As Black History Month comes to a close, we’re gonna look at key issues in Black comic book history! Who was the first Black superhero? The first Black-lead comic series? Firs Black Justice Leaguer? Read on!
Who’s The First Black Superhero?
Marvel’s Black Panther, who debuted in April 1966’s Fantastic Four #52! As fans of the Marvel Cinematic Universe already know, T’Challa’s a pretty groundbreaking character by any measure. The super-powered king of an uncolonized African nation with sci-fi technology, he’s unequivocally equal to any of his fellow Marvel Superheroes from his very first appearance. In an era where just portraying white and Black characters interacting in fiction could be controversial, Black Panther represented a strong pro-Civil Rights, pro-equality editorial stance at Marvel Comics.
It was this stance that lead to Black Panther being the first non-white member of The Avengers starting with #51. That issue hit stands just two years after his creation, in April 1968. Black Panther became one of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes at the recommendation of Captain America himself. Hard to send a message much clearer than that.
What Was The First Black-lead Comic Book?
This is a question with multiple answers, depending how you want to parse it out. All-Negro Comics #1 hit stands way back in 1947. Produced by Black creators and starring Black characters, it was way ahead of its time. Sadly, it lasted just one issue. It was succeeded in 1965 by Lobo, a western title from Dell Comics starring a Black cowboy. It, unfortunately, lasted just two issues published some ten months apart.
Which brings us back to Marvel Comics, which launched Luke Cage: Hero For Hire #1 in June 1972. Inspired by the growing genre of Blaxpoloitation films, Luke Cage was an all-ages take on those films often R-Rated heroes. He was a strong, intelligent, street smart Black man unjustly treated by mainstream society using newfound power to reclaim his dignity and rebel against forces of corruption both in his community and society at large. This series ran 125 issues, seventy-six of which saw Luke Cage teamed up with martial arts hero Iron Fist.
Was Static Shock A Comic First?
In 1993, Black comic creators Dwayne McDuffie, Denys Cowan, Michael Davis and Derek T. Dingle banded together to create a comic book publisher that would better represent people of color. Striking a deal with DC Comics to print and distribute their material, Milestone Media was born. It launched with four titles that Spring: Hardware #1 and Blood Syndicate #1 in April, Icon #1 in May, and Static #1 in June.
It was that final launch title that would prove Milestone’s crown jewel. Some three years after the original comic fell victim to the comics industry crash of the late 90s, it became a cartoon. Airing on the Kids WB Saturday morning block for four seasons, Static Shock! was a hit. It eventually tied in with fellow WB superhero cartoons Batman: The Animated Series, Justice League: Unlimited, and Batman Beyond! It remains a fan-favorite to this day, and played a big role in graduating Static to the wider DC Universe.
Who Was The First Black Member of the Justice League?
It’s no secret that the Distinguished Competition lagged a bit behind the House of Ideas in terms of representation. And even when they did embrace it, nearly ten years after Marvel Comics, they struggled with doing so in a respectful manner. They did start adding Black heroes to the DC Universe in the late 70s. One of them was Vixen, created by former Marvel writer Gerry Conway and artist Bob Oksner. She was set to debut in her own series beginning in 1978. but a mass contraction of DC’s publishing slate called the “DC Implosion” killed the first issue before it was printed.
Conway was, however, undeterred. He debuted the character in 1981’s Action Comics #521, though she sat dormant once more afterwards.The revamp of the JLA in the pages of 1984’s Justice League of America Annual #2 proved her big break, with Conway adding her to the team as one of its most prominent members. She remains a popular choice for the Justice League outside the comics to this day, albeit mostly on television.
And So Much More!
Did you know the work of a Black artist was specifically called out by Dr. Fredrick Wertham in The Seduction of the Innocent? It’s true! Phantom Lady #17, featuring a now-legendary Good Girl Art cover, was drawn by Black artist Matt Baker. Personally, we think it’s a badge of honor to have your work called out by Wertham.
Black Americans have been part of the comic industry since the Golden Age, both on the page and behind-the-scenes. They represent a selection of key issues and fan-favorite creators who deserve to be remembered all year ’round.