The path to Black representation in comics and cinema hasn’t been quick or easy. Whether it was the characters themselves or the creators behind them, comic books’ early days were almost monolithically white, and even when representation did begin to slowly take place, the Black superheroes in the pages were often painfully uninformed and stereotyped in terms of background and dialogue.
Thankfully, as writers and artists of color became more common in the field, many of those egregious mistakes have been addressed and course-corrected. This has given the Marvel Cinematic Universe a particularly rich set of characters to bring to life on the screen.
Here’s a list of some of the MCU’s greatest examples of Black superheroism followed by a few special mentions that we’d love to see make their way from comic to screen in future MCU films. Warning: Eternals spoilers follow. Proceed with caution if you have yet to see the film.
Despite not being part of Marvel’s Phase One, a strong argument can be made that Blade, the hybrid vampire-turned-vampire hunter, is not only the first Black hero, but the first superhero ever to be introduced in the Marvel Universe. First appearing in 1973 in Marv Wolfman and Gene Colan’s classic The Tomb of Dracula, Blade was initially a cult favorite only known to a handful of fans in the ’70s. Blade became a breakout star in 1998 when the character was brought to movie screens around the world to rousing success. The character had several false starts, with many approaches and actors considered for the part, but Wesley Snipes inhabited the role so well that the movie went on to anchor an entire franchise. The film took the old model of the ’70s character and endowed him with a slick but realistic uniform, a slightly updated power set, and a modern setting.
If this sounds familiar, it should. In many ways it can be looked at as the blueprint for the MCU’s ability to translate 40-plus-year-old characters into the 21st century. In 2019, it was announced that multiple award-winning actor Mahershala Ali will be portraying the character in a new movie integrated into the MCU. How this new Blade, with his supernatural focus, will fit into the current phase of Marvel’s MCU is anyone’s guess, but suffice to say, it will provide a great deal of justification for the many hard-bitten fans of the character. (Spoiler: the off-screen voice speaking to Kit Harington’s Dane Whitman⏤aka The Black Night⏤at the end of Eternals has been confirmed to be Ali, presumably as Blade.)
Nick Fury has been a through-line of the MCU since his post-credits appearance in 2008’s Iron Man. This is fitting, given that the character, in one iteration or another, has been a presence in the comics since Timely/Atlas Comics became Marvel in the 1960s. First appearing as Sergeant Fury, the leader of The Howling Commandos, Fury was initially posed as Marvel’s answer to DC’s Sergeant Rock but was quickly repurposed in general continuity as a CIA super spy in the vein of James Bond. Brian Michael Bendis reimagined Fury for his Ultimate Marvel timeline in 2001, presenting Fury as a POC with a marked resemblance to one Samuel L. Jackson. The creative team even negotiated for the likeness rights with Jackson himself. Jackson, a huge comics fan, was reportedly delighted to give his permission.
Eight years later, things came full circle when Jackson himself stepped into Fury’s shoes for the cinematic portrayal. Just what Fury has been up to in the past few years is the subject of furious speculation by MCU fans. Given the post-credits sequences of both the TV and cinematic series, it’s likely that Fury’s on-screen reveal will be a linchpin of Phase Four.
James “Rhodey” Rhodes – War Machine
If Blade was the first Black MCU hero, then James Rhodes was undoubtedly the second, although we did have to wait for the second installment of Iron Man to see him finally suit up as the iconic War Machine. In the comics, Rhodey has long been a stalwart of the many Iron Man titles, having first been introduced during Dave Michelinie’s run as a military aviator who assisted Tony Stark during his first outing as Iron Man, and became one of Stark’s closest confidants.
Later, Rhodes would take up the mantle of Iron Man as Stark succumbed to alcoholism, becoming the first POC to assume the identity. The MCU Rhodes first donned armor in Iron Man 2 and has gone on to fight at his boss’s side as a full-fledged Avenger. Though War Machine hasn’t had a giant footprint in the MCU since his devastating accident in Captain America: Civil War, it’s not far-fetched to assume that Rhodes may don the Iron Man armor in the aftermath of Tony Stark’s death in Avengers: Endgame.
Sam Wilson – Falcon/Captain America
Although it’s widely known that Black Panther was the first Black Marvel superhero, the first Black American to hold that honor is Sam Wilson, aka The Falcon. Sam Wilson, whose name is a wink and a nod to Samuel Wilson, the supposed inspiration for Uncle Sam, was personally trained in combat by Captain America when Cap lost his powers due to the Red Skull’s manipulation of the Cosmic Cube. At first only a normal man with highly developed fighting skills, Wilson sought an edge from the Black Panther himself, who designed a set of miniature jet-powered wings that gave Sam the ability to fly. Wilson became Cap’s first real partner since the death of the Golden Age Bucky Barnes (aka The Winter Soldier), an association that lasted nearly a decade in the comics.
Sam’s MCU incarnation is as an Army Pararescue soldier who becomes as much of a steadfast friend to Cap as his comic counterpart. Since his debut in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Wilson has featured prominently in almost every major installment of the Avengers timeline and the last few episodes of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier indicate that this will continue, as Sam has prominently assumed the identity of the new Captain America. The comics’ Falcon held the role as well, taking up the identity when Rogers finally succumbed to old age in the continuity. Though the comics role was somewhat temporary, there is every reason to believe that Sam’s iteration of Cap may be leading any Avengers team we see in the future of the MCU.
T’Challa – Black Panther
Perhaps no one epitomizes Black representation in the MCU quite as much as the King of Wakanda, T’Challa, the Black Panther. Black Panther was the first mainstream Black Marvel superhero, making his debut in Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s Fantastic Four in 1965. A prince of a sovereign African nation more technologically advanced than the United States was high-concept even at the time, and sadly remained so even with the 2018 release of the character’s titular movie. The Panther is a living totem of his native land and his natural martial arts abilities are further abetted by Vibranium-based technology. The element Vibranium, an extraterrestrial metal that can only be found in Wakanda, has already provided several major plot points in MCU continuity.
The Marvel Comics’ Panther has helmed several series of his own in addition to his on-again off-again association with The Avengers. Although the MCU version of the character debuted in a semi-adversarial role in Captain America: Civil War (and is still not an “official” Avenger in the franchise), his solo movie proved to be one of Marvel’s most successful and is a watershed moment in Black representation in genre movies, both in front of and behind the camera. Sadly, Boseman’s tragic passing in 2020 has left a gaping hole in the franchise and in fans’ hearts. The second installment of the franchise, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, will reveal what will become of the character in the MCU timeline, with the latest confirmations indicating that his sister Shuri will, at least for the time being, be donning the Panther’s regalia.
Shuri, Princess of Wakanda and sister to T’Challa, is a relative newcomer to comics continuity, having made her debut in Black Panther Vol. 4 in 2005. In both the comics and films, Shuri is a brilliant scientist and technologist, in some ways surpassing her brother in terms of genius. The comics’ Shuri was personally trained in combat by her older brother and the MCU has already illustrated her formidable combat abilities in the first Panther installment. As an integral member of the Black Panther cast, Shuri proved to be a fan favorite, becoming one of the breakout stars of the burgeoning franchise.
As far as what the future may hold, the Marvel Comics’ Shuri has already been successor to the traditional title of Black Panther, taking up the Panther’s duties as T’Challa was sidelined by nearly mortal injuries. Director Ryan Coogler has confirmed that Shuri will indeed be stepping into her brother’s costume (and, as a member of the Wakandan Royal Family, it is also her birthright). However, controversy surrounding Shuri’s portrayer, Letitia Wright, has left some fans wondering if this might only be a temporary solution.
Monica Rambeau – Photon
After Captain Marvel died of cancer in Marvel Comics’ first-ever graphic novel, Monica Rambeau was brought into The Avengers as the second Captain Marvel. The character appeared in all five years of Roger Stern’s run on the title, eventually becoming team leader. Captain Marvel II possessed an array of energy and light-manipulating powers, some of which made her one of the more powerful team members. After several other people claimed the title of Captain Marvel, the character adopted, among others, the name of Photon.
The MCU’s Rambeau is the daughter of Carol Danvers’ best friend and wingman, Maria (aka her Air Force call sign, Photon) and is first introduced as a child in the 1990s-set Captain Marvel. She has most recently been seen as an adult in WandaVision, and her power set, which seems to have been triggered by the Westview phenomenon created by Wanda Maximoff, has only been seen briefly. However, the post-credits scene, which sees Rambeau transported by a Skrull to an orbiting space station, gives every indication that we’ll be seeing more of the character soon and that she’s going to be somewhat privy to whatever Nick Fury and/or The Skrulls are up to.
In comics continuity, The Valkyrie was originally a young white woman named Barbara Norris who was possessed by the spirit of Brunnhilde, one of the fabled Norse shield maidens called the Valkyries. The Norris Valkyrie was a member of The Defenders, Marvel’s team of B-list heroes and misfits, and the character appeared in a large part of the title’s initial run but never became a breakout star. Tessa Thompson’s MCU version of the character is a reimagined one, not only in terms of race but also background.
After witnessing the defeat of her fellow shield maidens at the hands of Hela, Brunnhilde spent time as a cosmic bounty hunter, drowning her sorrows with alcohol and avoiding her fellow Asgardians until she found new purpose during Thor: Ragnarok. After making memorable appearances in both Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame, Valkyrie was appointed leader of the Earth colony of Asgardians as Thor headed to the stars with the Guardians of the Galaxy. Valkyrie is slated to appear in the next Thor installment, Thor: Love and Thunder.
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He Who Remains / Kang
Kang the Conqueror is one of the Avengers’ most steadfast foes in the comics. A time-traveling warlord from the future using an array of 31st century tech to mess with the team, he has appeared to befuddle the team many times over the years. The MCU version of the character, portrayed by Jonathan Majors, has made his first appearance not as an Avengers rival but as the shadowy antagonist of the Loki TV series. So far, the character has been dubbed only as He Who Remains, a whole cloth invention of the series. However, Powers is credited as Kang in the cast list of Ant-Man and The Wasp: Quantumania. Given the comics’ habit of assuming multiple identities depending on time, place, and dimension, it’s safe to say that the characters are one and the same and that He Who Remains / Kang will be a major antagonist of Phase Four.
Almost a throwaway character in the comics history of the Eternals⏤unlike the rest of the Eternals, he wasn’t even created by Jack Kirby⏤Phastos and his fellow Eternals are a wild card entry into the MCU. The character’s motivations in the comic series are vague at best. It’s indicated that he is searching for something, or is it someone? It’s never been revealed. Despite his murky history in the comics, Phastos is one of the more engaging characters in the MCU version of Eternals. A superhumanly-adept engineer and inventor, Phastos serves as the Eternals’ “Smith,” capable of creating nearly anything his mind can imagine. He is the first MCU superhero to be presented as queer, is in a committed relationship with a man, and is also a father. With critics fairly split on Eternals, it remains to be seen whether Phastos will appear in an Eternals sequel or in some other iteration of the Marvel franchise.
Luke Cage – Power Man
If there is any Black character in Marvel comics that can hold a candle to Black Panther and The Falcon in terms of pure representation, it’s Luke Cage, aka Power Man. Cage began his run in Marvel Comics as a revolutionary, out for himself and not for “the man.” This version of Cage verged on the exploitational and, while the character is still possessed of a great deal of street cred, he’s been tempered by many great writers over the years. This version of Cage was a favorite of viewers of Marvel’s Netflix TV series and speculation has always been high that he will somehow be folded into the MCU proper. If there’s any way to do so, it would be welcome. Somehow the MCU doesn’t feel complete without Luke’s bulletproof bravado.
And now for a few characters we haven’t seen in the Marvel movies yet, but who we hope will appear ASAP.
Miles Morales – Spider-Man
The first Black Spider-Man, Miles Morales made his debut in Marvel’s Ultimate Comics timeline, stepping into the role when that timeline’s Peter Parker died. Morales quickly become a fan favorite and was eventually placed into the Marvel Comics timeline proper. The success of Sony’s Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, in which Morales is the featured protagonist, has only increased his popularity. Now that it has been all but guaranteed that the upcoming Spider-Man: No Way Home will feature multiple villains from numerous timelines (and from Sony properties), could a Peter Parker/Miles Morales live-action team-up lie ahead?
Jericho Drum – Brother Voodoo
Brother Voodoo was conceived as a heroic practitioner of Caribbean voodoo and starred in his own title as a back-up feature in Marvel’s Tales of the Zombie horror title. The character eventually became one of the most adept magic users in the comics, even going so far as to replace Doctor Strange as the Sorcerer Supreme. Though there’s no indication of whether or not we’ll see Brother Voodoo in the MCU yet, the fact that he is one of the few heroes to possess the same amount of skill as Doctor Strange would make him an intriguing character to feature in the franchise’s future installments.
Riri Williams – Ironheart
A brilliant scientist possessing abilities on par with (and perhaps even exceeding) Tony Stark’s, Williams was able to design and make her own suit of powered armor using materials she acquired from MIT. Once she had her armor, becoming a superhero seemed like a logical second move. Riri Williams is already on the cast list of Black Panther: Wakanda Forever and will subsequently helm her own series on Disney Plus.
Elijah Bradley – Patriot
Elijah is the grandson of Isaiah Bradley. In Marvel comics continuity, Isaiah was the first Captain America, having been given the super soldier serum a full year before Steve Rogers. His grandson Elijah went on to join the Young Avengers team as Patriot. In the MCU, we first meet Elijah in the house of his grandfather Isiah during the first season of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier. Isaiah was a Korean War vet given the super soldier serum in an experiment akin to the US’s Tuskegee Experiment. Jailed to prevent his secret from being discovered, Isaiah has long been embittered by his treatment from the country he served. Although his grandson only has a few lines of dialogue in the series, his name is undoubtedly the same as Marvel Comics’ current Patriot. Given how farsighted the producers of the MCU have been thus far, it isn’t far-fetched to predict that we may get to see the Young Avengers team in some form in a future Phase.