BY THEO KOGOD
Black History Month is a time to commemorate Black heroes and accomplishments, which is why it is so important to showcase comics that highlight the achievements and empowerment of Black characters, from superheroes to real-world civil rights leaders.
There have been Black creators and heroes in the comics industry since the beginning. Matt Baker was a star in the Golden Age of Comics who was inducted into the Will Eisner Hall of Fame while Jackie Ormes–considered the first Black woman to work as a cartoonist–created multiple original comics series of her own. The popular Static Shock animated series is based on a character from Milestone Comics, an entire superhero line that highlighted Black heroes. While such past classics deserve recognition, this list will illustrate 10 empowering comics currently in print that you can read right now.
10 Far Sector – About A New Green Lantern Named Jo Mullein
This series by four-time Hugo winner N. K. Jemisin and with stunning art by Jamal Campbell is about a new Green Lantern, Jo Mullein, who is stationed on a world in one of the most remote sectors of the galaxy.
The City Enduring is a planet entirely covered by a sprawling city where three different alien species struggle in a tenuous balance of power. When a murder occurs, Jo is tasked with solving the mystery of who is responsible—but those in power will do all they can to stop her. With her own unique ring and with perspectives informed by life on Earth—and by life as a Black woman in the US—Jo is able to bring fresh eyes to confront these problems while wielding the power of a Green Lantern’s light.
9 Black Panther: A Nation Under Our Feet – Rich In African Symbolism & Philosophy
When the acclaimed writer Ta-Nehisi Coates began writing Black Panther in 2016, he united his existing fan base (who followed his political essays on race in America) with the comics fandom. Working with artist Brian Stelfreeze, Coates’s story opens with a democratic revolution taking place in Wakanda—a revolution whose leaders include an old friend and mentor of the Queen Mother.
This comic is a ready piece rich in symbolism and philosophy, infusing a story about superpowered fighters and supernatural threats with discussions relevant to Central Africa and the African Diaspora. Even the subtitle of the series, A Nation Under Our Feet, references Steven Hahn’s Pulitzer-winning history about Black political struggles in the American South.
8 Black – Imagines A World Where Only Black People Can Gain Superpowers
Black is an independent comic from Black Mask Studios that posits an interesting question: what if superpowers were real, but only Black people could get them? Set in the real world where white supremacy has been woven into the systems of power, the comic follows a teenage boy whose powers activate—and who is hunted by the cops after he survives them shooting him and his friends.
Written by Kwanza Osajyejo with art by Jamal Igle, Tim Smith 3, Robin Riggs, and Derwin Roberson, this comic does not waste time with subtlety, as it has a statement to make and no intention of being misunderstood. Sequels include Black AF: America’s Sweetheart, Black [AF]: Widows & Orphans, and Black AF: Devil’s Dye.
7 Excellence – Serves As A Celebration Of Black Excellence
In this modern fantasy tale, the Aegis is an order of Black magicians, unseen guardians who use their magic to help others. Spencer Dales is the son of one of the Aegis’s greatest leaders, and now he takes steps to enter the order—but he soon realizes there are some serious problems with the Aegis that he cannot ignore.
Created by Brandon Thomas, Khary Randolph, and Emilio Lopez, Excellence is a comic every bit as smart as it is fun, and one that more than lives up to its name as a celebration of Black excellence. Combining the best elements of superhero narratives, Harry Potter, and coming-of-age stories, it weaves an original and unforgettable tale.
6 Black Panther By Reginald Hudlin – Oversaw T’Challa Repel An Attempt By Western Powers To Overthrow His Country
There have been a handful of amazing writers and artists over the years who have expanded on the lore surrounding Black Panther and Wakanda. For example, writer Christopher Priest created Dora Milaje. However, many fans cite Reginald Hudlin as the writer whose contemporary multidimensional stories made T’Challa into the modern sensation fans everywhere know and love.
Hudlin’s run oversaw T’Challa repel an attempt by Western powers to overthrow his country, his marriage to Storm of the X-Men, and the rise of Princess Shuri as she surpassed her older brother. In fact, Shuri debuted in the first story of Hudlin’s run.
5 Power Man & Iron Fist – Forces The Heroes To Confront Their Shared History
One of the all-time great comic book duos is comprised of Luke Cage (AKA Power Man) and Danny Rand (AKA Iron Fist). In this series by David F. Walker and Sanford Greene, the two former Avengers return to their roots working as street-level heroes, encountering old friends, battling fearsome enemies, and reconnecting with their community.
This is a perfect book for old and new fans alike. It is filled with heart, forcing the heroes to confront their shared history. Things will never be how they once were, but there is still no escaping the weight of the past.
4 Bitter Root – A Fantastic Story Set During The Harlem Renaissance
Set during the Harlem Renaissance, this Eisner-winning comic follows the Sangerey family, a group of monster hunters. While the Sangery men have historically encountered monsters up close, the women of the family were rootworkers who use magic and herbs (though seeing as this is the Roaring 20s, you better believe these old gender roles are being challenged).
Created by David F. Walker, Chuck Brown, and Sanford Greene, this genre-bending story will absolutely blow readers away with its rich characters, fantastic writing, vibrant art, and incredibly relevant themes–all of which come together to ensure the comic will stick with its readers long after they put it down.
3 LaGuardia – A Pregnant Nigerian Woman Smuggles In An Alien Plant In A Story About Immigration
Written by Nnedi Okorafor and drawn by Tana Ford, this sci-fi comic is set in an alternate version of New York where LaGuargia is not just known as an International Airport—but the only Interstellar Airport in the US. The protagonist, a pregnant Nigerian woman named Future Nwafor Chukwuebuka, smuggles in an alien plant named Letme Live in a powerful and relevant story about immigration.
As Future gets ready to give birth, she is caught up in a fight reshaping the world that her child will enter. Winning both an Eisner and Hugo Award, LaGuardia is the sort of book that leaves a mark on your mind and your heart, and that you will want to reread time and again.
2 Niobe – Follows A Half-Elf named Niobe Ayutami On Her Fantasy Adventure
The vast majority of epic fantasy stories seem to recreate the same European-inspired medieval tropes in the tradition of J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings Trilogy. Niobe includes all of the high fantasy magic of dwarves, orcs, and elves that fans love, while also bringing in supernatural elements from other cultures (and reinvigorating some classic concepts that have not always aged well).
Written by Sebastian A. Jones and Amandla Stenberg with art by Ashley A. Woods and Darrell May, this comic follows a half-elf named Niobe Ayutami on a classic fantasy adventure. Hunted by a vampire, Niobe flees for her life, plunging into a world of magical creatures, gods, and the devil. This book explores what it means to live between worlds, pulled in different directions, as Niobe reinvents herself in the ultimate manifestation of the Hero’s Journey.
1 March – Follows Congressman John Lewis’ March With Martin Luther King, Jr.
No list of empowering comics would be complete without March. The late great Congressman John Lewis wrote a three-volume autobiography about his time marching with Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and he chose to make it in the form of a comic.
Working with Andrew Audin and Nate Powell, Congressman Lewis opened his comic with a famous event on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, where police closed in on peaceful Black protestors. On the first page, someone turned to Lewis and asked if he could swim. Lewis said he couldn’t. The man responded, “Well, neither can I. But we might have to.” This scene summarizes the Civil Rights Movement, and Lewis’s long hard work in the fight for justice, learning to swim because sinking and drowning were unacceptable.