Bill Henderson: Superman’s Cop in Black and White

I don’t have any big point to this one, it’s just something I find mildly interesting: Of all the recurring characters in the canon of Superman, none has been reinterpreted as either black or white more often than Bill Henderson.

Why is that? I suppose it starts with a noble effort to add diversity to the franchise. The cast that dates back to the 40s and 50s is very white, but the characters are also very iconic. While we’ve recently had movies where Perry is black and Jimmy has been black on Supergirl’s show and in at least one comics miniseries I can think of. But Bill here has consistently all over the place and that has got to be because he’s the least iconic of that cast. As you can see from how jerks on the internet reacted to the Perry and Jimmy iterations I just mentioned, it can be considered a risk to make a traditionally white character black. But nobody cares about Bill Henderson.

He’s just Clark’s police officer friend. The franchise in general has drifted away from stories in which Clark would consult with a police officer, and even when he gets them there are others, like Maggie Sawyer, who can fill the role. So if you’re back in the 90s and you’re making a show about Superman and want a good role for a black character, you can do it with Bill! Of course, in the case of the cartoon he occurred very rarely. And in Lois and Clark he had two appearances played by different black actors before being replaced by Richard Belzer. (For the record, I am ignoring appearances that Henderson has made in Black Lightning’s comics and shows, but I believe he’s been black and white in those as well. Just because some other superhero is going to steal Superman’s cast doesn’t mean I need to pay attention.)

It’s also interesting (to me) to note that there was a period in the comics in which we had TWO Hendersons. Bill Henderson was the traditional white one and he’d been promoted to Commissioner. But then there was a new inspector, Mike Henderson, who was black. The two even spoke to one another in at least one issue. Honestly, as someone who would scale Superman’s adventures such that interacting with people in the city would come back, I’d take two Hendersons without complaint.

But the bottom line is this: There’s only yet been one time that I’ve seen Henderson’s ethnic makeup matter to a story, and that was in Superman Smashes the Klan. That was a very good book.

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