A Brief 75-Year History Lesson on Black Superheroes in Comic Books
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Surprising no one, when it comes to comic books, black superheroes have never enjoyed the same kind of representation as their white counterparts. Even today the number of black heroes pales in comparison to white heroes, though for many years there simply weren’t any black superheroes at all.
Today there’s obviously much greater diversity in comic book heroes, and some black superheroes have even made the transition to the big screen (Black Panther, Blade, Storm and Cyborg among them). Let’s take a look at the legacy of those characters.
Below we take a look at 75 years of black superheroes in comic books:
1947: Lion Man
The first (and last) appearance of Lion Man was in All-Negro Comics issue #1. Created by Orrin Cromwell Evans, the comic book is the first to be produced, written and drawn by only African-American writers and artists.
The first and only issue of All-Negro Comics contained a number of features — as did most comic book “magazines” of the time — like various detective stories, boy-adventure text stories, humor stories and … Lion Man.
Lion Man stands out as it portrays an educated black man sent by the United Nations on a mission to protect a uranium deposit on Africa’s Gold Coast. Dressed in a loincloth with head and arm bands, he’s meant to inspire black readers’ pride in their African heritage.
With only one issue of the small press All-Negro Comics ever published, it’s little wonder why Lion Man is distinctly missing from most published books dedicated to the history of comic books. The question is, as a costumed hero tasked with protecting a rare and valuable element in an African country, is Lion Man actually the first Black Panther?
The Late ’60s: Black Panther and The Falcon
Smash cut to nearly 20 years after the appearance of Lion Man: In 1966, in Fantastic Four issue #52, Marvel gives us the Black Panther. He’s quickly followed by The Falcon in 1969, who is introduced in Captain America issue #117 and eventually shares co-billing in Captain America and the Falcon with issues #134–222.
The ’70s: Slow But Steady
In December of 1971, DC Comics gave us its first black superhero in substitute Green Lantern John Stewart (this is in issue #87 of Green Lantern). And Marvel’s Luke Cage/Power Man debuted in 1972’s Hero for Hire #1.
Marvel followed up quickly with Blade, aka “The Day-Walker,” in the pages of Tomb of Dracula #10 and the future Doctor Voodoo — then named Brother Voodoo — in Strange Tales #169, both in 1973.
1975 gave us our first mainstream black superheroines with Storm making a splash in Giant Sized X-Men #1 and Misty Knight, with her bionic arm, debuting in Marvel Premier #20.
In 1976 DC presented its second black superhero, Tyroc, who served briefly with the futuristic Legion of Superheroes starting in Superboy and the Legion of Superheroes #216. DC then followed strong with Black Lightning, who first appeared in his own title, Black Lightning #1, in 1977.
The ’80s: Moving in the Right Direction
By the time we get to the 1980s, black superheroes aren’t the novelty they once were.
Just a few heroes of note: DC’s Cyborg first appeared as a member of fan-favorite team and comic book The Teen Titans (the group debuted in DC Comics Presents #26 in 1980); Vixen is showcased in Superman-starring Action Comics #152 in 1981; in 1982, Marvel gave us Monica Rambeau in Amazing Spider-Man Annual #16 as the second Captain Marvel, later going by Pulsar, then Photon, currently Spectrum (girl, make up your mind!); and as one half of the biracial couple Cloak and Dagger, Cloak first appeared in Peter Parker, The Amazing Spider-Man #64.
That brings us to longtime friend and personal pilot of Tony Stark, James “Rhodey” Rhodes, who assumed the role of Iron Man after Tony succumbed to his alcoholism in Iron Man #169.
Throughout the ’90s and until now it hasn’t been unusual for black superheroes to headline a successful comic book. This is due in no small part to the successes and missteps of the groundbreaking black superheroes before them, and the writers and artists who created them.
Which black superheroes are your favorites? Sound off in the comments!
Featured image: Brian Stelfreeze, Black Panther (2016) #1, Marvel Comics