In honor of Martin Luther King Day, we thought we’d offer up some opinions as to the Top 10 Black Superheroes in comics! (They’re aren’t all American, so the term “African American” doesn’t quite apply. I wish someone would come up with a more inclusive euphemism!) Without further ado…
10. Patriot (Elijah Bradley)
As was revealed in the ‘Captain America: Red, White and Black’ miniseries, prior to administering the Super Soldier Serum to Steve Rogers, the US government tested it out on African American enlisted men, with typically lethal results. The one survivor was Isaiah Bradley, who briefly served as the actual first Captain America. Unfortunately, although he didn’t die, the Serum over time greatly damaged his brain.
Isaiah’s grandson, Elijah currently leads the Young Avengers. Despite not possessing any super powers originally, Patriot valiantly led the fledgling team and even had the gumption to stand up to Captain America and the adult Avengers when they tried to shut them down. Elijah has since received a blood transfusion from his grandfather, resulting in his gaining enhanced abilities.
9. Vixen (Mari Jiwi McCabe)
Via the Tantu Totem, Vixen can channel the abilities of any animal, from a lion’s ferociousness and claws to a bird’s flight to a reptile’s self-healing! She was slated to be DC’s first headlining black female hero, but her book was aborted due to DC’s famous “Implosion” in the late 70s. She was then pitched to be part of a team alongside Supergirl, Batgirl and The Enchantress called the “Power Squad” but DC passed. (Always a bridesmaid…) She has since valiantly fought as a member of the Justice League as well as alongside Superman, the Suicide Squad, Animal Man, the Birds of Prey and on her own. She has even been adapted to animation appearing on ‘Justice League Unlimited’ and ‘Batman: The Brave & The Bold.’ Currently serving as a member of Justice League International, her full potential hasn’t even been explored!
8. Spawn (Al Simmons)
By far the number one selling African American superhero of all time, Spawn’s comic during its heyday moved copies in the millions and spawned one of the most successful multimedia franchises in comics history! And this was an “independent” comic, so that was unheard of! The character was Al Simmons, a Marine sentenced to Hell but sent back as a Hellspawn to do the bidding of demon Malebolgia. He possesses a vast array of supernatural powers, but is doomed to be separated from his wife and their old life together. The series was extremely dark, skewing towards an older audience and setting the trend for darker, more violent books in the 90s.
Spawn starred in his own adults-only animated series and a live action theatrical movie. His creator, Todd McFarlane even crafted a Spawn action figure line that was so successful that he parlayed that into a full-blown toy production company!
Sadly, times and tastes change. Spawn is no longer the hot property it once was, but time doesn’t diminish the unimaginable success it had!
7. Black Lightning
DC Comics’ first black superhero was crusading public school teacher Jefferson Pierce, who moonlighted as vigilante Black Lightning. Reading old ‘Black Lightning’ comics is a tad cringe-worthy as educated Pierce adopts a slang-spouting, street smart persona when in costume and even wears an afro wig to seem more hip! In a move of complete injustice, he was kept out of the Justice League with the feeble excuse that their scope is too worldly and he wants to focus on street level crime. Funny, that never stopped Batman, Black Canary or Green Arrow!
Following stints in Batman’s team The Outsiders, he eventually took his place in the Justice League. His two daughters also became superheroes, Thunder, serving in a new version of The Outsiders and Lightning in the Justice Society. Sadly, Black Lightning and his children are M.I.A. in The New 52. Here’s to hoping DC alleviates this soon!
6. The Falcon (Sam Wilson)
The Falcon was Marvel’s first African American hero, a reformed ex-con who initially acted as Captain America’s non-powered sidekick. Eventually, Marvel’s first African hero, the Black Panther gifted him with wings and a harness, allowing him to actually live up to his namesake! The Falcon has been soaring high ever since, co-headlining Cap’s book throughout the 70s, appearing on a bevy of merchandising and serving in the Avengers. He currently stars on the animated series ‘Superhero Squad’ and appears on most merchandise for that series.
5. Cyborg (Victor Stone)
Vic Stone debuted as a member of the ‘New Teen Titans’ an early 80s revamp of the formerly sunny teen sidekick team. This version of the group however was darker, with heroes that were more troubled and much deeper. Vic Stone was among them. Here was a hero who resented his enhancements, robotic parts used to save his life and granting him phenomenal strength and other abilities, all the while robbing him of his ability to fit into society. Cyborg proved to be such a smash he had the distinction of being adapted to the animated ‘Super Friends’ series and received a ‘Super Powers’ action figure. He also starred in the much later ‘Teen Titans’ cartoon and appeared on all of its merchandising. He’s been a constant in the Titans’ comic book roster ever since… until now. He is now part of the major leagues, as a member of the Justice League!
4. Green Lantern (John Stewart)
Initially, a stereotypical “angry black man” character, John Stewart has developed over the years into a character as deep, rich and well-developed as his Caucasian Green Lantern counterparts. A former Marine, his military background makes him incredibly disciplined and at times, rigid. He is no stranger to suffering, having lost his wife, fellow Lantern Katma Tui and accidentally causing the destruction of a planet.
He was utilized on the animated series ‘Justice League’ and ‘Justice League Unlimited’ bringing him his highest profile ever. His action figures in the spin-off toy line were reissued repeatedly through the line’s run. At one point, Common was attached to play him in a movie, which never materialized. He currently co-stars in the book ‘Green Lantern Corps.’
3. Luke Cage
Speaking of “angry black men,” Luke Cage was the tough, jive-talking, pimp shirt-wearing Marvel Comics take on blaxploitation movies of the 70s like “Shaft” and “Superfly!” He became a “Hero For Hire” hoping to profit from his super powers (granted by a prison experiment gone awry). Sadly, things never worked out and Luke was rarely paid. He has enjoyed a lengthy partnership with Danny Rand, better known as Iron Fist.
His greatest growth, however has occurred since joining Marvel’s premier super team, The Avengers! Initially he felt inadequate standing beside greats like Captain America and Iron Man, but his confidence has grown to the point that he now leads his own separate Avengers team! He has also settled down, marrying Jessica Jones, formerly her hero Jewel and the two have a daughter Danielle. Luke has appeared on ‘Superhero Squad’ and received many action figures, the best of which are the ones where he’s still wearing his yellow 70s pimp costume.
2. Black Panther (T’Challa)
T’Challa comes from a long line of kings and adventurers. Every rule of his tiny nation of Wakanda also bears the mantle of The Black Panther! Wakanda is a mysterious land of both African traditionalism and extreme technology, most famous for the rare metal Vibranium, which was incorporated into the creation of Captain America’s shield. T’Challa himself is a genius and colleague of Reed Richards’. In addition to that, he is physical perfection with reflexes and agility like his jungle cat namesake!
Black Panther has been an on-again-off-again Avenger for decades and at one point even led the Fantastic Four. He has appeared in numerous animated movies, starred in his own self-titled series produced by BET (although it never aired, it is now available on BluRay) and currently appears on ‘Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes.’
The X-Men are and have been for decades, Marvel’s biggest name team, outselling even The Avengers. Heck, outselling almost everything but Spider-Man for that matter. And throughout most of that time, Storm has led the team to victory after victory! Power-wise, she is considered one of the most powerful mutants in the Marvel Universe, with her mastery of the weather. But even during a period when she had no powers, she still commanded the X-Men in battle, using her own wits and physical prowess.
Since X-Men sells so well, Storm has arguably the highest profile of any of Marvel’s female heroes. She starred on the long-running ‘X-Men’ animated series and in various other subsequent animated shows. Perhaps most famously, Halle Berry portrayed her in the super successful live action ‘X-Men’ movies. Due to her high profile, Storm has appeared on countless pieces of merchandising from tee shirts to action figures to even candy! She is Marvel’s First Lady and in my opinion the best black superhero in comics!
What do you think of the picks? There are many, many other great black comic book characters and other heroes of color, but I believe these are the biggest, most high-profile champions! Please leave comments below if you agree or disagree!