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Black Panther and Beyond: 30 Comics You Should Read for Black History Month

Maybe you’re a lucky person who’s already seen Black Panther, or are someone looking forward to seeing it for the first time. Or maybe superheroes aren’t your bag at all. Chances are, there’s still a comic out there for your particular tastes. The list below isn’t meant to be exhaustive. Rather, take a look at the titles below and treat them as guideposts that can send you into new vistas of enjoyment, all created by or featuring folks of African descent.

[Editor’s note: Most io9 readers know by now that Evan is currently writing Rise of the Black Panther for Marvel Comics. With my oversight and approval, he’s included a few Marvel titles in this list, often based on his comics criticism before he got the gig. Also, if we left Ta-Nehisi Coates’ work on Black Panther off this list, we’d look like lunatics. —Rob B.]

Abbott

The 1970s were a time of civil unrest, corrupt police, and untrustworthy politicians. That’s all monstrous in one way, but in Abbott, actual demonic creatures exist. Investigative journalist Elena Abbott knows because dark forces killed her husband and now, they’re creeping around in Detroit’s shadows, ready to take advantage of a city that won’t reckon with its most uncomfortable truths. Unless, that is, Elena Abbott drags it all into the light. (Saladin Ahmed, Sami Kivela, Jason Wordie; Boom Studios)

Bayou

When a little white girl named Lily Westmoreland goes missing in a small town in 1930s Mississippi, locals blame the father of main character Lee Wagstaff. He’ll be lynched if Lily doesn’t return, so Lee enlists the help of a shy, green swamp-person named Bayou to help her venture into the alternate reality that Lily’s been snatched into. Bayou’s two volumes read like a bluesy, magical realism meditation on Alice in Wonderland, old swamp monster myths, and Br’er Rabbit folktales, all done up in a achingly beautiful cartoon style. (Jeremy Love, Patrick Morgan; DC Comics)

Bingo Love

This original graphic novel tells the story of two women who meet at a church bingo game and fall into a love they dare not publicly reveal. Years later, after their hollow marriages to men have ended, they meet again and have to decide if they can be together out in the open. Bingo Love will win you over with its mix of infectious humor and well-observed longing, manifested in characters who you’ll genuinely want to be happy. (Tee Franklin, Jenn St. Onge; Image)

Black [AF]: America’s Sweetheart

Set in the universe of Black—where only people of African descent have superpowers—this story focuses on a 15-year-old girl named Eli. Her abilities make her the most powerful person on the planet and she dresses up in an American flag-themed costume to try and help tamp down prejudices. But a determined terrorist has other ideas and Eli learns the hard way what it means to be a hero. (Kwanza Osajyefo & Tim Smith 3, Jennifer Johnson, Sho Murase; Black Mask)

Black Comix Returns

This anthology of essays and illustrations follows up on the 2010 book Black Comix and features work by a luminous collection of creators, including Jerry Craft, Lance Tooks, Eric Battle, Arie Munroe, Regine Sawyer and more. It’s a hefty hardcover that serves as an excellent survey of the breadth and scope of black excellence stretching across the entire medium. (John Jennings, Damian Duffy; Neurobellum Productions)

Black History in Its Own Words

This hardcover boils down comics to its purest essence: Words and pictures working together to create beauty. Ronald Wimberly features incisive and memorable quotes as the basis for strong illustrations of Angela Davis, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Kanye West, Zadie Smith, and other black figures from the worlds of culture, politics, sports, and more. (Ronald Wimberly; Image)

Black Panther: A Nation Under Our Feet

The first storyline in Ta-Nehisi Coates’ current Black Panther series thrusts the King of Wakanda into a rising tide of unrest and dissatisfaction. The technologically advanced nation suffered grievous losses that threaten to destabilize it, but there’s something else behind the scenes working to kick T’Challa off the throne. Coates’ Panther tenure is one that’s grappled with big ideas, operatic scope, and keen insight into human nature. (Ta-Nehisi Coates, Brian Stelfreeze, Laura Martin; Marvel)

Black Panther: World of Wakanda

A companion to Black Panther: A Nation Under Our Feet, this collected volume takes readers inside the fierce Dora Milaje fighting corps. We see lovers Ayo and Aneka meet for the first time, as captain and initiate who struggle with both their blooming attraction to each other and conflicted feelings of serving the throne. Another character who orbits T’Challa also gets a spotlight in a story that shows acolyte Kasper Cole trying to figure out his future path while doing a favor for the Panther. (Yona Harvey, Roxane Gay, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Rembert Browne, Afua N. Richardson, Joe Bennett, Alitha E. Martinez, Roberto Poggi, Tamra Bonvillain, Rachelle Rosenberg; Marvel)

Black Women in Sequence: Re-inking Comics, Graphic Novels, and Anime

The history of women of African descent in sequential art is an obscured one, filled with names that are under-appreciated or forgotten to history altogether. This scholarly volume unearths the contributions of pioneers like Jackie Ormes and investigates the tropes and trends that black women creators and characters created and shattered over the lifespan of the comics medium. (Deborah Elizabeth Whaley; University of Washington Press)

Brotherman: Dictator of Discipline and Brotherman: Revelation

First created by a group of brothers in 1990, the character nicknamed Dictator of Discipline has seen two independently published iterations across the decades. The original black-and-white series focused on a burly crimefighter who took on a series of funkily bizarre criminals in the over-the-top metropolis of Big City, while a 2016 origin story subtitled Revelation shows how skinny Antonio Valor embarked on his journey to clean up his hometown’s streets. Brotherman’s winning formula combines bold linework with a larger-than-life aesthetic to create the series’ melodramatic yet relatable narratives. (Dawud Anyabwile, Guy Sims, Brian McGee; Big City Entertainment)

The Crew #5

You should really read all of this 2003 super-team series, but this stellar issue peels back obscure layers of Marvel history in fascinating ways. It tells the story of Josiah X, a black man who doesn’t care about being a hero despite a past intertwined with the experiments that turned Steve Rogers into Captain America. Josiah’s life story is like a photo negative of Rogers’, showing him treated like a disposable pawn on the front lines of Vietnam and as a disillusioned veteran in a black militant activist group. When he finally picks up a shield, it’s because he’s determined to save the lives America has ignored. (Christopher Priest, Joe Bennett, Danny Miki; Marvel)

Deathlok: The Souls of Cyber Folk

This early ‘90s series re-imagined Marvel Comics’ old-school killing-machine cyborg as a walking paradox. Pacifist scientist Michael Collins found himself trapped in a body designed solely for wreaking havoc, with his family believing him to be dead and his real body stolen by the evil corporation he used to work for. Deathlok worked as a metaphorical exploration of what it means to wield power responsibly and the extent to which our identities are tied to both our actions and physical appearances. (Dwayne McDuffie, Gregory Wright, Mike Manley, John Hebert, Denys Cowan; Marvel)

Destroyer

Jo Baker suffered a painful loss of the sort that’s become all too familiar: Cops took the life of her young African American son for no damn reason at all. But Baker did more than just grieve. A descendant of Victor Frankenstein, she used her skills as a scientist and alchemist to bring her dead child Akai back to life with the ability to disassemble matter with a thought. Destroyer pits Frankenstein’s Monster, Dr. Baker, and Akai against each other, as well as a shadowy alchemical corporation that wants only the “right” people to have the power of life after death. (Victor LaValle, Dietrich Smith, Joana LaFuente; Boom Studios)

Encyclopedia of Black Comics and Super Black: American Pop Culture and Black Superheroes

These two books serve up proof that black creators have been working in comics—at very high levels in strips and books—from the earliest days of the medium. Readers will be able to connect names like Morrie Turner, Billy Graham, Vernon Grant, Julie Anderson, and Barbara Brandon-Croft to a rich history that more people should know about. (Sheena C. Howard, Fulcrum Publishing; Adilifu Namu, University of Texas Press)

Incognegro and Incognegro: Renaissance

A reporter in 1920s New York City, Zane Pinchback is a biracial black man who can pass for white, which allows him access to social spaces where he’s not meant to be. Like, say, lynchings in the Deep South. The first Incognegro graphic novel shows Zane investigating the murder charge that threatens to have his own brother hung from a tree, while the new Renaissance miniseries shows Zane learning to slip across the color line for the first time in Jazz Age Harlem. (Mat Johnson, Warren Pleece; Berger Books/Dark Horse)

Kindred

A foundational work of Afrofuturism, Octavia Butler’s Kindred is a bracingly intimate work about how America has chewed up black bodies and souls throughout its history. Lead character Dana mysteriously travels back to a 19th-century plantation where she must endeavor to save her own white, slave-owning ancestor. The graphic novel adaptation streamlines Butler’s plot and also makes the strain, violation, and fear all the more palpable. (Damian Duffy, John Jennings; Abrams)

M.F.K.

A moody yarn set in a beautifully rendered fantasy world, M.F.K. follows deaf girl Abbie as she journeys across vast dangerous distances to spread the ashes of her dead mother in the mountains. Along the way, she meets strange new entities and gets pulled into adventures in a world where gods sleep and corruption rules. (Nilah Magruder, Simon & Schuster)

March

The award-winning autobiographical series chronicles the Civil Rights Movement in 1960s America through the life of John Lewis, an activist who marched with Martin Luther King, Jr. and later became a US congressman. The March trilogy succeeds by showing what life was on the ground during the months that changed the United States forever. (John Lewis, Nate Powell, Andrew Aydin; Top Shelf Comix)

Michael Cray

An ongoing series inside of DC Comics’ relaunched Wildstorm imprint, Michael Cray is a radical new twist on the character once known as Deathblow. The titular hero is a no-nonsense field operative pulled into dealing with the worst kind of nonsense: People with superpowers. While facing off against twisted versions of Green Arrow, the Flash, and Aquaman, Cray’s also dealing with a mysterious illness that might be haphazardly altering reality. The best thing about Michael Cray is its chilling subversion of the power dynamics and assumption of trustworthiness implicit in superhero fare. (Bryan Edward Hill, N. Steve Harris, Dexter Vines; DC Comics)

Murder Ballads

One of the most painful truths about American culture is how little black musicians profited from industries that were built on foundations they laid. Murder Ballads explores the dynamic of how white and black lives intersect at the crossroads of art and commerce, through the tense relationship of white record label owner Nate Theodore and the bluesmen brothers he “discovers” while his life slides down the toilet. It’s a gripping story that gives voice to the exploited souls still haunting America’s airwaves. (Gabe Soria, Paul Reinwand, Chris Hunt; Z2 Comics)

Nat Turner

Master cartoonist Kyle Baker brought one of the incandescent texts of American letters into the comics form with his 2006 graphic novel. Using text from The Confessions of Nat Turner, Baker deftly illustrates how the everyday injustices of slavery smoldered and exploded in one of the most famous slave rebellions in the history of the United States. (Kyle Baker; Abrams Books)

Nighthawk

It’s a rare thing for mainstream superhero comics to tackle institutional racism head on, but that’s exactly what writer David Walker did with the canceled-too-soon Nighthawk. In the six-issue series, the reinvented nocturnal avenger brutally retaliated against racist police officers, opportunistic drug dealers, and sleazy real estate developers. There’s a grisly serial killer plotline in the midst of it all, too, pushing Nighthawk into places where very little superhero work is brave enough to tread. (David Walker, Ramon Villalobos; Marvel)

Noble Vol. 1: God Shots

When an asteroid threatens to hit Earth, David Powell is part of a crew of astronauts that flies into space to destroy it. He returns home with no memories but new telepathic powers, desperate to reunite with his wife but also dodging the clutches of an evil corporation. Noble fuses a bracing sense of velocity with romantic and familial love that feels worth fighting for. (Brandon Thomas, Roger Robinson, Juan Fernandez; Lion Forge)

Shaft Vol. 1: A Complicated Man and Shaft Vol. 2: Imitation of Life

The legendary blaxploitation hero first got adapted into comics a few years back, with a story that shows how John Shaft became a private eye. A Complicated Man sees Shaft come home from Vietnam and help his paramour find a missing friend, while Imitation of Life gets slightly metatextual as the detective finds himself hired on as a bodyguard on a movie that’s based on his life. These comics show that there’s more to Shaft than what’s been in books and movies, and they’re clearly created by people who love Ernest Tidyman’s famous character. (David Walker, Bilquis Evely, Dietrich Smith, Dynamite)

Upgrade Soul

A stunning work of feverish imagining, snarky satire, and necessary skepticism, Upgrade Soul looks at what happens when an elderly couple funds risky research to extend their lives. Hank and Molly Nonnar want the chance to be young again and live with the wisdom they’ve amassed in old age. But when the experimental procedures they’ve funded goes horribly wrong, their bodies and consciousnesses evolve into forms that no one could’ve expected. (Ezra Claytan Daniels, Lion Forge)

The Wilds

This post-apocalyptic thriller intertwines the unnatural flesh of the zombie concept with the threat of the natural world taking back humans subsumed. Main character Daisy Walker manages to eke out something close to happiness as a forager for a survivor community surrounded by infected former humans. But when Daisy ventures in search of a partner who doesn’t return from a scavenging trip, everything she knows about life in this blasted landscape gets turned on its side. (Vita Ayala, Emily Pearson; Black Mask)

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