In observance of Black History Month, I’d like to take a little time to talk about the first black superhero.
Ascertaining the first black superhero is tricky thanks to the ambiguous nature of the term “superhero.” In 1941, the horribly offensive Whitewash Jones was fighting Nazis alongside Bucky in the pages of The Young Allies; in 1954, Waku, Prince of the Bantu, starred in his own feature in Jungle Tales; in 1963, Sgt. Fury and His Howling Commandos introduced us to Gabe Jones; and in 1965, Lobo briefly starred in his own series.
While historically notable, these heroes of color aren’t really “superheroes,” but rather war heroes, a jungle comic hero, and a western hero. The first true superhero of color is the Black Panther.
Created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, Black Panther debuted in July 1966 in Fantastic Four #52 (three months before the founding of the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense). Roughly seven years later, in 1973, he would become the star of Jungle Comics, beginning with issue #5. The Black Panther would finally star in his own self-named title in 1977’s Black Panther, which Kirby wrote, drew, and co-edited for the first twelve issues.
Like Lobo before him, the Black Panther managed to avoid many of the racist stereotypes found in other comic characters of color of the time. Despite being a warrior king of a fictitious African nation, he is not depicted as a “noble savage.” In fact, the Black Panther is a super-genius with technologies more advanced than those found in Western cultures. Having never been conquered, his kingdom of Wakanda was able to advance its culture and technology free from colonization and Western oppression.
With his debut in 1966, the Black Panther may have been the first black superhero, but it would be another three years until the advent of the first African-American superhero. Join me again next Monday for a little history on comics’ first African-American superhero: the Falcon.