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The Black history of Marvel Comics

Stan Lee, widely regarded as a comic book revolutionary, found inspiration from many sources and went on to create gods and heroes of all types. Specifically, Lee looked at the society of his time, taking on controversies and issues in the pages of his books.

Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, long time collaborators of Marvel comics.
Stan Lee and Jack Kirby were long time collaborators of Marvel Comics. Photo credit: Coby Crisler

Black History Walks, a company based in the UK dedicated to delivering diverse and engaging educational experiences, hosted an online event discussing Stan Lee’s history and his “hidden” politics on Feb. 11.

Tony Warner, founder of BHW, opened the event with a brief look at Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s origins in the comic industry. Both men were Jewish and would go on to change their last names, Lieber and Kurtzberg.

Kirby and Lee took on many issues within the origins of their heroes, including the creation of the Hulk. His powers originated from radiation exposure, and his first comic issues were published not long after the U.S. dropped two atomic bombs on Japan, when it was still unknown what the effects of the radiation might be.

The Marvel comic book character Black Panther takes inspiration from Mansa Musa, the richest man to ever live.
The Marvel comic book character Black Panther takes inspiration from Mansa Musa, the richest man to ever live. Photo credit: Coby Crisler

“They took that fear of radiation and made it into a kind of a comical character,” Warner said.

Similarly, the X-Men, created in 1963, were created as a commentary and a metaphor for the civil rights movement.

“It not only made them different, but it was a good metaphor for what was happening with the civil rights movement in the country at that time,” Lee said to The Guardian in August 2000.

Because of their ties to politics and current events, people found comfort and joy in experiencing them both when they were on the page and when they came to life on the silver screen.

Depiction of the ancient king Mansa Munsa.
The ancient king Mansa Munsa is considered to be the richest person to ever live. Photo credit: Coby Crisler

“Those movies were about civil rights, unfair treatment, discrimination,” Warner said.

Guest speaker Andrew Muhammad, Black history and culture specialist, spoke on the history tied into the comic book character the Black Panther and the fictional country of Wakanda.

“Black Panther himself was the richest superhero in the Marvel universe,” Muhammad said. “There was a real man in history that stemmed out of Africa, which, according to all historians, all economists, all finances, is still the richest man who ever lived on planet Earth. And that is Mansa Musa.”

Even the elite group of warrior women seen in the comics and movies came from the rich history of Africa based on a female group of warriors in the kingdom of Dahomey, known as the Dahomey Amazons.

Marvel Comic and Marvel Studios versions of the Dora Milaje.
Both Marvel Comics and Marvel Studios have versions of the Dora Milaje. Photo credit: Coby Crisler

While Lee and Kirby often based their comics on real politics and current events, everyone who attended found themselves immersed in the rich history of just how much Marvel owes to Black history and communities.

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Coby Crisler
Coby Crisler, Culture reporter

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