Continuing our lists in celebration of Black History Month, we shift our focus to another group of comic characters. Now, if you don’t recognize the names on this list then that’s the point. We’re spotlighting a few characters that you may have never heard about or who have been lost in the shuffle. So if you don’t know, now you’ll know!
Cardiac (Marvel – Spider-Man) – Due to the selfishness of big business and pharmaceutical companies, Dr. Elias Wirtham lost his brother when he could have been cured all along. Several procedures later and his skin has been replaced with a vibranium mesh and his heart is now a reactor. This is the source of his power and he is now known as the vigilante Cardiac. This was just one very cool character when he was first introduced, and though he wasn’t truly a villain, he spent a lot of time fighting heroes. They were never his intended target, but Cardiac’s goal to take out corporations didn’t vibe too well with guys like Spider-Man regardless of his motives. A nice twist was that Cardiac looked up to Spidey in some ways, and even tried to talk him into aiding him. Cardiac was given a lot of exposure early on and was quite a formidable anti-hero/villain. He wasn’t seen for a while up until the recent Fear Itself: Home Front series, where he appeared in a short story which made him choose to either help the business tyrant he came upon or leave him to fate. This is one of the things that made Cardiac interesting, because of his background as a doctor his first instinct is to help. So a lot of his struggle is against himself where his moral code goes up against his anger/vengeance.
Chapel (Image – Spawn) – You’ve heard of that famous hero Spawn, right? Well, if it wasn’t for this guy here, hell wouldn’t have had its deadliest warrior. Chapel is the man who killed Al Simmons on the orders of his superiors when the two were mercenaries together. He’s ruthless and one of the most dangerous killers around. So, it may come as a surprise that when Chapel first appeared, it was as a member of the superhero team called Youngblood. Fighting the good fight alongside this team, he was viewed as one of the good guys. This was all well and good, but as the truth behind Chapel was slowly being revealed, the character took on a whole new direction making him a lot more interesting to read. It was quite difficult in the 90s to find a black villain that wasn’t laughable or just boring. When Chapel entered a room you can believe that no one was laughing, and he kicked up enough action to keep you entertained.
Charles & His Daughter (Image – The Last of the Greats) – Charles from Joshua Hale Fialkov’s The Last of the Greats is someone people should know about. He’s important, and he deserves the metaphorical spotlight that is so often wasted on one-dimensional heroes. What the world of comics needs is more African-American characters that are just that; characters. Not caricatures. He’s a human being, and he does the best job a human being can do, while unfortunately suffering in many different ways. Believability is what Charles brings to the table, and he is not only how African-Americans should be represented in comics, but other minorities as well.
His daughter is the other side to the coin. She is what every person wants to be deep down inside. Who wouldn’t want to have the innocence of a child, while also wielding incredible power? What makes her so incredibly important is her uniqueness. Charles is the everyman, while his daughter is over-the-top and unstoppable. She is the counter-balance to the mundane and the eliminator of stereotypes.
Drew McIntosh (ZOOLOOK – Dread & Alive) – It’s always great to see someone take it upon themselves to show some action and initiative instead of sitting around complaining about the problem. Nicholas Da Silva created Dread & Alive because he saw a lack of diverse and positive multi-cultural characters in the medium. What started as a novel was then translated to comics, and even has its own reggae soundtrack that carries just as much weight as the written work. Dread & Alive takes its roots in Jamaican culture and history, giving it a feel all its own, though the main character lives in San Francisco. Drew has the ability to transform into a lion/man hybrid and gain enhanced senses to aid him against his various enemies. From fighting deadly poachers to the evil Shadowcatcher, Drew McIntosh has to be the busiest cultural anthropologist in history!
Gabriel Jones (Marvel – Secret Warriors) – One of the many characters created by Jack Kirby and Stan Lee, Gabe made his first appearance in Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos #1 back in 1963. No super powers for this guy, as he went into battle with his bugle and machine gun ready to defend his country during WW II from villains like Baron Zemo, Nazis, and others. He has made many appearances throughout various titles in Marvel’s great history. Gabe was part of a covert mission that led the Commandos to Wakanda, which was his first meeting with Captain America and the Black Panther. It was also recently revealed that he was part of Fury’s team that chose the first group of Avengers in 1959. His importance in Marvel history hasn’t been looked over as he’s appeared in various Marvel animated shows over the years. His character was even included in the 2011 film Captain America: The First Avenger where he was played by Derek Luke. The constant nods to Gabe Jones and his continued placement in the various mediums is a tribute to his status in the Marvel Universe and the men who created him.
Gord Cantrell (Oni Press- The Sixth Gun) – For those unfamiliar, The Sixth Gun, by Cullen Bunn and Brian Hurtt, is a supernatural western, and the best of its breed in today’s market. Gord Cantrell is a former slave who was forced to watch as his children and wife were murdered before him by the villains of the series. He is a voice of reason and consolation, as well as a trusted ally of the main characters of the book, Becky Montcrief and Drake Sinclair. Gord is not only strong physically, but mentally, too. The latest story arc was all about him and the horror of his past which has haunted him his whole life. He was forced to confront these demons of old whilst given the option to revive the souls of his fallen loved ones. Having dabbled in the dark arts himself, Gord showed great poise and strength of mind throughout the ordeal, and the end result made him more resilient and focused in aiding his comrades in defeating the evil of The Six Guns.
Hardware (Milestone/DC – Hardware) – Milestone Comics’ flagship character had a very rough start when he came on the scene in 1993. Curtis Metcalf first became Hardware for very selfish reasons. Using his genius intellect to get payback on his crooked employer, he was myopic and angry. Little did his employer, Edwin Alva, realize he was funding the man that was causing him problems. As time went on it became evident to Hardware that there were higher stakes involved, and he was on his way to becoming an actual hero. Dwayne McDuffie wrote a very strong character in Hardware that excelled on so many levels. Though several people may draw comparisons to the “Armored Avenger,” there are many who feel that he’s nowhere as deep and rich a character as Curtis Metcalf. Having faced down not only his own issues but some of the best in both the Milestone and DC Universes, Hardware is a character that needs a lot more exposure. Recently he’s been seen in the Static Shock series as the title character’s mentor, but with the series getting canceled, who knows if or when we’ll see Hardware again. If we do, can we get at least one book drawn by Denys Cowan please?
Icon and Rocket (Milestone/DC – Icon) – The being who would become Augustus Freeman IV crash landed on Earth in a cotton field in 1839. His first contact was with a slave woman, and his DNA was changed to match hers. His longevity has forced him to fake his death several times, but it was when his home was being robbed by teenagers in the 90s that his life would significantly change. In stopping them he inspired one of the thieves to return to his home and talk him into becoming something more, just like he had inspired her. It was then that Augustus Freeman IV chose to become Icon. The young woman became Rocket, his sidekick and best friend. Dwayne McDuffie wrote some very compelling stories as he introduced us to Icon and Rocket. What was probably more rare than an unembarrassing black character in 1993 was one that was written as a Conservative Republican. His views often clashed with that of his young sidekick, but McDuffie always kept the books fun and action packed. Icon and Rocket haven’t been seen in a while, and it would be a shame if DC doesn’t bring these two back sometime soon. There’s actually two trades available for those of you who weren’t collecting the series back in the heyday of Milestone Comics if you’d like to see how their story began. You won’t be disappointed.
Isaiah Bradley (Marvel – Captain America: Truth) – His origin is based on the ugliness of real world American history. Isaiah Bradley joined the army to fight for his country and protect its dream from its enemies during WW II. Little did he know that he along with his fellow soldiers would be given an experimental serum that would kill most of them and damage the rest. However, it was that serum that once perfected was given to Steve Rogers, who would carry the shield as Captain America. Well, before Rogers put on the red, white, and blue, Isaiah Bradley was the one who donned the costume. Robert Morales and Kyle Baker brought this story to comic fans with much controversy, but there was also just as much praise for its great storytelling. The addition of Isaiah to the Captain America mythos is an example of how great a “prequel” can be when done right. Nothing as significant (or controversial) has been done with the character since this story, which made its debut back in 2003. The only thing that comes close is the temporary death of Steve Rogers during the superhero Civil War. Other writers have built off of Truth: Red, White, and Black and expanded on Isaiah’s story, and some really cool things have come of it. His grandson, Patriot, is one of those. So, if you are not familiar with Isaiah Bradley, then I’d suggest correcting that very soon.
Jariah Syn (Dark Horse – Star Wars: Legacy) – He first appeared in Star Wars: Legacy #1 where we were introduced to this pirate, bounty hunter, and starship pilot. Later we would find out that he has a hatred for Jedi as a result of one taking the life of his father. This complicated things when he discovered his best friend, Cade Skywalker, was a Jedi who had been hiding his skills. However, the two were able to work things out while Syn held a gun ready to blow his friend away. During the Legacy series Syn proved himself a capable and strong character who can handle himself against the many threats of the galaxy. From Imperial forces, to Jedi, to the Sith, he’s not one to shy away from a fight and he’ll risk his life for his friends. Hopefully we’ll get another series of Star Wars: Legacy and get a much needed look into this character’s back story.
Lobo (Dell – Lobo) – Long before that Czarnian appeared in comics, there was another “Lobo.” Created by Tony Tallarico and Don Arneson in 1965, the title only lasted for two issues. Considering the year and the fact that he was a black character in the old west kicking ass, it’s no surprise it was rejected by sellers. Lobo’s color wasn’t even brought up in the pages of the book, as it focused on telling an entertaining story instead. The former Union soldier was at the wrong place at the wrong time, and was blamed for a murder he didn’t commit. He had a calling card, much like that of Zorro or The Lone Ranger. Though, instead of fancy sword play and silver bullets, Lobo would leave a gold coin which had an “L” along with a wolf engraved on it. It’s too bad that real life could not imitate art here, and the book be judged on its quality instead of the race of the character. We might have had more issues of the first black character to star in his own title.
Mauricio Barrino (Image – Vescell) – “He’s a good man working for some very bad people,” as series writer/co-creator Enrique Carrion puts it. The Vescell corporation has ulterior motives in much of what they do, and Agent Barrino walks in that grey area daily. There’s espionage, lies, murder, sex, and deep seeded family deception that complicate matters for him on a regular basis. There’s also the mysterious circumstances that have trapped his girlfriend in another dimension, and his desire to bring her back. In this world of magic, science, and conflicting choices, Mauricio has quite the journey ahead of him. I’d suggest you join him and see where the story goes. There’s several reasons why Vescell made my Top 10 of 2011 list, and Mauricio is definitely one of those.
Miranda Mercury (Archaia – The Many Adventures of Miranda Mercury) – Miranda Mercury is the reason why space just got a bit cooler! She’s on borrowed time, but that won’t stop her from saving the galaxy many times over. Miranda is the personification of drive, determination, and selflessness, which came from what her family instilled in her at a very young age. She saved a planet at the age of 10 and hasn’t stopped doing what’s right ever since. Miranda was created by Brandon Thomas, and I’m so glad he did. A female lead in a story is pretty awesome, especially when she doesn’t fall into any of the physical or ethnic stereotypes in this white male dominated niche market. Also, aside from Lando Calrissian, Uhura, and Boomer from the original BSG, there aren’t too many black characters doing anything exciting in the sci-fi realm. Also notice there wasn’t one comic in that short list of mine. When something as good as this series comes along for all ages, comic fans need to stand up and take notice, because Miranda Mercury is the awesome character that you’re probably missing out on.
Orpheus (DC Comics – Batman: Orpheus Rising) – Gavin King was created by Dwayne Turner and Alex Simmons back in 2001. Appearing in his limited series titled Batman: Orpheus Rising, we would be introduced to another Son of Gotham that would fight crime.Though his motivations would not come out of personal tragedy, but from his travels in the world and seeing the suffering in it. When we meet him, racial tension in Gotham is high due to cop shootings. Orpheus is on the trail of Rasputin, while also attempting to stop the gangs in the area. He inevitably crossed paths with Batman, which wasn’t a warm welcome. The two of them did finally reach a mutual respect for one another. Years later during the War Games story arc, Orpheus played a strong role but was killed by Black Mask while trying to help Batman end the massive gang wars. Though gone way too soon, Orpheus was one of the better black characters out of DC that impressed and had a pretty interesting origin tale.
Princess Adrienne (Action Lab – Princeless) – She’s intelligent, crafty, brave, and doesn’t need a Prince to come save her! Tired of the many clichés, she takes it upon herself to escape her tower, then sets out to free her sisters. Now, the fact that she isn’t your regular blond haired and blue eyed princess isn’t lost on Adrienne, but it’s also not the focus of this fun fairy tale. However, one of the high points in the book is when writer Jeremy Whitley has her point out to a would be rescuer knight the meaning of the words “fair skinned.” Her story is going to be told over several mini-series, and it’s not very hard to enjoy what’s been presented to fans so far. Whitley impresses with a witty and fun story that doesn’t take itself too seriously and pokes fun at the genre along the way, while Goodwin hits the reader with great art on every page. Many people ask the question: “How do you get a younger reader into comics?” Well folks, Princeless is one of the answers to that question.