In today’s day and age, representation has never become more important than it is now. This is especially the case for the superhero genre, which enjoys a diverse and wide-reaching fan base. Shows like DC’s “Young Justice” are an example of how diversity reflects itself in such television shows, and the trend is only set to continue.
With February being Black History month, it is only proper that we celebrate some of the Black heroes within DC’s animated series and films that have made a positive impact. While carving out a niche for themselves in the comics, these heroes’ place on television has allowed them to gain more exposure to those who don’t read comics while playing a crucial role in better reflecting the world around us. With that said, here’s a look at some of DC’s best black heroes to have made it to the small screen.
Gaining his electricity powers as a result of a chemical gas explosion known as “The Big Bang” while accidentally getting caught in a gang war, Static was a great representation of what young black heroes could bring to the superhero genre. Originally hailing from Milestone Media, there is no denying the impact Static had as one of DC’s best adolescent black heroes, especially when it comes to the popularity he had in relating to younger audiences.
Starring in the “Static Shock” animated series, Static became the most prevalent young black teenage superhero on television during its four-year run in the early 2000s. The show, despite being geared for a younger audience, contained very contemporary themes ranging from racism and gang violence to education and community service. Growing up in a single-parent household, Static was a very relatable hero who, despite his circumstances, became a decorated superhero and role model. He demonstrated that, no matter how hard things might be or what your background is, a hero can come from anywhere.
When one thinks of Batman’s Bat Family, many are quick to look to his sidekick Robin, and its many iterations, along with Batgirl. However, there is another that many don’t know about: Batwing, who has carved a niche for himself as a vaunted member of the Bat Family among the likes of Robin, Nightwing, Batgirl and Batwoman.
The Luke Fox version of Batwing made his animated debut in “Batman: Bad Blood” when, after he and his father Lucius Fox are threatened and nearly killed by the Heretic and his henchmen. He uses a unique combat batsuit styled to join in the fight to save Gotham from evildoers. Equipped with a variety of weapons and the ability to fly in addition to his advanced knowledge of technology, Batwing makes for quite a unique addition to the Bat Family, providing them with a deadly threat from the skies of Gotham. His skills were further put on display when he managed to take out Firefly, whose flying abilities paled in comparison. Though it would be nice to see more of Batwing on the small screen, his status as a part of the Bat Family cannot go unheeded.
Originally hailing from Milestone Media like Static did before it fully merged with DC Comics, Icon’s animated debut came in “Young Justice” when he was inducted into the Justice League during Season One. A strong leader and mentor, Icon is a hero that is known just as well for his intellect and experiences in legal matters as he is his fighting abilities. In fact, it was the former that helped the alien superhero be one of the first additions to the League in this series. His knowledge was such that Superman equated his intelligence to that of a Kryptonian’s.
Icon’s skills in legal matters quickly became apparent when the Justice League faced charges for their intergalactic crimes that were committed while under the influence of Vandal Savage’s mind control. Acting as their legal counsel and representative during their trial on Rimbor, Icon made a compelling case for the League’s innocence. While it fell short (the League was saved by the timely arrival of last-second evidence from Superboy and Miss Martian), his value in such matters cannot be understated, as the thoroughness of his case managed to buy the Team enough time to save the League’s conviction. Knowledge is power and Icon is perhaps the most knowledgeable when it comes to various intergalactic affairs.
12. MALCOLM DUNCAN
When he was first introduced in “Young Justice,” Duncan was little more than the “Jock kid” at school wearing a Superman shirt that nobody dared to mess with. At least, that’s how it appeared to be, as Season Two took the character in a rather different direction than most viewers probably would have expected.
At some point during the time skip, Duncan became privy of the team’s activities and was assigned to mission control. His time for a bigger role would come when, in the midst of Despero attacking the Hall of Justice, he decided to don the Guardian’s armor and attempted to buy time for the team to recover. Thanks to his combat training from Black Canary, Duncan played an instrumental role in Despero’s defeat, which earned him the Guardian mantle. His ability to face danger despite the odds stacked being against him, while thinking quick on his feet, earned him a well-deserved spot on the team.
11. HOT SPOT
Making his first appearance on “Teen Titans” in “Winner Take All,” Hot Spot faced off against Robin in the first round of the tournament held by the Master of Games, but fell against the latter in the first round. After the Master of Games is defeated and Hot Spot is freed from the captivity of his amulet, he was granted status as an honorary Titan.
When the Teen Titans come under attack from the Brotherhood of Evil, Madame Rouge is tasked with capturing Hot Spot in the episode “Trust,” in which we truly gain an idea of what the Titan is like. Very independent and often working as a solo hero, Hot Spot can be very short-tempered and is regarded as one of the more independent Honorary Titans. With a range of pyrokinetic abilities at his disposal, he is a formidable enough foe on his own and, for a time, that’s all he needed. Thanks to the Teen Titans, he gradually learned to trust other people and believe in the value of teamwork. While he is certainly not the most heavily featured Honorary Titan, his skills make him one of its most powerful.
Appearing in “Justice League Unlimited” and “Superman: The Animated Series,” Steel, better known by his name of John Henry Irons, was a superhero who, inspired by the Man of Steel himself, donned a steel suit equipped with a variety of different functions.
While neither animated adaptation boasted the Superman cape or the insignia on his chest that he had in the comics, his loyalty and admiration towards the ultimate DC hero remains among his best traits. Steel’s top-notch talents as both an engineer, physicist and combatant eventually earned him a spot in the Justice League. It’s also possible that he was one of the top three people Batman acknowledged would have been smart enough to take over the Watchtower’s fusion cannon the way Luthor did. Often seen working alongside Supergirl, he acts as a mentor of sorts, calming the concerned Kryptonian and explaining that she should have faith in her cousin and the other League founders when they turned themselves in to stand trial after being framed by Lex Luthor. He also didn’t hesitate to go up against Galatea despite the odds being stacked against him in order to protect Supergirl, displaying the kind of courage that his idol would be proud of.
9. BLACK LIGHTNING
One of DC’s first black superheroes, Black Lightning could easily be mistaken for an older version of Static in the brief appearances he makes. Often portrayed as a positive role model for his community in the comics, he is often relegated to the background in most of his animated appearances. Small or not, it should not take away from the overarching importance he has, as Black Lightning is still a strong representation of what Black heroes can achieve.
In “Young Justice,” he becomes a member of the Justice League during the time skip and later teams up with a young Static to take down a force-field in Dakota City, offering to take him as an apprentice should he wish it, which could make for a potential future dynamic between the two. He also appears in the animated film “Superman/Batman: Public Enemies,” where he is one of the heroes to work for President Luthor. Despite originally working to capture Superman, he is essential in helping defeat Major Force by containing an explosion long enough for Captain Atom to absorb its radiation, illustrating his mastery over electricity. If there’s one character DC animation could always use more of, it’s Black Lightning.
8. MR. TERRIFIC
It takes more than great fighting skills to become a member of the Justice League. For some, it also needs a highly analytical mind. If there is anyone who demonstrates that quality, it’s Mr. Terrific, who shows that he is among one of the League’s smartest and most trustworthy members. When J’onn J’onzz left his League mission control duties in maintaining the activities of the Watchtower, it was Mr. Terrific who took over in his stead.
In his position, Mr. Terrific became the brain trust behind all of the League’s activities and manpower. Managing the entirety of the League’s resources, from communications with its various members on their missions to the variety of day-to-day operations the Justice League requires to function, all fell to him. Keeping track of 60-plus heroes in addition to maintaining a floating space station is no easy feat. This was especially seen in “Patriot Act,” when Mr. Terrific was forced to tap into the League’s reserves to stop a rampaging Wade Eiling when League resources were scarce. It was also seen in “The Great Brain Robbery,” when the team had to contain the mind-swapped Luthor Flash. Such a position requires a sharp intellect, patience and an ability to make quick, sound decisions under pressure.
One of the first expanded members to join “Young Justice” thanks to her mentor, Icon, joining the Justice League, Rocket, despite her inexperience, was very headstrong and independent from the onset. She demonstrated great potential as a result of her unique abilities. That potential didn’t go unrealized, as she would join the League within a five-year time span.
For Rocket, it isn’t just her ability to manipulate kinetic energy that made her unique, but her leadership and personality. By Season Two, it’s clear that she is arguably most highly touted younger female member of both Young Justice and the League. While stopping a nearby crime that occurs during her bridal shower, Rocket is at the forefront of the team’s female members that includes the likes of powerhouses Wonder Girl and Zatanna. Despite her young age, she has garnered the respect of veteran Leaguers like Black Canary, Hawkwoman and Wonder Woman. The fact that she ascended to the League before founding members like Superboy, Miss Martian or Aqualad also speaks volumes to her talents and abilities. With a lack of prominent black female heroes getting the spotlight, Rocket has set a pretty good standard.
Making her animated appearances in both “Teen Titans” and “Young Justice,” Bumblebee has proven herself an admirable addition to both teams from both a combat and intellectual standpoint. Her ability to shrink herself and fire yellow energy blasts makes her quite useful for scouting and she can more than handle herself in one-on-one combat. While both versions differ from one another, she remains one of DC’s iconic female black heroes.
In her “Teen Titans” iteration, Bumblebee successfully infiltrated Brother Blood’s operation at H.I.V.E Academy while becoming one of its top students. She could even successfully trade blows with Cyborg, and their personalities often clashed. Once Brother Blood was defeated, she was appointed as the leader of Titans East. In a different portrayal, her iteration in “Young Justice” worked as a research assistant with The Atom, displaying a knowledge and passion for science in addition to working as a team member. One common theme between the two is that no matter which universe she’s in, Bumblebee is never lacking for talent.
5. AMANDA WALLER
Easily deserving the award for “most tough as nails woman you’ll ever meet,” Waller has become iconic for her role in DC Comics lore, especially when it comes to her role in secret government projects geared toward countering metahuman threats. There is always one project in particular that is often attributed with Waller the most: Task Force X, known by its more popular moniker of the Suicide Squad.
While not a full-time superhero like others on this list, Waller often acts in the interest of the government and often has a very critical view of the League, fearing they could turn on the public at any time. Regardless of her allegiances and her knack for perhaps delving too deep into villainy, there’s no doubting Waller’s conviction to achieve her goals. It’s not easy running a group of the most notorious DC villains and having them carry out covert black-ops missions the way they do, but she gets the job done (albeit with several deadly contingency plans). In “Justice League Unlimited,” she backs down from no one, not even Batman, though by by “Epilogue,” Waller displays the respect she had for Batman and his crusade, even in the past.
A hero who rose to popularity as a member of the Teen Titans, Cyborg was notorious for his sense of humor and design. He acted as the Titans’ main architect, building their security system, most of their training equipment, their car, robot and more. Cyborg was the brains behind much of the Titans’ operations and was an invaluable asset in their ability to fight crime on larger levels.
Out of all the Titans, Cyborg was the next leader figure in the group. He clashed with Robin at times for his decision-making and attitude. His pull towards leadership was such that he even left the main group to lead Titans East, and would have likely stayed had the group not fallen under mind control and his bond with the original Titans not been so strong. Cyborg was not perfect, as he often struggled to come to terms with his humanity following the accident that gave him his cybernetic parts. Eventually, he overcame his mechanical limitations and fully came to terms with who he is as both a man and a machine. His role on “Teen Titans” taught very valuable lessons on accepting oneself for who you are, as well as to always strive to overcome one’s limits.
Easily one of the most popular characters of “Young Justice,” Aqualad was perhaps one of the best things about the series. Gifted in Atlantean sorcery and hydrokinesis while bringing a calm, cool and collected demeanor with it, Aqualad made a name for himself while working as Aquaman’s sidekick.
As the leader of “Young Justice,” Aqualad was the calming force amidst a team of unique personalities like Kid Flash, Superboy and Miss Martian. He also developed a close bond with Robin, who was too young to lead, and gained the trust of the Roy Harper clone in protecting world leaders from Cheshire’s assassination attempts. It was such that the League trusted him enough to assign him a deep cover mission to infiltrate his father Black Manta’s operation, taking on the burden of fighting his former teammates in the process. Despite being caught between two different worlds, loyalty and dedication are always central of Aqualad’s character, as he often sacrifices his own wants for the greater good. It is one of his strongest traits and makes him a proper leader for a team like that of “Young Justice’s.”
If there’s a hero that epitomizes the beauty and ferocity of nature, it’s Vixen. With the ability to draw upon the various traits of any animal from her totem necklace, she is a force to be reckoned with. Nature can be quite a powerful weapon if used in the right hands. Vixen’s animated appearances were predominantly in “Justice League: Unlimited,” in which she is the lover of John Stewart and boasts a successful modelling career.
Throughout the series, she displays herself as one of the strongest new female members of the League, fearlessly taking on a newly-resurrected Solomon Grundy. She was also one of the feature fighters brainwashed by Roulette for her all-female “Glamour Slam” event, which spoke to her growing prestige within the League itself. Vixen’s popularity eventually resulted in her own CW Seed web series that takes place within the CW Arrowverse and has spawned 12 episodes over two seasons. When it comes to DC animation, Vixen stands as its most prominent black female hero, which are still in rather short supply when compared to their male counterparts. In the push for diversity, she stands as a prominent example for the kind of popular impact they can have.
1. JOHN STEWART
One of the most prominent faces of the “Justice League” series, there is no questioning Stewart’s spot as the top black hero in DC animation. One of the founding members of the Justice League while presiding over Sector 2814, Stewart made quite a popular transition to the small screen.
Stewart is often one of the League’s most serious members, which made for a fun dynamic between him and the Flash. He often clashed with Hawkgirl on a regular basis, which resulted in a rather close relationship between the two. Like many Green Lanterns before him, Stewart possesses an incredibly strong will. He’s one of the few humans to join the Corps.’ ranks, but his skills are acknowledged throughout the Green Lantern Corps. Despite all the odds, Stewart is always ready to step up no matter what. For those who aren’t deeply steeped in comics or Green Lantern lore, he will always be the Green Lantern they remember. For black DC superheroes, it’s pretty hard to top the likes of Stewart, and it’s possible no one ever will.
Who are some of your favorite black heroes from DC? Let us know in the comments!
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