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:

  • Legion founder and apparent part-time male stripper Cosmic Boy briefs (and in his case, literally) the team on a satellite that has crashed on Marzal. Inside are the universally famous Rigel Jewels AKA the macguffin that were stolen 58 years ago and they have to be retrieved.
  • The team going consists of Superboy, Brainiac 5, Karate Kid and Shadow Lass. You would  think given the attitude of Marzal that they would have sent Chameleon Boy, instead of the all-too conspicuous Boy of Steel.
  • The moment the Legion land on Marzal, and there's no evidence to suggest that they attempted to, y'know, TALK to the Marzallian government first, arriving at the same time are the Betas, "the most notorious gang in the galaxy" that we NEVER heard of before. They apparently terrorize the neighboring systems with their ray-guns and jet-packs!
  • They are so menacing that Tyroc hands them their hindquarters with a page and a half.
  • Suitably impressed the Legion try to speak to the High-Pitched Hero only to see and hear him "OYUUU!" himself away!
  • Tyroc had the time to pre-record a "visi-tape" ordering the Marzallians NOT to help the Legion because he feels that the Legion has ignored them!
  • He mentions an energy drought and a "terrible ion storm of last spring" and insinuates that the Legion did not help because of their skin color!
  • Actual quote: "Many times, we could've used their help...but they were always somewhere else!"
  • Now if you want to live in an isolated community/island and indeed it is stated that they declared Marzal off-limits to everyone else, you can't really complain that no one is coming to help you! Did they ask for help and were refused? Or did they stay behind their massive "KEEP OUT!" sign and wonder why no one was coming to offer aid?
  • And Tyroc doesn't look like he's younger than the Legionnaires. So where was he when the Khunds invaded or the Dark Circle or the Fatal Five or the Sun-Eater? I know that you can't retcon him into these stories but while the Legion was saving the Earth, they were also saving Marzal. Doesn't that count?
  • Even after they save some citizens from a collapsing walkway, they told to get out! Not while they're being saved, mind you, only afterwards!
  • However the Betas have returned and tracked down the satellite just as Brainiac 5 builds a gem scanner.
  • Of course, Superboy should have found the jewels with his super-vision loooonnnnggg before now!
  • The Betas open the satellite and are struck with deadly radiation, killing three of them instantly.
  • The fourth survived, barely and seems to whistle for the Legion!
  • He says that the Legion doesn't notice the glowing red radiation emitting skyward but okay!
  • Superboy immediately flies to the scene, orders Shadow Lass to use her power to shield the gems from sunlight then hurls them to another planet (and thus failing their mission, btw).
  • The fourth Beta turns out to be Tyroc in white-face (sorry!) who disguised himself as a Beta.
  • Tyroc is amazed that the Legion saved him and Marzal after all his rants.
  • Then it's MESSAGE TIME on how the Legion doesn't care about race, only justice.
  • Tyroc agrees to try out for the Legion which is a nice switch than automatically joining.

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!"

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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.

SUPERBOY (starring the Legion of Super-Heroes) #218 (Jl'76) The Secret Villain the World Never Knew!" by Cary Bates and Mike Grell, edited by Murray Boltinoff.

  • The story opens with three rejected applicants: Quake Kid who puts the moves on the now-twice denied Infectious Lass and gets massive stomach cramps for his trouble and an unnamed disappointed fellow with SERIOUS muttonchops!
  • Inside Brainiac 5 informs Colossal Boy, Light Lass and Element Lad about their new teammate Tyroc who "OYUUUUU"s into their midst.
  • Almost immediately, they get attacked by ZORAZ, a helmeted enemy in a light blue outfit with far too much piping (he had to be really careful that he didn't get caught on anything!).
  • Before anyone can lay a hand on him, he takes out four Legionnaires in three panels by making their powers go out of control.
  • Brainy disabled by Zoraz sending "millions of wild thoughts" into his 12th level mind, probably by force-feeding him Post-Crisis Legion continuity!
  • Tyroc is momentarily shocked but unleashes an "ARRRRHHH!" explosion but Zoraz absorbs it then makes the alarm go off super-loud! Luckily Tyroc is able to blow the alarm up!
  • Aside: Legitimate Kudos for using the same sound effects for, well, the same sound effects!
  • Superboy and Cosmic Boy help the Afroed Amplifier get their fallen brethren to the infirmary and tell him that Zoraz had stolen cells from every Legionnaire from, obviously, the Legionnaire Cell Bank (first seen in Superboy #206) and now is able to turn their powers against them. And he has a set of Legion HQ blueprints so he's still in the building!
  • Tyroc suddenly is now the Legion's best hope against the Hidden Hijacker as he is the only one Zoraz can't counteract!
  • Later, Cosmic Boy and Sun Boy watch on the monitor as Star Boy and Dream Girl make out (apparently Late Nite Cinemax doesn't exist in the 30th century!) only to see them get attacked by Zoraz who incapacitates them just as quickly as the first batch!
  • Suddenly, Tyroc spins Zoraz like a top with a simple "ZZZRRRUGHHHHH!" but he whirls away into the gym where he sucks all the air out of the room because sound can't travel in a vacuum. But Tyroc grabs a barbell and smashes through the wall. But Zoraz escapes!
  • That night Tyroc is summoned to see that all the stricken Legionnaires have "recovered" and that "Zoraz" was first Sun Boy, then Superboy!
  • Before Tyroc blows a gasket, it's explained to him that it was his last test of membership: to see how he handled severe stress!
  • "Zoraz" shows up but it's not Sun Boy! It's Mister Sideburns from the beginning! And he's not happy!
  • Somehow, unbelievably, he was able to sneak in and hide in the Legion Citadel!
  • As the Boy of Steel tries to show the trespasser out, he suddenly starts glowing with red sun radiation, robbing Superboy of his powers and knocking him out!
  • The reject's name is Absorbancy Boy (which should have gotten him rejected immediately!) and he can absorb "any residue energy left behind by super powers" so the Zoraz suit gives him the powers of Superboy and Sun Boy!
  • Tyroc confronts him and sends out an ultra-high frequency yell that almost deafens Absorbancy Boy, showing the difference between having super powers and using super powers!
  • Despite having all of Superboy's powers, AB gets clobbered by Tyroc with one shot!
  • Tyroc is then sworn in as an official Legionnaire, with a bright future ahead of him!

----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

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!"

Really, those are some SERIOUS sideburns! And blonde, too!

Pa Kent nearly matched them in his younger days...

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