strong, but cowardly or traitorous or lazy, for example, then it wasn't because the character was a female or a black man or whatever. Because I didn't write the character as a female or a minority.
Since these were adventure stories, there wasn't a lot of time wasted with sociological discourse, anyway. But if I needed to add something which made a female character "more feminine" or a minority character "more ethnic", I added only a mild touch---a throwaway line of dialogue or something. In writing, a little goes a long way.
When writing, even for comics, I think the author is best served by showing only a hint of the character's attitude or outlook and letting his readers fill in the blanks. That works much better than blatant caricatures such as the '70's loudmouthed, abrasive Green Arrow.
For what it's worth, the only way I could deal with Tyroc's truly insane power to make anything he wanted happen by making strange noises was to ignore the possibility that he was using some kind of sonic scream, like Banshee or Black Canary, and just assume that he was a spell caster, and his strange noises were some kind of incantations, like Zatanna talking backwards.
Sometimes, when I hear of the truly demented things DC came up with in the name of "relevance" (like the Black Bomber), I wish they had never bothered.
When Tyroc was introduced, I never saw those stories; it was probably before I started buying new comics, as I got my start finding things in the quarter bin. I'm glad I missed it entirely.
For me, the worst thing about Tyroc wasn't his initial appearance. No, it was the fact that after that he became as dull as dishwater. The stories featuring him were about as exciting as watching Honey Boo Boo do her math homework.
In the series' defense, poor Tyroc had an awful lot working against him--mostly undefined "do anything the story requires" powers--if they weren't magic, as I had to convince myself to read about them, they may as well have been. "Magic" seemed out of place in the LSH universe, and even those who did use it had at least semi-defined limits, whether it was the time and/or objects the White Witch required to cast a spell, or Mordru's vulnerability to being buried. Add to that his vaguely clunky back story--again, for my own peace of mind, I convinced myself that his home, Marzal, was the same formerly floating Island of Mars (Mars' Isle=Marzal) that Wonder Woman's sister Nubia had ruled as their champion in the 20th century. I can certainly see where it was easier for the creative team to neglect him than to deal with all the aspects of the character that made it difficult to make him "one of the guys", since either you try to define him and work the bugs out of the concept, making him the de facto focus of the story (as he was in just about every story he even got a speaking part in), or you put him on the same kind of "off-panel" special missions that took up Star Boy's early career until his powers were changed completely.
We seldom see the process of becoming a Legionnaire so the "Surprise Super Villain" test makes sense though here it comes off a bit like another Legion prank!
I never saw Sun Boy emit red sun radiation before.
I still don't buy Absorbancy Boy sneaking in and hiding in the Legion HQ undetected for so long. And what was his plan? To defeat Tyroc and take his place? That would never happen so what was the point?
Geoff Johns would revive Absorbancy Boy as the xeno-phobic Earth-Man in Action Comics #859 (2007).
The main issue is that we still don't learn anything about Tyroc and, if he's not angry, he has no personality! Cary Bates writes another Tyroc-centric tale but does little to distinguish him or have him fit in!
It would have been interesting to have him clash with the other new Legionnaire Wildfire, who had a real chip on his non-existent shoulders!
Next: "He's A Menace" or "Play Nice, Kids!"