Milestones1 of 12
February 1 marks the start of Black History Month in the United States, a month in which Americans honor and remember the accomplishments, contributions, and history of black Americans.
While comic books are still making strides in representation, the long history of black superheroes remains largely unsung – even our superhero dominated culture.
To that end, Newsarama is looking back at 10 black superheroes and comic book characters who changed the game – and the culture of superheroes.
Spawn (Al Simmons)2 of 12
Spawn is notable as a black superhero for a number of reasons. For one thing, he had a massively successful, huge-selling comic book in the 90s that's still going today.
He's also the first black superhero to headline his own movie, beating Blade to the punch by a year.
Though his star has faded somewhat since his heyday, Spawn is still one of the most recognizable black heroes, and his third party success could be considered a game changer not just for characters of color, but for the entire third party model, proving you don't have to be Marvel or DC to dominate the market.
Captain Marvel / Spectrum (Monica Rambeau)3 of 12
Monica Rambeau has been relegated to Marvel's B-List in recent years, but she still has many very vocal fans and a lofty place in Marvel history to distinguish her as a hero.
As the successor to the first Captain Marvel, Mar-Vell, Monica became an Avenger, even leading the team for years, and was one of Marvel's most iconic heroes in the 80s.
She was last seen in action as Spectrum as part of the Ultimates, the first line of defense against cosmic threats in the Marvel Universe. Her mom, Maria Rambeau, plays a key role in the upcoming Captain Marvel film as a fighter pilot with the callsign "Photon," played by Lashana Lynch.
Green Lantern (John Stewart) & War Machine (James Rhodes)4 of 12
It's hard to choose between John Stewart and James Rhodes for this spot on our list, because they both changed the game when it came to both spin-off characters and legacy heroes.
Stewart and Rhodes both represent a specific comic book archetype: the black hero who shares a name and power-set with a white predecessor. Stewart was selected by the Guardians to be Hal Jordan's stand-in as Earth's Green Lantern, while Rhodey was Tony Stark's handpicked replacement when he briefly retired as Iron Man.
In modern days, a black hero operating in an identity previously held by a white hero is more common (and seemingly somehow more controversial), Stewart broke ground by being one of the very first heroes in this trend, while James Rhodes may be its pinnacle example. He's currently the primary Green Lantern of writer Scott Snyder's Justice League.
Static5 of 12
Static (or Static Shock, as he's sometimes called) is important for being the most prominent character from Milestone Comics, an entire superhero universe piloted by black creators, with an emphasis on black heroes who reflected a point of view that was not (and some would say, still is not) adequately being explored in comic books in the 90s.
Static was the breakout star of the Milestone line, which featured dozens of characters, going on to star in his own animated series and play a role in Batman Beyond. When Milestone was incorporated into the DC Universe, Static headlined his own comic book as well.
The return of Milestone as a new DC Comics imprint, "Earth M" was previously announced - including the return of Static Shock in his own title once again - though Milestone's return has yet to come to fruition.
Luke Cage / Power Man6 of 12
Way before making history as the first black hero to headline in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (at least the TV wing), Luke Cage was a simple Hero For Hire protecting his neighborhood from super crime.
Though his tiara and "Sweet Christmas!" catchphrase have been a bit of a punchline, even for Luke himself, Cage grew from a man of the people to one of the top Avengers, leading several incarnations of the team and becoming one of Marvel's top heroes.
He's also done something very few heroes have been able to do, especially in the Marvel Universe - he's become a father and family man while still kicking ass and taking names.
Falcon (Sam Wilson)7 of 12
Even before taking his now relinquished mantle of Captain America, Sam Wilson was a historically significant character.
Sam operated alongside the original Captain America, Steve Rogers, for years, even joining the Avengers for several long stints. But since Steve's brief retirement led to Sam taking up the iconic shield, he's made even more history.
No, he's not the first black character to wear the Captain America costume, but he is the first to lead his own Captain America ongoing title. And, in this day and age, there's something incredibly powerful about a black man serving as a symbol of America - as evidenced by the passionate reactions Sam's time as Cap engendered in fans.
Storm8 of 12
Storm isn't just the first black member of the X-Men, she's also Marvel's first prominent black female hero. Part of the Giant-Sized X-Men line-up that revitalized and reinvigorated the X-Men, Storm is also one of the most enduring members of the team.
Storm is the current headmistress of the Jean Grey School, and the de facto leader of the X-Men. Considering she started as something of an ingenue, that she's grown into one of the most prominent and powerful X-Men is something unique on its own.
Storm was the first black woman to join the X-Men. It took the Avengers another decade to catch up, along with the Justice League, who didn't include a black woman - or any black members - on their roster until Vixen joined in the early 80s.
Black Lightning9 of 12
Created by Tony Isabella and Trevor Von Eeden, Black Lightning is the first major black hero from DC Comics.
Unlike many of the other important black heroes on this list, Jefferson Pierce went straight to leading man, premiering in his own ongoing title.
Jefferson is as interesting out of costume as he is in his trademark blue and yellow costume. As a teacher who moonlights as a superhero, Pierce had a long civilian career, culminating as serving as Secretary of Education under none other than President Lex Luthor.
Black Lightning has also been a member of the Justice League, as well as the Outsiders, and in some ways paved the way for Cyborg to become DC's top black hero - and a founder of some versions of the Justice League.
Black Lightning is having a current renaissance as the star of his own CW TV show.
Lion Man10 of 12
If you're wondering who Lion Man is, you're likely not alone. Though his name hasn't exactly made it into the annals of history, Lion Man was the first black comic book superhero.
Appearing only in the single published issue of All-Negro Comics, Lion Man was co created by journalist Orrin Evans, his brother George J. Evans, and John Terrell.
All-Negro Comics was unique for being the first comic book known to be created entirely by black creators with all black characters. A second issue never hit stands, reportedly because Orrin Evans could not purchase the newsprint required to print the books. Some have speculated that he was blocked from publishing by white-owned competitors, some of whom later began publishing their own black themed titles.
Black Panther11 of 12
As the first major mainstream black superhero, it's unquestionable that Black Panther changed the game, and the face of comic books.
Since his debut, Black Panther has broken boundaries as one of Marvel's first black leading men, the first black Avenger, serving as leader of the Fantastic Four, and as one of the smartest, most capable heroes in the Marvel Universe.
He'll break boundaries again in 2018, when his solo film - the first Marvel Studios film to star a black lead character - hits theaters.
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