Marvel’s Most Influential African and African-American Characters
For Black History Month, The Marvel Report is discussing the origins and journeys of some of Marvel’s most prominent African and African-American characters.
Monica Rambeau first appeared in The Amazing Spider-Man Annual #16 in 1982 as Captain Marvel. Before receiving her powers she was a lieutenant in the New Orleans Harbor Patrol. From her first appearance, Rambeau was shown as a strong women that could handle herself. She became an Avenger and at one point was their leader. Rambeau also was the field leader for the Mighty Avengers. She has gone by many superhero identities; Captain Marvel, Photon, Pulsar, and currently Spectrum.
Sam Wilson debuted in Captain America #117 in 1969. The Falcon was the first African-American superhero to be in a main title. Black Panther appeared a few years before Wilson as the first African character to lead a comic book. Wilson’s pre-Falcon story was originally that he was a social worker living in Harlem trying to help inner city children. Then he found and adopted a falcon named Redwing which became his partner. Unfortunately this progressive backstory was retconned to make Wilson originally a thug that Captain America rescued.
From 1971-1978 the Falcon shared a title with Captain America called Captain America and the Falcon. In 1978 Falcon joined his first team, the Defenders. Later he joined the Avengers which he has been a longtime member of. Recently, Wilson took the mantle of Captain America. This meant a change in costume, name, and headlining a solo series.
Luke Cage first appeared in Luke Cage, Hero For Hire #1 in 1972. He was the first black superhero to have his own comic. At the beginning his comic’s genre was blaxpoitation. Luke Cage is a great character, but it took a long time for him to be written in the right way. His origins have him starting out as a criminal that was falsely imprisoned, then gained superpowers through being experimented on. When Cage gained his super strength and bulletproof skin he decided to help people, but at a price. For a long time he was depicted as a strong person that got angry a lot and cared about getting paid.
Luke Cage is given much more depth in later years through his friendship with Iron Fist, as a member of various superhero groups, and relationships with the women in his life. He had a daugter with Jessica Jones and is always protective of his family, yet supportive of his wife’s decisions. When the New Avengers formed Cage became their leader. He has also led the Thunderbolts, Avengers and Mighty Avengers.
T’Challa debuted in Fantastic Four #52 in 1966. Although he was not the star, T’Challa was the first black superhero in mainstream comics. He is the king of a scientifically advanced African nation called Wakanda. T’Challa also holds the mantle of the Black Panther meaning he passed the trials to earn the herditary title. He appeared in Fantastic Four and Tales of Suspense before becoming a regular in The Avengers. His first series was the self-titled Black Panther in 1977. He has been a regular member of the Avengers for a long time, while also remaining rooted to his home country. T’Challa has always been portrayed as stoic; he takes his responsibility as a king seriously. He is a very capable fighter and a brilliant scientist with a Ph.D in in physics. T’Challa has always stood up for his family whether it be his sister, ex-wife Storm, or their son.
Ororo Munroe, more commonly know as Storm, made her first comic appearance in Giant-Size X-Men #1 in 1975. This was also her introduction to the X-Men while they were expanding their numbers. Storm is the first black female to have a major role in comics. She is a mutant that can control all weather. Ororo’s mother is from Kenya, but moved to New York with her American husband. Munroe is born in Harlem, but soon moves with the family to Cairo. In Cairo both Munroe’s parents die so she is left an orphaned child. Consequently she becomes a good thief. When Professor X meets her, Storm is a young women bringing rain to the Serengeti.
Munroe has so much power inside her, yet she always seems composed. She is strong-willed, but kind and motherly. Storm has very successfully led led the X-Men several times. When she married T’Challa, Ororo became the Queen of Wakanda which meant she had to balance Wakanda duties with X-Men duties. Add on top of that being a mother. Ororo now embodies the modern working mom, yet it seems her super power is endless patience and self-confidence.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this brief stroll through Marvel’s history of African and African-American characters. There are many more great characters that I couldn’t fit on this list, but would love to hear discussed in the comments. Please feel free to comments with your favorite character, or any thoughts you have on the article.