A look at graphic novels coming out in October 2020 (and beyond), including a new "Lumberjanes" volume.
This week’s minorities in cartoons entry is another two-fer: Dave Stevens and Tina Ames, who (as far as I can tell) hold the distinction of being the first recurring African-American characters in Superman comics.
Dave first appeared in “Superman’s Girl Friend, Lois Lane” #106 (November 1970), while Tina first appeared in “Lois Lane” #114 (September 1971). Both characters were created by writer Robert Kanigher and artist Werner Roth.
Astute readers may recall that “Lois Lane” #106 is one of the most (in)famous issues in Lois’ Silver/Bronze Age series: it’s the story “I Am Curious (Black)!,” which features Lois becoming African-American for a day.
To summarize the issue’s events: to write a story about the status of African-Americans in Metropolis, Lois ventures to “Little Africa,” an inner-city African-American neighborhood. (Most stories from the 70s to the present state “Suicide Slum” is the main inner-city/impoverished neighborhood of Metropolis.) There, she finds nobody is willing to speak with her due to her race, including Dave Stevens, who’s leading a rally. At one point, he points to the passing Lois as an example: “look at her, brothers and sisters! She’s young and sweet and pretty! But never forget…she’s whitey!” Going on about how Lois’ “kind” won’t let Blacks enjoy the privileges she does (including living in integrated neighborhoods, etc.), Lois walks off, distraught.
Running into Superman, Lois has an idea, and convinces Kal-El to use on her a Kryptonian device (used in an earlier “Lois Lane” story) that can perform temporary full-body plastic surgery; in this case, to give Lois African-American features. Heading back to “Little Africa,” Lois tries to do more research for her story; at one point, she’s appalled at the conditions she finds in a slum.
Running across Dave Stevens (who doesn’t know of Lois’ transformation), the two befriend each other. Dave’s later shot while trying to stop a group of drug dealers. Rushed to a poorly equipped hospital, the only compatible blood available for Dave is Lois’, who transformed back to normal after the transfusion. (If curious, Lois’ blood type is O Negative.) Dave comes to, sees the now-Caucasian-again Lois, and decides to stay friends with her.
Surprisingly, this isn’t a one-off story; it turns out there’s a sequel. Lois doesn’t become Black again, but in the follow-up issue, “Lois Lane” #114 (September 1971), we’re introduced to Tina Ames. Tina’s a co-worker at the African-American newspaper Dave also works for, and the girlfriend of Dave. Lois is sent by Perry White to convince Dave to join the “Daily Planet” staff (becoming its first Black columnist).
Eventually, Lois, Superman, Dave, Tina, and the superheroine the Thorn all fight The 100, an organized crime gang that made frequent appearances in Bronze Age Superman and Black Lightning stories. Afterwards, Dave agreed to join the “Planet,” with Tina being hired on as well. “Lois Lane” #116 sees another fight involving Lois, Dave, Tina, and Superman against The 100. Lois’ short-lived public affairs TV show is also seen in this story.
After this story, Dave and Tina didn’t make many appearances until a storyline in the late 70s run of “Superman Family,” involving a shooting attempt on Dave over his muckraking efforts. The storyline also involved Tina gaining energy powers due to a defective healing device of Professor Potter. The device came from Earth-2, where it’d been created by the Justice Society’s Dr. Mid-Nite.
Dave and Tina didn’t appear much past the early 80s, and don’t seem to exist post-Crisis.
In modern stories, the most prominent African-American characters in Superman stories are Franklin Stern (the “Planet”‘s publisher) and Ron Troupe, a “Planet” writer. Of course, since it’s comics, it’s always possible for Dave and Tina to make a comeback if some nostalgic writer felt compelled.