We return with the final installment of our recent series of the Top 20 Illest Black Superheroes of All-Time with the final ten choices (in case you missed it, here are 16-20 and 10-15), as well as a list of heroes who just missed the cut and several heroes you may not have heard of but are on the come up. So hold on to your multi-colored leotards and advanced body armor because this bunch is filled with superpowered soul brothers and sisters with aptitude and attitude.
But first we'll give you a list of the six heroes who almost made the top 20 but were left out due to lack of originality, lame power set, misusage or lack of usage, or age of the character. (An overlooked addition has been made since publication.)
Dr. John Henry Irons, aka Steel, was created by Louis Simonson and Jon Bogdanove and first appeared in The Adventures of Superman #500. He is inspired to use his inventive genius for good when witnessing the first battle between Superman and Doomsday. I have to admit that I absolutely hated Steel when he was first conceptualized. I thought the fact that the first storyline in which he was prominent had something to do with futuristic military weapons being released in the streets and used in gang warfare in the hood. I rolled my eyes and sighed at this contrived attempt at being deep. But Steel has been fleshed out as a hero since his creation and has some feats over some top-level bad guys both on his own and as a member of the Justice League. Be that as it may, his name still rings as a lame attempt at endearing itself to a Black audience. I mean, John Henry Irons? Really? (Editor's note: even Shaq couldn't make Steel a star in 1997). Steel used a powered steel suit that was inspired by Superman that gives him super strength, flight and has a wide array of armaments. Primary among said armaments is a cybernetic hammer that Steel beats the crap out of people with. Like all too many heroes (John Stewart’s Green Lantern and others), Steel eventually suffers through a mental breakdown from which he recovers, but his life is filled with unnecessary drama relative to his contemporaries.
I’ve been a fan of Firestorm since his creation by Gerry Conway and Al Milgrom in 1978. But, after falling behind on the character for some years, my interest was renewed when Ronnie Raymond was believed to have been killed and his essence found Jason Rusch, who then became the new Firestorm. But similar to some of the other characters on the list, his origin story raised an eyebrow. His mother left his father after the elder Rusch lost his hand in an industrial accident, eventually becoming abusive to young Jason. Looking to earn money to attend college, Jason asks a local gangster for a job and becomes a courier for a criminal organization. While on an errand, Rusch encounters the Firestorm matrix. The rest, as they say, is history. This incarnation of Firestorm is important because of usage since its re-creation in 2007 and the insane power level (one of the highest in the DC Universe). But he's too new to be ranked on this list. Maybe if he was Black from the very begining, huh? At least they didn't give him a burning afro.
The Black Racer was created by the legendary Jack “King” Kirby and first appeared in New Gods #3 in 1971. His alter ego is paralyzed Vietnam War veteran William Walker. He’s not really a hero but a cosmically endowed force of nature who is charged with taking the souls of fallen New Gods to Hadis upon their deaths. However, Black Racer has often appeared to witness the final moments of various Earth-based heroes throughout his existence. Black Racer uses skis in the same manner as Marvel’s Silver Surfer, another Kirby creation, to fly at up to light speed. While he is not acting as an undertaker to super-folk, Black Racer returns to the comatose body of Willie Walker until he is needed. Black Racer’s touch is certain death and he has the ability to phase through solid objects. He’s not very popular and has never had his own title, but Black Racer was one of the first cosmic powered comic book characters who was illustrated to be Black. But he seldom appears in more than a few pages of whatever title he's in.
Cloak, aka Tyrone Johnson, is one half of the super-powered crime fighting duo Cloak and Dagger created by Bill Mantlo and Ed Hannigan and made their first appearance in Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man #64 in March 1982. Tyrone and Dagger, aka Tandy Bowen, were runaways who lived on the streets of New York. Ty runs away from home because he feels guilty that his speech impediment prevented him from preventing a friend from getting run over by a car. (Not supposed to be funny, but I laughed anyway). On the other hand, Tandy’s angst comes from being the child of a supermodel mother too busy to give her attention. Wow, talk about White people problems, huh? Initially, their powers were the result of being injected with a synthetic heroin by Silvermane and the Maggia but it was later retconned that they were actually mutants and that the concoction awakened their mutant gene. They were engulfed in a two-man war on drugs for most of their early career. Tyrone has the ability to create an opening into the dimension of darkness and place people and objects into it. He also uses it as a form of transportation, with the drawback being that the cloak causes him constant hunger via light consumed from his victims or through Dagger’s light. Though the duo was limited to involvement with Spider-Man and his world early on, they have since been utilized throughout the Marvel Universe. Cloak is yet another Black hero known to lose his marbles from time to time. Oftentimes, he's lost without Dagger, and vice versa.
Monica Rambeau is the second Captain Marvel and was created by Roger Stern and John Romita, Jr. She made her first appearance in The Amazing Spider-Man Annual #16 in 1982. She took the name of Captain Marvel after his death from cancer. Romita reportedly fashioned the character after film star Pam Grier and her early jheri-curl "Coffee Brown" afro is an indicator of that. A former member of the New Orleans Police Department, Rambeau gains the ability to transform into any form of energy within the electromagnetic spectrum after being bombarded by an extra dimensional energy source. She can also fire energy blasts as a concussive force, project holograms of herself and can travel at the speed of light. She has been an Avenger and Nextwave and has since taken the names Photon, Pulsar, Daystar, Monica Marvel, Sun Goddess (our favorite) and Spectrum. Up until very, VERY recently, Spectrum has largely gone un-utilized or under-utilized.
I know there are probably (Editor's note: probably?!?!) a bunch of people who are surprised to see Falcon's omission from this list, especially considering that he is the new Captain America until further notice. To be honest, I've never liked the character; I always thought his power set was corny. He has wings and the limited ability to communicate with birds? COORRRRNNNNNY! It had nothing to do with him teaming with Steve Rogers or his retconned history as a former street hustler. He just was useless to me. Yes, he's been around for a long time and he's used quite frequently as a member of the Avenger, but no. Just no.
This brings us to the finale, what you've all been waiting anxiously for over these last three weeks. So without further delay, here are the Top Ten Illest Black Superheroes of all time!
The Final Ten
Storm was created by Len Wein and Dave Cockrum and made her appearance in Giant-Size X-Men #1 in 1975. From the very beginning it was made perfectly clear that Ororo Munroe was to be respected as a Queen, if not a goddess. These are revolutionary ideas when we consider the time period in which she was created and the people who created her. The daughter of Kenyan tribal princess N’Dare and her American husband David Munroe, young Ororo grows up in Harlem before moving to Egypt with her parents. When they are killed during the military strife surrounding the Suez Canal in the 70s, she is left an orphan on the streets of Cairo. Yet she doesn’t become “food” on the streets and does a great deal of “eating” herself as an expert pickpocket and skilled thief. She wanders into sub-Saharan Africa as a young woman and finds herself on the Serengeti. It is there that she is worshiped as a goddess when her ability to control the weather awakens. Professor X recruits Ororo for his second team of X-Men, which actually turns out to be his third team of X-Men, when his first team is captured by Krakatoa the Living Island; but it is retroactively mentioned that Xavier ran into young Ororo when she was a street thief. Most of Storm’s early existence was written by Chris Claremont and he never disappointed- a rare feat for White people writing Black characters.
She became the leader of the X-Men at a very early point in story arc (Uncanny X-Men #139) after Scott Summers, aka Cyclops, relinquishes the position. She was also a mother figure to young Kitty Pryde. Storm is written to be a complicated, regal and serene character who will have no qualms about kicking some ass quite thoroughly if the situation calls for it. She does so with or without powers. Not only did she defeat Callisto, a mutant specializing in hand-to-hand combat and the use of edged weapons, of the Morlocks without her powers and while stricken with a sickness by the Morlock Plague, but she also defeated Cyclops without her powers to retain leadership of the X-Men. Not easily defeated, frightened or outwitted, Storm is a bad mama-jama. Not just bad, super bad! Eventually, she marries Black Panther and serves as substitute member of the Fantastic Four for a spell. But alas, Black love cracks and Storm and T’Challa’s union is torn asunder by their obligation to others. Storm’s powers of weather control make her one of the most powerful mutants on Earth. If you’re thinking ‘Oh, she can just make it rain’ then you’re missing a lot. Hurricanes, tornados thunderstorms, electromagnetic manipulation, freezing, high winds, flight, ocean currents, cosmic storms and a bunch of stuff I haven’t even thought of (Editor's note: Don't forget about the fog. She always comes through for the X-Men with that power). If you’re talking about anybody taking her on, you’re likely talking about their funeral in the next breath. Design, unique power set, unparalleled usage and absolute regality makes Storm #1. Now, if they could just get her character right in the movies all will be well with the universe.
2. Black Panther
Black Panther is the first Black superhero to be published by a major publishing company. Created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, Black Panther a.k.a. T’Challa, is the forerunner of all Black comic book superheroes; predating the others by years. First appearing in Fantastic Four #52 (July 1966), the Black Panther was quickly incorporated into the whole of the Marvel continuity, frequently teaming with the Fantastic Four, Captain America and Daredevil, eventually becoming an Avenger within two-years. There was the brief flirtation with a name change to Black Leopard to distance the character from the actual Black Panther Party of Self-Defense, which had been founded months after the creation of the comic book character. He would eventually get his own series in Jungle Action #6-24 (Sept 1973 to Nov. 1976), written by Don McGregor with art by Rich Buckler, Gil Kane and Billy Graham. The 200-page Panther’s Rage story arc was considered revolutionary because of its novel-like layout. The second and final arc was “Panther vs. the Klan,” running in Jungle Action #19 through (except #23, Daredevil reprint) #24. Jack Kirby was then assigned Jungle Action as writer, penciler and editor but he bristled at the idea of working with a character he had already worked on a great deal. Over the years, Black Panther has grown to become one of the most nuanced characters in the entire Marvel Universe. His name is the ceremonial title given to an individual of his standing as the chief of the Panther Tribe of the technologically advanced African kingdom of Wakanda, a land that had rebuffed invasion by all parties up until very recently. The primary resource of the country is vibranium ore and the technology derived from the ore allows for futuristic advancements in medicine, manufacturing and military applications, such as Captain America’s shield. Vibranium is a resource coveted by the entire Marvel universe. This fact has brought Black Panther into conflict with just about everyone of significance, and he has defeated most very soundly. A highly intelligent, Olympic-level athlete, trained martial artist and skilled gymnast, the Panther is both head of state government, head of state religion and tribal leader to his people. He wears a suit lined with vibranium, and utilizes vibranium daggers in combat. He has been a member of the Avengers, the Defenders, the Fantastic Four and Fantastic Force, as well as being a member of the Ultimates. In addition to all of those accolades, Black Panther has the strongest backhand in all of comics. For pride, for longevity, for continue cultural relevance, Black Panther is way up here.
Tied for 3. Cyborg
No Black superhero in the history of comic books has gotten more love from a multimedia standpoint than Cyborg. With his appearances on the very popular Justice League cartoons in the 90s and 2000s, as well as on Teen Titans and Teen Titans Go. But Vic Stone was popular among Black comic book readers since his creation by Marv Wolfman and George Perez, and initial appearance in DC Comics Presents #26 (October 1980). Stone is like any young person whose parents are performing scientific experiments on him. But he eventually rebels against his egg head parents by becoming an athlete, shirking his studies and running the streets as part of a crew that is committing racially-motivated acts of sabotage and terrorism. Yep, you read right. Vic becomes Cyborg due to an accident at S.T.A.R. Labs that occurs while he’s visiting his mother and father. The mishap allows an inter-dimensional creature to force itself into our world, and it kills his mother and severely injures him before being pushed back. Stone awakens to find that most of his body parts have been replaced with advanced cybernetic implants. Of course, he goes through a very hard time trying to adjust to his enhancements but eventually comes to appreciate them. He joins the Teen Titans in search of likeminded individuals and gains a crew of lifelong friends with extraordinary abilities and becomes a role model for children with amputations as well. Over the years, Cyborg has been retconned as being a founding member of the Justice League. Unlike other “Black” superheroes, Cyborg has never been placed on a shelf, taken a poorly explained hiatus or left out of any major storylines. Always a great teammate, Cyborg has been getting the special attention from writer David Walker in a newly minted title series all his own. Resilient, compassionate and loyal, Cyborg is indeed one of the illest.
Tied 3. Blade
I almost forgot to add Blade this list of vaunted list of Black superheroes. The shame of such an egregious oversight cannot be overstated. Created in by Marv Wolfman and Gene Colan, Blade made his first appearance in The Tomb of Dracula #10 in 1973 and is still one of most original character in the entire Marvel lexicon. His first solo appearance was Vampire Tales #8 and he has been slicing and dicing the undead ever since. Like many of the characters on this list, Blade’s origins are rooted in criminal activity, prostitution to be specific. He was born to a prostitute who was attacked by vampire Deacon Frost as she gave birth. This act passed along vampiric enzymes to infant Eric Brooks, giving him vampire-like abilities such as extended lifespan, sensing of supernatural creatures and immunity to becoming a vampire. He was taught the ways of vampire hunting by jazz trumpeter Jamal Afari. An expert hand-to-hand combatant and master of edged weapons, thus earning his nickname. His most common enemy has been Dracula but Blade has fought just about all of the Earth-bound Marvel villains and several heroes as well. He has been immortalized in three successful motion pictures, a television series and in cartoons as well. The Blade character as played by Wesley Snipes is said to have been responsible for making Hollywood realize that films based on comic book characters can make money. Longevity, unique power set and constant usage make Blade an obvious choice to be on this list. (But not so obvious that I didn’t almost forget him entirely.)
4. Luke Cage
A long time ago I really thought Luke Cage was corny. He had an upside down “Wonder Woman” tiara on his head and even had metal wristbands that were not unlike the aforementioned DC Comics character. The chain belt was a target of ridicule as well; what was it supposed to symbolize? A Black man literally breaking the chains of oppression? LOL! His “Sweet Christmas” catchphrase turned off just about any kid from the hood who knew it was a contrived, White person’s version of “Jezus Christ!” We had heard of grown Black folks all of our lives and none of them sounded like Luke Cage. Additionally, the “jive sucker, turkey fool” type of conversations they had him having early on were absolutely unbearable. One time, and we kid you not, he ran up on Dr. Doom over $200. $200? $200! Luke Cage, aka Power Man, was created by Archie Goodwin and John Romita, Sr. and made his debut in Luke Cage, Hero for Hire in June of 1972. Cage eventually teamed up with Iron Fist, another character suffering sales wise, and formed one of Marvel Comic’s most recognizable duos in Power Man and Iron Fist. Their series would run for almost a decade before being cancelled. Thankfully, his old costume was destroyed in the early 90s when his series was relaunched with Marc McLaurin as the writer. Luke Cage has bulletproof, unbreakable skin that is nigh impervious to kinetic force and temperature. Though the brother hasn’t been able to hold down a title on his own for more than 20 issues, Power Man’s popularity has steadily increased over the years. It would also seem that Luke Cage’s strength has increased over the years, as was illustrated in a one-on-one with Doc Green. Luke Cage has been featured prominently in recent Marvel story arcs such as Secret Invasion, New Avengers and in a multitude of Secret Wars storylines. The “new” Luke Cage is thoughtful, proud and will do just about anything to protect his wife and daughter. I respect the fact that Marvel eventually groomed him into a character that a Black person could actually appreciate. That, as well as a unique power set and constant usage, place Luke Cage in the top 10.
Spawn was created by then-wunderkind Todd McFarlane in 1992 with Image Comics. Lt. Colonel Albert Francis Simmons was a CIA covert operative who was killed by his team when he began to question the tactics of the CIA. His soul is sent to hell because he had knowingly killed innocent people in the field. It is there that he makes a deal with a demon named Malebolgia in order to be able see his wife again. He returned to Earth five years later as a charged demonic figure. After regaining his senses, Spawn finds that his former wife has married his best friend and had a child. Soon he is visited by Violator, a demon in service to Malebolgia, and reminded of his purpose to cultivate souls for Malebogia’s hellspawn army. Healing power, teleportation, necroplasmic blasts, shapeshifting, and all kinds of other demonic powers, superhuman strength, speed, agility, flight and immortality, Spawn is indeed an ill character based on an extremely unique and original skill set all its own. His color never comes up (he was portrayed by Michael Jai White in the 1997 film), his upbringing never matters, and his cool factor is off the meter.
6. Green Lantern (John Stewart)
Green Lantern has been around since 1940, but it wasn’t until 1971 that John Stewart appeared as the substitute Lantern to Hal Jordan thanks to a conversation between artist Neal Adams and editor Julius Schwartz regarding the implausibility of an intergalactic, multi-planetary defense force being devoid of any Black people. But what was initially only a part time job, after an accident rendered the normal backup Guy Gardner incapacitated, became a full time gig in the Green Lantern Corp from 1984 through 1988 over the course of Green Lantern and Green Lantern Corp after the cancellation of the former. He was originally depicted as an architect and former Marine with an attitude problem. Also, he has been subjected to the “misunderstood Black man” troupe too many times to count (three times that I can think of). His character has been a part of catastrophic failures more than once and, like several other Black superheroes and men, he has had a mental breakdown or two and gets caught up in relationship issues (Vixen and Hawkgirl). Bad writing aside, he has since become one of the most popular characters in all of comic book-dom for decades. I’m not mentioning Green Lantern’s powers because you should know them by now. If not then you’re not worthy of reading this.
Static was created by the Milestone Comics team of Dwayne McDuffie, Denys Cowan, Derek Dingle and Michael Davis in 1993. Known as Virgil Hawkins in his “real” life, he spends most of his time worrying about the normal things kids worry about: school, bullies and gangs (Wait, what?). He gains his powers when at the scene of a rumble between two rival gangs. In part to seek revenge on a gang member who was bullying him, Hawkins is sprayed with tear gas that is believed to contain a harmless radioactive marker for easy identification later on. However, unbeknownst to law enforcement, the tear gas has also been imbued with an experimental mutagen that turns everyone present into metahumans, thus changing Virgil into Static. Milestone characters have since been absorbed into the DC Universe and has been used far more extensively than the other Dakota Universe characters. He has been a member of the Teen Titans, appeared in Brave and the Bold, and even had a New 52 title before it was canceled. Because of usage, and a WB cartoon series that ran for four years, Static might be the most popular “Black” comic book character ever created by Black people.
8. Miles Morales
Miles Morales is a young Hispanic brother of African descent who first appears in Ultimate Fallout #4 in 2011 after the death of Peter Parker from the Ultimate Marvel continuum. Created by writer Brian Michael Bendis and artist Sara Pichelli, Miles has been at the center of controversy from his very inception. When word got out that there was a Black Spider-Man replacing good ol’ Peter, even if only in a separate Universe, some White folks loss their lunch at the very idea. Many felt it was an attempt at political correctness gone incorrect, a charge that was vehemently refuted. The very argument was laughable if it weren’t so pathetic. So you mean to say there can be a whole family of sociopathic, serial killer Spider-Man-inspired symbiotes (The Carnage family), a Spider-Ham, a Spider-Gwen, a Spider-Man from the future, a Spider-Man from the past and several Spider-Man clones, but there can’t be a Black Spider-Man? In New York? Word? Is that your final answer? Miles is bitten by a spider similar to the one that bit Peter Parker when Norman Osborne tries to replicate the process. One of the spiders gets into young Miles’ book bag and eventually bites him. He isn’t keen on the idea of having superpowers; he just wants to live his life as best he can. However, after witnessing Spider-Man’s death at the hands of the Green Goblin, young Miles becomes galvanized to use his abilities for good. Miles Morales has only been around for four years, but your boy has had a harsh, harsh existence. His Uncle, the Prowler, dies after his weapons malfunction after being confronted by Miles, and his mother is accidently killed while he is fighting Venom. When the cosmic force of nature known as Galactus attacks his Earth, young Miles believes its curtains for him and all he holds dear, so he confides to his superhero-hating father that he is actually Spider-Man, and is promptly disowned by dear old Dad. Spider-Man has always been an angst-ridden, self-sacrificing character who isn’t appreciated very much, and what’s blacker than that? Miles Morales has a very similar skill set as Spider-Man, but not exactly the same. He is more agile, has a weaker spider-sense and isn’t as quite strong as Peter Parker. However, his offensive capabilities include an electric shock “venom” touch and he can camouflage himself as well. Also, young Miles might be even more physically resilient than Peter, and that’s saying a lot considering how many times the latter has gotten his proverbial hat handed to him over the years. I really like Miles Morales. I like everything about the character, but I can’t place him too high seeing as though he’s brand-new, relatively speaking. But he’s a great character so far.
9. War Machine
There are a bunch of heroes on this list who are the offshoots of some other hero, and I have stated on multiple occasions that the ranking of some heroes will suffer due to lack of originality. But there are also some good, well-rounded heroes on this list that are relatively low because they’re just too unoriginal. However, when it comes to James “Rhodey” Rhodes his closeness to and with Tony Starks only reveals just how different he is from his employer and best friend. One is widely independent and borderline hedonistic, while the other is a military man whose allegiance is to the United States government very early on. Then, when Starks’ wasn’t even being loyal to himself or his company, Rhodes stepped in and had his back on numerous occasions. James Rhodes was first introduced in Iron Man #118 (January 1979) and subbed in for a drunken Tony Starks and did his thing as Iron Man in issue #170 and eventually got his own suit of armor in Iron Man #282. The Variable Threat Response Battle Suit Mark I was derived from Iron Man’s designs that is more of a tactical fighting design than the original, with shoulder-launched missiles, a pulse cannon and retractable weapons pods that contain a an untold number of munitions. His experience as a pilot and his familiarity with hand-to-hand combat make him a formidable opponent. Also, perhaps due to his military training, Rhodes has exhibited leadership abilities that have seen him lead the West Coast Avengers during their time, and the main Avengers group when asked to do so as well. In the armor he’s precise, meticulous as a tactician and uses his military mind to great avail. Outside the armor he is a capable friend and confidant to Tony Starks.
10. Black Lightning
Black Lightning was my favorite superhero when I was a kid. I swear that blue track suit with the lightning bolts emblazoned on the sleeves was so contemporary at the time. His crime fighting days occur when the gold medal winning Olympic athlete returns to his hometown, the Suicide Slums of Metropolis, to give back by becoming a high school principal. However, he soon realizes that all of his altruistic desires and wishes are threatened by local criminal gang the 100. After going through the bureaucratic motions of trying to fight crime “the right” way, Pierce begins to use a belt that allows him to channel electricity through his hands. However, it was later retconned that a meta-gene he had long suppressed was actually the real source of his powers and not the belt. Black Lightning was one of the first heroes of African descent to have his own title. Yes, he’s yet another hero from the hood, but he’s one of the first as well. Additionally, he has been warehoused too much over at DC- making appearances quite irregularly. He has the power to generate and magnify electromagnetic fields, pulses and other phenomenon. He maintains his Olympic-level conditioning and is a martial arts expert thanks to Batman, who he teamed up with quite regularly early on as a member of the Outsiders.
We hope you've enjoyed our list of the Top 20 Illest Black Superheores of all time and we look forward to adding more names to this list in the future. So all of you comic creators, writers, artists and publishers, get your weight up. You'll want to be on the next list. Until then, in the words of the great Stan Lee, excelsior!