In the midst of a backlash against war toys and action figures, the Olmec Corp. in New York has come out with Sun Man, probably the first black superhero toy. Despite beliefs by some that such toys promote violence, it is with pleasure -- indeed, a sense of relief -- that I welcome Sun Man to his rightful place alongside He-Man, Rambo and GI Joe.
For too long, many black children have been unable to enjoy the fantasies of power because they could not identify with superheros who were white. Until now, only Mr. T -- who is not quite super -- was all that was available.
Sun Man gives black children a sense of power that goes far beyond the make-believe. When the Olmec Corp. came to Washington last weekend as part of its Sun Man promotional tour, black children stood in line for hours waiting for a chance to see what it looked like. The eyes of black boys lit up at the sight of Sun Man. They were so proud, so pleased, that they left the store with chests puffed out and heads held high.
"He's big and strong, he's smart and he's a black man," one 5-year-old said proudly.
In many ways, Sun Man is like any other action figure. So anybody who has problems with combative figurines is not going to be pleased just because somebody has come out with a black one.
Yla Eason, president of Olmec, said she wanted to create a black action figure that was different from the GI Joe types not only in color, but also in attitude. Sun Man, she insists, does not use violence to defeat evil, but intelligence.
"With Sun Man, the battle between good and evil is fought through mental powers," she said. "The emphasis is on self-confidence."
This is all well and good, and maybe if children take the time to read the Sun Man comic book they will learn that Sun Man is not supposed to be a "war toy." Olmec is working on a Sun Man television show, but until that comes out a lot of the Sun Man message will be lost.
If children read the Sun Man book, they will learn that Sun Man's sword is not really a weapon but a "device from which he harnesses energy from the Sun."
That's what the book says. To which I say, let the sword be a sword.
Take away his sword, and all you have is a priest doll. And that ain't going to sell. But even it did, you can bet that before the priest doll ended up at the bottom of some kid's toy box, it would have been in a fight or two. Kids use dolls to work out anxiety and aggression, as well as to play roles.
Get a child Ken and Barbie dolls and see how long it takes before they have a "lovers' spat." See how far Ken's head flies across a room.
There is a lot of concern about "militarism infiltrating the child's world," and toys are being targeted as the culprits. But if there is a problem, it is certainly not toys. It's adults -- particularly parents who would let their children live and breathe television. An excess of anything can be harmful, and parents do have the power to control a child's access to television.
But don't blame war toys. Children, like adults, wrangle with issues of good and evil in their own ways. Dolls and action figures help. True, the toys these days look very different from what the baby boomers grew up with. But they serve the same function that Batman did.
In fact, the Transformers, Go Bots, GI Joes are no more violent than Daffy Duck, Road Runner or Popeye the Sailor Man. Remember the days of Superman and the Lone Ranger? Those were tough guys, and nowhere do I read that these characters caused violence in children.
The current campaign to ban action figures and war toys is misdirected. And frankly, most parents know it. Why else would black parents alone be expected to spend, according to a spokesman for Olmec, billions of dollars in the month of December alone, on toys for their children?
The toys will be bought because children have fun with them, they get to stretch their imaginations, to become superheros. And thanks to the addition of Sun Man, they will now have a choice about which kind to be.