The history of black characters in comic books has often been controversial and exploitative, However, the legacy of some has helped to define the public consciousness of race and culture. Black representation is still an uphill fight. But comic books are at the forefront of this fight, bringing characters of color to the forefront of the media.
There is still a great deal of work to be done. But creators and fans alike can unite through the fantastic characters that have come onto the scene in recent decades. These characters of color celebrate black lives in all forms. In honor of Black History month, here’s a countdown of some of our favorite black heroes.
War Machine Alias: James Rupert Rhodes
Rhodes is best known for his inclusion in Iron Man’s arsenal of suited support, However, War Machine is a hero in his own right. He’s taken on such evil-doers as Obediah Stane and Hydra. He’s not just a part of Iron Man’s shadow, but a leader and a hero. Not only does he kick badie-butt, but he’s also a brilliant aviation engineer and a Marine in the US military. Rhodes also served as Iron Man for a stint filling in for Tony Stark when he was too inebriated to fly. War Machine single-handedly saving Stark Tower from the villain Magma. That’s just the beginning of Jimmy Rhodes road to super herodom. He later became the director of Worldwatch and the CEO of Stark Industries. Check War Machine out in Marvel’s War Machine Classic trade paperback by Scott Benson for a taste of what he has to offer.
Blade Alias: Eric Brooks
Maybe you know him best as played by Wesley Snipes in his millennium-spanning movie series about vampire hunting. But this unlikely superhero got his start in Marvel comics as a side character in the lesser-known title Tomb of Dracula. While his story got its start there, he’s had a much longer and more popular run as a leading man. His origin story alone sets him apart from your average comic character.
Born in a brothel, Blade’s mother was killed by a vampire (Deacon Frost) who had disguised himself as a doctor brought in to help assist with his birth. Frost feasted on Blade’s mother, in so doing passing on vampiric enzymes to the newborn Brooks and effectively infecting him with a modified version of the vampirism. He gained super strength, a lengthened lifespan, the ability to sense other supernatural beings and an immunity to other vampiric effects. After training for several years with vampire hunter Jamal Afari, Blade put these powers into action by traveling around the world to kill evil beings wherever he can find them. You can find Blade in the eponymous series, as a member or the Avengers, and in Blade: Black and White.
Ironheart Alias: Riri Williams
If you are unfamiliar with Ironheart, you need to get yourself acquainted with her comics as quickly possible. Williams is currently the protege to Tony Stark. She started out as a fifteen year-old super genius attending M.I.T. Haunted by the memory of a violent incident that left both her stepfather and best friend dead, Riri built her own version of the Iron Man Armor suit using materials she stole from her campus. After catching wind of Riri, Stark officially took her under his wing and helped her to become a full blown superhero–Ironheart. After the second superhero civil war, Riri even built an A.I. version of Stark to help guide her heroing when the real billionaire was put into a coma. Ironheart’s story is still unfolding in the Invincible Iron Man comic series.
Spider-Man Alias: Miles Morales
Miles Morales is probably the best known of a new generation of superheroes, having taken up the mantle of Spider-Man. Like Peter Parker, Morales was bitten by a mutated Oz Corporation spider. As a result, he has superpowers similar to the original Spider-Man’s, but with a few twists. Morales, like Parker, is also driven by a similar motivation to do good for his city. He is Black Hispanic and grew up in New York,. His experience is a perfect starting point for conversations about race in the realm of comic books. And writers of the series are not afraid to approach that subject. While his story isn’t as expansive as his mentor Peter Parker’s is yet, there are enough comics out there to be a little intimidating. So, a good place to start is the Ultimate Comics Spider-Man.
Luke Cage (Power Man) Alias: Carl Lucas
Luke Cage was the very first black hero to have his own title. Debuting in 1972, Luke Cage, Hero for Hire came out at the height of Blaxploitation. Despite this, he’s become a particularly powerful representative for the black experience in the superhero genre. He’s imbued with super-strength, and unbreakable after being forced into involuntary medical experimentation. Cage has had a storied history. He’s gone from working as a mercenary “hero for hire” to partnering up with The Fantastic Four to fight off Doctor Doom. He’s used his powers to defend the people of his Harlem home. Find Luke Cage in his own title trade Luke Cage: Avenger or the ongoing Power Man and Iron Fist series.
Storm Alias: Ororo Monroe
Storm is best known for affiliation with the Marvel comics team X-Men. Before being part of the X-Men, she was tragically orphaned when her parents were killed by an airplane crashing into their Cairo home. Left alone, Orora sought out her mother’s ancestral home in the Serengeti desert. There she was trained to respect and hone her powers, which had been passed through several generations of her family. After meeting with the X-Men, she learned the true nature of her magic (a mutant gene just like the rest of the team) and set about using them to better the world around her. Orora has seen a great deal of action in other titles like Marvel Team-Up and Black Panther. The best Storm story has to go to X-Men: Worlds Apart. Otherwise, you can find her story continuing to unfold in the Uncanny X-Men series.
Green Lantern Alias: John Stewart
John Stewart became DC’s first African American superhero when he took up the mantle of the Green Lantern in 1971. Since then, his story has helped to define a generation of DC comics. Originally selected by the Green Lantern Corps as a backup for Hal Jordan, Stewart has served as a Lantern several times. He eventually became the first Guardian of the Universe- the Master Builder- during the Green Lantern Mosaic arc. Stewart’s incredibly keen intellect and preternatural will power makes him not only one of the most dynamic Green Lanterns, but one of the most remarkable characters in the DC universe. While you can find Stewart throughout most of the Green Lantern arcs after the early seventies, we recommend checking out Blackest Night or Green Lantern Corps: The Lost Army.
Spawn Alias: Al Simmons
Al Simmons was a highly skilled Marine who learned too much about the nature of the CIA. In death, Simmons is Spawn, a demonic assassin with supernatural abilities and a huge agenda. Charged with battling both the forces of heaven and hell in order to hold a balance in the universe, Spawn is the anti-hero to end them all. Spawn’s long crusade has pitted him against street criminals, gods and everything in between. While originally conceived of by Todd MacFarlan, Spawn stories have been written by a number of other comics luminaries such as Alan Moore and Brian Michael Bendis. The best place to pick up the Spawn series is in its very beginning with Spawn Origins.
Falcon Alias: Sam Wilson
Sam Wilson was originally a social worker and former soldier. He was kidnapped by Red Skull after his plane crashed. Villain Red Skull used a Cosmic Cube to give Wilson the power to communicate telepathically with birds. While Red Skull was attempting to craft Wilson into a minion of Hydra, he was rescued by Captain America. The two quickly became friends and Steve Rogers helped to hone Wilson into the superhero Falcon.
After rescuing Black Panther, the Wakandan king gifted Wilson with a suit that would enable him to fly. He uses his ability to communicate with birds, his suit, and his will to do right by the world. Sam Wilson is a shaping force behind the Avengers team and the entire Marvel Universe. While best known for his service as Falcon, Sam Wilson was also selected by Steve Rogers as his official replacement as Captain America when he had aged out of the role. Find Sam’s origins in Captain America Epic Collection: Coming of Falcon or follow his current series Captain America Sam Wilson.
Black Panther Alias: T’Challa
King T’Challa Wakanda is without doubt one of the most powerful superheroes both on the page and outside of it. Widely considered the first true black superhero, Black Panther is fan favorite. His power and influence makes him fight against injustice and racism throughout the world. Black Panther is powerful in all senses of the word. He’s got physical strength and political pull as the king of technologically advanced African country Wakanda. He uses his power to unite people across the world. Black Panther’s story has spanned decades. He’s teamed up with just about everyone imaginable in the Marvel Universe from the Avengers to the X-Men. If you’re new to Black Panther, check out the incredible new series by Ta-Nehisi Coates and Brian Stelfreeze.
Who else would you include on the list? And, which black heroes do you wish would get more attention in the future? Leave your answers in the comments below.