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Black DC Superheroes with the Best Shot at the Big Screen (And How They Should Get There)

Isn't it time we had more variety on the big screen?

Feature films based on DC Comics have seen varying degrees of success since Richard Donner’s Superman kicked off the modern age of comic book adaptations in 1978. Unfortunately, DC’s wealth of characters has failed to make it to the silver screen in the past 30 years with the same bulk or momentum that Marvel’s superheroes have managed in the past decade, exposing movie-going audiences to not only a criminally small fraction of the DC universe, but also a predictably white one.

Since Batman and Superman have been tasked with carrying most of DC’s box office burden—and the majority of remaining superheroes in their shared universe are white—it stands to reason that whatever upcoming DC movie projects there are will likely lack racially diverse superheroes.

More unfortunate is that Warner Bros. has actually tried giving heroes of color leading roles a couple of times, but both tries ended in disaster. The ‘90s film Steel, based on the story of the black John Henry Irons in the wake of Superman’s death, was plagued with too much camp, cheese and Shaquille O’Neal to be successful. Although the athlete had shown some comedic talent by the time he was up for the action role, O’Neal’s casting was a clear sign of how seriously the audience should take the material before ever setting foot in a theater. With a low budget that also didn’t do the movie any favors, Steel bombed big time and fell into fast obscurity.

== TEASER ==

Catwoman, too, featured a black lead with the casting of Halle Berry, boldly supplanting the white norm of the comics. However, the movie’s other departures from the original stuff—including the name, home, skill-set and associates of the original character—doomed it to a lack of fan support well before other problems offered nails for its coffin.

Obviously, the ethnicities of these characters weren’t inherently responsible for their failures, nor were their films the only duds from DC properties (Jonah Hex, Superman Returns, Green Lantern). Managed correctly, though, some of DC’s black superheroes have enough big-screen potential to warrant the consideration of Warner Bros. Below are the three with the most promise, along with suggestions of how they should be realized on film.

Steel (John Henry Irons)

Why He Has Big-Screen Potential:

As mentioned above, Warner Bros. has seen possibility in the character before, and with good reason. John Henry Irons was easily the most grounded and complex superhero to spring from the Death of Superman aftermath, and went on to have a solo comic book during the ‘90s. Although John’s role since has been mostly a supporting one in the Superman books, his presence has endured surprisingly well, as he’s been written into the Justice League’s animated series and comics, emerged front and center during DC’s lauded 52 event, starred in the Infinity Inc. group book as the main character, and even survived the recent DC relaunch to appear in ACTION COMICS. Overall, something about John’s appeal has engaged writers and fans alike for almost 20 years.

How His Film Treatment Could Work:

A new Steel movie would undeniably necessitate a start-from-scratch reboot, but there are a few aspects of the original film that should remain intact. Like the first flick, a new take should ax the comic book origin story that saw John finding inspiration from Superman. This John’s adventures should feel fully self-sufficient, and while a hint or two at a shared universe with Superman is fine, the audience should believe that he’s a hero entirely of his own making. Another approach that the first film got right was the attention it paid to inner city gangs; when the weapons John invented for military use find their way into his own neighborhood and threaten the youths there, John’s story becomes a compelling tale of desperate redemption, as well as one of potentially biting social consciousness.

However, a new film could benefit from taking itself far more seriously than the first one did. In the comics, a drive-by shooting kills two kids in front of John and critically injures him before he ever puts on a cape, establishing an atmosphere of tragic brutality that the original movie never explored. If a new film fully embraced the gritty nuances of John’s hometown slum, as well as the emotional damage and complex dangers it presents to him and his loved ones, his story could have extraordinary resonance in a way other superhero fare hasn’t tried. Moreover, an adaptation positing that even a man in a suit of technologically advanced armor is still an underdog—considering the cycles of gang violence, poverty and racial oppression he’s up against—would set a Steel movie apart from Iron Man territory, and could even set a precedent for a new kind of superhero movie.

Green Lantern (John Stewart)

Why He Has Big-Screen Potential:

John Stewart, an African-American Green Lantern, has skyrocketed in popularity due to the Justice League and Justice League Unlimited animated series on Cartoon Network. Originally recruited in the comics as a backup for the more popular, and white, Hal Jordan, John has come into his own as a hero just as autonomous and legitimate in pop culture. Well before the Green Lantern movie opted for Hal as its protagonist, a nearly-made Justice League feature film would have starred Common as John Stewart. Regardless, John still has a prominent role in the Green Lantern comic books, and has shown up on Cartoon Network’s current Young Justice series.

How His Film Treatment Could Work:

Since Warner Bros. is committed to making direct sequels to the Green Lantern film from this summer, it’s clear that Hal Jordan will continue to be the series’ protagonist. But that doesn’t mean John Stewart can’t have a principal role. Much like James Rhodes’ part increased alongside Tony Stark’s in the Iron Man films, the Green Lantern movies could use John Stewart as a friend/foe whose methods and mentality generate friction with Hal before a true partnership blossoms.

A scenario as simple as John temporarily inheriting the Green Lantern ring after Hal seems mortally wounded could easily bring the character into a sequel. Once Hal recovers, but John proves his unexpected worth as a Lantern, the stage would be set for the two to compete for the privilege of the ring—until an adversary requiring their combined efforts forces them to come to their senses. Given Hal’s struggle with responsibility from the first film, a rival with the serious demeanor and iron will John Stewart is known for could make him the prefect foil—especially given how badly Hal needs a compelling conflict for the Green Lantern movies to continue.

Static (Virgil Hawkins)

Why He Has Big-Screen Potential:

2000’s animated program Static Shock, which lasted an impressive four seasons, introduced the Milestone Comics character to millions of young viewers and indelibly marked the superhero’s place in pop consciousness. Static now has his own comic book series in DC Comics proper, and has appeared on Justice League Unlimited.

How His Film Treatment Could Work:

Very simply, a movie adaptation of the Static Shock comic should stay true to source material. Virgil Hawkins’ success on screen need not be much of a riddle given his relatability; his spunky sense of humor, academic pressures, teenage outlook and secret identity woes provide ample possibility for a compelling hero, and his similarities with the successful Spider-Man character are no accident. Virgil’s TV show proved that he has the personality—and enough interesting enemies on top of it—to keep his story exciting and entertaining should he ever get the live-action try.

These suggestions aren’t the final word on black superheroes who deserve to be on the silver screen, but they’re probably the ones with the biggest chances of being considered. And with a film industry that’s playing it safer than ever, these three have the built-in fanbases that would make them the “least risky” minorities to take on.

While black heroes like Mr. Terrific and Batwing have their own comic books, and characters like Cyborg and Aqualad have gathered impressive buzz on television, few have seen enough spotlight and “push” like Steel, John Stewart and Static to invite bated breath.

That’s not even to mention DC’s female black superheroes, whose presence altogether in comics is so negligible that chances of prominent film roles for them anytime soon are slim to none.

Likewise, superheroes of color who aren’t black are also regrettably hard to come by. While talks about TV shows for characters like Jaime Reyes and Renee Montoya surface from time to time, their big-screen debuts still look like distant prospects. Overall, DC’s minority characters of either sex face some serious barriers in number and attention that preclude much Hollywood dreaming.

144 Comments Refresh
Posted by cattlebattle

John Stewart should have been the main character in the GL movie, I think this generation is more familiar with him due to the JL series anyways....missed opportunity IMO
 
 
It's a crime that Static hasn't had a movie yet actually
 
 
Icon movie...FTW

Posted by DiVine_the_Savior

Being a black man and a DC Drone my self I would love to see a movie done in these ways especially John Stewart and Steel

Posted by Chaos Burn

Gotta admit I read Marvel, but the only one of those characters I know is Steel... and I didn't know he was black (thought he was just shiny). To be fair to Marvel and DC, their most popular characters were created in a time when the Civil Rights movement hadn't come through yet...

Posted by ssejllenrad

I'd like to see a Static movie so badly.

Edited by Adnan

I could see them setting up Steel in a Superman movie, and then going on to give the guy his own later on - if they have enough balls to make a Death of Superman movie after the inevitable Justice League movie(s?), it'd be a logical enough continuation.

John Stewart, despite being in JLU, would be messy. All the Earth GLs carry that "not my Green Lantern!" stigma. I do like the set-up you suggested for him though.

A Static film...is well overdue, actually. I'd rather he got the TV series and Blue Beetle gets the movie, but that's just me.

Posted by BlackArmor

I demand an Icon Movie before I finish typing this sentence if there is no movie by then there shall be hell to pay.

Posted by pspin

Static, Static, Static, Static, Luke Cage, Static, Static, Static!!!!

Posted by Loki2u

Hmmm...Blade and Spawn not ringing any bells?

Posted by mikeclark1982

we need a static shock film. that would be EPIC! a young black man who is a super hero? and puts young black me into a positive light? DC COMICS/WARNER BROTHERS! MAKE IT SO!

Posted by biggkeem89

I would love to see Static on the big screen if done right.

Posted by GenesisX

Steel wears a suit of armor. I would love to see a Static Shock movie, John Stewart. But, the new Marvel movies have featured Nick Fury as being black, so there's a major chance for more african-american roles.

Posted by Gambit1024

I'd watch any of these, but I'm not asking for them. There are other superheroes that are more deserving than these characters (Flash, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, etc.)

Posted by Duo_forbidden

I think Static has the most potential to hit the big screen. He's a young superhero teenager that can be a huge hit with the younger audienceif done right.

Posted by TheRedRobin96

I think that the Green Lantern sequel should focus on John Stewart and have each GL movie be based upon a different Lantern. But it a Hal Sequel was done correctly it would be fine.

Posted by PikminMania

@cattlebattle said:

John Stewart should have been the main character in the GL movie, I think this generation is more familiar with him due to the JL series anyways....missed opportunity IMO It's a crime that Static hasn't had a movie yet actually Icon movie...FTW

This is true. All of my friends didn't understand why GL was white in the movie lol

Posted by MooseyMcMan

You know, I liked the Green Lantern movie more than most people, but if John Stewart had been in it instead of Hal, well, I would have liked it way more.

Posted by Wattup

Static Shock, starring Donald Glover from Community, would be awesome!

Still think the past Green Lantern film should have been a team movie with Hal, John, Guy and Kyle.

What about a Birds of Prey film with Vixen as one of the leads?

Steel doesn't really work for me as a film...unless maybe if he's like Iron Man. But then again, that's War Machine. 8 )

Wow, there really aren't that many black DC heroes.

Posted by vraiment

Ok, so I'm not a BIG reader of comics, but I enjoy Green Lantern overall.

I think asking for a character because it's black rather than because it's awesome, it's kinda of racists.

Marvel made Spiderman black in the Ultimate Universe and Kingpin in DareDevil's movie, but it looks like it wasn't to get black characters around, they just feel right in their roles.

I don't know about Steel, Static or Mr. T, but I think Hal Jordan was a better option for the GL movie than John Stewart, in fact even Kyle Rayner and Guy Gardner would have been better options, why? because John it's black? Hell no! Because the others are more awesome characters than John, Guy it's just badass period, Kyle saved the corps and Hal became Parallax and recover his reputation after he came back, John Stewart has only destroyed two planets and... that's all...

Posted by Shamelesslysupportinaznballers

I would rather see a Luke Cage movie. Maybe mixing in the Truth:Red White & Black story and bring it to modern day. Government using black prisoners to try and recreate the super soldier formula.

Posted by cattlebattle
@PikminMania said:

@cattlebattle said:

John Stewart should have been the main character in the GL movie, I think this generation is more familiar with him due to the JL series anyways....missed opportunity IMO It's a crime that Static hasn't had a movie yet actually Icon movie...FTW

This is true. All of my friends didn't understand why GL was white in the movie lol

Yeah, In all honesty I always thought GL was one of the corniest characters ever made...the guy combats crime by making giant fly swatters...come on!!! Though the job they did with John Stewart on that show was amazing, and I actually have interest in the GL world now..I could say what I just said goes the same thing for my friends and siblings
Posted by Lurkero

Why limit it to just black characters? I would love to see ANY minority (as in USA minority) featured in a movie. The problem is that I don't like pandering, so it would have to be a very subtle movie that doesn't play too much on the main character being a minority. Just being a person is fine.

Posted by hitechlolife

Given the recent Action Comics, it would be great to see a John Henry Irons cameo in the new Supes movie as a way of spinning off into his own flick.

Posted by Skaddix

@vraiment said:

Ok, so I'm not a BIG reader of comics, but I enjoy Green Lantern overall.

I think asking for a character because it's black rather than because it's awesome, it's kinda of racists.

Marvel made Spiderman black in the Ultimate Universe and Kingpin in DareDevil's movie, but it looks like it wasn't to get black characters around, they just feel right in their roles.

I don't know about Steel, Static or Mr. T, but I think Hal Jordan was a better option for the GL movie than John Stewart, in fact even Kyle Rayner and Guy Gardner would have been better options, why? because John it's black? Hell no! Because the others are more awesome characters than John, Guy it's just badass period, Kyle saved the corps and Hal became Parallax and recover his reputation after he came back, John Stewart has only destroyed two planets and... that's all...

Fine and dandy. One problem most of your movie goers will not know that stuff at all. What they will be far more likely to be familiar with is John Stewart in Jl/JLU or heck to a lesser extent Guy Gardner in Batman: BATB. Only comic readers know anything about Hal Jordan.

Posted by Video_Martian

@Gambit1024 said:

I'd watch any of these, but I'm not asking for them. There are other superheroes that are more deserving than these characters (Flash, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, etc.)

OMIGOD YES^

Posted by jsphsmth

They really missed the boat when they went with Hal instead of John in Green Lantern, more people know John through the Justice League cartoons than Hal through the comics.

I don't think any of the characters listed really stand a chance. They need to go with a lesser known character like Icon. Less baggage, more freedom to write a good screenplay.

Posted by G-Man

@jsphsmth: I totally thought Hal and John were going to get in a fight in the bar just like in Secret Origin. I thought I heard a rumor about them filming that but I guess not since I've never actually seen anything to prove it.

Staff
Posted by -Vigil-

Let's see Miles Morales played by Donald Glover!

Posted by MetropolisKid41

@jsphsmth:

I'm sorry I'm going to have to respectfully disagree. I think between the Superfriends and the comics that more people know of Hal or even Kyle ahead of John. While a lot of us grew up on the Justice League and JLU cartoons they have been done for awhile, and are only on boomerang sporadically now. Anyone who was interested in those animated shows at all, has probably picked up a comic since and see Hal front and center. I would like to see him in a sequel, or maybe even have an entire GLC spin-off movie that focuses on John and the rest of the Corps, maybe introduce some of the deeper mythos.

Posted by KINCART

Steel had his shot let's see Hardware. Also, what about Icon?

Posted by jsphsmth

@MetropolisKid41: I think the viewership of the Justice League cartoons far exceeded that of the readers of the monthly comics. That, and the fact that Hal was dead for years, is why I think more people know John.

And when I say people, I mean the general public, not comic readers who are a small minority of the general movie going population.

Posted by kuma_far

I need a good Steel movie, after JLA-Morrison and 52 I freaking love that guy!

Posted by MetropolisKid41

@jsphsmth:

We're going to have to agree to disagree on this one. When Justice League first aired on CN it was followed by Superfriends that had Hal as Green Lantern, yeah he wasn't in every episode but he was featured a decent amount. Hal has been back since 2005 and since then I think comics have been much more mainstream in pop culture, such as the show Big Bang Theory. If you walk into stores like Kohls, Wal Mart, and Target, they all have a huge selection of comic book themed shirts, and every single one that is Green Lantern based features Hal not John. 8-13 year old kids would know Hal as Green Lantern over John. I think the window that associates with John as THEE Green Lantern is probably limited to people in the age demographic of 18-28, with a fairly decent chunk of that demo probably associating with Kyle Rayner as Green Lantern. Anyone older or younger than that probably associates with Hal the most imo.

Posted by Decept-O

I actually think Static Shock would be the best property to try concerning a movie. He's had a strong almost cult like following. He doesn't have a lot of burdens in terms of conveying a story compared to other characters mentioned here.

Although I will say the comments posted "exposing movie-going audiences to not only a criminally small fraction of the DC universe, but also a predictably white one" is a bit much. DC's roster of characters and their racial identities isn't something that should be construed as being something "predictably white". Like it is a bad thing?

Posted by Mega_spidey01

black superheroes don't sell in DC. 
  too much racism in this country
icon- superman rip off won't  work 
static might work  john stewart won't work just because he's the black green lantern
let's go marvel let's go let go marvel 
black panther movie 
luke cage will be on his wife jessica jones tv show 
war machine i don't care for

Posted by jsphsmth

@MetropolisKid41: Good points. I think you won me over.

Posted by PatVB

I think John Stewart in a Green Lantern movie would work really well. Because of the Justice League cartoons, a lot of people think of him when they think of the Green Lantern. I totally agree with Tony that a GL sequel could keep Ryan Reynolds and add a John Stewart as a supporting character.

Posted by Decept-O

I am more concerned right now with seeing Wonder Woman and The Flash from DC. I do think Static Shock would be a good choice, though, he would appeal to younger audiences, even non-comic book ones, they'd check the movie out because he is at least a little familiar to a number of people. If they aren't they would want to know about him.

Steel is a bit lame, Mr. Terrific, I don't know, kind of a hard sell, really, Jon Stewart, meh, Vixen is more eye candy than anything. None of these characters really offer anything in terms of interest in my opinion.

What about Asian characters? Eastern Indian characters? American Indian characters? The list goes on and on. Some comic book fanboys are more worried about races in the movies instead of the characters.

Posted by AMP - Seeker of Lost Knowledge

Static is a good option from Milestone Media. But I have another option.....ICON!

Icon
Posted by cyberninja
Jakeem Thunder
Michael Lane
Posted by Daveyo520

lol, Steel. Anyway, I would say Marvel has a lot better shot at making it happen with one of their heroes.

Posted by TheMess1428

Jaime as Blue Beetle could make a good movie too. But John should be in Green Lantern 2. Since the obvious villain is the Sinestro Corps.

Posted by Mega_spidey01

Azrael was cool in batman arkham city he does remind me of moon knight. maybe they could do a tv show. 
what so awesome about icon? @AMP seeker of lost knowledge  

Posted by Mbecks14

STATIC SHOCK! Static shock movie would be Awesome!

John stewart could/should be a major character in the next lantern film

Posted by NightFang

Static could have his own movie, Steel should be a spin-off Superman movie and G.L. (John Stewart) could have three film after G.L. (Hal Jordan) has his trilogy.

Posted by gumdealer

I've now been reminded of the Steel movie starring Shaq. I wish I could forget it again.

Posted by difficlus

Static and John Stewart FTW!!

Posted by CHSPIDEY

I think that while John Stewart would certainly make an awesome addition to the next Green Lantern movie, I always thought it was a mistake to place Stewart in the Justice League TV show. Before anyone declares me a racist, I'd like to preface by adding I enjoy John's presence in the GL Corps series and his characterization in the aftermath of Rebirth. That being said, Hal (Or Kyle during the late 90's/early 00's) is the primary Lantern, and the one worthy of a film adaptation. Of course, I really hope that eventually the film includes all four Lanterns from Earth.

On the subject of African American superheroes getting film time, I'd love to see The Falcon get an appearance in the next Captain America movie.

Posted by Linked One

A Green Lantern movie with John Steward would be weird, it's like doing a Flash movie but instead of using Wally West, they use Bart Allen, most of the iconic superheros are from the Golden Age of Comics, where the vast majority of them were white, the new heroes are not as prolific and won't make as much money compared to the alternative as a result, I would actually like to see an Asian superhero movie, like Krishna from Supergod.

Posted by RedheadedAtrocitus

Fact is, when it comes down to it, race should not be a precedent in determining which superheroes get to the big screen. It should just be what characters are most popular in comic media. And unfortunately for some of those characters listed I see nothing more than C-list characters represented. John Stewart is a fine character and all but I still see him as taking a back seat to Hal Jordan. Steel is great but yes unfortunately the character already suffers from one flop of a movie coming out; which then begs the idea like you said that maybe a reboot of the origin is needed. Still, Steel I see as B-list at best for a movie. And Static Shock is...well, he's a Dakotaverse character who has a fanbase centered around those who are Dwayne McDuffie and Milestone fans at large (which include me). But for that to be translated to the big screen would be a big leap forward. In the end I guess what I'm saying is I see a hard time for each of these characters trying to get their own movie when a true A-lister like Wonder Woman can't even manage to get a modern 21st century television show. Its just difficult all around right now for superhero movies if you ask me, and if anything race should be the last thing taken into consideration when thinking of which superheroes get said movies. It all comes down to character popularity in the end, because in all honesty while Halle Berry flopped as Catwoman for instance, she pretty much excelled as Ororo Munroe. Food for thought.

Posted by TheOptimist

Honestly, I think the article nailed it off the bat... yes, some of the other mentions would be interesting or fun... but those are the most probably and viable. With each comes the same potential for failure inherent in all superhero films... but as with the positive cinematic memories, the real strength comes not just from the concept but the entire implementation and execution of the idea. Can these heroes make it to the big screen? Yes. But they should be carefully paced and developed to make sure that their debut sticks the landing. There are certainly some good kernels in the article. Now we just need to heat them up for a little pop.