As part of Black History Month the Hollywood Comic Books Examiner looks to see how comic books, an original American art form, changed from a medium dominated by white super heroes where blacks played supporting roles as non-powered civilians to becoming a important part of comic book publishing.
In 1966, during the height of the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s comic book creators Stan Lee and Jack Kirby did something unheard of in comic books up to that point. In Fantastic Four #52 they introduced the first black super powered hero, the Black Panther. The character comes from the secret African nation of Wakanda so he is not an African American but his presence in the comic books diversified the genre and added a much needed multi-cultural boost to a modern mythology.
Much like when Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier of professional sports, The Black Panther opened the gates for more and more characters of color. The Black Panther was followed in 1969 by the Falcon (Captain America #117) who is considered the first African American super-powered hero. The Falcon comes from Harlem and debuted as a new partner of Captain America and co-headlined Captain America’s comic book for 88 issues at a time when it was considered a tough-sell to have an African American headlining a comic title.
DC Comics soon followed Marvel’s lead with the introductions of many memorable characters. Green Lantern John Stewart has gone on to be one of the most recognizable Green Lanterns due to his appearance on the Justice League cartoon.
Since the 1960s many characters of color have entered the comic book landscape and all publishers have felt their impact. Many have gone on to be featured in other mediums outside of comic books from cartoons to movies.
Unfortunately, the major publishers Marvel Comics and DC Comics still have trouble finding a market for titles headlined by African American heroes. DC Comics made valiant attempts in September 2011 by launching titles headlined by Static and Mister Terrific. Both titles failed to catch on with the readership and were cancelled after eight issues. The medium is ever changing and it won’t be long until a new series starring a hero of color returns to the comic stands.