A new model for the American superhero is emerging in the world of comic book publishing. She is young, gifted, tech-savvy and black. The comic book industry still struggles to be its most inclusive self. So the appearance of Black girl superheroes across every major comic book platform isn’t a coincidence. IRONHEART and SHURI at Marvel, SKYWARD at Image, NAOMI at DC Comics, and LIVEWIRE at Valiant are just some of this new wave of superheroes. But the Black girl superhero is a vital innovation for the comics industry. For this reason, fans will pay close attention to who these characters are. But we also need to know who is creating them. And why do publishers appear to be all in?

Black Girls Writing Superheroes

Editors and readers are beginning to realize the value of Black women creators working on black girls’ superhero stories. Fans of Marvel’s IRONHEART were excited when Eve Ewing earned the writing duties of the new series featuring RiRi. But there were some loud naysayers. They eventually moved on to their next complaint. They had to. Ewing attracts an untapped fan base that knows her poetic and intellectual talents. And IRONHEART always had great potential as a character.

The character escaped the sidekick status of her relationship with Ironman. Much of this was due to RiRi’s south side Chicago street cred. RiRi’s experience as a tech genius could be distinct from Tony Stark’s. And in that sense, she could stand on her own two – or fly by her own jet engines. But the early stories of IRONHEART (by Brian M. Bendis) relied too much on urban stereotypes. With Ewing’s arrival, the book has started to soar.

SHURI #2
Alt cover for Shuri #2. Image courtesy of Marvel Comics

Elsewhere in the Marvel universe, Nnedi Okorafor is writing SHURI. Shuri is Black Panther’s younger sister. And Okorafor is making her the most interesting character in any of the many BP titles. Of course, some credit is due to Letitia Wright. Since her portrayal of Shuri in the record-breaking BLACK PANTHER film, fans have become more interested in the character overall. But Okorafor’s treatment has been surgical.  Her depiction of Shuri’s personality reveals a soulful connection to Wakanda. Part of what defines the BLACK PANTHER world is the idea that nationalism can overpower colonialism.  Wakanda was the first Black hero nation in comics.  But Okorafor’s Shuri represents a shift to the future. This is a future where empowered women might lead peacefully. If the man-kings would only step aside.

Valiant, Image, and DC Too

Over in the Valiant Universe, the SECRET WEAPONS mini has given way to an ongoing series featuring Amanda McKee, aka Livewire. The true limits of her power – the ability to manipulate information technology – have yet to be established. But LIVEWIRE is not too focused on the potential of Amanda’s abilities. Maybe in a different era of superhero production, LIVEWIRE would be all about the superpower.  She can telepathically control technology. Instead, writer – Vita Ayala – has flipped an accepted tradition of hero mythology on its head. “Would you be willing to risk millions of lives to save the few that mean the world to you?” Well… would you?

In Image Comics’ SKYWARD, some of these same questions are asked in thought-provoking ways. Consider Willa Fowler, the hero of the book. She has come of age in a “Low G” Chicago neighborhood. It’s a ‘hood that only RiRi might be able to navigate. Due to an apocalyptic event, Willa’s world has lost the force of gravity. There is nothing that keeps people or things grounded. But without the force of gravity, humanity itself is in danger. Cue the huge corporation out to exploit the tragedy. Since her “Low-G” reality is pretty much all she knows, Willa is an outstanding skywalker. And these skills, combined with her detective mindset form her superpowers. But it is her desire for discovery that leads her on the SKYWARD journey.

The Sheroe’s Journey

This journey uncovers the wealth and privilege of those who control the world in which she lives (and floats). SKYWARD (written by Joe Henderson) is one of the most original stories on the market. But there is something about Willa’s character that sparkles on the page. It is her fortitude. It’s her explorative nature.  But most of all it’s her clever wit.  All together, Willa’s abilities help to make the book more than the sum of its parts.

Naomi by Jamal Campbell, artist. Image courtesy of DC Comics

Meanwhile, DC decided not to be outdone by their competition. So they launched NAOMI under the Wonder Comics imprint. As of now, we don’t know if Naomi is a superhero. We actually don’t know much about NAOMI – the comic or the protagonist. But the general feel of the book is one of mystery and discovery. And the issue-to-issue pacing is perfect. Not knowing if Naomi has powers or not is actually part of the fun in reading the book.  And it’s one of the best reads you will find on the market.

Brian M. Bendis has partnered with David F. Walker on writing duties. And he seems poised to NOT repeat the missteps of his past turn on IRONHEART. Similar to Willa, Naomi has a detective’s drive. Thus, she is only beginning to uncover the mysteries of her world. We’ll be eager to learn the answers to questions that only Naomi can uncover about the strange town of Port Oswego.

Know Their Names

Amanda, Willa, RiRi, Shuri, and Naomi. Know their names. Five Black women/girls, who serve as the lead on their own comic book title. This is unprecedented in the comics industry. It’s an industry where, even now, the resistance to diversity remains. Above all, these are all high-quality books with beautiful art and outstanding writing. That said, the arrival of these great books is not a coincidence. Moreover, the debates about diversity in comics and comic book creation have only moved the needle so much. Another reason why we are seeing these titles right now is because of a new understanding of the entertainment economy. In other words, companies must acknowledge the influence of Black women on the marketplace.

Black Girl Magic

A 2017 Nielsen report “African American Women: Our Science, Her Magic” details Black women’s “consumer preferences and brand affinities.” For example, Black women’s preferences influence the US mainstream by “driving total Black spending power toward a record 1.5 Trillion by 2021.” We can’t reduce this moment to money. It is more than that. Comic book publishers have come to understand a business case for diversity. But this moment couldn’t be realized without the work of those who keep pushing publishers to hire women and creators of color.  This is even more important given the great quality that we are seeing in each of these books.

Iron Heart by Kevin Libranda and Luciano Vecchio. Image courtesy of Marvel Comics.

Now, if only we could convince all of these publishers to green light a Black Girl superhero crossover event. Imagine it for a minute. What would a super-group made of Iron Heart, Shuri, Livewire, Willa, and Naomi, be able to achieve? RiRi and Shuri could design the tech that will reverse climate change. Willa and Naomi could lead expeditions into unknown regions of the galaxy. They would establish peaceful relations with other beings on new worlds.  Livewire could end the surveillance state. She could provide a direct check on the dominance of social media platforms. Together, this team of Black super girls could work to solve the world’s most pressing problems. But the thought should make us wonder. What have our favorite superheroes really done for us lately?

One Comment

  1. Razorsfury

    April 8, 2019 at 7:45 am

    This is the kind of garbage people that actually read comics hate. Riri is still an awful character. Ewing was picked because of her skin color. You idiots can not see how racist you sjw weirdos are. This is why comicsgate exist, because you SJWs trying to virtue signal with garbage stories. People don’t want identity politics in the stories they read. BTW, riri sells like crap

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