Who Were the First Black
In the world of superhero comic books, Black and
African-American characters have been woefully under-represented over
the years. That is starting to change, with both of the major comics
companies (Marvel and DC) working hard to create diverse characters
and make their comic-book universes more inclusive.
One of the unintended consequences of most comic
book creators (writers and artists) being White, is that most of the
characters they created, especially in the period from the 1940s
though the 1970s, are also White. Black or African-American comic
book superheroes were non-existent in the two major comic book
companies until the mid-1960s. Then, in 1966, two white, Jewish,
first-generation American creators, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby,
revolutionized comic books by introducing the first Black superhero.
The Black Panther appeared in 1966 in the pages of the popular
Fantastic Four comic book series, and, as they say, the rest is
Marvel's Black Superheroes:
Blade, Storm, Falcon, Black Panther
The following chronological list of major Black
Superheroes provides some background on the history of the first
major Black superhero characters in comics.
1966: The Black Panther-T'Challa, Prince
(and later King) of the fictional African nation of Wakanda, first
appeared in Fantastic Four #52 in 1966. He made his first film
appearance in 2016's Captain America: Civil War. Black Panther is the
first Black Superhero to appear in a major American comic book. Black
Panther is a member of the Avengers.
The current Black Panther comic book title
(in 2016) is written by acclaimed African-American author (Between
the World and Me and The Beautiful Struggle) and essayist
Ta-Nehisi Coates. His first issue of Black Panther was one of
the highest-selling comic books of 2016
Black Panther and the Fantastic
1969: The Falcon (Sam Wilson)-The Falcon is
the first African-American superhero, and the second Black hero in
Marvel Comics. Introduced in Captain America #117. The Falcon
became Captain America's superhero partner, and shared co-billing on
the cover of that a comic book series as Captain America and the
Falcon from issues #134-192 and then from #194-222 (1971 -1978).
Falcon is also significant as he was the first Black superhero not to
have the word "black" in his superhero code-name. Sam Wilson, as the
Falcon, was introduced as in the Marvel movies in Captain America:
The Winter Soldier. He is played by actor Anthony
In Captain America (vol.7) #25 (2015), Sam
Wilson takes on the mantle of Captain America (so appointed by the
original Cap, Steve Rogers, who could no longer serve as Captain
America). Multiple white characters have served as Cap in the past,
and Sam Wilson is the first Black Captain America.
Sam Wilson as the Falcon/Captain America is a
member of the Avengers.
1972: Luke Cage/Power Man: Luke Cage first
appeared in 1972's Hero for Hire #1. He was a former convict
who gained super-strength and unbreakable skin in experiments
conducted on convicts in prison. After leaving prison, Cage becomes a
hero, working primarily in urban areas helping regular people. The
basic motivation for creation of this character were the popular
"Blaxploitation" films of the 1970s. While the original Luke Cage
sported an afro and rather wild 1970s outfits, his modern (in both
comics and TV) appearance is with a shaved head, jeans, and a
muscle-shirt. Generally considered one of the most bad-assed
characters in the Marvel Universe.
This comic was re-titled Luke Cage: Power
Man with issue #17. Luke Cage's first on-screen appearance came
in the Marvel Netflix series Jessica Jones, played by actor
Mike Colter. Luke Cage has been a member of Heroes for Hire and the
Avengers. Luke Cage was the first Black comics character at either
Marvel or DC to get his own comic book series.
1973: Blade (Eric Brooks): A human who was
infected in utero by a vampire biting his mother, Blade has many
vampiric abilities, but not their weakness to sunlight. Blade is a
vampire-hunter known as The Day-Walker. He first appeared in Tomb
of Dracula #10. He was portrayed by actor Wesley Snipes in the
Marvel movies. In the comics, Blade, born in London, is English
(though Black), while his on-screen depictions have him as an
African-American from Detroit.
1975: Storm (Ororo Munroe): The first Black
female superhero, Storm is also the first Black member of the X-Men.
Storm first appeared in Giant-Size X-Men #1(1975). Ororo
Munroe is the daughter of a Kenyan princess who married an American
photographer. After Ororo's birth in New York, the family travels to
Cairo, Egypt, where her parents are killed and she becomes an orphan,
living as a petty thief on the streets of Cairo. She is discovered by
Professor Xavier, who recruits her into the X-Men. Her mutant
abilities give her control of the weather. She is often referred to
as a "weather witch," though her powers are based on her being a
mutant, and not through magic. She is a major character in the X-Men,
and has served as team leader on multiple occasions. She married
Black Panther in the comics, though the marriage did not
Storm has been played by Halle Berry in the
1971: Green Lantern (John Stewart):
The first Black superhero in DC Comics, John Stewart debuted in
Green Lantern #87 in December, 1971. He serves as a member of the
Green Lantern Corps, and originally was chosen in the comic book as a
replacement for the regular Green Lantern was injured, and the
semi-sentient Green Lantern ring had to select a new hero.
1977: Black Lightning (Jefferson Pierce):
The second Black superhero in DC Comics, Black Lightning first
appeared in Black Lightning #1 (1977).
Black Lightning has yet to appear in live-action
movies or TV, but has appeared in several of DC's animated TV shows,
voiced by actors Bumper Robinson and Blair Underwood.
1980: Cyborg (Victor Stone): Cyborg is
probably the best known and most popular of DC's African-American
heroes. His first appearance was in DC Comics Presents #26
(1980) Ironically, for a comic book hero, he is best known as a
character on various animated TV shows, especially the Teen
Titans programs, and he has been introduced into the DC movie
universe in both TV and movies. He was portrayed in TV's
Smallville show by Lee Thompson Young, and in various animated
shows by Ernie Hudson, Khary Payton, among others. He finally
appeared in the movies in a cameo in Batman v Superman: Dawn of
Justice played by Ray Fisher. A solo Cyborg movie is planned for
It is safe to say that Marvel Comics has been a
lot more inclusive of Black characters than DC over the
Honorable Mentions: Marvel has
introduced several major Black characters who were not superheroes
(or at least did not start out as costumed adventurers), so here is a
list of some of those significant Black comic book
1963: Gabriel "Gabe" Jones: Gabe Jones was
an African-American soldier in World War Two, serving with Sgt. Nick
Fury (a white guy in the comics, played by Samuel L. Jackson in the
Marvel movies) as a member of Fury's special forces unit, the Howling
Gabe Jones first appeared in Sgt. Fury and his
Howling Commandos #1 (May 1963).
1966: Bill Foster: A character who first
appeared as a non-powered supporting character is Marvel Comics
character Bill Foster, who, as a non-super-powered character, first
appeared in Avengers #32 in 1966. Foster later, in Power
Man # 24 (1975), gained size-changing powers and became Black
1967: Robbie Robertson: One of Marvel's
most significant African-American supporting characters is
newspaperman Robbie Robertson, who serves as the second in command at
the Daily Bugle newspaper, and is a significant member of
Spider-Man's supporting cast. He first appeared in The Amazing
Spider-Man #51 (August 1967).
It should also be mentioned that the first
African-American comic book character with his own title was
published by Dell Comics (never considered one of the major comics
companies), was Lobo, an African-American hero in a
Western-themed comic. The Lobo series ran to only two issues
(in 1965 and 1966), and was discontinued due to poor sales. One of
the creators of this character, Tony
Tallarico, claimed that most copies of the
comic were returned by retailers because they did not want to sell a
comic book featuring a Black hero.
NOTE: DC later introduced a character named Lobo.
No relation to Dell's Lobo, as the DC character is a chalk-colored
alien from another planet.
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