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Posted at 12:30 PM ET, 02/20/2009

The List: Our Top 10 Black Superheroes

By Michael Cavna

As Marvel's female Black Panther character hits the comic stands and stalls, Comic Riffs pauses today to note two things: (1) How relatively few black superheroes there have been; and yet (2), how great and captivating some of them are.

From Gotham to Suicide Slums to Washington, D.C., 'Riffs contributor David Betancourt casts across many metropoli to come up with his favorites. (And if you disagree, let us know where you think we erred):

David Betancourt Picks 'Em: The Top 10 Black Superheroes of All-Time:

10. Black Superman from DC Comics Final Crisis:
In the first "Oh-no-they-didn't" moment of 2009, DC Comics put an end to the speculation of "What if Superman were black?" by giving us a black Superman from one of their ga-zillion alternate universes in the final issue of the Final Crisis series. And he just happens to be president of the United States (gee, what a coincidence). We just want to know who gave this Superman that killer fade he was sporting.

9. Black Lightning:
Jefferson Pierce, aka Black Lightning, is one of the first major black superheroes to appear in DC Comics. Black Lightning gets props for doing his "superhero-ing" and using his electricity-based powers in the South Side of Metropolis known as Suicide Slums. A part of town so rough, even Superman rarely flies through there. Even though he's, you know... bulletproof.

8. War Machine:
Whatever similarities Rhodey might have with his buddy Iron Man/Tony Stark when it comes to armored wardrobe, the comparisons end when it comes to his lethalness, artillery and humanity. War Machine packs way more heat that Iron Man. And as the pages of his current series reveal, he's a lot less human. In a recent issue of War Machine, Rhodey is blown in half in a war zone, and when the enemy thinks he's dead, he proceeds to connect his blown-off torso to a tank, and run after the guys who blew him up. Sounds like Black Lightning could use this guy in Suicide Slums. (I smell crossover.)

7. John Stewart (Green Lantern):
The only color that matters here is green. And we're not talking dollars... we're talking the most powerful weapon in the universe: a Green Lantern ring. And John Stewart is one of only a handful of Earth men to have one (Hal Jordan, Kyle Rayner and Guy Gardner being the others). He's also had the same haircut the past 10 years -- and there's not a damn thing you can do about it.

6. Spawn:
One of the few original Image comics still around, Spawn's cultural relevance in the comic book world is endless. Al Simmons, a former CIA agent, betrayed by his best friend. He's assassinated. Goes to hell. Makes a deal with the devil to see the woman he loves one more time, but is in turn transformed into a lieutenant in Hell's army. A Hell Spawn. Even worse, the devil sends him back to Earth five years later and the woman he loves is married to his best friend, who had him killed. Drama to say the least. Many don't even realize that Spawn is black because he's so disfigured in his "hellspawn" form. But Al Simmons is indeed a pioneer. You, too, can lead the march toward Armageddon.

5. Luke Cage:
Super-strong. Bulletproof. Luke Cage was there to save the day and would gladly do so -- as long as you've got his cash! That's right, Luke Cage was the original "Hero for Hire." As soon as he checks your credit, he's there for you. Cage was an obvious bi-product of the Blaxploitation era and has managed to remain relevant in the Marvel universe.

4. Agent 355:
Stephen King called "Y: The Last Man" the greatest graphic novel he's ever read. And while Yorick Brown might be the center of a storyline that centers on an Apocalyptic plague that kills every male mammal except Yorick and his pet monkey Ampersand, the rock of the series is "Three-fifty", the nameless secret agent given the duty of protecting Yorick. She's also a part of one of the most heartbreaking endings in the history of comics.

3. Storm:
"She's the baddest chick in the game," according to director/comic book writer Reggie Hudlin. Equipped with the mutant ability to manipulate weather and a set of eyes that would make Vanessa Williams jealous, Ororo Munroe, aka Storm, is arguably the most recognizable black superhero in the mainstream. She's been leader of the X-Men. And she's royalty. Queen of one of the most powerful nations in the world and married to the guy at No. 2 on our list.

2. The Black Panther:
King to the most technologically advanced nation in the world (see: Wakanda). Single-handedly took down the Fantastic Four with no super powers, just to see whether he could. A former player of all players who never goes anywhere without his three female bodyguards, now settled down and married to the person at No. 3 on our list. And the baddest and most culturally relevant black superhero of all time. The Black Panther is THE black superhero to which all others are compared. So if that's the case, why is he No. 2 you ask? Who could possibly top him?

1. "Barack Obama" -- the Character:
First black president? Check. Rock-star status? Check. Known throughout the entire universe? Check. Ability to inspire people to stand outside in arctic-like weather for hours? You betcha. But it takes a true superhero to put Spider-Man on the back burner of his very own comic book, as Obama did on the cover of Amazing Spider-Man #583. An issue that is now in its fourth printing and still flying off the shelves. And he didn't even have to put on a mask.

By Michael Cavna  | February 20, 2009; 12:30 PM ET
Categories:  Superheroes  
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nerd UP!

Posted by: millionea7 | February 20, 2009 1:30 PM | Report abuse

What, no Black Vulcan? "Pure my pants!"

Posted by: paperboy76 | February 20, 2009 1:36 PM | Report abuse

I have a fondness for Marvel's 1970s Black Goliath character that used Giantman's growth formula - but I think they killed him recently.

Posted by: Mrhode | February 20, 2009 2:21 PM | Report abuse

Nobody from the Dakotaverse (Hardware, Static Shock,...)?

Posted by: a_allen | February 20, 2009 4:05 PM | Report abuse

First, gotta bump DC's black multiverse Superman and make room for Marvel's Falcon (as in Captain America and the Falcon).

Second, confirming Mrhode's point that Black Goliath was killed during Marvel's Civil War.

Posted by: alphapup | February 20, 2009 4:41 PM | Report abuse

What? No love for Ultimate Nick Fury?

Posted by: arqueille2000 | February 20, 2009 11:24 PM | Report abuse

Last time I checked, To be a hero, Don't you have to do something heroic? Has Obama personally saved a life? Has he rushed into a burning building and saved a child at the threat of his own life? He does have something in common with the comic book characters that are listed ..he is made up, just like spider-man, and santa claus. A myth , a puppet put into place to make us go ooh and ahh. He is just as fake as bush, clinton, reagan, et al.

Posted by: jazzartist77 | February 21, 2009 2:13 AM | Report abuse

Black Vulcan was a rip off of Black Lightning created so hanna barbera wouldn't have to pay Black Lightning's creator Tony Isabella royalties for using him in the superfriends cartoon.

Posted by: jazzartist77 | February 21, 2009 2:21 AM | Report abuse




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Posted by: glascojones | February 21, 2009 9:02 PM | Report abuse

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