There weren't a lot of black superheroes for the first 30 years or so of comics history. Comics, like mainstream society itself, were rather all-white and racism was pretty casually thrown around. It was the times, but it was an era where a book like "All-Negro Comics" could be published without irony. Until the comics version of Barack Obama came along. The character who's smooth, cool and collected, always prepared -- and no, he's not Batman.
Who: The Black Panther, who debuted in Fantastic Four #52 in 1966 -- and became the first major black superhero in American comic books. (The name has no link to the real-life militant political group.)
What: King of the fictional African nation of Wakanda, T'Challa is the latest in a long line of rulers of the tribe and heir to the powers of the 'Panther god.'
Why I dig: Come on, he's the KING, a superhero, and he's like Obama, Shaft and Lando Calrissian combined. The Black Panther was the black superhero, but in the majority of his stories, he's rarely been any kind of token. He's worked side-by-side with the Fantastic Four and the Avengers, married the X-Men's Storm, and always kept an ultra-cool, dignified and sometimes arrogant regal aura about himself. I love the extremely simple design of his costume, which first caught my eye around age 9 or so, but the character's sincere appeal is in how he breaks barriers without making a fuss about it. He's a hero on his own terms.
The Panther's peak came with Christopher Priest's masterful, complexly plotted run in the 1990s in his solo title. Priest's T'Challa is shown as both a hero and a calculating, imperious monarch, tangling with some of the Marvel universe's top figures and often coming out ahead. For a "second-tier" character The Black Panther has had a pretty decent run in solo titles -- a saga by Don McGregor in the 1970s' rather dated-titled "Jungle Action" is superb.