Black Superheroes Are Second To None, But It Wasn’t Always That Way

Comic book films are all the rage. However, as the case with any phenomenon in which the mainstream first treads, Black and Brown characters have been relatively slow to get that love.  

Sure, we all can point to the overwhelming success of Wesley Snipes Blade to see just how hungry fans have always been for black superheroes on the big screen. Despite that windfall for Marvel and Snipes, there hasnt been a black lead for a superhero film or series since 2004.  Now, as we all salivate at the possible splendor of Ryan Cooglers Black Panther trailers, Black Lightning is all set to premiere on the CW tonight. 

Black Lightning | First Look Trailer | The CW

Black Lightning premieres Tuesday, January 16 at 9/8c on The CW! SUBSCRIBE: About Black Lightning: Jefferson Pierce is a man wrestling with a secret. Nine years ago, Pierce was gifted with the superhuman power to harness and control electricity, which he used to keep his hometown streets safe as the masked vigilante Black Lightning.

Wow. What a difference decades of protest and complaining makes (insert sarcasm here).  Seriously though, were in some interesting times regarding black heroism on the big screen.  But, as a considerable number of people have quizzed, who is Jefferson Pierce, aka Black Lightning? 

The following are excerpts gleaned from our popular Black Heroism Illustrated article from a few years back.

Comic books havent always been a place where African-Americans can find characters they relate to. Black comic characters ranged from being barely noticeable and featuring blatantly disrespectful instances, to receiving lessened moments of racism from decade to decade. 

DC Comics didnt have a black superhero who could stand on his own until 1977 when Black Lightning and his ability to create and manipulate electricity and electromagnetic fields was introduced. Marvel Comics beat them to the punch by 11 years with the Black Panther. He first debuted in “Fantastic Four” #52 in 1966. Created by Jack Kirby, the Black Panther rules over the southern African kingdom of Wakanda. He dons a suit made of vibranium, a nearly impermeable metal found only in his country, and is also an elite level martial artist and technological mastermind.

But early on, some comic book publishers had the misguided idea to use Black as a descriptive prefix to the name of any hero of African origin. Black Lightning, Black Vulcan, Black Goliath, Black Racer, the Black Spider, Black Manta and so on. DC Comics was guilty of this offense more than anyone else, but Marvel had its fair share of naming faux pas as well. 

I was as happy to see an increase in Black superheroes as any other lover of comic books. But the fact that almost every character had to be given the Black marker in his actual name as some sort of self-segregating practice of identification was just flat out ridiculous.

Indeed, those early fumbles and cultural slip ups at both major comic book companies has since been exacerbated to a great extent by the industrys continued lack of diversity in editorial and writing, as well as some publishers and distributors continued claims that diversity is hurting sales, despite numbers to the contrary.  Indeed, this is the swamp into which we must tread in order for us to get right as far as this is concerned.  What anyone should be able to appreciate is that both Black Panther and Black Lightning are being written and directed by black people.

As was mentioned before, Ryan Coogler (Creed) is the creative mind behind Black Panther, while Salim and Mara Brock Akil are heading the upcoming Black Lightning project. 

BLACK PANTHER Final Trailer (2018)

Here is the Final Trailer for Black Panther

Back in the day, whenever a Black character was introduced into the lexicon of any of the major publishers, that character was on secondary footing relative to his white counterparts.  While this phenomenon has occurred many times early on, black characters arent written demonstrably second to white characters anymore.  Its much subtler.  

When the Falcon initially debuted in Captain America #117 in 1969, then teamed up with Captain America in Captain America and Falcon, there were individuals within the industry who insisted he be written as an equal to ol Stars and Stripes, a tall task considering Cap was Marvels most popular character at the time.

Luke Cage aka Power Man was introduced with a book all his own, but eventually had to be teamed with Iron Fist as the fighting duo Power Man and Iron Fist.  Also, early on, Black Lightning rebuffed offers for Justice League of America membership multiple times, preferring instead to roll on his own. But he was a member of Batmans motley superhero team The Outsiders, and also teamed with Superman on several occasions.

Depending upon the individual doing the creating, Black characters could be strong, fierce equals, or weaker, almost subordinate to white characters.  Cyborg, for example, is a part human, part cybernetic entity. He has the ability to hack virtually any computer, control any vehicle or mechanical device that he can interface with and now has the ability to teleport anywhere in the universe via boom tubes.  So, it baffles me when hes written as little more than a cybernetic administrative assistant.  

Cyborg, we need you to hack that satellite, says Batman.

Cyborg, we need you to open a com to the president, says Superman.

Cyborg, we need you to teleport us to Apokolips, says Green Lantern.

Just waiting for him to say, just once, Imma need yall to hold your damn horse. Im only one person!

Indeed, we are our traumas, and those traumas dictate how we respond to a particular stimuli. My traumas are telling me that Diggle from Arrow is a better fighter than Oliver Queen, and they wonder aloud why, despite having more training and more muscle than Queen, that he is written to take the backseat role.  Those same traumas tell me that introducing such a potentially powerful character as Mister Terrific, then grossly miscasting him with Echo Kellum, as well as introducing him as a secondary character to Arrow, is a complete waste of yet another favorite Black character.

But this is just how it has been done throughout media for years.  Why did Hawk take a backseat to Spenser on Spenser for Hire back in ’88? Why was Benson a butler despite clearly being more intelligent than the those he cared for?

Indeed, for some reason, purveyors and creators in virtually every form of media have a difficult time conceptualizing Black characters, even Black superheroes, as equals to their white counterparts.  Thus, it becomes all the more important that projects that do place Black characters in the spotlight get the support they deserve from the viewing public.

If a movie like Green Lantern fails, and it did fail miserably, executives will give the go-ahead for another project.  If Black Panther fails, then theyll use it as an excuse against a stand-alone movie for Storm of the X-Men.  It aint a fair game, but this is the game were trying to manipulate into producing projects we want to see. 

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