The TV Superhero Binge Guide: Black History Edition
Ever since Black Panther first battled the Fantastic Four in 1966, Black superheroes have had an impact on the genre. Characters like The Falcon, Storm, and Blade have made mainstream debuts in film, television, or both. Luke Cage, Vixen, and John Stewart have remained staple parts of ensemble casts. But how many American TV shows heavily focused on Black superheroes? The short answer: 13, with more on the way. With the impending premiere of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier next month, as well as a ton of upcoming MCU Disney+ series (a Wakanda series alongside Secret Invasion, Armor Wars, and Ironheart), I wanted to share a list of previous Black superhero shows that I’ve watched in my 29 years.
The Super Globetrotters (1979)
Full disclosure: I was born in 1992, but I used to watch reruns of Super Globetrotters on Cartoon Network, back when Hanna-Barbera had a virtual monopoly on the network. It was a trail-blazing series, likely debuting the first all-Black superhero team on American television. I used to love watching the original Harlem Globetrotters show as well and this superhero spin-off was even more fun, albeit goofy. I mean, it’s the Harlem Globetrotters as superheroes, man! Curly turned himself into a ball for crying out loud! Still, there’s something cool about seeing an all-Black superhero team as a kid, you know? Just seeing yourself on-screen, part of something bigger than yourself, and the camaraderie of both sports and superhero ensembles in a serialized cartoon was cool to see. I didn’t see all of it, but I enjoyed what I did see and I remembered it when I finally saw the Globetrotters in real life!
Static Shock (2000-2004)
Look, Chris wrote about this already, but I can’t undersell how cool this show was. I used to watch this religiously every Saturday morning when it was airing. Based on Dwayne McDuffie’s Milestone Comics character, Static Shock follows the adventures of Virgil Hawkins (Phil Lamarr) as he protects the city of Dakota. Metahumans called “bang babies,” including Virgil, run rampant throughout the city after a gang fight exposes them all to experimental chemicals. I loved Virgil’s story arcs, thought Richie (Jason Marsden) was cool, and loved the dynamic of Ebon (Gary Anthony Sturgis) and Rubber Band Man (Kadeem Hardison). Static also had music from Lil’ Romeo and guest appearances from the Justice League, some of that era’s NBA Western All-Stars, and even the African folk hero Anansi. Lasting four seasons (52 episodes) and featuring many episodes written by the late McDuffie himself, Static Shock is a certified classic.
Black Panther (2010)
This 6-episode miniseries stars Djimon Honsou (Blood Diamond, Guardians of the Galaxy) as T’Challa, R&B singer Jill Scott (Black Lightning) as Storm, and Kerry Washington (Scandal) as Shuri. It is technically a motion comic, adapting the “Who is the Black Panther?” arc by Reginald Hudlin, which is essentially a modernized origin story for the character. It was interesting to see this as it was my introduction to the character. Seeing T’Challa’s rise to power, the story of his antagonistic relationship with Klaw (Stephen Stanton), and even how his father, T’Chaka (Jonathan Adams), kicked Captain America’s (Adrian Pasdar) ass got me hyped up to see the character in live action. While it’s been partially adapted into the 2018 film, I’d still recommend giving this a shot.
Vixen, played by Megalyn Echikunwoke (24, House of Lies), came around nearly a decade after the character was a series regular in Justice League Unlimited and aired exclusively online on The CW Seed. It was tied to the Arrowverse, and even featured, among others, Stephen Amell (Arrow) and Grant Gustin (The Flash) reprising their roles as Green Arrow and The Flash, respectively. However, it only lasted two seasons, and she never got her rumored live-action spin-off, although she showed up in both Arrow and Legends of Tomorrow. I used to love Vixen’s character on JLU, and I was excited for her to have a live-action series. It would have been interesting to see what happened with the other totems and maybe a little more crossover (perhaps with Black Lightning) since her origin was complete and she was technically affiliated with the other heroes. I’m hoping she will at least pop up in Young Justice: Phantoms because she’s got a cool power set and loads of story potential.
Marvel’s Luke Cage (2016-2018)
Sweet Christmas, this show was way better than I anticipated. Luke Cage (Mike Colter) made his debut in Jessica Jones before finally getting a solo show. Alongside Colter, Simone Missick (All Rise, Altered Carbon), Theo Rossi (Sons of Anarchy), and Alfre Woodard (12 Years A Slave) all killed their respective roles as Misty Knight, Shades, and Black Mariah. Woodard, in particular, was stunning, and her arc was intriguing to watch. I appreciated the imagery of a hooded, bulletproof Black man post-Trayvon Martin and the running “coffee” jokes had me laughing every time. Mahershala Ali (House of Cards, Moonlight) also completely stole the show as Cornell “Cottonmouth” Stokes, as did Mustafa Shakir (Fight Your Way Out, Brawl in Cell Block 99) as John “Bushmaster” McIver. I’m still mad it got canceled alongside the other Netflix MCU shows due to the streaming wars, but hopefully, we’ll get a soft reboot soon.
Black Lightning (2018-2021)
I was highly skeptical when this show was announced. However, Black Lightning has blown me away from day one, and I’m really sad to see it end this year. As a longtime fan of Thunder (Nafessa Williams) from the Outsiders comics, it was nice to see Black Lightning (Cress Williams) and his older daughter join forces, tackling real-world issues like prejudice, police brutality, and human trafficking in the process. Lightning (China Anne McClain), his younger daughter, is also ridiculously powerful. The writing room keeps the characters feeling authentic. There’s talk of a Painkiller (Jordan Calloway) spin-off, but let’s see how that shakes out after this final season.
Raising Dion (2019-Present)
Raising Dion follows the simple premise of widowed mother Nicole Reese (Alisha Wainwright) trying to raise her superpowered son, Dion Warren (Ja’Siah Young). A very recent series, Dion also stars Michael B. Jordan (Creed, Black Panther) as Mark Warren, Dion’s late father. I’m actually in the middle of watching this as I write, so I can’t go into too many details beyond saying that I love Young’s portrayal and Pat (Jason Ritter) seems like he’d be one of my best friends. Notwithstanding, Dion stands out to me as a series striking a delicate balance between my own childhood superhero fantasies and the realities of life. I’m curious to see how the first season ends and will be sad to have to wait for season two, but I’m glad that it’s not a one-and-done.
HBO’s Emmy Award-winning Watchmen is some of the most engaging television I’ve ever seen. Its depiction of generational trauma and its role in the creation of superheroes paid perfect homage to Alan Moore’s graphic novel. It also managed to tell a grounded story of the potential effects of reparations in a world where at least one superhuman exists. Regina King (The Boondocks, The Leftovers) and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II (Aquaman, Black Mirror) are both fantastic, and they sell some of the weirder moments of the series. I also really loved Jeremy Irons (The Lion King, Batman v Superman) and Jean Smart (24, Legion), who sold both the drama and comedy of their respective roles.
When researching for this piece, I realized there were a bunch of shows I haven’t seen, like either of the Blade TV shows (the 2006 live-action and the 2011 anime) and Freeform’s Cloak & Dagger. I hadn’t even heard of M.A.N.T.I.S. or Black Scorpion. But, all of those also showcased how few there were, despite the 50+ year history of Black superheroes in American comics. Many characters have been part of an ensemble, like in Teen Titans, Doom Patrol or Young Justice, but few have been the focus. Yet, aside from the aforementioned series, there seem to be more on the horizon. Here’s to hoping this list soon becomes too long for just one article!