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The Black Knights: Meet the Black Heroes of Gotham City

The Black Knights: Meet the Black Heroes of Gotham City

By Alex Jaffe Thursday, February 25th, 2021

The Next Batman has officially arrived. Between DC Future State, John Ridley’s upcoming The Next Batman limited series, and his just debuted The Next Batman: Second Son digital first series, 2021 is shaping up to be the year we all get to know Tim Fox, the young man donning the most storied cape in crusading. But while Tim may be the first Black hero to work front and center as Batman, he’s not the first to fight the injustice and corruption which has defined so much of Gotham’s history. As we wind down Black History Month, let’s take a look back at the Black heroes who have kept the streets of Gotham safe when even Batman couldn’t do it alone.


Eric Needham
Codename: Black Spider
First Appearance: Detective Comics #463, 1976

The first Black crimefighter in Gotham City was also one of the DC Universe’s first bona fide antiheroes. As a recovering heroin user whose life was ruined by his addiction, Eric Needham has vowed to exterminate the illegal drug trade in Gotham by any means necessary to ensure that no one else would befall his fate—though the lengths to which he’ll go to accomplish this tend to run him afoul of the Dark Knight.


Lucius Fox
Codename: None
First Appearance: Batman #307, 1979

Lucius Fox may never have taken to the streets to fight crime in a suit and a codename, but he’s been an essential part of Batman’s operation for decades. From 1979 until the 2000s, Lucius’s main role was to keep Wayne Enterprises afloat so that Bruce’s coffers could stay full for his night work—but starting with 2006’s Batman Begins, Lucius started taking a more active role in the Batman project as his lead R&D man. And since Alfred’s death in “City of Bane,” Lucius has been Batman’s closest ally as the man behind the Batcomputer.


Maxine Gibson
Codename: Max
First Appearance: Batman Beyond, “Splicers,” 1999

Season 2 of the hit animated series Batman Beyond expanded the cast by introducing us to Max Gibson, technology whiz and platonic best friend to Terry McGinnis. Max’s cool head and great intelligence made her a worthy ally to Terry both in and out of costume, even earning the respect and confidence of Old Man Bruce Wayne himself.


Gavin King
Codename: Orpheus
First Appearance: Batman: Orpheus Rising #1, 2001

Gavin King was the first hero to arise in the Hill, a notorious, predominantly Black neighborhood in Gotham City infamous for its tendency to be overlooked by not just the police, but Batman himself. Trained as both a professional dancer and a martial artist, Gavin King took up protection of the Hill himself as Orpheus, and for a few years even worked with Batman to infiltrate the areas of the city where he couldn’t…until he was killed in the 2004 “War Games” event by Black Mask.


Onyx Adams
Codename: Onyx
First Appearance: Detective Comics #485, 1985
First Appearance in Gotham City: Detective Comics #795, 2004

Onyx was originally trained by the League of Assassins, but left them to pursue her own path. Early in her crimefighting career, Onyx worked with Green Arrow and Black Canary in Star City, but was called upon by Batman to assist Orpheus as they began their working relationship. After Orpheus was killed in “War Games,” Onyx took over his role in protecting the Hill. Onyx was one of the few crimefighters Batman trusted to operate in Gotham under his watch, and one of the few martial artists who could keep up with Cassandra Cain in a sparring match. Occasionally, Oracle was known to call on her as an affiliate of the Birds of Prey. In the Post-Flashpoint era, however, Onyx has reverted to her role as a supporting character to Green Arrow, something that was nodded to in her appearance on TV’s Arrow (above).


Crispus Allen
Codename: The Spectre
First Appearance: Detective Comics #742, 2000
First Appearance as the Spectre: Infinite Crisis Aftermath: The Spectre #1, 2006

Crispus Allen was one of the finest policemen in the GCPD, and among the very few trusted by Commissioner Gordon in his hand-selected Major Crimes Unit. Throughout the award-winning Gotham Central series, Allen was partnered with Renee Montoya, until he was shot in the line of duty. But a vacancy for the host body of the Spectre made Allen a prime candidate for the Spirit of Vengeance, elevating this Gotham City detective to one of the most powerful beings in the universe.


Michael Lane
Codename: Azrael
First Appearance: Batman #665, 2007

Originally, the avenging Azrael was an operative for the Order of St. Dumas, an ancient cult-like organization which became entangled with Batman during the tenure of their modern Azrael, Jean-Paul Valley. But after Valley’s death, a rival organization known as the Order of Purity selected an Azrael of their own—Michael Lane, a former GCPD cop driven to the brink of insanity by Doctor Simon Hurt. Equipped with the Suit of Sorrows, Michael Lane embarked on a zealous quest to pursue moral justice in an ever-maddening Gotham while attempting to hold on to his remaining stability. Michael Lane would go on to appear as Azrael in the Batman: Arkham video game series.


David Zavimbe
Codename: Batwing
First Appearance: Batman Incorporated #5, 2011

Hailing from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, David Zavimbe was one of the first recruits in the ambitious Batman Incorporated attempt to franchise the Batman operation throughout the planet…though David was given the unenviable task of protecting all of Africa, which was frankly the mother of all raw deals. David did show up in Gotham from time to time during his two-year tenure when needed, but with all that strain, it’s understandable why he’d hang up the cowl after nineteen issues of his own series. I don’t know if you’ve heard, Bruce, but Africa is, like, really, really big.


Lucas Fox
Codename: Batwing
First Appearance: Batwing #19, 2013

The Next Batwing, as it were, was the eldest son of Lucius Fox, a brilliant engineer in his own right as well as a formidable MMA fighter. With a state-of-the-art mech suit that reads as the midpoint between Bruce’s own and the Batman Beyond suit of the future, Luke Fox kept things simple by restricting his operations to Gotham. Since he began his work as Batwing, Luke Fox has started his own tech company, and even struck up a brief romance with Barbara Gordon. He was also the most likely candidate to be John Ridley’s “Next Batman” while the rumors of his identity were still swirling, until Ridley surprised us all by bringing back the Fox Family’s forgotten son.


Duke Thomas
Codename: The Signal
First Appearance: Batman #21, 2013

Duke Thomas isn’t just one of Batman’s latest allies—he’s also, technically, one of the first. In Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo’s Batman: Zero Year, a young Duke Thomas works with a nascent Batman to take down the tyrannical reign of the Riddler as he holds Gotham City in his grasp. Years later, Duke would take a front and center role in the unauthorized crimefighting youth group known as “We Are Robin” during Batman’s disappearance in 2015…and, after discovering his own metahuman powers over light and shadow, now operates as Gotham’s daytime protector in the role of the Signal.


Nissa
Codename: Batgirl
First Appearance: Batman Beyond Unlimited #18, 2013

This “Batgirl Beyond” was first introduced in the digital Batman Beyond Unlimited comic series, continuing the adventures of the original cartoon. Not much is known about Nissa, including her last name, but hey, going all the way back to Betty Kane and Barbara Gordon, Batgirls have rarely ever operated with the permission or knowledge of Batman himself.


Julia Pennyworth
Codename: Penny-Two
First Appearance: Detective Comics #501, 1981
First Appearance as a Black Woman: Batman #28, 2014

Julia Pennyworth, aka Julia Remarque, aka Julia Perry, is Alfred Pennyworth’s only daughter. In Bronze Age Batman comics, her mother was the French special agent Mademoiselle Marie, but we know less about her modern origins apart from the fact that she worked for British special intelligence when Batman first encountered her and that her mother was apparently a woman of color. As “Penny-Two,” Julia has worked with both Batman and Batwoman alike as their computer operative while they’re out in the field, but she took off to parts unknown after an altercation with Batwoman sometime near the end of her 2017 series. Curiously, Julia was absent from Alfred’s funeral service after “City of Bane.” Must have been busy, I guess.


Helena Bertinelli
Codename: Huntress
First Appearance: Huntress #1, 1989
First Appearance as a Black Woman: Nightwing #30, 2014

Since she first appeared in 1989, Helena Bertinelli has been one of Gotham’s most iconic crimefighters. Hunting down organized crime one crossbolt at a time, Helena was the daughter of a prominent mafia boss herself before her entire family was massacred by a messy hit job. After a prolonged absence in the dawning years of the New 52, Helena was reintroduced in 2014 as part of a Black Sicilian family, and eventually returned to Gotham as a member of the Birds of Prey.


Frankie Charles
Codename: Operator
First Appearance: Batgirl #35, 2014

Who Oracles for Oracle? In the “Batgirl of Burnside” era of Barbara Gordon’s career, the answer to that question was Frankie Charles, Barbara’s Burnside apartment roommate who joined up with her fight against crime after working for the sinister dating app “Hooq.” A muscular disorder required Frankie to get around on crutches, but that was no impediment to her technical ability assisting Batgirl out on the field.


Tiffany Fox
Codename: Batgirl
First Appearance: Batman #308, 1979
First Appearance as Batgirl: Batgirl: Futures End #1, 2014

Tiffany was the next of Lucius Fox’s offspring to take up a costume, and, like Tim, would do so in a series about the future of Gotham. In Batgirl: Futures End, the young Tiffany Fox is one of three active Batgirls alongside the likes of Cassandra Cain and Stephanie Brown, all working under the auspices of Barbara Gordon. Though Tiffany as she’s seen today is still too young to fight crime on her own, she plays a significant role by Batman’s side in the 2017 Telltale video game Batman: The Enemy Within.


Tina Sung
Codename: Batman 3000
First Appearance: Justice League 3001 #5, 2015

Who says you have to be a man to be Batman? In Justice League 3001, distant Bruce Wayne descendant Tina Sung decides to take up her millennium-spanning legacy as the Batman of the 31st Century. In this series all about the folly of revisiting old patterns in a rapidly changing society, heroes like Tina stand as representation of a way forward.


Gus Yale
Codename: Oracle
First Appearance: Batgirl and the Birds of Prey: Rebirth #1, 2016

Who Oracles for Oracle? Wait, I think I asked that already… Well, in the Rebirth era for the Birds of Prey, it was Gus Yale, the #1 fan of the original Oracle, who took up Barbara’s work when she returned to service as Batgirl. Gus spent a few missions computer-jockeying for the Birds, until he was tortured and killed by Burnrate, an agent of Oracle’s nemesis Calculator.


Barbara Gordon
Codename: Batgirl
First Appearance: Detective Comics #359, 1967
First Appearance as a Black Woman: The Lego Batman Movie, 2017

Fifty years after her comic book debut, Barbara Gordon transitioned into theaters in the unlikeliest of mediums—as a supporting character and potential romantic interest to a tiny plastic version of Batman in The Lego Batman Movie. Though she had been white for half a century, Barbara was recast to match the skintone of her voice actress, the ever-talented Rosario Dawson, who claims Afro-Cuban heritage along with her Puerto Rican, Irish and Native American roots.


Ryan Wilder
Codename: Batwoman
First Appearance: Batgirl #50, 2020

Ryan Wilder is one of DC’s biggest rising stars, as the new lead in season two of The CW’s Batwoman. Like Gotham’s first Black crimefighter, Ryan’s life was turned upside-down by Gotham City’s drug trade. As Batwoman. she will do everything in her power to keep anyone else from meeting her fate…even if that means taking down Alice, her predecessor’s twin sister.


Dana Harlowe
Codename: Strike
First Appearance: Red Hood #51-52, 2020

Onyx may no longer be a Gotham resident, but the Hill remains protected. In Shawn Martinbrough and Tony Akins’ Red Hood #51-52, Jason Todd returns to the Hill to find a team of street-level motocross outfit wearing vigilantes looking after their own—not the least of which is Dana Harlowe, one of Jason’s oldest friends from the days before he was picked off the street by Batman. These two issues allowing us to get reacquainted with the Hill were some of the best of 2020’s Gotham-set stories and we’re hoping to see more of Dana and her Strike team in the future.


Timothy Fox
Codename: The Next Batman
First Appearance: Batman #313, 1979
First Appearance as Batman: Future State: The Next Batman #1, 2021

Tim Fox is the first of Lucius’s sons to appear in comics, but hasn’t been on the scene in quite some time. Timothy and Lucius had a rocky relationship through his scant appearances in the Bronze Age. But as readers of John Ridley’s The Other History of the DC Universe know, no stone is left unturned in his exploration of DC’s Black history. The return of this forgotten son came as a surprise to every Batman fan when his identity was revealed, but we’ll be getting to know a lot more about this Second Son in 2021.


Selina Kyle
Codename: Catwoman
First Appearance: Batman #1, 1940
First Appearance as a Black Woman: Batman, “Catwoman’s Dressed to Kill,” 1967
First Ambiguous Appearance as a Black Hero: Batman #404, 1987
Potential First Definite Appearance as a Black Hero: The Batman, 2022

We’ll cap off this list with two questions: is Catwoman a hero and is Catwoman Black? Selina Kyle’s first appearance as a Black woman was Eartha Kitt’s unforgettable performance as the felonious feline in season three of the Batman TV series starring Adam West. But as a tumultuous love interest to Batman, Selina has toyed with the line of morality for nearly as long as she’s existed. Though rough around the edges, one instance where Catwoman fights on the side of righteousness is in Frank Miller and Dave Mazzucchelli’s Batman: Year One. But the art by Mazzucchelli and colors by Richmond Lewis on Selina in this seminal story have left generations of Batman fans wondering whether Selina was meant to be drawn as a Black woman in this scene, or just appears that way. In 2004, Black actress Halle Berry plays Catwoman in her eponymous film, but is neither Selina Kyle nor a resident of Gotham City.

Will Zoë Kravitz’s upcoming role in 2022’s The Batman be the first definite appearance of a Black, heroic Catwoman in Gotham City? We’ll be waiting all year long to find out…but in the meantime, we can enjoy the Future State of a Black Batman right now in the many works of John Ridley through 2021.
 

So, who's your favorite Black Gotham City hero? Which ones would you like to see more of? Share your thoughts with us over in the DC Community!

Alex Jaffe is the author of our monthly "Ask the Question" column and writes about TV, movies, comics and superhero history for DCComics.com. Follow him on Twitter at @AlexJaffe and find him in the DC Community as HubCItyQuestion.