The year was 1966 and between civil rights and the brewing Vietnam War, America was a hotbed of social change. Every headline was a grim reminder of the intensely racially charged atmosphere of the time. Under the leadership of sociopolitical and religious icons like Martin Luther King and Malcolm X, the majority of the black community was in lockstep toward the goal of rising from beneath the boot of oppression. The echoing cry for a new breed of black hero was in the air and just as the cry reached a pitch Marvel Comics would answer with the introduction of the Black Panther, the first Black Superhero to appear in a mainstream comic book.
Up until that time, there had never been a black superhero in mainstream American comics. Although Lobo, a black character that appeared in (1950) is considered the first black man to have his own comic book and Gabriel Jones had a well-established in the popular Sgt. Fury title, Black Panther represented inclusion in the mainstream popular media of that time.
The historical record makes it clear that the creators of Black Panther saw opportunity in the fervent racially-charged and war-torn emotional state of the country and capitalized on the absence of color in both the Marvel and DC universes.
By 1969 the Falcon, would appear alongside Marvel’s Captain America in issue #117, which marked the second appearance of a BLACK SUPERHERO in mainstream comic community. and the first African American super hero to do so as panther was a native African. Still, the floodgates were open and a litany of male and female black superhero characters would be introduced into the comic mainstream throughout the 1970s including: The Guardian in 1970 and Nu Bia in 1973 from DC and Power Man (Luke Cage) in 1972 and Misty Knight by 1975. At least a dozen more black comic heroes would be introduced throughout the rest of the 70s, which represented the largest influx of black comic characters to date; what many would call the first coming of black superheroes.
To many historians and black comic fans, this influx of blackness into the comic mainstream was the bi product of the previous decade’s racial and political tensions when considering the real life events that transpired in the previous decade:
- Assassination Johns Fitzgerald Kennedy, 1963
- Signing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964
- Onset of the Vietnam War, 1965
- Desegregation of public schools in the US, 1965
- Assassination of Malcolm X, 1965
- Black Panther Party Founded in Oakland, 1966
- Assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., 1968
- Assassination Robert Kennedy, 1968
As it were, the black community’s appetite for heroes after the brutal assassinations of the 1960s, would be partially addressed in the pages of comic books (as it was with Captain America’s pre WWII story lines) but in real life the burgeoning blaxploitation movement would also rise from the emotional and political ashes of the previous decade. Now, with the rise of black comics paralleled by 1970s blaxploitation cinema, the step-n-fetch it, “sambo-style” “shuckin and jiving” stereotype previously displayed in newspaper comic strips and movies was replaced with the new super bad, afro wearing, butt kicking, “bad mother fu – watch yo mouth” characters that became permanently endeared to the hearts and minds of black America. With such a close correlation between current events of the 60s and early 70s and their use in comic book lore, many ponder the true purpose and timing of the introduction of Black Super Hero characters. Many believe that black comics were merely an extension of the same pre WWII propaganda pioneered in the Captain America comics first released in 1941 while others regard comics as nothing more than harmless entertainment for children. Propaganda or not, a historical view of black comics and the culture surrounding them reveals some interesting facts, correlations and coincidences that would raise even the most ardent fan’s eyebrow.