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10 Black comic book characters coming to a screen near you
It's hard to believe that almost four years ago, Marvel's Luke Cage "broke" Netflix. Then, two years later, in January 2018, Black Lightning debuted on The CW, not only giving us our first Black superhero family, but also the first live-action Black lesbian superhero, a character named Thunder.
A few weeks later, the unprecedented cultural impact of Marvel's Black Panther made history. The blockbuster hit would make over $1.3 billion in worldwide box office sales that year. Those staggering numbers were proof that big-budget projects featuring Black comic book characters comprised of a predominantly Black cast (and crew) are more than profitable.
Then in March of that same year, Iris West somehow accessed the Speed Force on The CW's The Flash and became a speedster for an episode or two. In October, Titans, a live-action adaptation of the Teen Titans animated and comic book series, debuted on the new DC Universe and blessed us with Anna Diop as the gorgeous and powerful alien princess Starfire. And of course, we can’t forget the end of 2018 bringing us Miles Morales' big-screen debut in Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.
Seeing how profitable black characters are, producers, writers, directors, and even actors are optioning comic books and adapting them for the big and small screens. In addition, Hollywood has been slowly increasing the diversity in casting genre films, so over the next few years, we will hopefully see even more Black superheroes hit the big screen.
SYFY WIRE has combed through the current slate of comic book movies hitting theaters and streaming services and come up with this list of 10 upcoming comic book characters whose origins or on-screen actors are rooted in the diaspora. Definitely keep these on your radar in the coming months.
01. Monica Rambeau
Comic debut: Amazing Spider-Man Annual #16 (1982)
Monica Rambeau's first appearance in the comics got Spider-Man’s senses tingling. Not just because of her electromagnetic powers, but because she was fully capable of taking care of herself as she dispatched a couple of would-be muggers with ease.
Monica is quietly famous in the Marvel canon for two reasons: Not only is she is the first human to carry the mantle of Captain Marvel at Marvel Comics, but she also holds the title of the first Black female Avenger. In fact, she would eventually lead the team.
Despite having over five superhero name changes since then (she now goes by Spectrum), fans were thrilled to hear she would make her MCU debut in 2019's Captain Marvel, albeit as a 10-year-old played by Akira Akbar. At SDCC in 2019, Marvel announced that an adult Monica will finally be hitting the small screen this fall and actress Teyonah Parris will slip into the role as part of the ensemble cast of WandaVision on Disney+.
02. Amanda Waller
Comic debut: Legends #1 (1986)
As the unquestioned authority behind the modern-day version of DC's Suicide Squad, Amanda Waller is resolute, conniving, and determined. She doesn't let her lack of superpowers stop her from routinely staring down DC's heaviest hitters (Batman can attest to this).
This powerful woman has been played by two amazing African-American actresses on the big screen. First, in 2011 by Angela Bassett in Green Lantern (Yes, the Ryan Reynolds one), followed by Emmy Award-winner Viola Davis in Suicide Squad (2016). She's been on TV, too. Cynthia Addai-Robinson played her on the first season of Arrow and CCH Pounder provided Waller's voice in Justice League Unlimited, written by the late Dwayne McDuffie.
Davis will return to the role in The Suicide Squad. Set to hit screens in 2021, the James Gunn entry into DC's cinematic universe is shaping up to be a more comedic film than its predecessor. You can bet that Viola will be equal to the task.
03. Batwing/Lucas Fox
Comic debut: Batwing #19 (2013)
If Luke Fox's name sounds familiar, that's because his dad, Lucius Fox, played by Morgan Freeman, was featured in The Dark Knight Trilogy alongside Christian Bale's Batman.
In 2013, Luke Fox debuted in the New 52 era comic Batwing #19, when David Zavimbe, a Congolese police officer, was working undercover as the titular Batwing for Batman Incorporated. Soon, Zavimbe would give up the cowl and Fox would become the new Batwing and join Bruce Wayne's little international nocturnal crime-fighting club.
In 2019, Luke Fox hit the small screen on The CW’s Batwoman opposite actress Ruby Rose. In a role similar to his late dad, Luke is head of Wayne Security and provides Kate Cane support as the "guy in the chair." Luke also appeared in The CW’s recent Crisis on Infinite Earths crossover on Earth-99 as the assistant to an aged Batman (played by Kevin Conroy).
We can only hope Luke one day follows in his comic counterpart's footsteps and takes his tech to the skies.
04. Gravedigger/Tyson Sykes
Comic Debut: Checkmate #25 Vol. 2 (2008)
Tyson Sykes is actually the second person to carry the name Gravedigger. The first version of the character was introduced in DC comics in 1977 in Men of War. Sykes' version was introduced in 2008 as an augmented human member of Checkmate.
On February 10, 2020, singer, actor, and comedian Wayne Brady will arrive on Black Lightning as Gravedigger. This iteration is a "super-soldier" from World War II who chose to defect to Markovia rather than return to a segregated United States. The Markovians have become a huge threat to Freeland, and it's clear that the live-action version of Sykes will be super-powered. He’s bound to give Black Lightning a run for his money when they meet. (And if you’re worried whether or not Brady can pull off a villain, then you probably don’t remember his role as Trelak, the First Prime to Ares on Stargate: SG-1 Season 8).
05. Quantum/Eric Henderson
Comic Debut: Quantum and Woody #1 Vol. 1 (1997)
The lone entry outside of Marvel or DC on this list is Quantum and Woody, a Valiant Comics property created by writer Christopher Priest and artist Mark Bright in which the title characters can best be described as a cross between Power Man and Iron Fist and the movie White Men Can't Jump.
This duo may have seen a reboot or two since their initial debut (the most recent being just last week), but the core premise has endured throughout their time in print. A pair of estranged adopted brothers, polar opposites in every way, is forced to stay together by an accident of science gone haywire. Eric (Quantum) Henderson is the straight man of the duo. Woody, well, not so much. Woody is the one who keeps a quantum powered cape-and-goggles-wearing goat… named Vincent Van Goat... as a pet. (The goat may or may not have been possessed by the spirit of their Dad once).
Avengers: Endgame directors, Joe and Anthony Russo are currently developing Quantum and Woody as a series for TBS. The characters were originally modeled by the creators after Wesley Snipes and Woody Harrelson, though we here at SYFY WIRE have some ideas of our own about who should play the leads.
06. Mother's Milk
Comic Debut: The Boys #2 Vol. 1 (2006)
Writer Garth Ennis and artist Darick Robertson's ultra-violent deconstruction of the superhero genre in comics was a revelatory read when it debuted for Wildstorm/DC back in 2006. Considered by the creators to be even more violent than Preacher (remember Arseface?) The Boys are a crew of troubleshooters/mercs who come in when the superpowered "heroes" of their world go off the rails.
The first season of the Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg-produced live-action adaptation dropped last year on Amazon and was well-received by critics and fans alike. In the Amazon Prime series, Las Alonso developed the character of Mother’s Milk beyond his well-earned name (not a code name, not a nickname, but his actual name, the origins of which we will not spoil here). We will more than likely learn much more about Mother's Milk's backstory when Alonso returns to the role when Season 2 of The Boys returns later this year.
07. Dr. Cecilia Reyes
Comic Debut: X-Men #65 (1997)
Dr. Cecila Reyes is one of two Afro-Latinx comic book characters on this list who will be featured prominently in the upcoming film The New Mutants.
In the comics, Reyes is a young Puerto Rican trauma surgeon from the South Bronx. A caregiver by nature, she’s one of the few characters from the X-Men who was reluctant to use her powers and really had no interest in becoming a superhero. Because of her background in medicine, Cecilia's preference was to heal the X-Men as opposed to fighting with them.
Unfortunately, she's often drawn into battle despite her reservations.
She's treated a wide cross-section of the Marvel Universe — everyone from her fellow mutants to the Fantastic Four over the years. However, she's got a pretty badass power of her own. She has the ability to project an impenetrable personal force field around herself, and when she later joined S.W.O.R.D. (in X-Men Vol. 4; #21) she chose "Forcefield" as her code name.
Reyes will be played by actress Alice Braga when The New Mutants (finally) drops on April 3.
08. Sunspot/Roberto da Costa
Comic Debut: The New Mutants Graphic Novel (1982)
In Marvel Comics, Roberto "Bobby" da Costa is a founding member of The New Mutants, an X-Men spin-off team that debuted in 1982. Born in Brazil to Emmanuel da Costa, a wealthy Afro-Brazilian businessman and white American archaeologist Nina da Costa, Roberto’s mutant ability was activated when he was playing soccer in a tournament and attacked by racist members of the opposing team. He fought back, but the beating he took was so brutal that it activated his power to absorb solar energy and convert it into super-strength. It also turned his skin completely black.
He's known for being impulsive, loyal, and extremely powerful. In addition to super-human strength, his thermokinesis allows him to fly, use concussive blasts as weapons, and in his "Black" form, his corona effect can make him virtually indestructible. In fact, for Roberto, the only thing stronger than his powers are his ego.
Being that The New Mutants is a horror film adaptation, we're not sure if we'll see that side of Roberto. After many, many delays, Sunspot, played by Brazilian actor Henry Zaga, will join Alice Braga and co-stars Maisie Williams, Anya Taylor-Joy, Charlie Heaton, and Blue Hunt on the big screen in April.
Comic Debut: The Eternals Vol. 1 (1976)
Predicted to be the highlight of Marvel's Phase 4 slate of films, The Eternals will be a sweeping sci-fi epic centering around a group of super-powered immortals.
Created in the '70s for Marvel by Jack Kirby, the Eternals came into being when Earth was visited millions of years ago by an alien race called the Celestials (Peter Quill's dad Ego is one of them). These all-powerful beings created the Eternals, a humanoid race imbued with powers similar to the Infinity Stones (yes, the ones Thanos was after). The Celestials also encountered mutations of the Eternals design, which produced a race known as the Deviants (and, yes, Thanos is one of them).
Just like in the comics, the Deviants will be the main opposition to the Eternals in the upcoming film. Phastos, master-builder and technician, played by Brian Tyree Henry (Atlanta, Hotel Artemis), constructs most of the weapons and gear for the Eternals. If the movie version follows the comics, Phastos will be the conscientious objector of the group. His character always sought something more than constant battle out of his immortal existence.
10. Lunella Lafayette
Comic Debut: Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur #1 (2015)
Lunella Lafayette is a nine-year-old genius (and literally the smartest person in the Marvel Universe). An updated version of Jack Kirby's characters Moonboy and Devil Dinosaur, who first hit newsstands in 1978, Lunella made her first appearance in 2015 in a market that still thought that POC characters in comics didn't sell.
Who knew that a story about a little Black girl with Inhuman powers that allowed her to trade consciousness with her time-traveling big red dinosaur and invent her own tech and weapons would become one of Marvel’s most successful comic book series to date?
Lunella's story is grounded in the reality of many gifted children. Often underestimated and misunderstood, she had a hard time making friends and communicating. She was often ostracized for being smart, even by adults. Devil Dinosaur not only helps her understand her new powers but is her best friend and confidant when things get rough.
As with most successful Marvel characters, Lunella has had her share of crossovers and team-ups, but still has to convince the "grown-ups" that despite her young age, her intelligence, as well as her bond with DD, she can be left on her own to handle things on her own.
Last year, the Disney Channel announced that not only is Moongirl and Devil Dinosaur headed to the network but that actor and producer Lawrence Fishburne has been tapped as executive producer.