When it comes to pop culture, it's undeniable that this is a superhero's world and we're all just living in it. But that wasn't always the case. First considered a low-brow art form, comics sprang up during the lead up to World War II and introduced heroes like Superman who were battling to restore justice in a war-torn world. Part propaganda, part entertainment, and part social justice movement, early comics focused on how people with power should work to protect the underdog — or at least how white people with power should work to protect the underdog.
Unfortunately, there weren't many characters of color appearing in the early days of comics, especially not in leading roles. But a few comic series, like those featuring Black Panther in the 1960s, did feature superheroes who allowed the writers to explore the complexities of black and brown people's lives.
In the years since, as superheroes have leaped from the comic book pages to dominate movie and TV screens, the genre has seen a big increase in representation for characters of color, perhaps most significantly for African Americans. As part of TV Guide's celebration of The Rise of the Black Superheroes, here's a look at some of the most influential black superheroes of all time. From Watchmen's Sister Night (Regina King) to Doom Patrol's Cyborg (Joivan Wade) to Spawn's titular figure (Michael Jai White), these iconic heroes helped pave the way for change on-screen, and showed that superheroes do indeed come in every hue.
Click through the gallery below to see these film and TV trailblazers.
For Black History Month, TV Guide is celebrating black superheroes in TV and film. As part of The Rise of Black Superheroes, we're honoring the legacies of pioneers like Luke Cage, War Machine, and actress Eartha Kitt; examining how blackness shapes the identities of characters like Iris West, Black Lightning, and John Diggle; exploring what today's black heroes mean to kids of color; and celebrating the greatest black superheroes of all time. You can check out more content from The Rise of Black Superheroes here.