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Historical Overview.

To begin with, the history of black superheroes is not easily assembled since early on, much of the work was not reported on. There aren't volumes of books out there on the subject, and even if you look at historical books put out by major publishers - the coverage on their own black superheroes is sparse at best.

Also, companies prefer to sweep any negative and stereotypical characters from their past under the rug in order to preserve their images today. Therefore, the search for early black superheroes turns up more negative images than anything else. The history as a whole needs to be looked at in order to fully appreciate the black superheroes being created today.

By the 1940's both Marvel and DC Comics were enjoying major popularity as their fantastic images made their way into the hands of kids everywhere. They have shared a major share of the comics industry ever since. Characters such as Marvel's Captain America, and DC’s Superman and Shazam shared most of the popularity and black superheroes wouldn’t appear until much later. Much like the movie industry - racism directly impacted black comicbook characters who were cast in background roles or as “uncle tom” sidekicks.

Marvel’s first black superhero was named “Whitewash” (the name speaks for itself). Whitewash was a character drawn in full blackface fashion who appeared in the 1940's war comic "Young Allies". (images -1, 2, 3) Notice a common theme in all three cover images? Created for comic effect only, Whitewash was portrayed as a helpless bufoon whose only purpose was to provide laughs as he fell into one dire situation to another. Full of the stereotypes you would expect to see at that time in American history, negative black comic characters were all too commonplace.

Black superheroes were also subject to the negative perceptions of the artists drawing them at the time and therefore a parallel can be made to struggle for equality in America. Marvel’s Black Panther appeared in 1966 (Fantastic Four #52) and wouldn’t gain his own title until 11 years later (how's that for affirmative action?). Followed by DC’s Black Lightning and Marvel’s Luke Cage, poster children for the entertainment industry’s Blaxploitation of the 70’s. Where possible I have included some images from the comics themselves depicting some of these racial situations as they appeared in print. The progress of blacks in comics has an undeniable link to our society's racial issues and I ask you to keep this in mind as we delve into the offensive nature of some of the characters.

In recent years, many African American artists and comics publishers have taken it upon themselves to create and explore more black superheroes. The impact of these independent comics can’t be overlooked so I’ve included them in the museum because they are vital to bringing black superheroes to the forefront of the public eye. With many more black artists drawing, and new black superheroes being created everyday, black heroes are on the rise. Over time, their success will only help to broaden the minds of those who take the time to read and enjoy them. In conclusion, if you know artists that are creating comics, buy their books and support black superheroes!


The history of black superheroes is like a shameful story that has to be told. . . 2002 ©