#6: Luke Cage (a.k.a. Power Man, Hero For Hire)Comics are always late in jumping on the pop cultural bandwagon, and when they DO get hip to a trend, they are always so delightfully misguided!
Hot on the heels of 70s Blaxploitation masterpieces such as Shaft and Superfly, came Marvel's ghetto defender Luke Cage, Hero For Hire. Wrongly convicted of a crime and sentenced to a prison located in some unnamed swamp, run by a racist warden (are there any other kinds?) Carl Lucas volunteered for an experiment which resulted in him gaining super strength and unbreakable skin. After escaping from prison, Carl Lucas adopted the alias Luke Cage and attempted to cash in on his super powers by becoming a "Hero For Hire" in the slums of New York City. However, Luke always ended up either getting stiffed by his clients or taking pity on them and refusing to accept payment. At some point, he took on the more super hero-y name Power Man.
Sales of Luke's comic weren't that strong. Neither were those of Iron Fist, another character based on a huge 70s fad, Kung Fu, so both books were combined into one and the two became partners. Blaxploitation AND Kung Fu?! Better'n chocolate and peanut butter! Could it get any more SEVENTIES?!?!
Luke Cage briefly brought the Bad Ass to Marvel's First Family, the Fantastic Four (a whiter bunch of heroes, you'd be hard-pressed to find). No other super hero could demand of the diabolical, would-be world conqueror Dr. Doom, "Where's my money, Honey?"
Taking a break from Iron Fist, Luke Cage and Storm teamed up with Spider-Man to teach kids that smoking was bad. Not only was this a PSA to help kids, but it also helped beef up Spidey's street cred. Sadly, Luke probably didn't get paid for this adventure either.
In more recent times, Luke has undergone a huge resurgence in popularity, thanks to a prominent role in The New Avengers, Marvel's flagship super team. Luke went so far as to assume leadership of the team briefly, and in more personal news, recently married his baby mama, Jessica Jones, a detective and formerly the heroine Jewel. (Not to be confused with the annoying folk singer.)
Honorable Mention: Misty KnightIf Luke Cage is comics' Shaft, Misty Knight is its Foxy Brown (or Cleopatra Jones, your choice)... with a bionic arm! Teamed with martial arts expert Colleen Wing, they were known in the 70s as The Daughters of the Dragon. In more recent times, they assumed Cage and Iron Fist's former title as Heroes For Hire, although in the comics, they go by Knight-Wing Investigations. Misty has had an on-again/off-again relationship with Iron Fist since their early days, but this independent diva isn't one to be tied down.
#5: Green Lantern (John Stewart)One of the earliest black super heroes, John Stewart unfortunately falls into the "black version of a white hero" category. The Green Lanterns are an intergalactic corps of thousands of beings from all over the universe, entrusted with the amazing abilities of their Power Rings by the Guardians of the Universe and with protecting all of inhabited space from evil.
The "main" Green Lantern from Earth is Hal Jordan, but in cases where Jordan was incapacitated (like once, he slipped getting out of the shower and bonked his head... no really) architect and former Marine sniper, John Stewart was quick to take up the Power Ring and mantle of Green Lantern. Unlike Hal Jordan and pretty much every other super hero, John Stewart refused to wear a mask OR keep his identity concealed. He wanted his people to know who he was and to take pride that one of their own was serving as a super hero, both solo and as a member of the Justice League.
Originally, John was depicted as an "angry young black man," but over time has calmed down considerably. During an extended period of time in the 80s, Hal Jordan resigned from the Green Lantern Corps and John became the full-time GL assigned to Earth.
Though Hal Jordan was the most famous Green Lantern and at the time, in the comics, a new younger Caucasian, Kyle Rayner was the only active Earth GL, the producers chose John Stewart to serve as the GL on the hit animated series Justice League (later Justice League Unlimited). The result was John's having the highest profile of any of the other comic book GLs for a number of years.
John has had many action figures and has appeared on all kinds of merchandising from clothing to video games... even bedding sheets and beach towels!
John was also the first GL whose costume was adapted for a Halloween costume, POSSIBLY the very first black male hero to receive that honor!
Yes, THAT Lois Lane! In one of my favorite comic book stories EVER, nosy pain-in-the-ass reporter, and Superman's love interest, demanded Superman use his advanced Kryptonian science to turn her into a black woman so she could uncover a story in Suicide Slum (see: Black Lightning), after she discovered that the people that lived there refused to speak to her when she was white. Guess even back then, no one liked a snitch.
My favorite scene in the story is when, after undergoing the transformation, Lois asks Superman to fly her to an ethnic clothing store so she can change... because there's no way anyone would believe she was really black unless she were dressed like Erykah Badu!!! (Remember HER?! "Think ya better call Tyrone...") Why not just carry a sign reading "I'm really black!" I can't say for certain, but this story may have inspired Eddie Murphy's HILARIOUS Undercover White Man sketch on SNL in the 80s. Brilliant! This story? Maybe not so much.
Stay tuned... the best is yet to come!