Since their first appearances in comics in the ’60s, black superheroes have provided a mirror to many generations of children who have ever wanted to have superpowers. Early versions of superheroes like Black Panther, Luke Cage and Storm have paved the way for their contemporaries as well as modern incarnations of black superheroes.
After appearing on the pages of Marvel and DC Comics, these heroes also inspired black creators like Dwayne McDuffie and Roy Okupe to make their own heroes, filling a void by the sporadic appearances in mainstream superhero comics. Today, black superheroes can be found on the page and on the screen in films, television shows and animated series. To commemorate Black History Month and the influence of black superheroes, here are 15 black superheroes that have helped make comic book continuity more inclusive.
One of the most famous members of the X-Men, Ororo Monroe was created by Lein Wein and David Cockcrum and first appeared in May 1975. As a mutant, she has the ability to control the weather and fly; she is also an expert thief and skilled in hand-to-hand combat. She has led the X-Men herself a few times, notably after the events of the “Dark Phoenix Saga” and when the main X-Men team split into the gold and blue teams.
She has also been a member of The Avengers and the Fantastic Four, and even served as the Queen of Wakanda when she briefly married her long-time lover T’Challa, the Black Panther. On top of that, she is descended from a long-line of witch-priestesses; her mother was a princess of a Kenyan tribe, and Ororo herself was worshipped as a goddess before being recruited by Professor Xavier for the X-Men. Currently, she is the leader of the Extraordinary X-Men.
14. LUKE CAGE
Luke Cage is the first black comic book character to star in his own series. Making his first appearance in 1972, he was created by Archie Goodwin, John Romita Sr and George Tuska. After being imprisoned for a crime he didn’t commit, he is involuntarily subjected to an experimental procedure that gives him bulletproof skin and super strength. Once he is freed, he teams up with Iron Fist to form the duo Power Man and Iron Fist and becomes a hero for hire.
As Powerman and part of the original Heroes For Hire team, he would work with not only Iron Fist, but also Misty Knight and Jessica Jones. He would also become a member of The Defenders and The Mighty Avengers, as well as the Thunderbolts. In 2015, Luke Cage made his first onscreen appearance in the Marvel Cinematic Universe in the Netflix original series “Jessica Jones.” The following year, he would star in his own Netflix spin-off series “Luke Cage,” which was recently renewed for a second season.
13. MISTY KNIGHT
Created by Tony Isabella and Arvell Jones, Misty Knight leapt into comics in January 1975, debuting just a few months before Storm to become one of Marvel’s first black female superheroes. She was an NYPD officer until a bomb attack caused her arm to be amputated. After quitting, she was given a bionic arm by Tony Stark that gave her super strength. Suitably “armed,” she met Colleen Wing and together they formed their own private investigation agency, becoming the crime fighting duo, Daughters of The Dragon.
The two would have their own adventures and provide assistance to Power Man and Iron Fist, the aforementioned Heroes For Hire. Misty would also reform Heroes For Hire with a new team during the events of Marvel’s Civil War, leading the team and revamping it again after the immediate end of tensions. She would also form and lead the team known as The Fearless Defenders alongside Valkyrie. In the Marvel Cinematic Universe, she can be seen in a prominent role on the Netflix series “Luke Cage” and is portrayed by Simone Missick.
Originally a part of Milestone Comics, Static was created by Dwayne McDuffie, Denys Cowan, Derek Dingle and Michael Davis. Named after the first black person to attend the law school at University of Florida, Virgil Hawkins gains the ability to manipulate electro-magnetic energy after unwittingly being caught up in a big showdown between Dakota’s gang wars and doused with an experimental chemical. The event would become known as “The Big Bang” and would not only affect Virgil but those who would become Virgil’s future archenemies.
Virgil became Static after finding other “Big Babies” that got powers and chose to cause problems in Dakota. After Milestone Comics closed in 1997, Static was reintroduced in the animated series “Static Shock,” which aired from 2000 to 2004. The show gave Static an entry point into the DC Comics Universe, where he would eventually become a member of the Teen Titans. Static would also make appearances in the animated shows “Justice League: Unlimited” and “Young Justice.”
11. MONICA RAMBEAU
Monica Rambeau was created by Roger Stern and John Romita Jr. Since her 1982 debut, she has been known by several superhero names. She first went by Captain Marvel, after being exposed to extra-dimensional energy and gaining the ability to convert her body to light. Once she joined The Avengers, she learned to control her powers and eventually became their leader. Later on, she would change her name to Photon after teaming up with the son of the original Captain Marvel and realizing he wanted to use the name for himself.
After a while, he changed his name to Photon and Monica changed her named to Pulsar. Eventually, Monica would become the leader of the team Nextwave, but didn’t use any code-name in the field. During Marvel’s “Infinity” storyline, she took up her current superhero alias, Spectrum, and became field leader of Luke Cage’s Mighty Avengers team. Currently, she is a prominent member of the The Ultimates, fighting cosmic threats to the Earth and the very universe itself.
Vixen, aka Mari McCabe, would’ve been DC’s first African female DC superhero to have her own series had it not been cancelled. Nonetheless, she has managed to have a decent run in comics after her 1981 debut. Created by Gerry Conway and Bob Oskner, Vixen can use the abilities of any animal by focusing on them with the Tantu totem given to her ancestors by the African trickster god Anansi. After a brief time as a solo hero, Vixen became a member of the Justice League, as well as Suicide Squad, with the majority of her work having been in the former.
In addition to making modern-day appearances in the comic series “Justice League of America,” Vixen also starred in the limited series “Return of The Lion.” Recently, Vixen’s origins were told in a DC Rebirth one-shot. Vixen has also made appearances in many television series, including “Justice League Unlimited,” “Batman: The Brave and The Bold,” “Arrow” and her own CW seed animated series, appropriately titled “Vixen.”
9. JOHN STEWART
A member of the Green Lantern Corps, John Stewart debuted in 1971, making history as the first African American character in DC Comics. Created by Dennis O’Neal and Neal Adams, he was originally chosen as a backup Green Lantern to then-current Green Lantern Hal Jordan. After Hal Jordan relinquished the title in the 1980s, he became Green Lantern full-time. Using the ring worn by all Green Lanterns, he can create anything that his imagination can drum up as well as the powers of flight and invulnerability.
During and after his time in the Green Lantern Corps, he has become the first mortal Guardian of The Universe, leader of the peacekeeping troop the Darkstars, as well as a member of The Justice League. Off the page, his character has become well known due to his appearances in animated series, including “Justice League,” “Justice League Unlimited,” “Static Shock” and “Young Justice.” He is set to appear as a main character in the upcoming film “Green Lantern Corps.”
8. STRIKE GUARD
Strike Guard is a character and comic book series created by Ayodele Elegba and published by the Nigerian based company, Vortex Comics. A superhero inspired by Yoruba spiritual traditions, Strike Guard’s main protagonist is a college kid named Abolaji Coker. After Abolaji’s love interest Chi Chi gets involved with the leader of a cult, Abolaji and his best friend Peter Antai are murdered.
After being thrown into the grave of an ancient warrior named Ajabeja, Abolaji’s soul makes contact with Ajabeja’s while in limbo. Abolaji strikes a deal to share his body with Ajabeja in exchange for returning to life. Gaining an open consciousness of the spirit realm and the opportunity to avenge his friend’s death, Abolaji becomes Strike Guard to protect people from spirits lingering in the real world. In this way, Strike Guard is a mythical superhero akin to Marvel’s Thor, providing a refreshing take on mythological superheroes through its creative use of the Orisha thunder god Sango.
Created by Marv Wolfman and George Pérez, Cyborg is one of the most iconic members of the Teen Titans, as well as the Justice League. In his first iteration, Cyborg was a normal teenager named Victor Stone until his scientist parents conducted an experiment with an inter-dimensional portal that went wrong. A monster comes through, killing Victor’s mother and severely mauling Victor before his dad forces it back into the portal. In order to save his life, Victor’s dad inserts experimental prosthetics on part of his face and body.
Afterwards, Victor struggles to adjust to his cybernetic parts due to the fearful reactions from others and the fact that he can no longer participate in athletic hobbies. Once he stops a former friend from conducting terrorist acts, his sense of purpose is renewed and he decides to join the Teen Titans. Later on, when a new incarnation of the Teen Titans came together, he served as a mentor to them. Later still, in the New 52 reboot of DC Comics, his origins include the coming of Darkseid. In this version of the character, he was established as a founding member of the Justice League. Currently, he stars in his own ongoing series that has been published since 2015.
6. WALE WILLIAMS
Hailing from YouNeek Studios and created by Roye Okupe, Wale Williams’s story is set in a futuristic society known as Lagoon City, which is inspired by the real island of Lagos. Wale is a twenty-something young man who returns home to investigate the mysterious disappearance of his father, an inventor. He discovers that his home has changed drastically after the poorest areas have been overrun by corrupt leaders and robotic drones called DREDS.
At the center of this corruption is the masked leader Oniku, whose goal is to “cleanse” Lagoon City while manipulating the lower class. In order to combat this threat, Wale Williams dons an exo suit designed by his father and becomes the superhero EXO to protect his city. As a character, Wale Williams is a wealthy kid with integrity, defending the poorest of his community and his remaining family while searching for his father. Likened to DC’s Cyborg and Marvel’s Iron Man, Wale Williams is a Nigerian superhero for a modern and futuristic age.
5. MILES MORALES
The creation of Miles Morales by Brian Michael Bendis and Sara Pichelli was inspired by Barack Obama and Donald Glover. Originally becoming Spider-Man in the Ultimate Marvel universe, the black-Puerto Rican teenager would come into the role after being bitten by a spider containing the experimental formula that gave Peter Parker his spidey powers. At first, he is unhappy with his powers, wanting to be a normal kid, until he witnesses the death of Peter Parker.
Realizing that he could’ve helped Peter, he decides to take up the mantle of Spider-Man and later dons a new black-and-red costume given to him by S.H.I.E.L.D. After the Ultimate Marvel Universe is destroyed, Miles takes over Peter Parker’s patrol of New York in the mainstream Marvel Universe when Peter decides to take a global approach to his Spider-Man duties. Miles would also become an Avenger in Marvel’s “All New All Different Avengers” series and a founding member of Marvel’s newest team, The Champions.
4. THE MANTIMAJI
Elijah Alexander is a rising district attorney who has been dealing with cases involving a mysterious group of criminals known as the New World Knights. When his work collides with the agenda of the New World Knights and a personal speaker named Brother Hope, he discovers that he is the descendant of a race of mystical knights called The Mantimaji. After suffering a tragic loss, Elijah trains to become a Mantimaji in order to get revenge.
As he strikes out against Brother Hope, Elijah learns more about his legacy as a Mantimaji and his potential to become a hero and save the world from Brother Hope’s twisted plans. Although he starts off as an entitled person, Elijah Alexander’s love and appreciation for his family causes him to be a great hero in the making. Using a magical ankh that can change into armor and any weapon imaginable, as well as the aid of women warriors known as The Sanctuants, Elijah Alexander comes into his role as a superhero legacy that has protected the world for generations.
3. BLACK LIGHTNING
One of the first black superheroes to appear in DC Comics, Black Lightning debuted in 1977 by Tony Isabella and Trevor Von Eeden. With the power of electro-magnetism, he can generate and manipulate electricity using a variety of methods. In addition to working as a solo hero, Black Lightning has been a member of Batman’s group, The Outsiders, as well as a member of the Justice League. He has also been shown to have some serious martial arts skills.
When he isn’t performing acts of superheroism, he is known as Jefferson Pierce and has been an Olympic decathlete and a high school principal, not to mention a father. Black Lightning’s daughters, Jessica and Anissa, have also become heroes themselves. Anissa took the name “Lightning” and became a member of Outsiders like her father, while Jessica became “Thunder” and a member of the Justice League. Last year, it was announced that Black Lightning and his daughters will appear in a new Black Lightning television series currently in development.
2. THE FALCON
Featured in Marvel Comics, Sam Wilson is the first African American superhero in mainstream comics. Debuting in 1969, he was created by Stan Lee and Gene Golban and introduced in “Captain American” #117. After becoming friends and partners-in-crime(fighting), Steve Rogers and Sam Wilson would eventually come up with the persona The Falcon after the Nazi villain Red Skull fuses Sam with a falcon named Redwing in order to manipulate him.
As The Falcon, Sam Wilson has a physic link with Redwing that can be used to literally get a bird’s eye view of things. He also has a cybernetic uniform designed by Black Panther that allows him to fly, be resistant to small firearms and see things via infrared lenses. While working as The Falcon, he managed to become an agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. In his most recent comic book appearance, Sam Wilson became the newest Captain America and leader of the Avengers after an aged Steve Rogers passed the mantle onto him.
1. BLACK PANTHER
Created by Jack Kirby and Stan Lee for Marvel Comics, Black Panther premiered in 1966 and is the first African superhero in American comics. The Black Panther is the title given to the chief of the technologically-advanced African nation of Wakanda. By establishing a connection with the Panther God, the Black Panther gains abilities that include heightened senses and reflexes, enhanced strength, speed, durability and healing. The current Black Panther is T’Challa, who has served not only as king of Wakanda, but also represented the country during times of crisis and peace.
In addition to his superhuman abilities, T’Challa is one of the smartest people in the world, having an advanced degree in physics and technology and great knowledge of Wakanda’s metallic ore vibranium. In certain comics, he has cleverly used the portable supercomputer Kimiko to solve problems and escape sticky situations. Besides being a solo hero, T’Challa has been a member of the Defenders, a temporary member of the Fantastic Four (alongside his former wife Storm), and is currently a member of The Ultimates.
Obviously, we couldn’t fit every black hero on this list, so we want to hear your favorites! Sound off in the comments!