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These Black superheroes changed the face of comic books

(Image credit: DC)

DC is enlisting writer John Ridley to show a different perspective on its comic book timeline - literally titled The Other History of the DC Universe - that focuses on the stories of Black heroes and other heroes of color throughout DC history.

But comic book history is rich with Black superheroes who have defined important parts of the genre and the medium, even as their stories and contributions go unsung all too often.

With that in mind, here are ten Black superheroes who made a major impact on superhero comic books.

Spawn (Al Simmons)

(Image credit: Image Comics)

Though the face he's best known for is, like Spider-Man who inspired his look, a full face mask with expressive, oversized eyes, Al Simmons, the original Spawn, was a Black man in life.

Simmons' identity was taken by his deal with the devil, whose magic let him do anything but appear as his true self – a powerful metaphor.

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.

Despite his star fading somewhat since his heyday, Spawn is still one of the most recognizable Black heroes – with his mammoth success through Image Comics paving the way for bigger and bigger blockbuster creator-owned titles since.

Monica Rambeau

(Image credit: Marvel Comics)

Monica Rambeau may not quite be a household name, but her lofty place in Marvel history distinguishes her as one of the most important Black heroes.

As the successor to Mar-Vell, Monica was the first woman to take the name Captain Marvel. She went on to become an Avenger, even leading the team for years, and was one of Marvel's most iconic heroes in the '80s.

Monica Rambeau remains a supporting character in Marvel Comics. And in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, she'll follow up her appearance as a child in Captain Marvel with a bigger role as an adult in Disney Plus's streaming series WandaVision, where she'll be played by Teyonah Parris.

Green Lantern (John Stewart)

(Image credit: DC)

John Stewart is one of several prominent Black superheroes who inherited their codenames from white heroes (think Monica Rambeau/Captain Marvel, James Rhodes/War Machine, Miles Morales/Spider-Man, and more) – in fact, he's largely the hero that kicked off the trend when he became Earth's Green Lantern, replacing Hal Jordan.

Stewart's comic book profile has waxed and waned, but in the public eye, he may be the most popular and well-known Green Lantern, thanks to his fan-favorite role in the Justice League and Justice League Unlimited animated series.

Now back among the Justice League in comic books, he's also expected to play a role in HBO Max's planned Green Lantern Corps TV series.

Static

(Image credit: DC/Milestone)

Static 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 in the core DC timeline as well.

The return of Milestone as a new DC Comics imprint, Earth M, has been in the works for a while now, with Static leading the planned line as a flagship character.

Luke Cage

(Image credit: Marvel Comics)

Way before making history as the first Black hero to headline in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (at least on the TV side), Luke Cage was simply a 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 in the last decade.

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.

Through it all, he's remained a cultural icon, even inspiring the stage name of one Nicolas Coppola - better known to the world as Nicolas Cage. 

Sam Wilson

(Image credit: Marvel Comics)

Even before taking his now relinquished mantle of Captain America in comic books, Sam Wilson was a historically significant character.

Sam operated alongside the original Captain America (Steve Rogers) for years under the identity of the high-flying Falcon, 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 and often controversial reactions Sam's time as Cap engendered in readers.

Sam Wilson's MCU counterpart has followed in his comic book footsteps, taking up the shield of Captain America at the end of Avengers: Endgame in a storyline that promises to be central to the upcoming Disney Plus The Falcson and the Winter Soldier streaming series.

Storm

(Image credit: Marvel Comics)

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 across comic books, animation, movies, and more.

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.

Storm is currently on the verge of a big story in the X-Men 'Dawn of X' era's first major crossover, 'X of Swords,' where evidence points to her potentially turning to the side of Apocalypse.

Black Lightning

(Image credit: DC)

Created by Tony Isabella and Trevor Von Eeden, Black Lightning is the first major Black hero from DC Comics. And 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 suit. As a teacher who moonlights as a superhero, he had a long civilian career, eventually becoming 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 one of DC's top heroes - 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, though his comic book stint in the latest Batman and the Outsiders title is coming to an end in October.

Lion Man

(Image credit: All-Negro Comics)

If you're wondering who Lion Man is, you're likely not alone. Though not a household name, Lion Man was the first Black comic book superhero.

Appearing only in the single published issue of All-Negro Comics (the cover of which, seen above, depicts Lion Man on the far left, in the red and yellow headband), Lion Man was co-created by journalist Orrin Evans, his brother George J. Evans, and John Terrell. If his jungle cat motif seems familiar, his origins might too. An American physicist, Lion Man took up his superhero mantle when he was tasked with guarding a giant Uranium deposit in Africa.

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 Panther

(Image credit: Marvel Comics)

As the first major mainstream Black superhero, it's unquestionable that Black Panther changed the game, and the face of comic books – and years later, he's had a similar impact on comic book movies.

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.

Often called "the most dangerous man alive," King T'Challa/Black Panther is the monarch and protector of the ultra-advanced, uncolonized African nation of Wakanda – and one of the MCU's biggest characters, with a record-breaking solo film and subsequent appearances in Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame under his belt, and a solo sequel on the way.

Newsarama staff writer who learned to read from comic books and hasn’t shut up about them since.