The Top 10 Most Important Black Heroes
By: Stephanie Holland
One of the most hotly debated topics among African-American comics fans is who are the best Black superheroes. However, for Black History Month, I have chosen a different approach, naming the most important Black heroes. The list was compiled based on cultural impact, character portrayal, and yes, personal preference. It should be noted the first draft of this list was much longer and the cut to ten was extremely difficult. Even the order was rearranged several times. So with that in mind, here are comics top ten most important Black heroes.
1. Black Panther
T’Challa is more than a hero, he’s a king. His introduction in 1966 defied every portrayal of Black people as gangsters, drug dealers, and comical sidekicks. T’Challa rules the African nation of Wakanda, a rich country that is technologically advanced and isolated from outsiders. Since Africa is often shown as the third world, this was another shattered stereotype. In addition to the Panther totem that gives him superpowers, T’Challa has been preparing his whole life to take over the Black Panther mantle, having trained in fighting, martial arts, and acrobatic skills, and is a genius. His abilities are on par with Tony Stark, Captain America, and Spider-Man. Black Panther has fought with and against the Fantastic Four, The Avengers, and the X-Men, making him one of Marvel’s most essential and popular characters. His recent introduction to the Marvel Cinematic Universe has only increased his popularity with a Black Panther film starring Chadwick Boseman set for release in 2018.
As one of the most powerful mutants and one of the leaders of the X-Men, Storm is irreplaceable in the comic world. She controls the weather. So basically, she controls the uncontrollable. Through deaths, multiple Earths and countless villain attacks, she has been the heart and soul of the X-Men. Like most strong Black women, she’s the one who keeps the family together and when they’re fractured, she finds a way to reunite them. In the films, she is portrayed by Academy Award winner Halle Berry as an advocate for mutant rights who refuses to hide or be ashamed of her abilities. Storm’s ever-present wisdom and dignity were perfect in her role as Queen of Wakanda when she married T’Challa, combining the stories of Marvel’s two most important Black heroes.
3. Amanda Waller
She has no special powers or abilities, but that’s what makes her so awesome as she goes toe-to-toe with some of DC’s most feared heroes and villains. Waller is the government liaison to the superhero world and as such, she doesn’t care whose feelings she hurts or who she must kill to get the job done. In her most recognized incarnation as part of the DC animated universe, Waller is a plus size woman of color whose mere name frightens more powerful white men. This kind of authority and respect is so important to see, as women of color are never portrayed as dominant figures in the political realm. She is so formidable, acclaimed actresses CCH Pounder, Angela Bassett, and Viola Davis have played her. Her most frequent appearances come from her respectful yet antagonistic relationship with Batman. To have arguably the most popular hero in the world show her the respect she deserves raises her importance beyond the comic book world.
4. Luke Cage
Let’s be clear: as great as 1970s Power Man Luke Cage is, his entry here relates to the version in the Netflix series. The power of having a bulletproof Black hero whose costume is basically a hoodie in today’s climate can’t be overstated enough. This is not a political statement. The Black community has a well-documented difficult relationship with law enforcement, so a hero who looks like he could be any Black man walking down the street but is bulletproof is a huge statement on the world African-Americans live in. Luke Cage is so important to today’s comic book world he actually broke Netflix. The streaming service suffered various problems on the show’s premiere day due to so many logging on to watch.
5. Miles Morales
Spider-Man is Marvel’s most popular character. Millions of children go to bed every night wearing his pajamas and sleeping on his sheets. When Marvel decided to kill boy next door Peter Parker and make African-American/Puerto Rican teenager Miles Morales the new Spider-Man, to say there was a backlash would be a massive understatement. Comics fans imploded. Though this change was only happening in Marvel’s Ultimate universe and Parker would remain the primary Spider-Man, it was still too much change for some longtime fans. However, for the next generation of comic book readers, it was a sign that they could be anything as their favorite hero looked like them and lived in a neighborhood like theirs.
The great thing about Static is that he is a nerd in his everyday life. He’s not a billionaire playboy or a super cool spy. He’s just a kid who likes to hang out at the comic shop, and of course has electromagnetic abilities. Something we don’t talk about a lot is that the nerd community hasn’t always been super open to Black nerds. There are times when you feel very alone in your love of comics, gaming, and all things geek related. Virgil Hawkins is every Black kid reading comic books, so his creation let all of us know we’re not the only ones. The other half of the equation is that African-American writers and artists including the great Dwayne McDuffie and Denys Cowan created Static for Milestone Comics. Static went on to have his own popular animated series, which ran for four seasons. He was integrated into DC’s main universe, joining the Teen Titans and remains very popular with fans anxiously waiting for a new series.
7. Sam Wilson
Sam began his comics career as Falcon, a hero who could telepathically link with birds and use a specially designed suit to fly. He often worked as Captain America’s partner. He provides a realistic balance to Cap’s Boy Scout tendencies. However, things changed for Sam when Cap is forced to retire and appoints him the new Captain America. Considering the history of Africans-Americans in this country, it was a bold choice to have a Black man become a hero who literally wears the American flag on his chest. Perhaps it was the election of Barack Obama that made this choice possible, but it showed that comics can be a reflection of the outside world. In his stories as Captain America, Sam has fought racists and brutal private police, telling the world he was a different Cap.
8. Nick Fury
If Amanda Waller is the strict mother of the DC universe, then Nick Fury is the sometimes disapproving father of the Marvel universe. He is a curious character in that for most of his history, he was a white military/spy action hero. However, when Marvel introduced him in its Ultimate universe, the character was modeled on actor Samuel L. Jackson. This of course led to Jackson playing Fury in the MCU, breathing new life into him. In the movies, Fury possesses all the cool of Jackson while maintaining the grit and mystery of the original comic version. Fury has become so synonymous with Jackson that the character was given a son who looks like Jackson and is now the Nick Fury of the primary universe. It is a rare actor who makes a character so much his own that the comics must change his race to accommodate the new normal.
9. John Stewart
Green Lanterns are the most powerful police force in the galaxy so having one of Earth’s primary protectors be a Black man set a huge standard for DC Comics. Stewart was introduced in 1971 at a time when Black characters were being portrayed as pimps, drug dealers, and other silly Blaxploitation stereotypes. He was specifically chosen by the Guardians based on his integrity and intellect. John Stewart has a view of the world that Hal Jordan, Guy Gardner, and Kyle Rayner will never understand. These disagreements have even occasionally led to fights among the Green Lanterns. He has saved the world several times over, making him an extremely integral part of DC’s history.
10. Riri Williams
When Marvel announced last year that the new Iron Man would be a 15-year-old Black girl, all hell broke loose. Some fans couldn’t understand why it was so important to see a young Black girl be a genius and essentially have her intellect be her superpower. There’s also the idea that not enough young women are involved in science and technology. Riri is an example of the new generation of young women of color using their brains and creative endeavors to change the world. She’s a sign of the times.
Header photo edited by Carla Theophile