Written By: Sheldon Williams (originally posted on Atlanta Black Star)
Growing up Black and watching Saturday morning cartoons, watching sci-fi and superhero movies was oftentimes frustrating due to the lack of identification with the characters. Often we did not see ourselves portrayed as the superhero. Image is very important to children, and by not seeing superheroes who look like them and always being portrayed as white men has an effect on a child’s self-esteem.
However, to me it seemed that comic books were always a little more progressive than mainstream media. In fact, you can trace the rise of modern Black superheroes to the civil rights movement. For example, the X-Men characters of Professor Xavier and Magneto have even been compared to the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X. While comics have not been a bastion of diversity, they have offered us some great superheroes to identify with as young Black children, which in turn helped to inspire the next generation of artists to create even more Black superheroes. Today, there are literally hundreds of Black superheroes and heroines across all mediums with the most iterations coming in the form of comics. Here is a list of my top 10 superheroes.
10. Spawn (Al Simmons)
Spawn first appeared in 1992. A CIA agent devoted to black ops. Once there, he began to question the morality of what his agency was doing. Murdered by his partner in a blazing inferno, Simmons’ soul was sent to hell because he had knowingly killed innocents during his days in the CIA. Simmons made a deal to sell his soul in order to avenge his murder and see his wife. Spawn is ranked 60th on Wizard magazine’s list of the “Top 200 Comic Book Characters of All Time,” 50th on Empire magazine’s list of “The 50 Greatest Comic Book Characters” and 36th on IGN’s 2011 “Top 100 Comic Book Heroes.” Spawn has been featured in an animated HBO series, a feature film and several video games.
9. Spider-Man (Miles Morales)
He first appeared as Spider-Man in August 2011. The inspiration for the character was taken from both U.S. President Barack Obama and American actor Donald Glover. Following the death of Peter Parker, a teenager of Black Hispanic descent, Morales, is the second Spider-Man in the Ultimate Marvel Universe. However Morales isn’t the character used for the Disney XD show UltimateSpider–Man. However, he does appear in a third season storyline in which Parker travels through various parallel universes and encounters those dimensions’ versions of Spider-Man, including Morales, who is voiced by rapper/actor Glover. “Spider-Man” writer Brian Michael Bendis has stated that he favors incorporating Morales into the Spider-Man feature films. Miles Morales appears as a playable character in Marvel Super Hero Squad Online, Spider-Man Unlimited and Lego Marvel Super Heroes.
8. Cyborg (Victor Stone)
He first appeared in 1980 and is best known as a member of the Teen Titans. However, in 2011, he was introduced as a member of the Justice League. He appears in several video games, various animated films, the Teen Titans cartoon from 2003 to 2006 and can currently be seen in Teen Titans Go! In April 2014, it was announced that Ray Fisher will portray the superhero Victor Stone/Cyborg in the upcoming film Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice as well as the follow-up Justice League film and a solo Cyborg film.
I’ve never been a big vampire fan, so when I came across Blade from Marvel Comics, I had to give Brother man his props. He is the coolest vampire hunter to walk in the sun. Wesley Snipes played Blade in three movies. Rapper Sticky Fingaz played him on television. Blade has had multiple comic titles, several video games and an anime.
6. Power Man (Luke Cage)
He first appeared in June 1972 in “Luke Cage, Hero for Hire #1.” Imprisoned for a crime he did not commit, he gains superpowers in the form of unbreakable skin and superhuman strength. He was added to the Avengers in 2005 and has appeared in various Avengers titles as member or leader of the group. Actor Nicholas Cage used Luke Cage as the inspiration for his stage name to differentiate himself from his famous uncle, Francis Ford Coppola. Luke Cage has appeared in several cartoons and video games. In 2013, it was announced that Mike Colter will play the character in A.K.A. Jessica Jones, a live-action television series set to premiere in 2015, before headlining his own series.
5. Falcon/Captain America (Sam Wilson)
He first appeared in September 1969. He is the first African-American mainstream superhero. When he was introduced back in 1969, Wilson was a social worker who worked with inner-city youths in his Harlem neighborhood. Falcon was placed as the 96th greatest comic book hero by IGN, which opined that the partnership between him and Captain America forms one of the greatest crime-fighting duos in comics. In July 2014, Joe Quesada announced that Sam Wilson will be taking over as Captain America. The Falcon has appeared in several cartoons and video games. Anthony Mackie portrays Wilson in the Marvel Studios film Captain America: The Winter Soldier. In 2016, Mackie will reprise his role in the sequel, Captain America: Civil War.
4. Green Lantern (John Stewart)
He first appeared in 1972 and was DC Comics first Black superhero. Artist Neil Adams decided to have a substitute Green Lantern and decided to make Stewart Black. In his words “given the racial makeup of the world’s population, “we ought to have a Black Green Lantern, not because we’re liberals, but because it just makes sense.” No affirmative action here; Stewart earned his spot on DC’s roster from pure common sense. Stewart has been featured in hundreds of the Green Lantern comics as well as several video games, the cartoon series JusticeLeague and Justice League Unlimited as well as several animated Justice League movies. His character is rumored to be featured in the upcoming Justice League live-action movie.
3. Storm (Ororo Munroe)
First appearing in 1975, Storm is one of the first Black female characters to play a significant role in comics. In fact, there were only a handful of Black male characters at the time of her arrival. She is the descendant of an ancient line of African priestesses all who could wield magic.Her mother, N’dare, was an African princess who married American photojournalist David Monroe and moved with him to Harlem, where Ororo was born. She was at one point the leader of the X-Men and revered as a goddess in the Marvel Universe. Storm has been featured in the X-Men animated television series, X-Men: Evolution and Wolverine and the X-Men. She has also appeared in four live-action X-Men films, where she is portrayed by actress Halle Berry. Director Bryan Singer announced on Twitter on Jan. 22 that Alexandra Shipp will play Storm in the 2016 X-Men: Apocalypse.
2. Static Shock (Virgil Ovid Hawkins)
Static first appeared in 1993 and was produced by Milestone Comics, a coalition of African-American artists and writers who believed that minorities were severely underrepresented in American comics. Static’s civilian identity was named after the first African-American to go to law school in 1949. Milestone closed in 1997, but Static was saved by the WB animated series Static Shock, which aired for four seasons and led to several comic book series. Static has appeared in video games and comics, has action figures and, of course, is famously known for his cartoon Static Shock. In October 2014, it was announced producer-director-writer Reginald Hudlin is developing a live-action Static Shock series for Warner Bros with Jaden Smith rumored to be playing Static.
1. Black Panther (T'Challa)
First appearing in July 1966, the Black Panther is the first Black superhero in mainstream American comics. Black Panther is not only a superhero but an African king of a highly advanced unconquered albeit fictional African nation of Wakanda. The Black Panther is married to Storm of the X-Men. In 2006, their wedding was a central theme during Marvel’s civil war story arch. The Black Panther has been featured in several video games, has an action figure and has been in several animated cartoons including BET’s animated series voiced by Djimon Hounsou. In 2014, Marvel announced that the Black Panther will be played by Chadwick Boseman and will debut in Captain America: Civil War in 2016, with a solo Black Panther film to be released in 2017.