This is not the history of African-Americans in comics. It is a chronology of the Silver and Marvel Age of comics.
I did not have African-American experience of growing up and living in America. But many of my closest friends did. And I read comics with them!
I saw and heard their concerns about isolation, exclusion, housing, schooling, jobs, and personal safety. We had read comics and my friends were looking for someone to relate to. Often, Spider-Man was their favorite because his mask covered his full face and he could be anyone.
Special BIG thanks to Nick Caputo for his help and insight.
Pictured above, is the first Black Marvel character Waku, Prince of the Bantu who has his own limited series in seven issues of Jungle Tales from Sept. 1954 - Sept. 1955. Waku was a prince of the Bantu nation, located in South Africa. He appeared in a total of eight issues.
"African-American" refers to Americans with ancestors from Africa. In science fiction I use the term “Black” because we often don’t know the nationality of the character, or what planet he is from. .
William H. Foster III’s book, “Looking For A Face Like Mine!” is relevant. Mr. Foster explains why it was so important to him to have black characters in comics even if they were stereotypical. Mr. Foster writes:
The images of black characters in mainstream comics in the 1960s and 70s were almost non-existent, terribly stereotypical, but didn’t represent any models worthy of emulation. All in all, people like me just didn’t seem to existing comics. And, while this didn’t destroy my enjoyment of comics, it did leave me with a disquieting feeling that people who look like me weren’t welcome, not just in comics, but society as well.
There were a few Black supporting characters before 1960, but I am presenting discussing the Silver Age and Marvel of Comics. In the early 1960s it was impossible for me to read The Spirit which featured Ebony or Atlas’s (Marvel’s) 1954’s Jungle Tales with “Waku, Prince of the Bantu,” a dignified take on an African Prince and a perhaps a model for T’Challa.
In the 1960s and 1970s TV Producers would produce an episode to show they were inclusive. I named this phenomenon “The Happy Day Syndrome.” They had an episode where an African-American family moves next store and they encountered bigotry. But Fonzie likes them and then everyone does and at the end of the episode they have dinner with the Cunninghams. AND THEY ARE NEVER SEEN AGAIN. Not even at Ritchie’s wedding.
Another aspect of this syndrome is that black characters must be in plots involving prejudice. There were hundreds of innocuous plots on Happy Days, about dating, cars, staying out late, etc. However, when a black character shows up the story must be about prejudice.
Late 1950s and Early 1960s
In the late 1950s into the 1970s, DC would often print Public Service Announcements about friendship, equality, Brotherhood and all those wonderful things.
Script: Jack Schiff; Pencils: Bernard Baily
Script: Jack Schiff; Pencils: Al Plastino
There were no African-American people working at the Daily Planet or at Superboy’s school. The Justice League of America and the Legion of Super-Heroes had green people, purple people, orange people but no black people. There were no black people at Supergirl’s orphanage or anywhere else. Mr. Foster pointed out that there was story about black people on Krypton and they lived on an island. “Even on Krypton, “Mr. Foster said, “We were segregated!”
(Superman #97: Script: Jerry Coleman; Pencils Wayne Boring)
DC's Showcase reprinted “Doctor No,” in a James Bond story that was first published in Great Britain’s Classic Illustrated in 1962. Much of the story takes place in Jamaica and features several Black characters, which are included in the British version. DC however not only re-colored the Black characters to be white, they redrew their faces to look Caucasian.
|Despite what Rock says, Jackie was furloughed. (Story by Robert Kanigher, Art by Joe Kubert)|
At Charlton Comics an African witch doctor Nguta Lmu saved the day in an alien invasion in "A Look at a Backward Planet" in SPACE WAR #18, Sept. 1962. But, as a product of the times they never show his face.
(Script Joe Gill ? Pencils Bill Molno)
The first African-American to appear as a reoccurring character in a nationally distributed comic was Gabriel Jones in Sgt. Fury, 1963 by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby.
Stan Lee in an NEA Interview with Jo Reid, 2008
… we tried to as much as possible give the feeling that bigotry is a terrible thing. In fact, I remember I did a book called Sergeant Fury and his Howling Commandos, which was a very popular series of war stories. Sergeant Fury was...it was in World War II and Sergeant Fury led this commando squad, and this was the first as far as I know ethnically mixed platoon in literary history. I had a black fellow named Gabriel Jones, a Jewish fellow named Izzy Cohen, an Italian, Dino Manelli, and on and on. The whole platoon was totally racially mixed and everybody said to me, “Stan, that book won’ t sell in the South. It won’t sell in the East. It won’t sell in the North or the West, on Mars.” But it sold all over. It was one of our best-selling books, which gave me a great feeling about the real American public.
In a Marvel Promotion magazine, Stan said that during the war both he and Kirby served with brave African-Americans and they should be recognized for their efforts.
Gabe, in the beginning, looked more white than black. Stan Goldberg, then Marvel’s colorist explained to me that while a colorist may indicate what color is to be used, “minimum wage” workers had to apply it during the printing process. So things did not always come out correctly. Gabe did not appear on the cover for the first issue but he did so thereafter.
This was a bigger step then than we can imagine today. Comics book publishing was a business and making money was a prime concern. Alienating southern retailers was not profitable. In 1955, a story, entitled “Judgement Day” from EC Comics, may have rejected by the newly established Comic Code, whose mission was to oversee content to ensure that stories were suitable for young readers. The story portrayed a black astronaut, sweating. It was originally printed before the Code was established, EC wanted to reprint it in Incredible Science Fiction #33. All these years later, the reason for the rejection is not clear.
Al Feldstein, EC's editor, said in a taped conversation on December 29th, 1955, that the reason the story was rejected was "they wanted a white man." Feldstein says in Tales of Terror: The EC Companion: (Murphy, head of the Comics Code) said it can't be a Black [person]. So I said, 'For God's sakes, Judge Murphy, that's the whole point of the Goddamn story!' So he said, 'No, it can't be a Black'. Bill [Gaines, the publisher] just called him up [later] and raised the roof.”
However, as quoted in Squa Tront # 8, on the 1972 EC Science Fiction panel, Publisher Bill Gaines gave a different version of the story: "… is that according to the Monster Times (issue #10) the Code turned down "Judgement Day" because they wanted the spaceman to not be a negro. That is simply not true….What they objected to, which I couldn't understand, was the beads of perpetration on the Negro's forehead. This to them was a very distasteful thing. I refused to remove it, and it became a cause celebre for a little while. I threatened to take it to the Supreme Court, and they relented and the story was printed…
We don't know, but we may suspect, that the perception of the Code's attitude may have contributed to the industry not often including Black characters.
We don't know, but we may suspect, that the perception of the Code's attitude may have contributed to the industry not often including Black characters.
(Story by Al Feldstein, Art by Joe Orlando)
While there were no black students at Superboy’s graduation, there were several at Peter Parker’s and throughout Ditko’s Spider-Man run.
|Superman #46: Writer: Jerry Siegel; Pencils: John Sikela|
In the early 1960s Stan was having Marvel artists put black faces into crowds, DC was taking them out. (Thanks to Nick Caputo and Bill Hall)
Roy Thomas for this blog: Stan had been insisting, way before I got there, that artists draw--and colorists (hi, Stan Goldberg) color--people in crowds as "Negroes," as the expression then was. That seems a small thing, but it was more than most if not all other comics companies were doing then. I became aware of that policy very shortly after being hired, and it was one I applauded.
AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #18, (11/ 1964)
Page 17, panel 6
Page 18, panels 1-3, black cop.
AMAZING SPIDER-MAN# 22 (3/65)
Page 4, panel 7, black student in Pete's class.
Page 6, panel 7, black museum attendee
AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #23 (4/1965)
Black cop - Page 3. panels 1. 2 & 3; Page 7. panel 5
Black pedestrian - Page 4. panel 4
AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #24 (5/1965)
Black pedestrians - Page 6. panel 1
AMAZING SPIDER-MAN # 26, (6/1965)
Page 6, panel 2, Daily Bugle employee;
Page 7, panel 6, student;
Page 8, panels 4-5 men in Jameson's club (panel 4 has the man incorrectly colored);
Page 16, panel 7, police officer.
AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #27 (8/1965)
Black cop Page 4, panels 2 & 3:
Page 5. panels & 6;
Page 6, panels 1 & 2;
Page 7. panel 3
Page 8, panel 1; Page 13. panel 1
page 15, panels 7-8, young kid.
page 17, panel 6;
page 18, panel 1, men in Jameson's club.
AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #28 (9/1965)
Two black high school students; Page 2. panel 1
Black member of peter Parker's graduating class; Page 3. panels 2 & 3
Black pedestrian couple; Page 8, panel 5
Two Black members of Peter's graduating class Page 17, panel 4
Black member of Peter' graduating class and a Black father; Page 17, panel 5
Black Student and parents; Page 18. panel 4
STRANGE TALES #136 (9/1965)
Dr. Strange: Black follower of Mordo; Page 3. panel 2
Nick Fury: Black Agent Page 3
STRANGE TALES #137 (10/1965)
Nick Fury: Gabe Jones first appearance as a S.H.I.E.L.D agent.
AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #33 (12/1966)
Aunt May’s black, doctor; Page 14, panels 1 & 3; Page 19, panel 5
Black Daily Bugle Employee Page 16. panel 4
AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #34 (3/1966)
Black pedestrian; Page 6, panel 4; Page 8, panels 2 & 3
AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #37 (6/1966)
Black Daily Bugle employee; Page 3, panel 8
Black member of a crowd; Page 8. panel 1
STRANGE TALES #145 (6/1966)
Black surgeon operates on Dr. Strange Page 5. panels 1;6; Page 10. panels 6 & 7
Black pedestrian; Page 3, panels 1-3
AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #38 (7/1966)
Black boxer; Page 1, panel 2;
Page 2 panels 1, 2 & 3;
Page 14, panels I, 2 & 3;
Page 15, panels 1 & 4;
Page 16, panel 2;
Page 17, panel 6;
Page 18, panel 3
Black college student; Page 10, panel 7; Page 11, panel 7
In Tales of Suspense #61, 1964, Lee and Kirby again remind us that African-Americans served this country. Captain America ventures into the communist area Viet Nam to rescue pilot, Jim Baker. Cap says that Baker’s brother rescued him in the E.T.O. (European Theatre of Operations) during World War II, reminding us that African-Americans were a vital part of the military at that time too.
But how times have changed. The splash says, “The last person the Communist Viet Cong expect to see on the battlefield of Viet Nam is Captain America.” Cap was originally a war hero and a soldier. He, in 1941, would have been the FIRST person they would expect to see on a battlefield. But American’s view of this war was mixed and the comics, mostly, but not completely, stayed away from it.
Treasure Chest Fun and Fact was published from 1946 to 1972. It was distributed in parochial schools. The comics contained religious and moral themes and was one of the first comics to regularly have stories about African-Americans. For example, they had the biography of Jesse Owens in 1952. In the 1960s-1970s Treasure Chest had several series that contained Black youth. In 1964 Treasure Chest ran a story about the fictional Governor of New York, Timothy Pettigrew, running for president. After ten issues the surprise ending was that Governor Pettigrew was black.
(Pettigrew by Written by Berry Reece; Art by Joe Sinnott)
Classics Illustrated featured many adaptations of literary classics. It was created by Albert Kanter and ran from 1941 to 1969, producing 169 issues.
Classics was a forerunner of the graphic novel but it also presented many other features. I don’t understand why it hasn’t gotten more publicity.
|Tom Sawyer, Art by Aldo Rubano|
|Norman Nodel, cover artist|
|Rolland H. Livingstone|
Gabe Jones’ first appearances as a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent was in STRANGE TALES #137 with a street date of July 8, 1965. I Spy premiered on NBC two months later on September 15, 1965, with Bill Cosby. So, Gabe was the first National African-American spy!
|Writer Robert Kanigher; Artist: Joe Kubert|
Lobo: The first black hero to have his own nationally distributed comic was Dell’s Lobo by D. J. Arneson and artist Tony Tallarico in 1965. It ran for two issues but was cancelled because the southern distributers would not distribute it.
Collector’s Times, Aug 2006: Tony Tallarico : I had an idea for Lobo. And I approached D.J. Arneson and he brought it in and showed it to [Dell editor-in-chief] Helen Meyer. ... She loved it. She really wanted to do it. Great, so we did it. We did the first issue. And in comics, you start the second issue as they're printing the first one, due to time limitations. ... All of the sudden, they stopped the wagon. They stopped production on the issue. They discovered that as they were sending out bundles of comics out to the distributors [that] they were being returned unopened. And I couldn't figure out why. So they sniffed around, scouted around and discovered [that many sellers] were opposed to Lobo, who was the first black Western hero. That was the end of the book. It sold nothing. They printed 200,000; that was the going print-rate. They sold, oh, 10-15 thousand.
D. J. Arneson, in a 2010 interview, disputed this version of Lobo's creation and discussed where the idea for a Black cowboy came from.:
Tony Tallarico illustrated Lobo. He did not create the character, I did. He did not plot the storyline, I did. He did not write the script, I did. And he did not approach me with the original concept or idea. ... I developed the original premise for Lobo (originally Black Lobo, a title Helen Meyer rejected as inappropriate at the time...) from the book The Negro Cowboys by Philip Durham and Everett L. Jones.... On reading the book in 1965, I recognized the potential for a black comic book hero based on historical fact.... I added other elements to the original Black Lobo character concept, e.g...Robin Hood, the Lone Ranger etc., as well as the familiar adventurous spirit of the American cowboy of popular Western novels and cowboy movies of that time....
Bill Foster, by Stan Lee and Don Heck, was introduced in The Avengers #32 (Sept. 1966) as Henry Pym’s brilliant lab assistant. He would become a giant part of the Marvel Universe. Before this time Black characters were often portrayed as stereotypes. At Marvel, Black characters are often now the smartest guys in the room.
Robbie Robertson first appeared in The Amazing Spider-Man #51 (August 1967) by Stan Lee and John Romita. Robbie, nameless in his first appearance, was a high-ranking editor at the Daily Bugle. He was often the voice of reason and actually a guy you would want to work for.
|Robbie will get a name next issue.|
The character the Black Panther was thought up nine months before the political organization of the same name was founded by college students Bobby Seale and Huey P. Newton in October 1966. That group lasted until 1982. T’Challa had no connection to it at all. In fact, T’Challa changes his name to the Black Leopard in 1972 (Fantastic Four #119) “Not because I agree or disagree with the other group, I just don’t want to be confused with them." His next appearance was in Daredevil as The Panther, with no mention of his discarded temporary moniker. The word "Black" was often not used in describing the character.
Until this time characters named “Black” in comics were always white such the Black Knight, Black Cat, Black Canary and the Black Widow.
African Villages had previously been shown in comics and movies to be primitive. The inhabitants of Wakanda, ingeniously (by Lee and Kirby), are the most technically advanced people in the world. The hide that fact by pretending to be primitive to keep the outside world out.
Bwana Beast and Ka-Zar
At DC Showcase #66 introduced B’Wana Beast, a white man who had the power to a adopt the abilities of animals and can talk to them.. Here, an African, Rubert Kenboya, his friend and college roommate, is the narrator of the stories. Very typical, in Black Africa once again, a white guy gets to be the hero.
|Art by Mike Sekowsky|
Bringing a white man into Africa to be a champion had been a popular concept since Tarzan. Marvel’s original Tarzan clone, Ka-Zar, was introduced in Marvel Comics #1, 1939 after first appearing in three pulp magazines. When they brought him back, in X-Men #10, they changed him completely, stepping away from the stereotype. No longer “King of the Jungle” saving natives, Ka-Zar was placed in the Savage Land, a land that time forgot. It was filled with mutating Dinosaurs and other prehistoric beasts and no stereotypes. A major difference was now emerging between Marvel and DC. Many times Ka-Zar was presented out of the jungle and in Big City adventures.
In 1966, after the Voting Rights act was passed, the NAACP commissioned Marvel to create a comic, “The Future Rests Within Your Hands! This comic explained how to register to vote. It was written and drawn by Larry Lieber.
In 1967 Newspapers had notice what was happening at Marvel:
San Antonio Express and News, Jan. 7 1967
If writing intelligent comics qualifies as an industry first, so do other Marvel breakthroughs. Lee was the first comics editor to integrate his books. Now Negro superheroes like Gabriel Jones and The Black Panther stalk villains in partnership with old established Arms like the Avengers, X-Men and The Fantastic Four.
In a major breakthrough in comic strips, Charles Schulz, at the behest of a Los Angeles schoolteacher, Harriet Glickman, introduced African-American Franklin into his Peanuts comic strip. Schultz was concerned that he would not represent an African-American child correctly and encouraged other creators, such as cartoonist Robb Armstrong, the African-American creator of the comic strip Jump Start, to create a better platform. When Schultz needed a last name for Franklin for a TV special, he used Armstrong.
In issue #51, The Black Panther becomes the first black member of the Avengers, replacing Captain America.
Avengers #57 has one of my most favorite pages in Marvel history: The most powerful meets the least powerful.
Marvel now feels comfortable enough to introduced a Black villain. Jim Steranko, always innovating, introduces the first Black villain of the Marvel Age in Nick Fury, Agent of SHIELD #2
The Falcon: (Samuel Thomas Wilson) was created by Stan Lee and Gene Colan in Captain America #117 (September 1969). He was Marvel’s first Black super-hero to have is name in a title and appear regularly. Up until then, Super-heroes mostly did not have partners, they had sidekicks. Sidekicks were usually teen-agers with similar abilities as the main hero. (Robin, Speedy, and Bucky to name a few). Some had stereotypical sidekicks, Pieface, Doiby Dickles, Ebony and Chop-Chop. Sam was a full partner and was even given a full back story!
Gene Colan wrote in Captain America Marvel Masterworks #4.
...in the late 1960s [when news of the] Vietnam War and civil rights protests were regular occurrences, and Stan, always wanting to be at the forefront of things, started bringing these headlines into the comics. ... One of the biggest steps we took in this direction came in Captain America. I enjoyed drawing people of every kind. I drew as many different types of people as I could into the scenes I illustrated, and I loved drawing black people. I always found their features interesting and so much of their strength, spirit and wisdom written on their faces. I approached Stan, as I remember, with the idea of introducing an African-American hero and he took to it right away. ... I looked at several African-American magazines, and used them as the basis of inspiration for bringing The Falcon to life.
Roy Thomas for this blog: Stan, of course, conceived the Falcon pretty much on his lonesome, with Gene Colan designing and drawing. Unless Romita drew an initial sketch, nobody else was involved. But I think that Stan felt him not quite strong enough for a stand-alone character. I myself never thought the name Falcon went with Captain America... but then, the Falcon made his debut NOT as Cap's partner, so it makes sense that way.
Amazing Spider-Man #78: An African-American is, for the second time at Marvel, featured as a villain. A down and out African American kid, Hobie Brown, trying to make a fast buck as the Prowler. John Romita Jr. designed the Prowler for his father.
|Written by Stan Lee, Drawn by John Romita|
Focus: Danger appeared in Charlton’s Strange Suspense Stories #3, September 1968. It was an I Spy inspired strip. Charlton credited it as "Created, Written and Drawn by Don Perlin" because they weren't gonna give him more money anyway! Don replied to Nick Caputo: "It was intended to be a series. But due to power changes it never happened." I asked about possible influences of I Spy or Sea Hunt and he replied, "You got it. I Spy!"
Room 222, Mission Impossible, Hogan’s Heroes, I Spy, and Mod Squad were among the shows to have black stars and they were featured in the comics.
|Art: Al McWilliams|
|Mission Impossible: Art by Jack Sparling|
|Art by Jack Sparling|
|Art by Jack Sparling|
|Hogan's Heroes #3: Art by Dick Giordano|
At this time, in the Gold Key run of Star Trek, Uhura, played on TV by Nichol Nichols was only on the cover, in issue #8. and she appeared in only two stories in issues #9 and #26).
|Star Trek #9: Script: Len Wein; Pencils: Alberto Giolitti|
Uhura had better luck in the British Comics, where she appeared regularly. (The American comic strip did not begin until 1979.)
|Art by Harry Lindfield|
The longest lasting licensed character in the comics is Tarzan, a popular character created by Edgar Rice Burroughs. He has appeared in comic strips since January 7, 1929. Tarzan also appeared in comics books published by Dell, beginning in 1947 an then Western Publishing, Charlton Comics, DC Comics, Marvel Comics and Dark Horse Comics. Race relations for Tarzan would be a long article all by itself. The white bias is obvious and we don’t have to discuss that here.
Brothers of the Spear" was a long-running backup feature in the Tarzan comic-book series. This was an original series and not licensed. It was published by Western Publishing and then through Gold Key Comics and later DC. This series was centered on two men, Dan-El and Nantongo, one White and one black. Both were kings in neighboring countries and both had their thrones usurped. The pair have adventures helping people across their lands.
Script: Jerry O'Hara; Russ Manning (plot); Pencils Jesse Santos
DC’s Justice League of America #57, “Man, Thy Name is Brother!” and Marvel’s Daredevil #47 “Brother, Take My Hand!” were published within months of each other. They are linked in my mind not just because of timing, but because both had a theme of blindness and the word “Brother” in their titles. In both stories an African American is falsely accused of a crime the did not commit. The Flash in the JLA and Daredevil (Matt Murdock) in the courtroom prove their innocence. These are both feel good stories. The characters, of course, are not seen again in the Silver Age.
Script: Gardner Fox; Pencils: Mike Sekowsky
|Script by Stan lee; Art by Gene Colan|
Friday Foster, a comic strip, was introduced in 1970. It was created by Jim Lawrence and later continued by Jorge Longarón. It ran for four years. It featured an African-American women as the title character. (Jackie Ormes's Torchy predated it, in 1937). Dell Comics published a single issue of a Friday Foster comic book (October 1972), written by Joe Gill and illustrated by Jack Sparling.
At DC The Green Lantern #76 (April 1970) is famous for a scene where distressed, Black residents says to him, “You never bothered with black skins!”
This is the only appearance of an African-American neighborhood and it is in great contrast to Metropolis. There is crime and poverty all over. Once again, the Black natives are looking for a white hero. The Guardians let GL help, but they half his power as punishment for wanting help these people. No Black character appears again in GL until issue #86, October 1971, in a story about drug addiction.
John Stewart is introduced as a backup Green Lantern in issue #87 (Dec. 1971) and originally this one shot appearance is another example of the Happy Days Syndrome. It would five years before he appears in another GL book, #94, May 1977, although he does appears in a JLA #110 in April of 1974. He is then unemployed for four more years until Tales of the Green Lantern Corps #3 (July 1981)
Not a major star, but Jack Kirby’s Fourth World introduces Vykin, in Forever People #1. He was the first black super-hero to appear in a DC comic book. Don't tell Black Lightning. Kirby would create the Black Racer, a clone of the Silver Surfer, just over a half a year later in New Gods #3. The racer was Willie Walker, a paralyzed Vietnam War veteran.
DC had many heroes without super-powers beginning with Batman, The Challengers of the Unknown, Secret Six, Blackhawks and Sea Devils to name a few. As a NON super-hero, Black Molo made his first appearance in Sea Devils #23, 1965.
|(Pencils Howard Purcell)|
August Durant has his first appearance in Secret Six #1, 1968.
Script: E. Nelson Bridwell; Pencils Frank Springer)
Mal Duncant is a horse of a different color. He made his first appearance in: Teen Titans #26, 1970. Not a super but gains powers by issue #44, 1976. Many consider that Mal Duncan, not Vykin, is DC’s first black Super Hero.
|Script Robert Kanigher; Pencils Nick Cardy|
Many of DC’s Black heroes were part of gangs or groups. That includes Walter Johnson Jr, alias “Flipper-Dipper,” known for his diving suit and swimming abilities. He first appears in Jack Kirby's Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen #133, 1970.
Nubia, Wonder Woman’s Black Amazon sister (made from darken clay) was introduced in Wonder Woman #204, 1973 but slowly fades away.
|Script: Robert Kanigher; Pencils Don Heck|
Meanwhile at Archie Comics: Chuck Clayton is introduced as a friend of Archie in Life With Archie #110 in 1971.
Valerie of Josie and the Pussycats predates Chuck by nearly two years. She was introduced in issue #45 in 1969. She will eventually entered the Archie Universe and become friends with Archie.
|Script: Dick Malmgren; Pencils Bob Bolling|
|Script: Dick Malmgren; Pencils Dan DeCarlo|
Tony Isabella, for this blog: I wish I had a longer run on LUKE CAGE. There were things I wanted to change. I never liked the idea that he was a escaped convict and fugitive, albeit a man who was framed for the crimes of others. The introduction of Stiletto and Discus, who were the sons of a Seagate Prison warden, was meant as part of a story line that would seen Luke cleared of all crimes. My further plans were to have Luke go back to college, figuring on sending him to the same one Peter Parker attended.
I have heard speculation that the Black Panther was not chosen to be the first Black Super-Hero in his own comic because people associated that name with the political group.
Roy Thomas for this blog: Stan decided, after SHAFT hit, it was time to create an African-American hero, so he, Archie, and I--and, design-wise, Romita--came up with him. Stan guided the whole project from start to last... it was not a case of me, or even Archie as writer, pursuing his own ideas except as details (like D.W. Griffith, etc.). Sure, I made up the name Cage (well, accidentally lifted it from Gil Kane) and the level of invulnerability (from GLADIATOR) and the name "Hero for Hire" (but only after Stan said he wanted a different kind of super-hero title, and that he wanted the hero to work for a living as a super-hero), and later grafted Power Man onto him... but Stan guided the thing, and it was his idea (not his most original, but still good) to have him be an escaped (innocent) con. I suspect most of the details, though, were Archie's. The costume, derided today, fit perfectly in the milieu of 1970s blaxploitation pics that soon followed SHAFT, and the kind of dress that was going around following the flower children of the 60s. The people being all cutesy about the costume wouldn't have done any better, back in the day. George Tuska, of course, had zero to do with the character's creation, but penciled the early stories, so I guess is counted as a co-creator. Stan gets the "shaft" on that one, since he wasn't listed as a co-creator on the Netflix show, even though he was really more important than any of us in Cage's creation. I consider one of my more important contributions to Cage the suggestion that Billy Graham ink the book, and we always knew that he might eventually pencil it... which he did, even though he made more of a mark on the Black Panther strip with Don McGregor.
Tony was not the only one who disliked Cage's origin and stereotype. David Anthony Kraft began writing the Defenders with issue #44 and by issue #46 Luke Cage departs.
David Kraft for this article: “Roger (Slifer) and I wrote him out immediately, because while I stayed true to established speech patterns and character traits, no black person nor ANY person I knew ever talked the phony jive established for Luke...I couldn't write Sweet Christmas, etc. -- I just couldn't do it. Out he went!”
In 1976, in Fantastic Four #168, Luke Cage was made a member, temporarily, of Marvel's First Family.
Stepping back: Gunhawks: Marvels’ Second series with a Black Lead.
Before the mini-series, Roots by Alex Haley, in 1977, slavery was often presented as not being cruel, violent and inhumane. Movies, such as Gone With the Wind, and TV shows often made slavery look not so bad and that people from Africa, who in reality were tortured by it, often benefited from it.
In 1972 Marvel published Gunhawks a six issue western that never could be published after Roots. It featured the son of a rich plantation owner, to be known as Kid Cassidy and Reno Jones a slave. Here, the plantation owner is said to take a liking to Jones and brings him up as a son. Jones' enslaved parents, who are never seen. Where are the parents? Were they sold? How did they live? Did Jones get wages for his work, was he beaten? Everything about the cruelty of slavery was left out. And Jones goes on to join the Confederacy!!!!! Oh, and it is the Union soldiers that are portrayed as the bad guys. Kid Cassidy was later shot and killed by Grey Fox, a Cheyenne chief. This actually meant that Gunhawks was a comic with an African American star.
As time went by, in real life, this storyline did not sit well with Marvel. In the year 2000 they revisited the characters in the four part Blaze of Glory. Here Jones explains that the previous stories were products of “dime novels” and nothing like that happened. Slavery was terrible, and their master may have been better than some, but was still a slave owner and he was still treated as a slave. Jones also explains that he never joined the Confederacy.
|On your left is the original story, to the right is the retelling|
Spiriting Ahead: The Spirit, appeared in newspapers beginning in June 2, 1940. The Spirit’s sidekick, black Ebony White was controversial because of the stereotypical way Will Eisner presented him. Will Eisner was criticized for his depiction, especially his facial features, which were typical of racial caricatures common throughout the "Jim Crow" era. In later years Eisner did portray African-Americans more accurately. 1972, when the Spirit was being brought back in comic books Eisner did give him an explanation.
The first Black superheroine in comics, or a comic magazine, is Butterfly. She debuted in the first issue of Hell-Rider from Skywald Publishing in 1971. She was created by Gary Friedrich and John Celardo. Rich Buckler drew the second issue. This was four years before Storm's first appearance X-Men.
Once again, this was not an easy task. Rich Buckler told Danny Best that Skywald felt that Butterfly was too black. They hired Bill Everett to make the characters appear “more white”: “I got flack for this and Bill Everett was hired to touch up many of the faces (to make them look more white–go figure), and I quit when I saw the final result.”In the first issue, Butterfly fights the henchmen of a costumed drug dealer, The Claw; In the second and final issue she defeats a racist, Klan inspired organization, the Order of the Crimson Cross.
Tony Isabella for this Blog: I always liked my friend Gary Friedrich's Butterfly and Hell-Rider. I once tried to figure out (with Gary) if he had any claims to the characters. I would have liked to revived them and work on the new stories with him. Sadly, he passed before we got too far into this.
In Jungle Action #6 The Black Panther finally stars in his own series, by Don McGregor and Rich Buckler. This is the series that introduces Killmonger.
This is not Kirby’s Black Panther, who was the Head of State for Wakanda, which is a full-time job. Here, T’Challa spends all of his time in America fighting the K.K.K. when he should be in Wakanda serving as their leader. As with Prince Namor (Prince of Atlantis) when they are away for a long time, someone tries to fill their royal vacuum and he is always a bad guy.
With issue #24 (Nov. 1976) the series was cancelled, in the middle of a story line, when Kirby’s Black Panther title was started. The Jungle Action storyline is not referenced until two years later in Black Panther #14 and 15. The Jungle Action storyline then continues in Marvel Premiere #51 two years after that. It appears that the ruler of Wakanda was away from home for five years.
Roy Thomas for this article: McGregor's vision of the Black Panther strip was never a big seller... probably I should have moved him to another strip, in terms of sales. But I knew McGregor felt passionately about it, so I put off replacing him. Had I stuck around as editor much longer, though, I'd have probably had to, or else the mag would've been cancelled.
Brother Voodoo, who has mystic powers, began his run in Strange Tales, #169 (Sep. 1973). In the jungles of Haiti, Doctor Jericho Drumm returns home to discover that his brother, Daniel, is dying from the curses of the evil Damballah. (A name that comes from a short story “Pigeons from Hell” by Robert E. Howard, first printed posthumously in Weird Tales, 1938.) Jericho’s brother, who was the first Brother Voodoo, sends him to Papa Jambo, to gain powers and seek revenge. Perhaps a little stereotypical, the story, characters and voodoo seemed to be influenced by 1973’s then current and popular Live and Let Die, a James Bond movie.
Doctor Strange and Brother Voodoo were both men of science, physicians who did not believe in the mystic arts until tragedies drove them to learn. They both had ethereal forms that could come out of their bodies and can use spells. It is probably not a coincidence that Voodoo replaces Strange in Strange Tales.
Blade the Vampire Slayer was introduced in Tomb Of Dracula #10. So while the Living Dead (Zombies) were banned, the undead, Vampires, were not.
Marv Wolfman: I had no intention of creating Blade, I had no intention of anything, he just popped into my head. In one step, walking down Main Street, Flushing, this is no joke. In one instant, the entire character, his costume, the look, his origin, and everything popped into my head, without my even expecting it to, because I’d only been on the book three issues at that point.
Gene Colan (Comic Book Artist #13): The visuals. Marv told me Blade was a black man, and we talked about how he should dress, and how he should look (very heroic looking). That was my input. Marv might’ve said “Put boots on him,” I don’t now. The bandolier of blades—that was Marv’s idea. But, I dressed him up. I put the leather jacket on him, and so on…(I based him on) A composite of black actors. (ex-NFL running back) Jim Brown was one of them.
I knew it was good, this character. Blacks were not portrayed in comics up to that time, not really. So I wanted to be one of the first to portray blacks in comics. There were black people in this world, they buy comic books, why shouldn’t we make them feel good? Why shouldn’t I have the opportunity to be one of the first to draw them? I enjoyed it!
Mod Wheels was published by Western Publishing. It featured a group of young people, in great cars, solving crimes and having adventures.
Rich Buckler was very proud of his creation, with Doug Moench, of Deathlok, The Demolisher which first appeared in Astonishing Tales #25, August 1974. In issue #27 it is revealed that Luthor Manning, Deathlok, was married to a back woman. In Deathlok's feature in Marvel Spotlight #33, his adversary, the Devil-Slayer also had a mixed marriage.
Bill Foster, introduced as Hank Pym’s assistant shows that he is no background player. In Luke Cage, Power Man #24 (April 1975) he becomes the next Marvel Super-Hero with the power to grow into a Giant. The "Black Goliath" persona was created by Tony Isabella and George Tuska.
“Tony Isabella, 2018: “I don’t use the Black Goliath name anymore because I hated it back in the 1970s and I hate it today. Most parts of the name are stupid. I mean, Goliath was a villain. I wanted to call him Giant-Man, but, since Giant-Man was stinking up the sales before he was booted from Tales to Astonish, I was told I couldn’t use that name.
Tony strongly felt that we needed more Black Super-Heroes and he always gave his heroes a strong moral background. This will come in to play very strongly when he creates Black Lightning in 1977.
Black Goliath received his own comic in (Feb. 1976), but it lasts only five issues. The character joins the Isabella created Champions with issue #11
Roy Thomas for this blog: Bill Foster had been around a while... since around the time of the Panther, I believe. But of course it was Tony Isabella, as a sort of practice run for Black Lightning, who turned him into Black Goliath. I was never wild about the latter name.
"Misty" Knight is another creation of Tony Isabella, this time with Arvell Jones. Misty Knight first appears in Marvel Spotlight #21, in an Iron Fist story. Knight is a former NYPD police officer, whose arm was amputated following a bomb attack. After receiving a bionic prosthetic from Tony Stark, she started a private-investigation agency with close friend, Colleen Wing. Knight was influenced by the blaxploitation and Kung Fu crazes as well as the bionic Six Million Dollar Man. Misty never raises to be more than a supporting character. If the bionic arm makes her a super-heroine, she could be considered Marvel’s first African-American super-heroine, but most consider that to be Storm.
Mistakenly, people refer to her kissing Iron Fist as the first interracial kiss in comics in Marvel Team-Up 64. THEY ARE WRONG!!! The pair are the same race, just different colors. Superman, from the planet Krypton, kissing Lois Lane, an Earthling, was the first interracial kiss.
Tony from his
blog: Misty was not created to be a
romantic interest. She was created to be his partner, someone to talk to,
someone who could hold her own in any fight, someone who wouldn’t take any
nonsense from the often-naive Danny Rand and let him know in no uncertain terms when
he was being stupid. But, mostly she was created so that I would never have to write those asinine second-person captions that had become the standard narration for the series. “I love Misty Knight. Her original appearance was based on actress Pam Grier, who I also love.
Storm was one of the last major Black super-hero of the Marvel Age. Storm enters with a splash in the Giant-Size X-Men. She becomes part of an international and diverse team of outcasts, better known as mutants.
Chris Claremont (plot assist, uncredited); Len Wein (plot, script) Pencils: Dave Cockrum
Bronze Tiger's first DC Comics appearance was in Richard Dragon, Kung Fu Fighter #1 (April/May 1975). Here is certainly a hero, but not a super-hero. Bronze Tiger first appeared was a supporting character in “Dragon's Fists” a novel by Dennis O'Neil and Jim Berry. The lead character was Richard Dragon
Ben Turner comes from a middle income black neighborhood in Central City, home of the Flash. At age ten, he stops a burglar in his home by stabbing him. To control his anger Ben studies the Martial Arts and teams with Richard Dragon. This is important because too many times, DC and other companies portray Black families in poor neighborhoods. The series would also portray women as Martial Arts fighters.
When Tyroc becomes a member of the Legion Of Super-Heroes Superboy says “ When it comes to race, we’re color-blind.” But it took them 20 years to get a black member into the Legion. But they finally get one in Superboy #216.
|Script: Cary Bates, Pencils: Mike Grell|
In 1976, in Detective Comics #463-464, The Batman fights the Black Spider. As I mentioned previously, after the Black Panther all characters named "Black" were Black, not White. Well, in issue #464, the same issue that the Black Spider appeared, so did the Caucasian Black Canary!
Since Panther’s first appearance there have been many black characters in comics All these heroes and more have succeeded because Fantastic Four #52 led the way in showing readers that what mattered in a hero was something found beneath the surface
This version of The Black Panther reestablishes Kirby’s vision of The Black Panther being the King of Wakanda. Kirby leaves with issue #12 and a new crew has to finish his story.
Roy Thomas for this blog: As it is, when Gerry Conway came in briefly as editor in early '76, I believe (Gerry would have to tell you if he remembers it the same) it was I who suggested, when he was wondering what to do re Panther, that Jack Kirby be put on it. That didn't work out particularly well saleswise, either... but it was worth a shot. After all, Jack had co-created the character. Still, a revamped series that began with a story titled "King Solomon's Frog" was perhaps not likely to head in the right direction.
Tony Isabella has a rare achievement, done only by him, Jack Kirby and Bill Everett. When a comic character is rebooted it is most often done by a different creator. Jack Kirby brought back Captain America In Avengers #4. Bill Everett brought back the Sub-Mariner in Young Men #24. Tony has been asked twice, once in 1995 and in 2018 to reboot Black Lightning.
Tony Isabella wrote, Everything important about Jefferson Pierce, Black Lightning and their world was created by me, just me, before I pitched the series to DC Comics. That's why I had the solo creator credit on the feature, up to the day I inquired about buying Black Lightning back from DC.
Black Lightning was the result of my building
towards what I wanted
in an African-American super-hero. I wanted a positive character
who was neither a foreign king or an ex-criminal. I wanted a hero
to whom young readers could relate. That’s why I made Jeff Pierce
a schoolteacher. Every child know what a schoolteacher is and the
lucky ones have had great ones.
This is wonderful. People, young people especially, can relate to teachers and can even aspire to be one. They can’t be royalty such as the Black Panther and they don’t have to be criminals, such as Luke Cage.
Tony Continues…When DC and I were negotiating an agreement a while back, and the restoration of my solo credit was on the table, I chose to include Trevor. The correct credit line is "Created by Tony Isabella with Trevor von Eeden." I did that in recognition of Trevor's work on the series and to make sure he kept getting royalty payments on the character. Black Lightning showrunner Salim Akil probably put it best: "Tony created Black Lightning and Trevor showed us what he looked like."
Tony Isabella’s thoughts are the perfect way to conclude:
Over the years, three readers have told me my Black Lightning comics inspired them to become teachers. One of these readers chose to teach in inner-city schools because he wanted to be a Jefferson Pierce to those students. These were proud and humbling moments for me.
Tony for this blog: As for Black Lightning being an inspiration to readers, that just becomes more mind-bogging every year. Several years ago, a woman came up to me at a convention and hugged me with tears her eyes. Black Lightning was the first comic she bought for herself because it was the first time she saw herself in a comic book.
Comic book heroes need to inspire and to give and show hope. William Foster III looked for a face like his in many places including comics to encourage him to go on to do great things. You can’t be a super-hero but you go on to be President and now a Vice-President.
My Favorite story on this subject comes from Marvel's World's Unknown from 1973: