Loyalty, Strength, and Superpowers: Not Synonymous with a Single Race


Black superheroes have shown the world that courage comes in all races and ethnicities.

Riley Kasprzyk, Staff Writer

With their classic tales of heroism, a fight for the fate of the universe, and at times the soap-opera drama, superheroes have provided the world with a common ground for entertainment. Everybody knows who Superman and Batman are. Spider-Man is recognizable to all. Wonder Woman has been a cultural icon for decades and teams like the Avengers and the Justice League have showcased that there is strength in numbers. One of the most important traits of these characters is that they are likeable; they must be people that little boys and girls can look up to and relate to. However, it is impossible to avoid the fact that at first most superheroes were white, meaning that people of color had no superheroes to call their own.

It is important to note though that a superhero does not have to be the same race as a reader for a connection to be made. It is possible for white children to be inspired by Black Panther just like it is possible for Black children to look up to Spider-Man. In fact, the best-written characters transcend racial barriers and give all children a role-model. But that does not change the fact that it is easier for children to put themselves in a character’s shoes if they look like them and struggle with similar societal barriers that may only come from being a certain race. This is why diversity is essential in superhero culture. 

Therefore, in honor of Black History Month, a spotlight will be given to the influential Black superheroes that shattered barriers of race, as well as an example of a breakout star that proves that the superhero genre is making attempts at creating a more inclusive universe.

Black Panther 

Black Panther was created in July of 1966, by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, making his first debut in Fantastic 4 #52. His real name is T’Challa, and he is the King of the fictional African Country, Wakanda. This makes him the world’s first mainstream Black superhero. His powers are granted to him by consuming the Heart-Shaped Herb that grows within Wakanda, and it gives him superhuman strength, agility, speed, and endurance. He is also highly intelligent and has a costume that is made up of the fictional metal known as vibranium (the same material that Captain America’s shield is made of). T’Challa is also a prominent member of the superhero teams of the Avengers and the Illuminati. In the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), he is played by the late Chadwick Boseman, portraying him in Captain America: Civil War, Black Panther, Avengers: Infinity War, and Avengers: Endgame. Another thing to note is that Black Panther is not just T’Challa, but also a mantle that gets passed down to each ruler of Wakanda. For example, his sister, Shuri, became the Black Panther for a time in T’Challa’s absence. 

The Falcon

The Falcon (real name is Sam Wilson) was portrayed in Captain America #117 in September 1969, created by Stan Lee and Gene Colan for Marvel Entertainment. While he was the second black superhero in mainstream entertainment, he was notably the first African American Superhero. He was originally introduced as Captain America’s sidekick, but over time he grew into a hero in his own right. He does not have any superpowers, but he has mechanical wings that allow him to fly at great speeds. He also has his trusty companion, Redwing, who is himself a real falcon, and the two share a slight telepathic connection. Anthony Mackie brings Falcon to life in the MCU, playing him in a number of films including Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Captain America: Civil War, and Avengers: Infinity War. However, the Falcon is not Sam’s only persona. In 2014, he picked up the iconic shield of Steve Rodgers, becoming the latest Captain America. In his tenure depicting the role, themes of systematic racism and government corruption are conveyed. In the MCU, he will be coming into the Captain America role in the Disney+ original series, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, launching March 2021. 

Mal Duncan (The Guardian, the Hornblower, the Herald, and Vox)

While Marvel pioneered black superheroes with Falcon and Black Panther, DC Comics finally got its first black superhero in April 1970, though it may not be who you think. Despite the popularity of John Stewart (Green Lantern) and Black Lightning, they did not actually claim the title of “first”(chronologically speaking). That title belongs to a rather obscure character named Mal Duncan. First appearing in Teen Titans #26, and created by Robert Kanigher and Nick Cardy, Mal was an average person that became a friend and member of the Teen Titans after he saved them by beating a gang’s leader in a boxing match. However, because he is fairly average, he felt insecure about his place on the team. This led to him donning a powerful exoskeleton belonging to a superhero known as Guardian, becoming the second person to bear that name and mantle. Later, he would go on to adopt many other names and costumes, such as Vox, Hornblower, and Herald. He also made history of initiating the first interracial kiss in comic book history with Teen Titans member Lilith Clay, who was white.  Though he didn’t end up in a long-term relationship with Lilith, he did marry another member of the Teen Titans, someone who shows up later on this list. 

Green Lantern (John Stewart) 

Green Lantern is a name that many superheroes have gone by in DC Comics. From Hal Jordan to Kyle Rayner to Guy Gardner, it is not a novel role. However, it is a role that John Stewart, arguably DC’s most iconic black superhero, thrived in. Created in December 1971 by Dennis O’ Neil and Neal Adams, John Stewart made his first appearance in Green Lantern #87, though he was not introduced as a hero in his own right at first. He was originally created as a substitute Green Lantern that could be featured in books when the main Green Lantern at the time (Hal Jordan) was away on a space adventure. However, Stewart rose past his position as a second-class substitute hero and became a beloved character. To many people, he is the definitive Green Lantern. Similar to all Green Lanterns, John can create green energy constructs out of his sheer willpower. However, he takes this a step farther than his fellow Green Lanterns. Due to his background as an architect, John creates some of the most creative constructs in the entire Green Lantern Corps. While he has not yet debuted in live-action or in films, John was a prevalent member of the Justice League in both the comics and the Justice League animated cartoon that ran from 2001-2004. Here he was voiced by legendary voice actor Phil LaMarr, and his performance made many fall in love with this character. 

Luke Cage 

Luke Cage made history as the first Black superhero to be the protagonist of a comic book, meaning that their name is in the name of the comic. The  comic he first appeared in was titled Luke Cage, Hero for Hire #1, by Archie Goodwin, George Tuska, Roy Thomas, and John Romita Sr. for Marvel Comics. Luke’s origin was designed around the genre of blaxploitation that had been growing in popularity in the 1970s. For those who do not know, this genre focused on the exploitation of black people, which can be clearly seen by looking at Luke’s origin. He was incarcerated for a crime he did not commit, leading him to agree to a scientific experiment with himself as a test subject. He gained superhuman strength and his classic unbreakable skin. Using his new powers, he escaped prison, becoming a “hero for hire,” in which people could pay him a fee to make him their personal superhero for a day. Luke lives in Harlem, a place that holds historical roots to not just his character, but also his racial identity. One tidbit about Luke is that he has two very iconic relationships with other superheroes: he is married to private-eye Jessica Jones ( whom he has a daughter with) and his best friend/business partner in “Heroes for Hire” is Danny Rand (the Iron Fist). Luke Cage even got his own Netflix original series in which he is played by Mike Colter in the appropriately titled, Luke Cage. 


Nubia is a complicated character in DC Comics, as her identity is continuously changing. Nonetheless, she is also a very fascinating character. She was created by Robert Kanigher and Don Heck and first appeared in Wonder Woman #204. When Wonder Woman was created, her origin was that her mother sculpted her out of clay and that she was brought to life by the Greek Pantheon of gods. However, it was later revealed that her mother formed not only Diana (Wonder Woman) out of clay, but also another baby. Together, one was dark, and one was light, and then they were brought to life. That is right- Nubia is Wonder Woman’s twin sister. However, she was abducted by Mars (the Roman god of war), and was enslaved under his influence before Diana freed her. Through the years, her origin has been changed several times. In the last couple of decades she has been changed to just be another Amazon warrior, with no unique or distinguishable plot to her name. This was changed recently, with DC’s “Future State” event taking place in January and February of 2021. In this event, DC gave readers a look into the future of DC Comics’ timeline, and showcased that in the year 2030, Nubia, once again canonized as Diana’s twin sister, becomes Wonder Woman herself. 


The character of Blade was created for Marvel Comics by Marv Wolfman and Gene Colan in The Tomb of Dracula #10, published in July 1973. He is a British character and a vampire hunter. While he hunts vampires, he is actually one himself, though not a typical one. He is a “Daywalker,” meaning he is a half-vampire human that can survive in the sunlight thanks to his human physiology. He has often tangled with the Count of Transylvania himself, and meets other supernatural Marvel characters often. He also received a movie in 1998, titled Blade. It starred Wesley Snipes, and was the second movie to star a black superhero (the first-place character was Spawn, who was created by the third-party comic publisher, Image Comics). It was announced in 2019 that there will be a new Blade reboot movie in the MCU, and that academy award winning actor Mahershala Ali would play the character. 


Created by Len Wein and Dave Cockrum in Giant-Size X-Men #1 and published in May of 1975, Ororo Munroe became one of the first black female superheroes (technically the first if you do not count Nubia, who wore battle armor as opposed to a colorful costume). She was the daughter of a Kenyan princess and an African American man. She was orphaned at a young age in an event that left her with claustrophobia. However, she has overcome much adversity and joined the X-men when the team was reformed to represent a myriad of different countries (Wolverine from Canada, Nightcrawler from Germany, etc.). She is a mutant, or a person in Marvel Comics who is born with incredible abilities. Just as her name suggests, Ororo’s gift is that she can control the weather, including the ability to summon wind to fly and lightning to shoot at enemies. Additionally, Storm took part in one of the most famous marriages in comics, getting hitched to T’challa, the Black Panther, making her the queen of Wakanda for a time. However, they ended up getting divorced when the X-men went to war with the Avengers, but that is a story for another time. Storm has appeared in most of the movies in the X-Men franchise, being played by both Halle Berry and Alexandra Shipp. 


Her real name is Karen Beecher, and she was created by Bob Rozakis and Irv Novick in Teen Titans #45 in December of 1976. She was originally introduced as Mal Duncan’s girlfriend, before she invented a costume that gave her the ability to shrink, fly, and shoot energy bolts, hence why she was called Bumblebee. The reason she did this was to help Mal look better by attacking the Teen Titans so he could then prove his worth. However, the team was very impressed by Karen, and thus offered her a spot on their team. She would later go on to marry Mal, and the two eventually retired from superhero life, even though they would get dragged back into it every now and then. She has yet to appear in live action, but she has made several appearances in the animated series, Teen Titans. 

Black Lightning 

Black Lightning’s introduction marked DC’s first black superhero to headline their own series. He first appeared in Black Lightning #1, published in April 1977, which was created by Tony Isabella and Trevor Von Eeden. His real name is Jefferson Pierce, and his origin sees him as a schoolteacher in the “Suicide Slums” of Metropolis, where at night he uses his abilities to create and control electricity to fight crime. An important aspect of Pierce was that he was just as much of a hero and activist out of the costume as he was in the costume. Throughout his publication history, he has spoken out against educational inequalities for Black children and other racial issues. He even became the Secretary of Education of the United States for a time. He also stars in the television show Black Lightning, in which he is played by Cress Williams. Jefferson has two daughters, Anissa and Jennifer, who inherit superpowers from him and become heroes in their own right as Thunder and Lightning respectively. 

War Machine 

Lieutenant Colonel James “Rhodey” Rhodes was always Iron Man’s best friend. He was introduced in January 1979 by David Michelinie and John Byrne within the pages of Iron Man #118. However, he did not become anything more than his best friend until he donned the mantle of Iron Man himself in Iron Man #281, just short of a decade later. He filled the armor when Tony had relapsed to alcoholism, but he did not do so for a very long time. After Tony reclaimed the name Iron Man, he designed a new armored suit for Rhodey to wear, and thus War Machine was born. Rhodey would go on to be a recurring member of the Avengers, and he had a prominent role as a West Coast Avenger. In the MCU, War Machine is portrayed by Don Cheadle, appearing in films such as Iron Man 2 and Iron Man 3, and Avengers: Endgame. He will reprise this role again in the Disney+ original series, Armor Wars, which will debut in 2022. 


Cyborg first appeared in DC Comics Presents #26, created by Marv Wolfman and George Pèrez in October of 1980. His real name is Victor Stone, and he was a rising star on his high school football team before he was a part of a terrible accident. That accident almost killed Victor, and he only survived because his father (a scientist) infused him with advanced cybernetics, turning him into a cyborg. He is a part of the Teen Titans and he later became a member of the Justice League after DC rebooted their continuity with The New 52. Cyborg is known for his friendship with fellow Teen Titan Beast Boy. Ray Fisher portrayed the character in the film Justice League, and a version of the character appears in the HBO Max original series, Doom Patrol. Oh, and he has one of the best catchphrases in comics: Booyah! 


Vixen made her debut in Action Comics #521 and was created by Gerry Conway and Bob Oksner in July 1981. Vixen is not one character though; Vixen is a title passed down through the female members of the Jiwe family. This family is from Africa, and the bearer of the Vixen mantle wears the ancient Tantu Totem. This totem gives its wearer the ability to harness the power of any animal that has ever walked the Earth. For example, she could channel the strength of a flamingo, or be as fast as a cheetah. Vixen has been a part of different teams depending on which incarnation of the character is being written. For example, the Vixen that was alive during WWII was part of the Justice Society of America, and the Vixen of present day joined the Justice League of America. Vixen also has a live-action version in DC’s Legends of Tomorrow, played by Maisie Richardson-Sellers. 

Monica Rambeau (The Spectrum, Photon, and Captain Marvel)

After the high-profile MCU movie Captain Marvel was released, there were not a lot of people who were unaware of that character. However, what many people may not know is that Carol Danvers, whom the film focused on, is not the first woman to bear the name of Captain Marvel. Monica Rambeau was created by Rodger Stern and John Romita Jr. in the pages of The Amazing Spider-Man Annual #16, published in October of 1982. She obtained powers while she captaining a cargo ship for the New Orleans harbor patrol when she was in a dangerous event that gave her the ability to convert her body into pure energy, along with flight, energy blasts, and a host of other abilities. This led to her becoming known as Captain Marvel and going on to join the Avengers while the book was under the penmanship of her creator, Stern himself. This made her the first African American woman to be a part of the team. Not only that, but she was so good at being a hero that she became the new team leader after a recommendation from Captain America. For a black woman to lead Marvel’s A-list superhero team in the 1980s was incredible, though Marvel’s editorial board was not happy. They wished for Captain America to lead the team once again, much to Stern’s disagreement. He refused to do this, seeing it as a racist and sexist move, and so Marvel fired him and wrote Monica out of the book. She would later reappear under the name of Photon, though she never quite became as popular as she once was. In the Disney+ original, WandaVision, Teyonah Parris portrays the character, and she is set to appear in the sequel to Captain Marvel, which will come out in 2022. 


So, those were some of the most influential black superheroes that laid the framework for a new generation of colored comic characters. In a lot of ways, much like those champions of the civil rights era, they had to crawl so that new characters could walk.  Despite not even being a decade old, the last character on our list is quickly becoming a fan favorite  

Spider-Man (Miles Morales) 

Created by writer Brain Michael Bendis and artist Sara Pichelli, Miles is truly a special character. His first appearance can be traced back to Ultimate Fallout #4, published in August of 2011. For those who do not know, Marvel created a separate imprint that took place outside of normal continuity, called the Ultimate universe. This was done so that new readers could be brought into the fold without having to know 60+ years of stories. That imprint included a title centered around Spider-Man and was also written by Bendis. However, tragedy struck in Ultimate Fallout #4 when Peter Parker was tragically killed. Miles, who was 13 years old at the time, witnessed this, and was later bitten by a radioactive spider himself. He became the Spider-Man of this imprint until 2015 when his book ended. However, he was so popular that he was introduced into the main publishing line. One crucial part of Miles is his identity; his father is African American, and his mother is Puerto Rican. As such, he speaks both English and Spanish fluently. For further proof of Miles’ popularity, just look at his success in multimedia. He starred in the 2018 animated film, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, which went on to win an academy award. Additionally, he received his own video game, Spider-Man: Miles Morales, on the Playstation 4 and 5. 

All the characters on this list are unique, but they all have one common thread: the color of their skin. And while this list seemed to have a lot of characters, the number here is much lower than the number of white superheroes in comic books. While there is much work to be done, this is an issue that seems to progress as the years go on. 2016 saw the debut of Riri Williams, a teenager who became the successor to Iron Man, Ironheart. Characters such as Nubia and Monica Rambeau have recently been brought back to the front of DC and Marvel comics respectively. In DC’s limited event that has just finished up in February 2021, readers were introduced to the next batman, a Black male known as Timothy Fox.

 As we step back and observe those superheroes who leap across our books and screens, let us also honor those real life heroes who changed the world this Black History Month. While diversity in comics still need to progress, they are coming closer to reflecting the melting pot our world is.