By Aswad Walker
As a kid I was a comic book fiend. The 70s was the decade where I spent most of my little money on comic books, back when they only cost a quarter. The Avengers, Daredevil, Iron Man, Power Man, The Defenders, Batman’s Detective Comics; I ate up all of them and more.
My favorite three were/are Spider-Man, Batman and the Black Panther. Depending on the week, the hero who topped my list changed. But those three were always at the head of the class.
When I look over the years at the best Black comic book characters, I can’t just stay on the hero side of the ledger because there are some incredible villains of color (and folk who walk the thin line in-between crook and community crusader that deserve some shine).
With that said, here’s my argument-inducing list of those who I considered the top 10.
#10: Brotherman, Big City Comics – See, I gotcha already. Many of y’all “ain’t never” heard of Brotherman: Dictator of Discipline. But, when he made his debut in 1989 (the same year as Pubic Enemy’s “Fight the Power”), this Black hero, written, created and drawn by Blackfolk, had all the pro-Black people I knew, in the words of the Microphone Fiend Rakim, “hyper as a heart attack.” This comic book run inspired an entire generation of Black comic book enthusiasts, artists and writers. Many of today’s Black-owned comic book publishing companies shout-out Brotherman as their inspiration.
#9: Black Manta, DC Comics – Though I was a Batman fan since the cray Adam West TV series, and liked the Justice League (Super Friends, etc.), DC Comics, to me, always played second fiddle to Marvel. So there’s a lot of characters from the DC Universe that I never really got to know. One of them is Black Manta. I knew he was one of Aquaman’s main nemeses and that he had one of the all-time coolest costumes of any hero or villain ever, but that was the extent of my knowledge — until my oldest son hipped me to Black Manta’s backstory. Oh. My. God.
#8: Storm, Marvel Comics – Full disclosure, as a youngster I was never really into the X-Men. As an adult, however, I’ve come to appreciate what they represent: a perceived minority group who are despised and discriminated against by the larger society, yet heroically fight not only the “bad guys” but also the hate of small-minded people. And this group that’s hated on constantly end up, time after, time saving the world from utter destruction. In other words, they’re literally Blackfolk! And arguably the strongest, smartest and most important mutant of all? You guessed it. A sister. Storm is from the motherland and brings all the elegance of a queen. Yet she comes from humble beginnings, to say the least. But her past challenges and roadblocks don’t stop her from bringing both elegance and electricity to any situation, and, most often, saving the day. Just like all the Black women I know.
#7: Luke Cage, Marvel Comics – Though I was familiar with Power Man (Luke Cage) as a youngster, and had several of his comics, it was the Netflix series that really made this character come to life for me. The fact that he was a brother who was wrongfully incarcerated, yet returned to his community when released to be the change he wanted to see, made him symbolic of so many brothers we all know.
#6: Eric Killmonger, Marvel Comics – Killmonger makes it on my list because of his impact on the culture. He was cast as a villain in the movie Black Panther but emerged for many as a hero because of the questions he posed and his desire to “beat the oppressor at his own game.” I get that 1,000%. But viewing him as a hero, even after he disrespected the Wakandan “mothers of the church” who tended to the ancient garden that grew the plant responsible for the Panther’s strength, even physically abusing one sister, I’m not certain why the character still garners so much love. But the brother darn sure made his mark in a big way. And for that reason, he made the list.
#5: The Dora Milaje, Marvel Comics – By now, we all know that the inspiration for Wakanda’s Dora Milaje were the real-life Dahomey Amazons, 19th century female African warriors nobody wanted to squabble with. But for those of us who had been following King T’Challa for decades, whether we knew of the Dora Milaje’s Dahomey “origins” or not, we saw this group of sister warriors as so beautifully representative of the fight Black women have always, ALWAYS shown. Whether in ancient Kemet, Kush, the Congo (Queen Nzinga), amongst the National Women’s Organizations of the 1960s (without which there would be no successful Civil Rights Movement) or in any other place or moment of the long timeline of the Black experience, this fierce, female tradition has been present.
#4: Amanda Waller, DC Comics – Even for folk who only have a surface-level knowledge of the DC Universe know of Amanda Waller. She’s the sister with zero super powers and zero Fs to give. She runs everything and everybody. The most powerful beings in the universe, whether working on the side of good or evil, or somewhere in-between, know of and fear/respect Amanda Waller. And if they don’t know, even the Dark Knight would tell them, they better ask somebody. She’s as no-nonsense as she is ruthless regarding making sure her agenda is realized. This sister obliterates simple good vs evil characterizations, choosing rather to go with “all of the above.” And above it all, she generally stays manipulating any and everyone to bend to her will and work toward her goals. For those who still don’t have a feel for who Amanda Waller is, she’s the Big Mama in your family — if Big Mama were a sociopath with unlimited global resources and weapons aimed at intergalactic domination.
#3: Shuri, Marvel Comics – Like King T’Challa / Black Panther, I have a younger sister who is way smarter, more social and more stylish than me. So, the character of Shuri resonates with me in really personal ways. I also have a cousin who’s a real-life Shuri. She (Joy Johnson) graduated from MTI, has multiple degrees, including a doctorate, and is a tech/science beast. The icing on the cake for Shuri being so high on this list is the fact that her role in the movie Black Panther, played by the incredible Letitia Wright, has been credited with the exponential increase in little Black girls showing an interest in the STEM fields. If that ain’t super, I don’t know what is.
#2: Spider-Man (Miles Morales), Marvel Comics – From the day Peter Parker swung on the scene as the Amazing Spider-Man, he had an invitation to the cook-out. Like the X-Men who were founded years later, Parker/Spider-Man was a brilliant as he was bullied by his society (high school). Yet, within that existence, he acted heroically, though he rarely got the credit he deserved. And if that’s not Black enough for you, Spider-Man was attacked and demeaned by the press, who painted this hero as public enemy #1. I say all that to say, it only made sense for Marvel to finally make Spider-Man what we always assumed he was—Black. No, they didn’t change Peter Parker’s race. But in the multiverse, there’s that version of Spider-Man in the person of Miles Morales, an Afro-Latinx teenager just trying to find his way while also doing his part to save the world. Is that Black enough for you?
#1: Black Panther/King T’Challa, Marvel Comics – This character was legend in the hood long before Ryan Coogler directed his 2018 masterpiece. Even before all those rumors existed of Wesley Snipes trying to play the Black Panther in the late 90s and early 2000s. And that BET series about the Black Panther, with Djimon Hounsou giving voice to the superhero is must-see TV! But let’s be real. That brother from Howard University who played everyone from James Brown to Jackie Robinson to Thurgood Marshall, took the character to another level. Long live Chadwick Boseman who not only brought this comic icon to life, but embodied the character’s heroism and integrity in his own life.
Honorable Mention: Lucious Fox, Meteor Man, Blankman, Joe “Robbie” Robertson, Black Lightning, Monica Rambeau (Captain Marvel, Photon, Pulsar, Spectrum), Spawn, Static Shock and Fillmore.