While parts one and two of Nerdlocker’s tribute to black superheroes covered the trailblazers of the 1960s and 1970s, part three presents the most popular modern black superheroes today, addresses the issue of black doppelgangers, and points out some black superheroes you likely haven’t heard of. Again, there is no possible way to list every black superhero, so if you want to add to your list please do so in the comments below!
The most popular modern black superheroes:
Storm (1975) – It was a mistake not to include Storm in the trailblazers. While Storm wasn’t created until nine years after Black Panther, she is the first female black superhero and even the first black female character to play a central or supporting role in either Marvel or DC. Storm is easily the most recognizable black superhero of all of them – male or female – and for good reason. She is arguably comic’s strongest female characters. She is one of the most powerful mutants, even worshipped as a goddess, has led the X-Men on several occasions, has been both a love interest and a maternal figure, she has been queen of Wakanda, and most importantly she rocked the Mohawk.
Bishop (1991) – The time-traveling mutant turned villain has been in X-men comics for over two decades. It is interesting that Bishop hasn’t made it onto the big screen and has been an on again off again character in the books. Is there no room on the X-men for a strong, black male? Would that overshadow Storm’s role on the team?
Blade (1973) – Originating back when Marvel was blazing the trail, it’s a surprise that Blade did not get more than the occasional guest appearances on Marvel’s supernatural titles. This could possibly be due to creator, Marv Wolfman, wanting to portray a more realistically black character. He recognized that at the time he was writing the character with “cliché ‘Marvel Black dialogue’” and wanted to mature as a writer before really pushing the character. Obviously, Blade’s most recent popularity is because of the 1990s Wesley Snipes films. It’s a wonder why his solo comic hasn’t been successful enough to last more than a dozen issues at a time.
Spawn (1992) – The most wildly popular character of the newborn company, Image Comics, Spawn was a character that many readers to this day do not realize he is black. While the Spawn series is well past its 200th issue, its popularity took a swan dive shortly after it exploded onto the scene. While his Faustian tale and pseudo-Catholic mythology make Spawn an intriguing character, Spawn is in my opinion a combination of Ghost Rider and Venom, a product of the 1990s, and therefore lacked the iconic individuality to get him out of the super saturation of overly muscled caricatures that permeated Image Comics and ultimately doomed them to an early grave. The fact that Spawn was a black character did not seem emphasized. I haven’t read a lot of Spawn comics, but I don’t recall race ever being a part of any of the conflicts or storylines. No other black superhero has had a comic series last as long as Spawn. Is this because Spawn’s “blackness” is deemphasized? Is it so deemphasized that Spawn isn’t relevant as a black character at all?
Cyborg (1980) – Victor Stone’s origin story is a very interesting one. First, he is not a product of the ghetto, but rather the son and test subject of parents who are both scientists. Victor rebels against his parents by hanging out with the juvenile delinquent, Ron Evers. While Stone participates in a gang fight, and gets injured in the process, he refuses to join Evers’ plans of racial terrorism. Stone becomes Cyborg when he is injured in an experiment gone wrong – thus receiving his cybernetic limbs in order to save his life. Stone is outraged at what he has become, at being used by his father and turned into some kind of monster. Eventually, however, he is able to come to terms with and even be proud of his new abilities despite the fearful reactions they might bring. Cyborg is progressive both as a black character who is athletically and intellectually gifted, and as a character with prosthetics. In the New 52, Cyborg has taken a prominent role as a member of the Justice League. In this series he is also meant to represent man’s need/desire to have technology as an extension of ourselves.
Black versions of white superheroes:
While researching black superheroes I became aware of the phenomenon of black versions of white superheroes. Some examples include War Machine, Steel, Green Lantern John Stewart, Black Goliath, Aqualad II, The Spectre (Crispus Allen), Firestorm (Jason Rusch), Ultimate Nick Fury, Ultimate Spider-man, Earth 23 Superman, and Earth 23 Wonder Woman. These characters beg the question as to whether the black versions of the characters are portrayed as “lesser” versions or just different versions. Characters like War Machine and Black Goliath, who have borrowed their technological powers from their white superiors, might be seen as lesser versions who subbed in and then were allowed to keep their suits as a consolation prize for time well served.
Diamonds in the rough: I bet you haven’t heard of this!
Queen Divine Justice – Ce’athauna Asira Davin (Alias: Chanté Giovanni Brown) hails from the pages of Black Panther. She is a vocal and opinionated black woman who grew up in Chicago but whose parents were Wakandan. At one point she becomes Queen of the Jabari but is betrayed by Man Ape. Still, while helping Black Panther she gets to debate economics with President George W. Bush. She also serves as Dora Milaje to the Black Panther. As Dora Milaje, Chante could only speak to T’Challa (Black Panther) and her sister Dora Milaje. This raises the conundrum of having pride in her African roots when those African traditions are extremely misogynistic.
Truth: Red, White, and Black (2003) – Set in 1942, this mini-series by Marvel follows a regiment of black soldiers who are forced into being test subjects for the recreation of the super soldier serum used on Steve Rogers to make him Captain America. All of the experiments lead to mutation and death except for one survivor – Isaiah Bradley.
Black Superhero honorable mentions: Vixen, Cloak, Deathlok, Mr. Terrific, Batwing