Why Africa needs indigenous superheroes
Every kid needs a superhero.
It is undeniable that superheroes play an important role in society. If in doubt, a quick look at the Superhero Database will prove the truth. Perceived to be role models who embody everything good and pure while working hard to defeat evil villains, superheroes have been used extensively in instilling values in young children.
The appeal of superheroes is simple yet pervasive. They provide certainty and unshaking strength in uncertain times, they provide scapegoats for several societal fears and even provide the much needed break from harsh and unfair realities into a world of wish-fulfilment fantasy where good always prevail.
Superheroes have been a part of society longer than anyone alive can remember. The Greeks had Achilles and Hercules. Americans had Captain America, Superman, Batman, Spiderman, and Ironman. Asians have Cassie Chan, Lady Shiva and a host of others. However, it appears that, like with many things, the superhero culture is one in which Africans have been lagging behind. That is about to change.
A US-trained computer scientist, Roye Okupe, has created a superhero that is as African as Ironman is American in a graphic novel titled ‘E.X.O – The Legend of Wale Williams’. In the recently launched novel, Okupe tells the story of Wale Williams, a young impulsive Nigerian in 2025 who has to return hope to the fictional Lagoon City by preventing catastrophic attacks from a sociopathic extremist, Oniku.
This is not to say that Africans have not attempted in the past to create their own superheroes, but that most of the superheroes created have for various reasons been unable to stand the test of time. However, never in the history of Nigerian superheroes has a superhero shown as much promise as Okupe’s Wale Williams.
According to the story, Wale was tricked into returning home to Nigeria after a five-year absence and he has to embark on journey to investigate his father’s mysterious disappearance. His only clue is also his only weapon, a cryptic Nano suit — left behind for him by his father — which grants superhuman abilities.
The novel is intended to be a trilogy, with the first part, a 130-page book, already released. The first chapter is available for free here. Beyond this, there are plans in motion to release E.X.O as animated feature sometime in the near future. Roye Okupe is a veteran creative specialist, a writer and director with experience in film and animation. He worked with a team of four artists who helped with editing, designing, colours, and cover art.
Okupe’s interest in superheroes began in the 1980s with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and he claims that it was a noticeable lack of diversity within the genre that motivated his story. Although the project is now a viral sensation, Okupe explained that he didn’t get it done overnight. His complaints with production were the same as those of most innovative startups – funding. Although they admitted the brilliance of his idea, the investors were unwilling to spend money on a venture that did not have an established fan base leaving Okupe and his studios no choice but to run a fundraising campaign on Kickstarter using a one-minute animated trailer of the novel. The trailer has since gone viral, resulting in Okupe raising nearly 300% of his target capital and spawning noticeable mentions and interviews on popular media platforms such as CNN, Forbes and Mashable.
There is a suggestion that African superheroes should be based on ancient African deities to encourage authenticity. In Nigeria for example, the South-south’s Amadioha and the South-west’s Sango are able replacements for Thor. Yemoja could also work as the African version of Aquaman.
The debate for African superheroes exists in the same hive as the debate for African versions of other things that are predominantly western, like African dolls. The biggest appeal of a superhero is that fans can relate to it. African children need superheroes who share their background and experiences to prove their capacity for infinite awesomeness.
A lot of Africans pride themselves on being practical people and do not understand the need for superheroes. A sizeable number of youths will perhaps be able to recall times when they’ve been reprimanded for filling their heads with fantasies of being superheroes. While we may never be able to leap a tall building in a single bound or control weather with our minds, there is still a lot to learn from superheroes – from their strength of character to proving the capacity of human beings to be incorruptible – we hold all the power in our minds.
Roye Okupe says, “My mission with E.X.O.: The Legend of Wale Williams is to put Nigeria and Africa on the map when it comes to telling superhero stories, whether through animation or comics and graphic novels.”
We hope he succeeds.