A couple of years ago, I wrote a post about "How to Make Cyborg as Popular as Power Girl or Green Arrow", with the intention of showing anyone who would read it the potential that Cyborg could have in the DC universe. It seems that someone at DC paid attention, and it seems that some of my ideas will be put into use.
Now it's Marvel's turn. Marvel already has a Black popularity powerhouse in Storm, who is now on both the Avengers and the X-Men, but there's always been some sort of demand for a popular Black male hero, and in many ways Marvel has tried to capitalize on it. But I don't think that they've done it in the right way.
So what's wrong with the Black male heroes that Marvel has tried to push so far? Let's take a look:
Luke Cage has seen a surge in popularity in recent years mostly due to Brian Michael Bendis's love for the character. He's been developed very well, but he'll never be an A-lister like Captain America for a few reasons. His origin is too tied to his time in jail, which racially charges the character. He's born of a blaxploitation stereotype, which make him hard for some people to accept. It also make him difficult to adapt to other forms of media. There's a reason Marvel Studios doesn't seem to be trying to include him on the Avengers franchise and why he was left off the Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes series.
Miles is growing into a personal favorite of mine, but experience has taught me not to get too attached. He will eventually suffer from John Stewart/War Machine-itis. Spin-off characters are always eclipsed. He'll always be in the shadow of a more popular character with a longer history. He's lucky in that he's the only Spider-Man of his universe and that, but I don't see him getting the kind of movie/cartoon push that Peter Parker or other Marvel characters have gotten unfortunately. Plus 616 is and will remain more relevant the 1610 for years to come. No one is buying 2099 books or A-Next books or AoA books anymore, are they? I'll still be buying his stories and hoping that I'm wrong though!
Black Panther has plenty of strengths and weaknesses as evidenced by his stream of cancelled solo books. He has a rich history. He's the only Black character who can pull off having the word "black" in his name. And his power level is just about where is should be for a team player in the Marvel Universe. He has wide name recognition across multiple media platforms, and he's got interesting abilities. His issue is in his heritage. Characters of different genders, races, and sexual orientations are created to either further a story or to appeal to a non-traditional audience. Black Panther is an American comic book character created to appeal to Blacks--mostly. But he's got qualities that make him difficult to relate to. Instead of being just African, her should have been African American like the people he was probably created to relate to. I don't think too many Africans are reading American comics in Africa. Even if they were, they couldn't relate to his highly fictionalized version of Africa. The next issue is that he's a prince. Not just a wealthy person, but also a prince. That type of thing only works if you're working with a fantasy character like Thor or Hercules. Again--not relate-able.
The Black character with the most potential but the most obvious problems. Seriously, this situation is worse than Aquaman, but it can be redeemed! Personality-wise he's a perfect fit for the Avengers or some other super team. He's very like-able and many writers can write him well. His hurdles are his powers and costume. He can fly and communicate with birds. Really? There are so many more useful fliers and bird-talking is the complete opposite of interesting. Plus, his costume is atrocious. What he has working for him is both his hero and secret identities are well known to Marvel fans, he's like-able, he's got espionage and hand-to-hand skills, and he's a mature character. Falcon was retconned to have a criminal record but that can be ignored and it mostly has been.
So now the question is: how do we make the Falcon an A-list character?
The answer is that you don't. You make Sam Wilson an A-list character. Marvel characters trade and change identities all the time, but it doesn't make them any less popular. Look at Clint Barton (Hawkeye, Goliath, Ronin, etc.), Hank Pym (Giant-Man, Ant-Man, Wasp, etc.), and Danny Rand (Iron Fist, Daredevil). The first step is giving Sam an identity with more name recognition. I'm thinking Black Panther. This make the Black Panther more relevant and more use-able for team books. Sam has the training to take up the identity. If he's part of the Avengers, you have to find a way to further differentiate him from Captain America (the skilled fighter), Daredevil (the skilled tracker), and Hawkeye (the skilled marksmen). The answer to this is to make him the stealth guy by giving him the power to turn invisible the way he does in the 1610 universe or the way that Miles Morales can. This would open up plenty of possibilities for the Marvel Universe and the Avengers.