The first black superheroes started showing up in comics during the Silver Age. Marvel's Black Panther was first, followed by guys like Black Goliath, Black Lightning, Black Dracula, Blackenstein, Black Manta, Black Racer and the Black Musketeers. Notice a theme, here? Like Black Vulcan said:
[The Superfriends] were always pairin' me up with a white Superfriend, like I was gonna start super-lootin' the minute they weren't watching. And you think I named myself Black Vulcan? Hell no! I used to go by "Supervolt": "Black Vulcan" was Aquaman's idea. And I said, "well maybe we should just call you 'Whitefish!'"
That's a cute look at race in the superhero community, but it's really not far off the mark. Comics have always distilled the steretypes of the age, and for a long time that meant we got characters like Whitewash, the blackface-wearing comic relief in Young Allies. Yeah. Ouch.
The first black superhero to headline his own book didn't have a silly name like that. In fact, at the beginning, he didn't have a superhero name at all, just an alias: he went by Luke Cage, Hero for Hire.
Framed for a crime he didn't commit (aren't they all), Carl Lucas volunteered for a medical experiment in prison. The experiment went further than intended, endowing him with superstrength and skin as hard as steel. Escaping from prison, Lucas adopted the name Luke Cage and started busting heads and handing out business cards (really). When he decided that he wasn't getting enough press coverage, he gave himself the superhero name Power Man.
The fact that he never called himself "Black Power Man" (or worse, Blacktain America) was actually pretty innovative for a comicbook, but Luke Cage was still a pretty typical example of blaxpoitation: even though he was the star and a successful hero, he never really got away from the streets. He wasn't fighting Galactus on the moon, he was fighting pimps in Times Square.
Cage's costume is definitely rooted in its era of origin: he's got a mini-fro circled by a silver headband and a yellow silk shirt with butterfly collar, open to show off his chest. Word. Around his waist is a chain, symbolizing the time he spent in irons. Solid. The Minimate does a good job of re-creating all these details. The shirt is painted on, rather than a removable piece, but the chain belt is separate. Luke's hair doesn't hug his head very tightly, so it tends to fall off. Jive turkey.
As the blaxploitation craze (and Luke's popularity) began to wane, Marvel teamed him up with another character whose origins were in popular films of the day: if blaxploitation gave us Power Man, then kung fu movies gave us Iron Fist.
Danny Rand was a martial artist trained and raised in the mystical Tibetan city of K'un-L'un. After passing many trials and facing the enormous fire-breathing serpent called Shou-Lao the Undying, Rand plunged his hands into the dragon's heart and found he could summon a superhuman energy to reinforce the power of his blows.
Iron Fist wears a green gi with a yellow collar, belt and shoes. A yellow bandana conceals his identity, and his shirt is open far enough to show off the black dragon scar on his chest. Actually, it's painted on his back - either the factory screwed up an app, or AA used the chest from a different figure.
The belt and shirt are both removable pieces, and his mask stays on much better than Cage's hair, though between it and the 3D collar, you won't be able to tilt the figure's head back very far. To show the incredible power of the Iron Fist, there's a translucent pink fireball that fits on his hand.
Power Man and Iron Fist were released as ToyFare exclusives, because even in toy form, they don't get any respect. Still, for two lame characters based on movie fads, they have surprising staying power - combined, they remained in print through most of the '80s, and every few years they see a bit of a revival. Hell, Luke Cage has become something of Brian Michael Bendis' pet project, appearing in almost every book the guy writes, including Avengers. I guess he did finally get away from the streets.
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