Saturday Night Live's Captain Shadow Understands the Dangers of Superheroing While Black

Image: NBC
Image: NBC

Though they’re still woefully outnumbered by their white counterparts, black superheroes have been an integral part of some of the best superhero stories in recent memory. While it’s always great to see them on the page or on the big screen, even Saturday Night Live has recognized that something about their depiction’s that’s always been somewhat... disingenuous.


Superheroes have always had a contentious relationship with law enforcement for reasons that should be obvious. Heroes are technically vigilantes and the only real reason the public tolerates them is because they deal with issues that the police cannot. With that it mind, it makes all the sense in the world that the police wouldn’t exactly endorse any empowered person in a costume running around skirting the law. But it’s all the weirder that in most superhero stories in which there’s a hero of color—particular a black hero—things between the authorities and the capes seem perfectly fine.

Regular, unarmed black men, women, and children are routinely harassed by the police. So imagine what it might be like for a black superhero, a person purposefully breaking the law while having enhanced metahuman abilities or causing millions of dollars worth of collateral damage to city property.

SNL’s “Captain Shadow and the Cardinal” pokes fun at this idea with a pair of black heroes modeled after Batman and Robin. As the duo make their getaway from a fight with a supervillain, they’re pulled over by a police officer who mistakes them for a pair of rappers before questioning them about their activities.

It’s perfectly reasonable for the officer to wonder why Captain Shadow, a grown man, is living in a cave with the Cardinal, a 16-year-old-boy, and why the man’s got a utility belt full of weapons. But those questions take on a different sort of meaning when you’re talking about a world in which superheroes are an established thing. All superheroes do weird shit that raises eyebrows and, sure, maybe Batman and Captain Shadow should make a point of hanging out with people their own age. But the question still remains, what is it about Captain Shadow that makes him so much easier for a cop to pull over?

Charles Pulliam-Moore is an NYC-based culture critic whose work centers on fandom, pop culture, politics, race, and sexuality. He still thinks Cyclops made a few valid points.



I feel like it didn’t really understand it, and its conclusion undermined any point it might have been trying to make.

To be fair, that entire episode was confused and strained and failed to land any of the sketches.