The 25 Most Momentous Black Comics Characters

Two monumental events are upon us. First is the annual Comic Con Convention in New York City, where tens of thousands of comic and sci-fi enthusiasts convene to celebrate art, story telling and the imagination with in each of us. AllHipHop will be present for the festivities.  For more information on Comic Con or to register as an attendee, click here. To enter to win a pair of tickets, follow AllHipHop on Twitter (@allhiphopcom) and tell us your favorite super hero or comic character.

The second event we celebrate is the release of Black Comix, a hardback, sturdy and deep examination of the vibrant African American independent comics community. The book assembles an incredible number of artists that have often been overlooked – frequently without merit. Go to BlackComixBook.com to read more on the book.

We wanted to take the celebration a step further. So, we asked Black Comix author Damian Duffy to compile a list of the most incredible, influential and momentous Black comic characters to reaffirm the breadth of content offered in the community. Let the discussion begin. We play no games. The list starts at 1 and ends at 25. (While you debate, enjoy or learn about the characters, peep the portraits throughout the list.)PORTRAITS: BLACK PANTHER AND STORM!

 

   1. Black Lightning

Publisher: DC Comics

Creators: Tony Isabella and Trevor von Eeden

About:  Olympic Gold Medalist and schoolteacher Jefferson Pierce educates the kids by day and slings electricity at criminals by night in Suicide Slum, the Metropolis ghetto Superman apparently forgets to fly over.  The first black superhero to get his own title from DC Comics (in 1977), Black Lightning was almost a character called the “Black Bomber,” a white bigot that turned into a black superhero at times of stress, until Isabella came on and talked DC into stopping the madness, scrapping the Bomber scripts, and letting him create something worthwhile instead.

2. Black Panther

Publisher: Marvel Comics

Creators: Stan Lee and Jack Kirby

About:  Like every monarch of the fictional African nation/technological superpower Wakanda, King T’Challa wears the mantel of the Black Panther to protect his people, superhero hardcore with the Avengers, and randomly marry Marvel’s other African character, Storm from the X-Men.  The Black Panther first appeared in a 1966 issue of The Fantastic Four, predating the formation of the political party of the same name, and becoming the first black superhero in American mainstream comics in the process.

  3. Bootsie

Publisher: Amsterdam News

Creator: Oliver Harrington

About: Bootsie was the protagonist of Dark Laughter, the first African-American comic strip to gain national attention, in 1935. A hapless Harlem inhabitant navigating the racial minefield of America, mid-20th century, the political edge of Bootsie’s one-panel adventures eventually won creator Ollie Harrington the attention of McCarthy’s House Un-American Activities committee. Harrington expatriated in 1951, living the rest of his life in Germany.

   4. Brotherman

Publisher: Big City Comics

Creators: Dawud Anyabwile and Guy Sims

About: Taking lessons from his community activist parents to heart, Antonio Valor battles the crumbling and corruption of Big City, both as an Assistant DA, and as Brotherman: Dictator of Discipline.  Starting out as a superhero parody to sell T-shirts in 1990, Brotherman grew into a trailblazing powerhouse of self-publishing, putting comics about creating positive black images into the hands of readers from all walks of life, and influencing a generation of black comics artists in the process.PORTRAIT: MARTHA WASHINGTON!

   5. Torchy Brown

Publisher: Pittsburgh Courier

Creator: Jackie Ormes

About: The first comic strip drawn by the first African American woman cartoonist, Jackie Ormes, was the short-lived Torchy Brown in ‘Dixie to Harlem,’ about a young girl from the South moving to a Northern big city.  The strip only lasted a year before Ormes moved on to other comics, but it paved the way for Torchy’s return in the 1950 weekly color strip Torchy Brown in Heartbeats.  A romance comic strip with a social conscience, the always smart, stylish, and heroic Torchy and her doctor husband moved to a small Southern town to live through adventures that touched on issues from race to environmental pollution.

   6. Luke Cage

Publisher: Marvel Comics

Creators: Archie Goodwin and John Romita, Sr.

About: In 1972, in an attempt to grab some of the popularity of Blaxploitation films, Marvel created their first African-American hero: A wrongly accused escaped convict with bulletproof skin selling his superhero services to the highest bidder.  Over the years Cage shed his silver tiara and cries of “Sweet Christmas!,” connecting with new generations of creators that have re-imagined the Hero for Hire as everything from a thug rapper guy to a film noir detective to the leader of the Avengers.  

            P.S. Marvel: we’re still tapping our feet, glancing at our watch, waiting for the Cage movie.

7. Green Lantern/ John Stewart

Publisher: DC Comics

 Creators: Dennis O’Neil and Neal Adams

 About: Architect and ex-Marine John Stewart was another early black superhero for DC Comics, introduced in 1971 as an understudy Green Lantern, should the primary GL, Hal Jordan (Ryan Reynolds in the upcoming movie), ever kick the emerald bucket.  Originally part and parcel of writer O’Neil and artist Adams’ sometimes clumsy attempts to inject politics into superheroes, Stewart was recast in 2001 as a founding member of the Justice League in the Cartoon Network animated series.  For viewers unfamiliar with the comics, Stewart was the only Green Lantern; shame he’s been downgraded to a possible cameo for the big screen.

   8. The Hole

Publisher: Front Forty Press

Creators: Damian Duffy and John Jennings

About: Yes, we put in our own character, the protagonist of our graphic novel The Hole: Consumer Culture.  But show us another character like the Hole, half ex-con tattoo artist Curtis Cooper, half junkie rich girl Katrina Snodgrass, cursed with a morphing fanged mouth, a sideways gift from the Voodoo spirit of the crossroads, Papa Legba. The amalgam of Curtrina can eat anything, time, memories, gravity, and never get full. Sort of like that itch in your wallet that has you buying crap you don’t need off the Internet at 3am.

   9. Huey Freeman

 Publisher: Universal Press

 Creator: Aaron McGruder

 About: Before he was animated, and before newspapers took a nose dive, Huey Freeman was the great black hope of 21st century relevance on the funny pages.  The 10-year-old main character of Aaron McGruder’s Boondocks, Huey’s sharp mouth saw strips pulled papers on a semi-regular basis. For example, Huey in ink is the kid who called a Homeland Security tip line to report Ronald Reagan for funding terrorism.

  PORTRAIT: THE UNKNOWN SOLDIER!

10. Keith Knight

 Publisher: Self-published/Darkhorse Comics/United Features

Creator: Keith Knight

 About: From the long running alternative weekly newspaper comic strip The K Chronicles to the mainstream syndicated strip Knight Life, Keith Knight has spent a lot of time drawing himself.  Whether celebrating life’s little victories, lynching himself to poke fun at the “post-racial” era, or smoking crack with God (in the form of a hamster), the cartoon Keef is a conglomeration Sharpie lines that knows how to be funny, controversial, and still say something worth saying.

 

11. Stagger Lee

 Publisher: Image Comics

Creators: Derek McCulloch and Shepherd Hendrix

About: Writer McCulloch and artist Hendrix didn’t invent Stagger Lee with their 2006 graphic novel, but they brought unparalleled insight to the mythic bad man, using historical fiction to portray the racism surrounding “Stag” Lee Shelton’s legal trials, and employing comics unique visual vocabulary to trace the migration and mutation of Shelton’s rep into a century’s worth of songs and stories about the gangsta rap hero prototype who shot a man in an argument over a Stetson hat.

 

12. MF Grimm/Percy Carey

       Publisher: Vertigo/DC Comics

        Creators: Percy Carey and Ronald Wimberly

         About: Rapper, producer and writer Carey’s 2008 graphic autobiography Sentences: The Life of MF Grimm tells an unflinching tale of hip hop and drug dealing in the 1990s, gangsta rap glamour brought into the sharp relief of reality by a double barrel blast of paralysis and prison.  Wimberly’s black and white and gray illustrations capture the urban musicality of Carey’s storytelling, the rise and fall and rise again of a life profoundly changed.

 

13. Narcissa

Publisher: Doubleday

 Creator: Lance Tooks

 About: The title heroine of Tooks’ 2002 graphic novel, Narcissa is a young African American filmmaker who walks out on the racial politics of the movie business, travels to Spain, meets a Spanish dude.  It’s sort of like How Stella Got Her Groove Back, but also a spot-on satire of Hollywood racism.  More importantly, black female characters like Narcissa, a complex Bohemian artist, are few and far between in American comics.

 

14. NOG

Publisher: Onli Studios

Creator: Turtel Onli

 About: Fine artist and art teacher Turtel Onli self published his first comic, NOG: Protector of the Pyramids, in 1979, so the Afro-futuristic Nubian Of Greatness stood at the foundations of modern black independent comics.  Trippy and odd as it wants to be, NOG’s world is like Parliament Funkadelic hijacking the pre-post-apocalypse.

 PORTRAIT: LUKE CAGE!

15. Barack Obama

Publisher: Various

Creator: Various

About: Like a lot of election pop culture around the time of the 2008 presidential election, comic books were using Obama’s image to sell books so much people started calling it “Baracksploitation.” From multiple printings of insta-collectible Amazing Spider-Man #583 (which includes then-Senator Obama on the cover and in a silly short comic with Spidey in the back) to the alternate reality stories like Barack the Barbarian (Conan-style sword and sorcery, with special guest Sarah Palin as an evil warrior ice nymph), the President has been up, down, and all around the comic shop racks.

 

16. The Porter Family

Publisher: King Features/Self published

 Creator: Jerry Craft

 About: Jerry Craft’s ongoing comic strip Mama’s Boyz features something too absent from American culture in general: A positive portrayal of a black family.  Single mother Pauline Porter and her two teenage sons Tyrell and Yusuf navigate black culture, politics, history, and life with the charming vibrant humor and skillful cartooning most newspaper comics pages seem to have lost.

 

17. Rocket/ Raquel Ervin

         Publisher: Milestone Comics/DC Comics

         Creators: Dwayne McDuffie and Denys Cowan

         About: Rocket is not the title character of the 1993 Milestone Comics series Icon, but she is undoubtedly its hero.  Icon is Augustus Freeman, a Superman-style alien raised not by Kansas farmers, but by slaves in the Deep South in 1893. Raquel Ervin is the young woman from the projects who, 100 years later, convinces Freeman to use his otherworldly powers to be a superhero, with her as his sidekick. Complex and wise beyond her years, an unexpected pregnancy brought Rocket to consider whether she wanted to keep the baby, leading to one of the smartest discussions of a difficult issue in comics’ long history.

 

18. Static/ Virgil Ovid Hawkins

    Publisher: Milestone Comics/DC Comics

  Creators: Dwayne McDuffie, Robert Washington, III, and John Paul Leon

  About: Like Icon, Static was one of the founding titles of the 1993 comics line produced by Milestone Media and published by DC Comics.  A contemporary take on the original idea of Spider-Man as a teen superhero, Static was really a story about Virgil and his friends, and all the more exciting for it. A bravura superhero comic that stayed genuinely exciting and entertaining, at a time when most superheroes were sporting big guns and mindless rage, it’s hardly surprising the character jumped to television in the animated series Static Shock.

 

19. Storm/Ororo Iqadi T’Challa, née Munroe

Publisher: Marvel Comics

Creators: Len Wein and Dave Cockrum

About: Debuting in 1975 as one of the first Black super heroines, Storm had a character of regal depth even before she became the Black Panther’s queen a few decades later. Often leading the X-Men, occasionally rocking a bad ass Mohawk, always a moral force to be reckoned with, Storm remains the preeminent African American (Kenyan mom, American dad) female superhero in comics. 

  PORTRAIT: JAYCEON WISE!

20. Lem Taylor

Publisher: NBM

Creators: Rob Vollmar and Pablo Callejo

About:  The title character of Vollmar and Callejo’s  critically acclaimed 2006 graphic novel Bluesman, 1920s traveling blues guitarist Taylor ends up on the run from the law for a murder he didn’t commit. The tale of Lem on the lam blends themes of religion, art, history, and racial persecution, in an ingenious 12 chapter narrative based on the 12 bar structure of blues. Comics has never come so close to turning into music; you can almost hear Lem Taylor sing to you while he plays his old guitar.

21. Nat Turner

Publisher: Abrams

Creator: Kyle Baker

About: Kyle Baker’s 2006 portrayal of the life of Nat Turner, from the capture of Turner’s mother by slave merchants in Africa to Turner’s lynching after leading the slave revolt, is largely wordless, including only the text from Turner’s published confession. But Baker’s pictures speak volumes, creating a wrenching portrayal of the religious fervor, righteous indignation, and violent acts Turner committed to the bleak, blood-soaked pages of American history.

 

22. Unknown Soldier/ Moses Lwanga

Publisher: Vertigo/DC Comics

Creators:  Joshua Dysart and Alberto Ponticelli

About: While working in northern Uganda in 2002, pacifist Dr. Moses Lwanga begins to find himself committing increasingly violent acts at the behest of a voice in his head, and in reaction to the warfare and civil unrest of the region.  A 2008 revamp of a character from World War II comics published in the 1960s, Dysart and Ponticelli’s cancelled-too-soon Unknown Soldier series brought American comics into real life Africa, sending us, along with Dr. Lwanga, into conflicts (moral and armed) too-easily ignored by the international community.

 

23. Lee Wagstaff

Publisher: Zuda/DC Comics

Creator: Jeremy Love

About:  Lee is the main character of Bayou, a young girl living in the Mississippi Delta during the Great Depression. Inspired by African-American folktales, African mythologies, the Uncle Remus stories and Alice in Wonderland, Bayou sends Lee not through the looking glass, but through the swamp water, and into a funhouse mirror view of black myth.  A determined young girl with an admirably low tolerance for bullshit, Lee travels on a fantastical quest to rescue her father.

 

24. Martha Washington

Publisher: Dark Horse Comics

Creators: Frank Miller and Dave Gibbons

About: Written in 1990, the first Martha Washington story, Give Me Liberty, shows Martha being born in a crumbling clinic in the futuristic 1995-era Cabrini Green.  Thus begins Miller and Gibbons’ action packed, politically satiric multi-series epic telling of the life and times of Martha Washington. From the violence of the Green to a mental hospital to the military during a second American Civil War to the far reaches of outer space, Martha’s bottomless strength and unstoppable will make her an indelible comics hero.

 

25. Jaycen Wise

Publisher: Brother Uraeus

Creator: Uraeus

 About: Immortal adventurer Jaycen Wise is one of the most often drawn characters in African American independent comics.  Whether journeying across African plains in ancient times or jumping out of airplanes in the present day, the eternal hero has been interpreted by a bevy of talented artists. At a deeper level the character’s mythology provides something even more powerful:  an alternate Black history denied to most African Americans, a continuity in fiction made impossible by the rupture in denied culture and history created in the Middle Passage.

 

 PORTRAIT: BROTHERMAN

PORTRAIT: BLACK LIGHTNING

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