When asked to name black superheroes, you’ll probably refer to the core four: Luke Cage, Storm, Blade and now Ryan Coogler’s reboot of the Black Panther. But the world of superheroes is far more diverse than is reflected by mainstream media. As you may have guessed, a lot of these superheroes are just under the radar and not televised. Black superheroes go back a long way.
As many of the issues plaguing black people are structural and more complex than a simple plot could cater to, visual stories have helped to give out a message and entertain at the same time.
The first black superhero, Lothar, an African would-have-been prince, was actually introduced in 1934. It wasn’t said overtly but the implication is that he was a slave to Mandrake. Later, the character was revamped as an equal. In fact, a lot of black comic books included slavery as a contrasting point for progress. Using political discourse to drive the narratives, authors drew and continue to draw from their environments.
For those anxious to see Black Panther, here are a few black superheroes who might not be in a new movie anytime soon but you should meet anyway.
Powers/Abilities: Regeneration, shape-shifting, super strength
In Volume 1 of Spawn (1992), Albert Simmons is introduced as the world’s greatest soldier and assassin, escaping deathly battles unscathed and eliminating targets without a trace. He was even called on to protect the president from outside forces and after his success, he proudly joined the U.S. Task Force. As it turns out, Al knew too many government evils and secrets so he was killed—sent to Hell to burn eternally for the assassinations of innocent people. He trades his soul with an evil force in exchange for the freedom to see his wife on Earth again. The demon he makes the deal with disfigures his body so when he returns to Earth, an anti-hero, he fights on the side of humans.
Todd McFarlane, who worked on The Amazing Spider-Man and the original Spawn, is expected to bring Spawn to television again.
Powers/Abilities: Damage resistance, pain suppression
The superhero was born Zandale Randolph, identical twin to Tyrone Randolph. As the point of display for Tyrone’s scientific abilities, Zandale was given superpowers. Tyrone was enamored with super dominion so he conducted a project in which he could impart them to someone with his DNA. Zandale was the test subject, but in the process, Tyrone was killed. His brother then adopts the name Bulletproof and takes on a duty to the people after learning to hone his powers. Bulletproof was first seen standing in for Invincible in the comic book after the same name.
3. Marsha Bradley
Powers/Abilities: Harnessing electrostatic energy
When the world was under attack, Marsha Bradley rose to the task, using her ability to manipulate electric currents and emit energy for protection. Her mother, Rapture, was killed when she was just a child and she lived with her father. Shortly after, she loses her father to the fire lords. They then attempted to kill Marsha but Malcolm, the Savage Dragon came to her rescue.
Initially, she thought him to be a villain but Malcolm, her half-brother, confessed this detail to her. Once the two learned that they were allies, they were able to defeat the fire lords and return home. Later, she met Thunder Head, another black superhero. They all battled together to defeat Mr. Glum, a well-known terror to the city.
Powers/Abilities: Super stamina, super strength, manmade weapon resistant
The hero first appeared alongside Mandrake the Magician in 1934, fitting the description of a manservant and some even went as far as calling him a slave. He wore small shorts, leopard skin and a red fez. Initially, Lothar’s dialog was minimal and if there was any, it was unintelligible. He was brawny and couldn’t speak English well, fitting the Mandingo stereotype. His loyalty was one of subservience as he was the “Prince of Seven Nations” in Africa but he opted, instead, to travel with Mandrake and fight evil (or whatever Mandrake told him was evil). In 1965, Lothar was reinvented by Fred Fredericks and made to be equal.
5. Lady Sentinel
Powers/Abilities: Supreme technological proficiency
Lady Sentinel appears in the comic book, Youngblood. She’s the sister of the tech wiz, Sentinel, and has similar abilities. She crafted her own exoskeleton and, in the comic book, is recognized by Obama’s administration. She joins the campaign trail to contribute to the administration’s appeal and protection.
Powers/Abilities: Sword fighting, fencing
You may recognize this character from the television show The Walking Dead. The show is actually based on the 2005 comic book. Michonne fenced as a hobby as a child but when the undead return, she revisits the sword to cut the jaws and limbs off of her boyfriend and his friend after they’re infected. To ward off any other zombies, she drags them around in chains. After fleeing to safety and watching a new boyfriend get murdered by a governor, Michonne relocates to a territory where there is no undead.
7. Elijah Jones
Powers/Abilities: Armed combat
In line with Michonne, Elijah Jones is a former slave with remaining anger. He channels that anger to battle the undead that seems to be crawling from all four corners. Elijah is representative of the surreality of immediate immersion after sustained trauma. In many ways, those “undead” are symbols of the demons or memories that remain in the subconscious after the conditions of slavery.
Powers/Abilities: Super strength, super speed, flight
Valentine Jones is the descendant of Jom, a man who came to live amongst earthlings generations before him. His ancestor came to Earth to look after mankind eons earlier but died around the time that they “learned” war. Valentine felt lost after the death of his mother but Oju, a black man from another planet, tells Valentine that he is the ancestor of Jom and gives him access to his powers that are similar to Superman’s own. Valentine rechristens himself “Ebon” and continues the work of his ancestor. Ebon is considered the first independent black superhero and was the first comic book to be written by an all-black team.
Powers/Abilities: Recuperative powers, super stamina, superhuman strength
Megaton is the namesake comic book of the Megaton Comics company. The main character, Matthew Scott, was born with myriad irregularities including two hearts and a hyperactive circulatory system, though they never posed any health risks. He toured with circuses and spent most of his childhood performing. But his hearts began to beat out of sync. A scientist proposed to help him and others like him and when he was the only subject to come out of the experiment alive, he became a superhero.
10. Brotherman: Dictator of Discipline
Powers/Abilities: Street fighting skills, thorough knowledge of law
Antonio Valor follows in the footsteps of his father. Presented with opportunities to navigate the political system, he opts instead to protect the world by his own hands. Valor decides against monetary rewards for the sake of the greater good. His powers aren’t supernatural but they are necessary. Brotherman Comics artwork and memorabilia are on display at the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History & Culture. His character was meant to promote knowledge as a strategy for protection.
Powers/Abilities: Superhuman strength, unlimited stamina
Icon’s alien ship crash-landed on Earth during American slavery on a cotton plantation. Alien in form, his life pod duplicated the DNA of the closest lifeform, the woman who’d become his Earth mother. He grew to love her and his siblings. Because he was young when he arrived, he was not entirely cognizant of his powers but when he learned that he had them, he used them to lighten the loads of the slaves.
Icon is immortal and has lived through all of the major American events such as the Civil War, the Civil Rights Movement, and the Harlem Renaissance. He was active in them all. He acquired wealth and grew distant from society, watching his loved ones die off but amid the Harlem Renaissance, he fell in love with Estelle Jackson, another superhero, and had a child. As a superhero, his duty was to protect the rights and safety of blacks.
Powers/Abilities: Harnessing electrostatic energy
Sharona Jones was a normal woman, kidnapped by Dr. Nirvana, who was trying to create superpowers similar to those possessed by Mighty Man and used the homeless as guinea pigs. All of the test subjects died, but Sharona lived. And the experiment, instead, left Nirvana in critical condition. She became Rapture and her power was generating electricity. She later joined the police force.
Powers/Abilities: Flight, martial arts, astral projection
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Destiny Mitsu Jean is just another troubled teen to the rest of the world. She’s distant and can be lethargic but it’s all a response to childhood abuse. She withholds the information from her mother and grandmother for a long time but she tells them, eventually. She’s close to her grandmother, the matriarch, but her relationship with her mother is cleaved. Still, Destiny’s mother, a Navy SEAL, nearly beat them to death, and her grandmother cast a spell on them. On an unsupervised and forbidden trip to her mother’s lab, Destiny has an accident and chemicals leave her altered irreversibly. Grateful for having lived and now able to communicate with the spirit realm, she uses that connection to rid her community of injustice.
14. June X11
Powers/Abilities: Teleportation, telepathy, super strength, invisibility
June doesn’t have any true origin story. All people know is that he’s from Nigeria. His only mission is to bring peace wherever there is turmoil. Not exactly defined as a superhero, he’s on a continued quest for equality and brings about justice when he finds that it’s disrupted. The hero’s theme of unity is very likely borrowed from the June 12 election of President MKO Abiola in Nigeria. For the first time in a decade, the people voted together, no matter their region and no matter their tribe, to protest the lengthy military coup. June XII is a reminder that the country is a democracy. For that reason, the hero is, himself, a physical manifestation of Justice.
15. Wise Son
Powers/Abilities: Super intelligence, injury resistance
As a member of the Blood Syndicate of Dakota City, Wise Son planned to meet with fellow gang members and opposition for a final war called the “Big Bang,” but police came to stop the battle before it could begin. Gangs were sprayed with a tear gas made with Quantum Juice, killing many and giving powers to the surviving few. Wise Son went down almost immediately but when he woke up, he saw and heard the cops so he ran. Eventually, he bumped into those cops and thought that was it. But their van blew up and he found himself underneath it, unharmed. He then realized that he was indestructible and decided to count his blessings and protect the city. Eventually, he partners with Icon.