The Black Marvel hits the cover his first time out. Artist: Alex Schomburg.

THE BLACK MARVEL

Medium: Comic books
Published by: Marvel Comics
First Appeared: 1941
Creators: Unknown writer and Al Gabrielle, artist
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Marvel Comics has been doing superheroes since November, 1939, when the simultaneous introductions of The Human Torch, The Submariner and The Angel thrust them squarely in that market. It was only a year later that they introduced their first with the word "Marvel" in his name (Marvel Boy, not the same Marvel Boy who came ten years later), and since then there's been …

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… an unending stream of them. Marvel Girl, Captain Marvel, Ms. Marvel and more have all flowed from that company in the decades since.

The Black Marvel was a very early one, coming along years before "Marvel" was even used to identify the company itself. He debuted in Mystic Comics #5 (March, 1941), one of a vast number of minor heroes they threw against the wall during that decade, that didn't stick. This one was created by an unknown writer (who many people believe was Stan Lee himself, the writer/editor behind the 1960s Marvel renaissance) and artist Al Gabrielle (who also worked at Harvey Comics, Fiction House and elsewhere).

The Black Marvel was Dan Lyons, the son of a man who, many years earlier had saved the life of a chief of the Black Feet (sic) Indians. With gratitude spanning generations, the chief's son, now chief in his own right (and on his deathbed) gave Dan a chance to compete with their braves to see who would carry on the tribe's great traditions. By outrunning a deer, outswimming a school of salmon, scoring perfectly in archery even while blindfolded, catching arrows shot at him by others, and finally wrestling a bear to death, he won the right to wear a fancy costume, call himself The Black Marvel, and spend his life righting wrongs. He also won a nice bow, which he was instructed to put a new notch in for each wrong he righted.

Apparently, this was a long-running tradition with The Black Feet. (The writer might have been thinking of the historical Blackfoot Federation, but the name wasn't the only thing he got wrong.) A text story in the same issue had a Black Feet rescue a white family from Comanches, while wearing black war paint. While not precisely named, he was at least vaguely identified as sort of a black marvel. The text story character has been called Marvel's first non-Caucasian superhero, but others think it takes a major stretch of the imagination to call him that.

Mystic Comics then dropped off the schedule for several months, but when it came back, The Black Marvel was still there. He remained there until the ninth issue (May, 1942), but #5 was his only cover appearance. While this was going on, he turned up in All Winners Comics #1 (Summer, 1941), the title that later fielded The All Winners Squad.

Of course, he was brought back. All Marvel superheroes are brought back. But in his case, it took until 1995, when he was seen in the modern world with Captain America. He didn't get active again until December, 1998, when he founded a team of younger superheroes, called Slingers. He was killed off there, but that isn't always effective in getting rid of superheroes unless, like this one, they excite no reader interest.

But he was part of a minor contingent of '40s Marvel characters who turned up in a 1998 episode of Spider-Man's TV show. "Six Forgotten Heroes" also brought back The Destroyer, The Thunderer, The Whizzer, Captain and Miss America. His name was changed to Omar Mosley, but he was otherwise similar. His voice was done by Paul Winfield, mostly a face actor, who was also heard in Batman, The Simpsons and Batman Beyond.

So far, The Black Marvel remains dead.

— DDM

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Text ©2007-20 Donald D. Markstein. Art © Marvel Comics.