Just about every American has at least a fleeting familiarity with Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Spider-Man, and the X-Men. While these characters originated in the pages of comic books in the mid-20th century, today they are as much a part of our cultural identity as the faces on Mount Rushmore. Synonymous with justice, reinvention, strength, and overcoming oppression, these heroes have been talked about, written about, and reimagined in countless ways; Hollywood has made eight Spider-Man films since 2002, and Joaquin Phoenix just became the second actor to win an Oscar for playing the Batman villain Joker. More variations on these well-known characters are sure to come, and they'll no doubt break more records. But Hollywood's tendency to revisit the same heroes over and over leaves a great many more characters unexplored and overlooked -- and a lot of them are black or people of African descent.
We'd hardly know it from looking at which superheroes are featured in film and TV, but comics are teeming with superheroes of color who'd be excellent choices for on-screen adaptations. Since Lobo, the first African American hero to headline his own comic series, vanquished foes way back in 1965, more black heroes, superhuman and not, have followed in his stead -- many mentioned in this roundup of the best black superheroes of all time. Whether they're mega-powerful mutants, morally conflicted laymen, or witches who can summon the elements with their minds, there's a whole galaxy of would-be superhero stars out there waiting to be given the Black Panthertreatment.
As part of TV Guide's celebration of The Rise of the Black Superheroes, we asked some of the most prominent voices in the industry which black superheroes they'd most like to see brought to the small screen next. Here's hoping some of these characters get to become household names, too.
There was a comic book that came out a while back, it was a Mighty Avengers series written by Al Ewing, who is a white British dude, but he nailed it. There's a scene [in it] between Luke Cage and another character named Blue Marvel, who is a Superman-type character. Strong, fast, can fly, super scientist. But he came out in the 1950s, and America wasn't ready for a black man superhero. And the conversation they had is like, "Where were you at?"
One of the things I love about Black Lighting is, with the two sisters, Anissa and Jennifer, their different personalities, different age groups and ways of life. I would love more shows that riff on that kind of intergenerational tension that happens within black communities, stuff that looks at the tensions between generations of black people, different ethnicities of black people. I'm Haitian-American; my mom has had certain attitudes about black Americans that felt counterintuitive to me. But she absorbed the messaging that she was given about how black Americans were. I want something that just digs into how differently we live our lives. Different shows have attempted that, but I feel like that would just be rich territory to be mine.
I'm going to keep yelling about Storm until I get my show. Storm should have been had her own show. Just to put this in context, we've had Gotham; we've had baby Batman, baby Catwoman. How many times do I have to see Batman's mother's pearls? It's like, "OK, I get it!" We've seen Spider-Man rebooted how many times? If I have to see Uncle Ben die one more time, I'm going to hurt somebody. But we don't have a Storm movie yet. We don't have a Storm TV show yet. The fact that was she was also a black woman superhero was really powerful for me. Batman's butler even has his own show [Pennyworth]. Why doesn't Storm have a show yet?
Eve Ewing has written a really great Ironheart[about Riri Williams], and I think that could easily go to Disney+. We're getting a Kamala Khan, we're getting a Ms. Marvel [on Disney+], there's no reason Riri couldn't be in there. She, as well as [Black Panther's] Shuri, is on the animated [Marvel] shows. Even T'Challa. We could see them growing up.
It's sort of like a cross between Harry Potter and Black Panther. It's about a whole line of black folks who are mages, and basically have the ability to alter reality. They're the ones who keep reality moving in the direction that it's moving. You shouldn't see them. They work in the shadows, but they're very powerful. But they're being controlled by a larger force that's not letting them reach their full potential. It's a well-made comic and a well-told story.
Another one from Image Comics. This is [about] a family of monster hunters, but it takes place in the Harlem Renaissance. And the monsters are basically an extension of reality that's twisted. So somebody who is racist, somebody who is jealous, can actually turn into a monster. They're actually taking society's ills and turning them into demons that need to be fought.
Early on with Milestone and Dakota Universe, we covered everything from racism to prejudice. ... We had a transgender hero, gay relationships. It's fun to see people catching up. Blood Syndicate, Hardware, they have at least 150 characters behind them. That hasn't been explored, really.
[Editor's note: Cowan was one of the co-founders of Milestone Media, a line of comics distributed by DC that aimed to address the underrepresentation of minorities in comics. He and Eisner-winning comics writer Dwayne McDuffie co-created characters like Curtis Metcalf, aka Hardware, a genius inventor who dons a weaponized exoskeleton to fight corruption and injustice.]
He was a young black superhero, and you don't see that much. It's an opportunity for more levity and fun, seeing somebody go through the teenager experience, but the especially black teen experience, like you saw in Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse. Superheroes tend to be goody-goody types. Part of this is wish fulfillment, 'cause I want to see somebody like I was when I was younger -- someone cool and hip.
For more of the most influential black superheroes from comics, TV, and film, check out the greatest black superheroes of all time.
For Black History Month, TV Guide is celebrating black superheroes in TV and film. As part of The Rise of Black Superheroes, we're honoring the legacies of pioneers like Luke Cage, War Machine, and actress Eartha Kitt; examining how blackness shapes the identities of characters like Iris West, Black Lightning, and John Diggle; exploring what today's black heroes mean to kids of color; and celebrating the greatest black superheroes of all time. You can check out more content from The Rise of Black Superheroes here.