Nowadays, representation in the superhero genre has begun to balance out as more heroes of differing marginalised groups are in the forefront of today’s media. LGBTQIA, Asian American, Latino, and Black superheroes are all finding their place in the superhero media.
Both Marvel and DC have featured several African American superheroes; going as far back as 1966. But if we’re being honest, the most popular and recognizable African American superheroes are usually from Marvel. Thanks to the MCU, characters like War Machine, Black Panther, and Falcon are household names. And let’s not forget Blade, the vampire hunter who kicked off the modern era of Black superhero cinema.
However, DC also has its own impressive lineup of black superheroes (a few they “borrowed” from other places, but that’s a story for another time) that have been great representations in media. Here are ten of the most recognizable black superheroes that DC has had in its roster over the course of the comic publisher’s history.
As a high school teacher and principal, no one would ever guess that Jefferson Pierce had superhuman strength, durability and electric based powers, so they certainly would never know all the various things he could do with these gifts.
Using the raw electricity that courses through his body, Pierce has the ability to create a force field and electrically heal himself if he gets wounded. In addition to being able to project blasts of electricity, Jefferson can also use electric currents to detect people or objects from a distance, then project those currents into a strong force of propulsion and use it as a mode of transportation.
A former athlete trained by Batman himself, Pierce is also a very capable hand to hand combatant whose skills make him a well-rounded superhero and a tough opponent to beat.
One of the most recognizable African American heroes in the DC Universe, Static Shock has some big parallels to Black Lightning. After gaining his electricity powers as a result of the chemical gas explosion known as “The Big Bang,” young Virgil Goode decided to use his powers to stop the other “Bang Babies” (humans affected with powers after the explosion) from using their newfound abilities for crime.
One of the first young heroes to walk his own path without being anyone’s sidekick, Static has a number of abilities that come with his ability to manipulate and control electromagnetic energy. Not only can he sense sources of electromagnetic energy no matter where it’s located, he can also use it to magnetize and demagnetize metals. Using the same concept, Static can cause metal objects to levitate or fly; as well as use it to project these constructs such as platforms or shields. He can even transform his entire body into pure electrical energy.
And he’s able to do all that as a teenager! Imagine what he could do as a more seasoned hero. Fun fact: it’s been hinted on several occasions that when Virgil finally reaches Black Lightning’s age in the future, he becomes the most powerful DC superhero on Earth… and this is while Superman is still alive.
Although Black Lightning may be DC’s first black superhero, in terms of the DC timeline, Icon is actually the oldest…by many years! In an origin story similar to Superman’s, Icon is actually an alien from another planet who crash-landed in the middle of a cotton field in the American South in 1839. Not originally of human appearance, Icon’s space pod was programmed to automatically alter the appearance of the passenger to mimic the first sentient life-form that discovered him.
So when the alien (formerly known as Arnus) was found by a slave woman named Miriam, it just so happened that the woman found a baby boy that resembled her family. Taking the name, Augustus Freeman, Icon has actually lived out his time on Earth assuming the identity of his own sons and grandsons; all of which were used to hide the same man that never aged.
So far, Icon has been shown to have abilities comparable to Superman’s; if you exclude the heat vision and ice breath. The superhero has superhuman strength that allows him to lift over 100 tons with ease and even punch Superman out of the Watchtower at least 50 ft into space. He has all of Superman’s enhanced senses and is almost as invulnerable. But even if he was to be wounded, his accelerated healing factor would have him back up in a few days.
In addition to being able to fly, Icon can also generate and control radiant energy; giving him the ability to release concussive energy bolts from his hands and create force fields to trap his opponents.
As a child, Mari McCabe watched as greed and corruption led to the death of her parents. Little did she know that the family necklace that she inherited from them was actually the mysterious Tantu Totem, a powerful ancient charm that grants its user the ability to take on the attributes of every animal on Earth. Simply put, Mari can fly like a hawk, run like a cheetah, charge with the force of a bull, breathe in the water like a fish and even strengthen her skin to the protective levels of a rhinoceros.
She can also emulate the powers of several metahumans and extraterrestrials such as Geo-Force, Flash, Black Lightning and Superman. McCabe can even copy the skills and abilities of other non-powered individuals such as Arsenal and Green Lantern. Add that to her proficiency in hand-to-hand combat, and Vixen is just as dangerous as any other member of the Justice League.
Raised in the same neighborhood as Static Shock, Raquel Ervin was a rambunctious teen who wanted to be a writer. But that was all before she met Icon after her friends attempted to rob the home of Augustus Freeman. In fact, it was Raquel that convinced Freeman to finally become a superhero after the alien had chosen to keep his abilities hidden for hundreds of years.
While doing so, Raquel also convinced Freeman to take her on as his sidekick. And after fashioning a belt that incorporated an inertia winder from the pod Icon crashed in as a baby, Raquel was able to give herself superhuman powers and called herself “Rocket.”
Using the inertia winder, Rocket can manipulate kinetic energy in numerous ways. She can create a force field to protect her and anyone else from bullets and powerful superhuman blows. She can also use that kinetic energy to power her punches and hit with superhuman force. In addition, that energy can be used to project kinetic blasts to nullify the energy of anything else down to a molecular level; immobilizing her opponents to the point where some have actually fallen unconscious.
Most fans of the famous Death of Superman saga are well aware of John Henry Irons’ superhero alter-ego, Steel. But even if you are familiar with the character, you may not be familiar with all of his abilities.
It’s no secret that Irons has had a deep respect for Superman after the Blue Boy Scout saved him from falling to his death at a construction site. After Superman’s death at the hands of Doomsday, Irons forged a suit of armor and flight boots to fight the crime in Metropolis in his place. Donning an “S” symbol and a red cape to honor the fallen hero, Irons became one of the new “Men of Steel” as three other “Superman” flew around Metropolis doing the same thing.
Since Superman’s return, Steel has evolved several times beyond a simple man inside of a metal suit. After John Henry suffers a critical injury in a battle that leaves him paralyzed, he undergoes an experimental surgery that fuses him with techno-organic nanoparticles; turning him into a literal ” Man of Steel.” With this entire physiology now modified with alien technical organics, Steel can absorb energy, shape-shift, telepathically manipulate machines, and create force fields.
One of the most famous African-American DC characters and Green Lanterns to this day has to be John Stewart. Admittedly, there isn’t really anything special about Stewart’s power as a Green Lantern. His power ring’s physiology provides him with the same abilities as all the other Green Lanterns; flight, semi invulnerability, energy projection, and the ability to create constructs.
However, what makes John special is his own leadership abilities and knowledge as a normal person. Not only is he the current leader of the Green Lanterns (a position once held by the Yellow Lantern Sinestro), but due to his architectural and military background, John possesses a unique mastery of his Lantern ring. His constructs are meticulously designed from the inside out; incorporating every nut and bolt that would go into the actual construction. He’s so precise that John can actually build constructs down to the isotopic level.
Known as the third smartest man in the world, Michael Holt is a brilliant inventor who also happens to be a polymath with an eidetic memory. His ability to remember pretty much everything on perfect recall has allowed him to earn 14 Ph.D’s in multiple fields; which is why he’s the perfect hero to keep track of operations at the Watchtower. After hearing about the life story of Terry Sloane, the first Mr. Terrific of the Golden Age, Holt decides to take up the moniker in his predecessor’s honor.
Thanks to his intellect, Holt created his greatest piece of weaponry: the T-Spheres. These floating robotic spheres can do many things including projecting holographic images, creating laser grids, generating powerful electrical charges and striking as flying projectile weapons; all by simple voice and mental commands.
The second iteration of the aquatic sidekick, Kaldur’ahm is Aquaman’s former protege and current holder of the Aquaman mantle. More recognizable from the famous DC animated series Young Justice, Kaldur is also currently chairman of the Justice League in the series.
What makes Kaldur interesting is that he is a human/Atlantean hybrid as the son of an Atlantean woman and the Aquaman villain, Black Manta. Not only that, he has a few extra abilities that the original Aquaman never had.
In addition to having superhuman strength and toxic resistance to the poisons of most sea creatures, Aqualad also knows Atlantean magic. With it, Aqualad has the ability to manipulate water into solid shapes to form weapons and projectiles. He has also demonstrated the ability to generate large amounts of electricity and even absorb electrical attacks.
Without a doubt, one of the most recognizable African-American DC superheroes, Cyborg has had more spotlight than anyone as a member of both the Teen Titans and the Justice League.
A former football player, Victor Stone was involved in a horrible accident that left much of his body severely damaged. Desperate to save his son, Dr. Silas Stone replaced most of Victor’s body with alien technology; which fully interfaced with Victor and transformed him into a cyborg.
With his cybernetic enhancements, Victor possesses superhuman strength, endurance, and durability. Aside from that, the nature of Cyborg’s body also provides him with natural body armor; making him resistant to various types of attacks. He can also consciously absorb new machines and cybernetics into his bionic physiology in order to further enhance himself; allowing him to shape-shift parts of his body into various weapons and technological equipment including sonic disruptors, electric shockers, grappling hooks, and winches.
As seen on numerous occasions in both animation and live-action media, Cyborg can interface with any computer database; allowing him to access limitless amounts of information from anywhere in the world. The hero can also operate any machine as he is tapped in via neural link. When it comes to anything regarding the digital area, Cyborg is a virtual god.