african american superhero

Year-old Kensington comic book store and coffeehouse getting attention

Since Ariell Johnson opened her comic book store and coffee shop in Kensington in December 2015, she has taken the world by Storm.

In fact, her childhood fascination with Storm, the X-Men superheroine, led her to comic book and sci-fi fantasy geek fandom in the first place, she said.

She has been profiled on ABC News, CNN Money, and MSNBC, not to mention various nerd and geek websites, as the first African American woman to open a comic book store on the East Coast.

And in November, she was depicted on a variant cover of the Invincible Iron Man No. 1 comic book, along with Riri Williams, the 15-year-old African American superhero character known as Ironheart.

Storm “was the first black woman superhero I ever saw,” Johnson, 33, said at her shop, Amalgam Comics & Coffeehouse, 2578 Frankford Ave.

“In addition, she was a powerhouse; she was one of the most powerful mutants in the X-Men universe. She controlled the very elements. She wasn’t a sidekick. She was the main event, which was exciting.”

Johnson said all the attention has been good for business.

“I think we’re doing well. We’ve had a very strong first year, and an untraditional first year, with all the hubbub around the shop,” she said.

Diversity in comic books has been met with some backlash from mostly male fans who assert on YouTube videos that characters should not be suddenly changed to black or gay. Some have called it pandering to attract more women and people of color to comics.

Johnson has not hesitated to speak out about the importance of the comic book world becoming more inclusive.

That means having characters who represent everyone - black, white, Latino, Asian, and people of all religions and sexual identities.

She makes sure to carry books written by and for women and people of color.

Johnson said people like them as heroes in fantasy and science fiction can empower young readers.

“When young girls come in here and know that a woman owns the shop, a black woman owns the shop, and they can see titles where girls are the heroes and not just the love interests or the sidekick … when they see women and girls taking the lead in things, that’s really powerful,” she said.

Since word of Johnson’s success got around, celebrity comic book writers have visited Amalgam.

The store was packed a couple of months ago when Ta-Nehisi Coates came for a book signing to accompany the release of a new comic in his Marvel series Black Panther.

She has also welcomed Greg Pak, author of X-Treme X-Men and other titles, and U.S. Rep. John Lewis, the civil rights icon who coauthored a graphic novel, March.

Amalgam is spacious and colorful, with a red couch at the front window and blue and yellow armchairs nearby. In fact, it’s like entering a live comic strip tableau.

Small round tables have comic book logos: symbols for ThunderCat, Captain America, and Spider-Man.

Johnson said she became enamored of superheroes while watching television cartoon shows as a child.

“I’ve always liked shows about super powers,” she said. “I grew up watching ThunderCats, He-Man and She-Ra. But none of those shows had any black characters featured.”

When she was about 11, she saw herself in the character Storm in X-Men cartoons.

“In addition to being black and a woman, she had dark skin. The only thing that didn’t look like me was that she had white hair and blue eyes.”

A Baltimore native, Johnson came to Philadelphia to attend Temple University and earned an accounting degree there in 2005.

It took a decade of working for other people, first in retail and later as an accountant, before she decided to fulfill her dream.

Inside Amalgam the other day, Sam Woods Thomas, the commercial corridor coordinator for New Kensington Community Development Corp., said the coffee shop was the only one in the neighborhood.

Still, he said, things are looking up, with a new apartment development in the next block that people are comparing to the Piazza in Northern Liberties.

But he said it’s small businesses like Johnson’s that are key.

“They bring life back to the block,” Thomas said.

Black Lightning lands TV show on Fox

Greg Berlanti’s superhero project Black Lightning has landed at Fox. Black Lightning, created by Tony Isabella with Trevor Von Eeden in 1977, is one of DC Comics’ first major African-American superheroes.

Here’s the longline for the project: Jefferson Pierce made his choice: he hung up the suit and his secret identity years ago, but with a daughter hell-bent on justice and a star student being recruited by a local gang, he’ll be pulled back into the fight as the wanted vigilante and DC legend — Black Lightning.

The Akils are lined up to write and executive-produce alongside Berlanti and Sarah Schechter.


October 17th is the birthday of John Stewart, Green Lantern of Sector 2814.  Happy Birthday, John Stewart!  (Not to be confused with the fake news guy, Jon Stewart)

Created by Dennis O’Neil and Neal Adams, John Stewart first appeared in Green Lantern v.2 #87 in December 1971.  He is DC’s first African-American superhero.  (The Black Racer appeared earlier in 1971, but is not exactly a “hero”).

A former Marine and architect from Detroit, John Stewart was selected by the Guardians of the Universe to be the backup Green Lantern for Hal Jordan when Guy Gardner was seriously injured.  He served as the backup Green Lantern several times before becoming the primary Green Lantern of Sector 2814 in Green Lantern v.2 #182 (November 1984), when Hal Jordan relinquished his ring.  He has remained a member of the Green Lantern Corps, even after Hal Jordan returned.  He has also served as a member of the Justice League.

Here are a few John Stewart comics from the DuGarm Collection at the University of Iowa: Special Collections.

Green Lantern v.2 #188 (May 1985), cover by Joe Staton and Bruce Patterson

Green Lantern: Mosaic v.1 #3 (August 1992), cover by Cully Hamner and Keith Aiken

Green Lantern v.2 #190 (July 1985), cover by Joe Staton and Bruce Patterson

Crisis on Infinite Earths v.1 #1 (April 1985), cover by George Perez

Green Lantern v.2 #165 (June 1983), cover by Gil Kane

Crisis on Infinite Earths v.1 #2 (April 1985), cover by George Perez

Green Lantern v.2 #182 (November 1984), cover by Dave Gibbons

Green Lantern Corps v.1 #202 (July 1986), cover by Joe Staton and Bruce Patterson

Green Lantern v.3 #6 (November 1990), cover by Pat Broderick

Who’s Who: The Definitive Directory of the DC Universe v.1 #9 (November 1985), cover by Paris Cullins and Dick Giordano


See what happened was I was ready to take out my hair,but decided to wait until I got home-Then Storm came upon me. Period.

Black Superheroes and Electricity Powers

epperanalchemist asked: This is more an observation than a question, but any idea why it seems like so many african american superheros have lighting powers? Storm, Static Shock, Black lighting, and I think there are two more I’m forgetting. Like, is it concidence or is there a racist stereotype here that Im missing? (I ask because I was planning a superhero with lighting throwing abilities (alla Zeus, for example), and realized there’s a trend).

conqueror-worm asked: First, you all rock. Second, I’m writing a superhero story. My main character is an alien who crash landed here as a baby. She’s black though she’s an alien. Her super power is controlling electricity. I’ve seen a lot of posts/articles saying that a ton of poc have electricity related superpowers in movies and whatnot, and I was wondering if you all thought it was racist a trope? Or if it should be avoided? Thanks!!

Anonymous asked: Hi! I love your blog; I’ve been reading through it voraciously, and have found it tremendously helpful. I’m writing a story about people born with powers (metas); my MCs are a white teenager and a black teenager. I originally wrote the white teen as having electromagnetic control, but then I realized there’s a prominent black comic book hero — Static — who has the same power. Would it be appropriation to do this? Are there any ways to mitigate it? Thanks! 

The reason I’m concerned is because there are parallels between the white teen and Static; they both decide to use their powers to be superheroes (actual superheroes don’t really exist in this setting), they both fly by levitating ferrous objects, they’re both comic book nerds, etc. This power has a narrative purpose, but if I give it to the black teen instead, I feel like I might be pandering. Would lampshading help? Thanks!

Hi all.

So this is indeed a trope that a lot of people have noticed. Even TVtropes has taken note with their “Electric Black Guy” trope page. They actually explain the trend here:

In 1977, DC Comics revealed their first headlining African-American superhero with Black Lightning. However, due to numerous controversies and licensing disputes, in the many many adaptations of the DCU he has often been used via Captain Ersatz. This eventually developed into a consistent pattern in which Black superheroes had electricity-themed powers.

In short, this trope is when you mix the black person with Shock and Awe.

From my understanding, this trope is not one engraved in racism (at least not in itself) but is indeed a trope. Black heroes are typecast into roles with electricity powers because it’s what people have seen again and again, thus a “natural” inclination. Much like when people place marginalized characters into the roles they’ve always seen them in because it’s what they know, this is the same concept minus the explicit racist stereotyping roots.

And in regards to the parallel between the existing hero with electromagnetic powers; these powers don’t belong to Black characters, therefore it can’t be “appropriative.” There are plenty of superheros with electromagnetic powers that aren’t Black and their writers never had a need to lampshade their work.

I’m definitely hoping for more roles outside of Black characters = electricity, and I do know there are, and if you’ve got a unique Black character with electric powers who isn’t essentially a copy of one before them, great. However, most folks would like diversity even within Black characters with powers and not just a defaulting to the electricity trope.

~Mod Colette

Powers do not belong to any specific group or ethnicity and therefore this does not account as appropriation. Appropriation would actually be more like giving your white character dreadlocks like Static or making him speak in African-American Vernacular English just for the sake of making your character “cool” or “edgy”. 

These are obvious signs of appropriation, but are also easily avoided by not making those choices for your character. You do not need to worry about appropriation in this case, but do be mindful of any cultural appropriation from this trope that may influence your character. 

~Mod Najela


Android Oshún, The Africana WomaNINJA as her own private dancer… In the words of Janelle Mobae(Monae)

Art by Francesco Francavilla

While Falcon was the first African American superhero in comincs, the #BlackPanther, created by Stan Lee & Jack Kirby, was the very first black superhero in comics and one of the characters near and dear to my heart. Still feeling blessed to have been able to work on T’Challa for a couple of arcs with David Liss and Marvel. #BlackHistoryMonth #Day12



Herald (Mal Duncan) Teen Titans paper cutout

I’m not 100% certain my son can name Herald. He can recognize him from his time on Teen Titans in the final season, but we’ll see how often he remembers the name. But, he wanted more Teen Titans on his wall, and I figured Mal Duncan deserved the honour.

Mal first appeared in comics way back in 1970, becoming the ninth Teen Titan despite not having powers and one of the earliest African American superheroes in DC history. He’s had a few different costumed identities since then, including the Guardian role he played in Young Justice (another character my son would recognize, but probably couldn’t name). So while he wasn’t that significant on the show, he is a very significant figure in the history of the Titans, and thus his inclusion on the wall is very appropriate.

I gotta say, I really dig the character design the show came up for him using the Herald identity. Even if the hood provided a not insignificant challenge for me in terms of paper layering.






Heroes come in all sizes. #AntMan

But not all genders or skin colors, apparently.

And please note that “all sizes” just means “larger or smaller but all proportionately built to a very specific, conventionally attractive aesthetic.”

So really more “Heroes come in all scalable versions of the current heroic white male physical standard #AntMan”

I am sorry I do believe everyone should be represented and all, but I would also like to say a couple things on this topic. 

1. There is diversity in superheroes. Black Widow, Wonder Woman, The Canary & The Black Canary, Cat Woman, and Hawk Girl are example of strong women superheroes. Nick Fury, Falcon, Batwing, Green Lantern, Storm, Black Panther, Gentle, and so many others are African American superheroes. Kato, Katana, Sunfire, Ryan Choi (The Atom), Karma, and Jubilee are Asian heroes. Captain America was the weak dorky (and brave) kid turned strong by a scientific serum. J’onn J’onnzz from Justice League was a freaking Martian with green skin. And don’t even get me started with Guardians of the Galaxy: a raccoon, a tree, a man, and two aliens. That’s not the typical stereotype to me.

2. To be a superhero running around a city and fighting crime and saving the world, you have to be physically fit. You can’t be out of shape it you want to do stuff like that. So maybe they don’t come in many shapes and sizes but that’s because a certain fitness works best when you’re constantly fighting criminals and saving lives. With enough training and working out anyone can be a hero as shown with the Green Arrow.
3. At the time when most of the comics were written it was a different era. In the time period it wasn’t as socially acceptable and the new movies try to stick to the originals as closely as they can or else they get a ton of shit for it. And even then they had these characters in there. 

So stop trying to make every small thing into such a big issue and please don’t make comments bashing on something when you aren’t fully informed or think about all possibilities. Sure it’s still not perfect but it’s also not 100% awful either. 

Your opinions are bad and you should feel bad.

1.  What a wonderful list of heroes!  Too bad of all of them less than five have made it to movies.  It is a shame.  It’s almost like despite all the wonderful diversity that comics allows is disregarded by the major studios in favor of more cishet white males of a certain level of attractiveness.  How odd.

Black Widow has now been in three of Marvel’s movies as a major player, she still does not have a solo movie announced.  Nick Fury is a wonderful character, but not really the super hero most little boys and girls are looking for.  Falcon is great and there’s been no mention of him for Avengers: AoU, a major disappointment.  You neglected to bring up James “Rhodey” Rhodes, a major player in all three Iron Man films, who HAS been announced for AoU.

Nor did you mention Captain Marvel, who has been announced for 2018.  You got Black Panther, who is slated to appear before that, in 2017.  Wonder Woman was announced by DC, but the director has since cautioned us that, OOPS, it doesn’t have a script or a green light.  She is supposed to appear in DCU: Two White Dudes Hit Each Other In the Face a Lot, her first BIG SCREEN APPEARANCE compared to what will be the 14th version of either Batman or Superman. Fun Fact!  More white guys have played Batman (five of them) then DC has had female heroes on the movies.

Cat Woman (though I’m not sure I’d classify her as a superhero) has appeared a few times on screen, as has Storm.  YAY TWO DOWN!  Also Elektra and Batgirl and Supergirl, Steel and Blade all in movies no one likes to pay attention to.

Your attempt to bring “Green Alien Guy” in as representation of marginalized human beings is both INSANE and very very insulting, so we’re going to pretend it never happened.  

GotG!  WOW SUCH DIVERSITY.  SO AMAZING.  A white dude, a male alien, a tree alien, a raccoon alien and a woman who gets called a whore repeatedly by her own teammate.  I could school you on the actual Guardians canon, but it’s late and I’m tired.  Do yourself a favor, look up Moondragon.  

Moondragon, the canonically bisexual telepathic geneticist martial arts snarkmaster who was tied in with Thanos and ran with the Guardians who somehow did not make it into the movie.  Talking Raccoon voiced by Bradley Cooper did, though!  SUCH DIVERSITY SO AMAZE.

The movies for both major studios have focused almost exclusively on white, cishet males of a certain attractiveness, and that is REALITY.

2.  So you believe that a guy can fly, or shoot lasers from his eyes, or talk to marine life, or wield a magic staff that steals people’s minds, but only if they have a six pack?  Really?

Sure, Natasha, Clint, Ollie, Bruce and a handful of others are ‘normal dudes who trained really hard!’

But you know what?  The physical size and shape of a person doesn’t matter if they ARE MAGICAL BEINGS FROM ANOTHER UNIVERSE.  Like, are you listening to yourself?  Do you honestly think that Superman works out, and trains to a mixtape of “Eye of the Tiger” and “Shake it off” to maintain his ability to LEAP TALL BUILDINGS IN A SINGLE BOUND?

If he gets his powers from the yellow sun, as the song states, well, then, his physical size/shape mean nothing.  And it goes beyond this.  Why do they feel the need to put RDJ on a frickin’ stool?  Why can’t a superhero  be short?  Why can’t a superhero have major freckles or natural hair or any other number of 'imperfections’ that don’t relate to ability at all?

Oh, that’s right, Hollywood.

3.  Let us quote from your stunning piece here: “At the time when most of the comics were written it was a different era. In the time period it wasn’t as socially acceptable and the new movies try to stick to the originals as closely as they can or else they get a ton of shit for it.”

And you know what?  A.  It’s not the sixties anymore, and fiction (and fictional characters) can change to SUIT A NEW AUDIENCE, and B. guess what?  They’re going to get “a ton of shit” if they don’t.

Your “it’s the way things are, and if anything changes idiots will be mean about it so you should just accept GENERIC SUPERHERO #13746 (size changing variant)” is the dumbest thing you said in a long list of dumb things.   

Ant-Man is a boring character in a boring trope of “single dad goes straight to protect his imperiled daughter (aged so as to not be threatening, just SPUNKY!) with a nice side of females fridged to further male HEROIC ORIGINS!”   It’s been done.  It’s boring.  

And people have the right to air their frustrations without you pretending that they’re overreacting.

Call me when we’ve got All-New Ultimates on the screen.  We might be a bit happier when Young Avengers gets added to the lineup.  When the new Power Girl (Tanya Spears) or Ms. Marvel (Kamala Khan) are headlining.  When Prodigy (David Alleyne) gets to explain that he’s bisexual right before kissing Speed (Tommy Shepard) or Hawkeye (Kate Bishop), then we’ll have made progress.

Until we have trans superheroes on our movie screens, and WOC superheroes and openly queer superheroes and a super hero for every goddamn kid out there, don’t you dare tell anyone to shut up, and accept another bland white male when the world of comics promises us we can have SO MUCH MORE THAN THAT.

Comics are for everyone.  The movies should be too.