If you’ve already seen Captain America: Civil War and have even a passing familiarity with King T’Challa of Wakanda, aka the Black Panther, you know that the director and writers didn’t s—t the bed with the character’s introduction to the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
As the first meaningful black character in the MCU (Anthony Mackie is cool, but the Falcon is meh as a superhero, and Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury doesn’t count, since he’s white in the comics), if T’Challa were in any way bitchified in Civil War or written with the personality of a used-up Sharpie, like the dude who plays Luke Cage in Marvel’s Jessica Jones, black Twitter probably would’ve gone buck wild.
The casting of Chadwick Boseman was wise, considering that he’s been quietly moving up the Hollywood ladder as a black male lead, tackling roles of substance and not mindless blockbuster cash grabs (I’m looking at you, Dwayne Johnson). According to one of my African friends on Facebook, Boseman affected a decent South African accent for a country that doesn’t exist in real life, giving Will “Tell de TROOF!” Smith something to think about.
T’Challa, who has been in Marvel comics since the mid-1960s, is sacrosanct to us hardcore black comic fans: He’s the king of a small but highly technologically advanced African nation who happens to kick a lot of ass in defense of that nation. His unbridled coolness is the reason he has attracted black writers of repute, like Reginald Hudlin and Ta-Nehisi Coates, to tackle his comic book material.
It’s awesome to see more characters of color represented in important mainstream comic roles these days, but there’s been a mess of us representing for decades—for good and bad. Here are a few of my favorite black heroes and villains ever to be committed to an ink pen:
The original badass Kenyan princess, Ororo Munroe has been a linchpin of the X-Men since the mid-1970s. The image of a bad, white-haired sista in a unitard kept a virginal adolescent like me in the early 1990s … uhh … occupied. Somehow, even Halle Berry in the prime of her fineness (which is, like, a 25-year period) couldn’t do Storm justice in the X-Men films, especially with that horrible sometimes-there, sometimes-not accent and the delivery of the worst line in any movie ever.
Preacher creator Garth Ennis is my favorite comic writer of all time. And Barracuda is one of my favorite villain creations of his. A s—t-talkin’ war machine, he’s a massive black dude who should never be depicted in a movie because Michael Clarke Duncan is dead. He’s been a most amusing thorn in the ass of the Punisher and Nick Fury; in 2012’s Fury Max: My War Gone By, dude actually whips out his d—k and busts someone over the head with it, challenging him to respond in kind. Cross homie at your own peril.
You knew that Todd McFarlane’s anti-hero would make this list. Al Simmons was a trained Marine and CIA agent who saved the president from assassination, was betrayed and killed by a friend, and sold his soul to the devil so he could see his wife again. With his living devil costume complete with chains, Spawn was always drawn amazingly over the top by industry heavyweights like Jim Lee. Peep the HBO adult animated series Todd McFarlane’s Spawn; skip the cornball 1997 Michael Jai White film.
Blade and the Nightstalkers were third-tier Marvel characters before someone saw fit to enlist Wesley Snipes near the end of his prime to play the half-human, half-vampire hunter in the blockbuster 1998 film. For some reason, the success of the film trilogy has never carried over to a truly memorable comic storyline for Blade. But that’s the beauty of comics: Characters don’t age, and it’s never too late.
5. Cage, aka Power Man
Luke Cage is an around-the-way Harlem brotha who just happens to have unbreakable skin. He’s the brainchild of two white dudes who created him as a response to the 1970s blaxploitation boom, making his early comic appearances a bit on the racist side of the fence. Some of Cage’s best writing came from Brian Michael Bendis in the Alias series, which makes his nub-of-a-white-chalk-stick portrayal by Mike Colter in the Netflix adaptation of that series even more frustrating.
With a storyline that is perhaps the closest analogue of the Holocaust or American slavery in mainstream comics, Bishop is from a dystopian future in which mutants are corralled into a concentration camp and branded with an “M” over their eyes. He travels to his past to become a current-day X-Man with a justifiable chip on his shoulder. He was once drawn with hair that makes no damn sense on a black man without access to lye, but later depictions thankfully have him with dreads.
7. Mother’s Milk
This one is for my straight indie-comic nerds. Mother’s Milk is the brawn in Garth Ennis’ The Boys, a CIA-backed black-ops group that polices superheroes. Harlem-born with super-strengthening Compound V coursing in his blood, MM is the quiet heart of the group, but he’ll f—k you up quick-like if he deems it necessary, and drops a casual “muthaf—ka” better than any comic character I’ve seen. If you haven’t read The Boys, get on it right now.
Dustin J. Seibert lifts heavyweights and plays all his video games on hard mode to find peace. He has a better ear for hip-hop than anyone else you know. You can find more of his work at VerySmartBrothas.com.