The world got its first taste of an African superhero in a big budget Hollywood blockbuster this weekend with Chadwick Boseman playing T’Challa/Black Panther. Captain America: Civil War was a brief albeit memorable introduction to the Wakanda king and protector. In 2018 we’ll get a standalone Black Panther movie starring Boseman and directed by Creed’s Ryan Coogler. A Black Panther comic book series reboot is also in the works from the pen of Ta-Nehisi Coates.
Most don’t realize that Storm aka Ororo Munroe from the X-Men and occasionally Fantastic Four and Avengers series hails from royal Kenyan lineage. At one point in the Marvel comics she and Black Panther get married, making her queen consort of Wakanda for a brief time.
Black Panther and Storm might be the most high profile African superheros, but they certainly aren’t the only ones. Slowly but surely a comic book scene is rising on the continent, and with it an entirely new universes of crimefighters, do-gooders and villains steeped in African traditions.
Though hailing from different corners of the world, these superheroes have at least one major origin story in common: they all come from the brilliant minds of young and driven creatives on the continent and throughout the diaspora.
Below, we get to know some of the most exciting African superheroes.
Oya: Rise Of The Orishas
Imagine if the Orishas were present-day superheroes. British-Nigerian filmmaker Nosa Igbinedion did exactly that. His Oya: Rise of the Orishas reimagines the West African deities as a band of crusaders fighting against evil forces.
After debuting a 12-minute teaser version of the film online last year, Igbinedion and his team have also begun work on a full feature-length film set in modern-day Brazil. The film stars Esosa E (An African City) as Adesuwa, a shy barmaid struggling to survive in Rio. Her world is turned upside down when she discovers she is the reincarnated fiery goddess of storms, Oya.
Rise of the Orisha will be the first in a trilogy of films about the Orisha superheroes. They’ll be set in a fictional shared Orisha universe. A web series, Yemoja: Rise of the Orisha, will serve as a precursor to the feature-length film.
“It’s a huge responsibility to take this ancient culture of Orisha and portray them onscreen; we are trying to make these supernatural deities relatable to audiences while staying true to the initial mythology” says Igbinedion. He adds “I have been working on this rich universe of characters for some time so I am admittedly very precious about casting, but Esosa embodies the character of Oya in a way that just feels right. I am excited to work with such great collaborators and give birth to this new world.”
South Africa’s Teen Superhero: Kwezi
The brainchild of designer, illustrator and fine artist Loyiso Mkize, Kwezi (which means “star” in Xhosa and Zulu) tells the coming-of-age story of a 19-year-old South African kid who discovers he has superhuman abilities. The action is set amid the hustle of Gold City, a fictional metropolis modeled after Johannesburg, where young Kwezi is portrayed as a cocky anti-hero obsessed with selfies and Twitter. Initially fueled by attention from his adoring online fans, he soon finds out that his powers come with a cultural responsibility.
“We have never had a superhero that looks like us and speaks like us and shares the same experiences and environment as us,” Mkize tells Design Indaba of his motivation to champion a distinctly South African story. “Comic books in South Africa are still at crawling stage. The market hasn’t been tapped into and activated… As someone who is passionate about comics and the power of comics I see it as a challenge to overcome.”
In a more recent conversation with Percy Zvomuya, Mkize mentions “That jump from reading about X-Men to reading about a South African superhero brings the fantasy closer home.”
Issue #4 of Kwezi is coming soon. Keep up with the series on Facebook.
Africa’s Avengers: The Vanguards
Comic Republic is a Lagos-based startup actively working to promote the growth of Nigeria’s comic industry with their uniquely African superheroes.
CEO Jide Martin and his team launched the platform in 2013. At the time, they felt there were few quality comics coming out of Africa, as well as a decline in comic book reading culture on the continent.
Spotlighting kickass women action heroes is one of their missions. “There is a lack of female heroes in the African scene in general,” says the company’s head of marketing and corporate communications, Eduvie Oyaide. “Girls don’t have heroines to look up to these days, rather they have celebrities of questionable character. What you end up with is a generic stereotype of the female gender. Girls are seen to others as delicate roses, and we say yes, females are roses, but roses have thorns and roses are tough not delicate. We wanted female characters that would become icons to the African girl growing up to give them something to aspire to that they too can be heroes and it’s not an all male field.”
Their Vanguards, which some fans have likened to “Africa’s Avengers,” features all of their superheroes together in one comic. And according to Ezeogu, the series sets out to show how the group came together to fulfill theirs dreams for a “better safer Africa.”
A new issue of the Vanguards series is due out later this year. Keep up with all things Comic Republic via Facebook.
Nigeria’s Newest Superhero: EXO aka Wale Williams
E.X.O. – The Legend of Wale Williams centers around a young Nigerian man who returns home to investigate his inventor father’s disappearance in a country overrun with corrupt leaders and robotic exoskeletal drones known as DREDS.
Set a decade in the future in the Lagos Island-inspired Lagoon City, part one of the superhero series sees Wale Williams inheriting a Nanosuit which gives him superhuman abilities that he uses to protect the city from The C.R.E.E.D, a radical extremist organization that aims to eradicate Lagoon City’s “myopic government.”
Lagos-born digital animator and YouNeek Studios founder Roye Okupe began developing the project after noticing a lack of characters with African origins that fans of the genre could relate to.
“We have so many people with a wealth of creative and appealing stories on the continent, but they never really get the proper commercial exposure” Okupe says of his mission to put Africa on the map when it comes to telling superhero stories. “I myself experienced this when I approached investors and distributors. I was told it was a great idea, but there was no fan base for this sort of product. But I refuse to believe that. I believe if done properly (great script, good production values etc.), Nigerians, Africans and people all over the world will be receptive. We don’t necessarily love characters like Superman, Batman or Spider-Man because of their place of origin. We love them because they have great stories we can identify with. That’s why I took my time (5 years so far) in developing the story and characters. My hope is that EXO fulfills my lifelong goal of adding something unique to the superhero genre.”
Part 1 of E.X.O. is available for purchase over at YouNeek Studios. Look for part 2 due out in July. Okupe is currently working on his next graphic novel about a warrior queen in a sixteenth century African kingdom. Sign up for updates on Malika here.
From University Of Lagos Student To Yoruba-Inspired Superhero: Strike Guard
From their home base of Lagos, Vortex Comics are sowing the seeds of Nigeria’s comic book scene with their uniquely African fantasy take on the superhero story.
Their flagship hero, Strike Guard, is inspired by Yoruba spiritual traditions. As Vortex legend has it, fictional University of Lagos student Ayodele Elegbahe is murdered and dumped into the grave of the Yoruba deity Ajagbeja. He has the chance to come back to life with Ajagbeja’s spirit using his body as a host. Young Ayodele agrees and becomes a Lagos crimefighter.
“This is the story of Strike Guard the superhero, but this is also the story of Ajagbeja, the traditional deity in Yoruba culture,” says Somto Ajuluchukwu, Vortex’s Creative Director.