Looking at All-Negro Comics #1.
(AfroGamers.com) All-Negro Comics #1–the first and only issue–is a legend in Blerd comic book circles. Published in 1947, most of the stories weren’t particularly good but it is all on the weight being the first ever Black financed, written, and drawn comic book ever. It was an anthology magazine that featured several stories.
The other thing to note here is that for that period in time, there were a ton of comic anthology magazines out. From romance to hard boiled crime fiction to horror, if you had a specific thing you wanted to read, there was a comic for it. Unless you were Black and brown then forget that.
Also during this time, superheroes were just about done beating up on Nazis and destroying U-boats. For the superheroes who didn’t participate in helping the Allies win World War II, they were at home in the U.S. fighting…bank robbers and mad scientists.
The bank robber part was always odd to me. You have super strength, super speed, and bullets bounce off you but you’re full force walloping bank robbers. Don’t you have a similarly powerful villain or some jerk with a death ray to fight?
I mean, someone has to stop bank robbers but you don’t need a whole superhero to concuss them then tomahawk slam them into a mailbox like oh so much NBA Jam. That’s destruction of city property, Black Death.
Same thing goes for some guy named Bruce dressed as flying rabies fighting crime in a city that doesn’t get sunlight. He’s just busy knocking street criminals in dumpsters and trash cans between fighting actual threats.
Anyway, back to All Negro Comics #1. Now, I would normally say “Ehh, let’s just get into the interesting stories,” but that would be robbing you of the whole thing. Then again, it would be saving you from the boring portions. Decisions, decisions.
This guy was basically your stock hard boiled detective, only Black. In his story, he investigates a robbery committed by two hepcats–basically, two cool dudes in zoot suits. They think they’ve gotten away with the robbery but Ace Harlem has already sniffed them out and is off to get them.
The two robbers bicker and one ends up killed. You could say that escalated but this story is only six to eight pages long. Ace steps into this ratty building that is one gas leak from being condemned and the stairs fall in. He manages to save himself when the other robber shows up.
This guy figures “If I kill Ace Harlem I’ll be big down at the criminal hole-in-the-wall!” He runs down to kill Ace but end up getting tangled up in a dangling rope and hanging himself. What a lackluster ending. Harlem didn’t even have to pop someone with his expert fighting skills.
I’m just assuming they were expert-level skills. Most detectives happen to be beasts with their fists. Dick Tracy and The Spirit could both rumble if needed. Those detective hooks were vicious.
So ends Ace Harlem, the best private eye in New York, apparently.
Lion Man and Bubba
Now we get to what could be considered the superhero story of All-Negro Comics. Lion Man is an academic standout and all-star athlete in college. He is sent by the U.N. to protect a massive uranium deposit in Africa.
Now there are some things here. How did they decide on this guy in particular? “What Black college student can we uproot from his studies to protect this uranium? This guy here!” Also, where on the Gold Coast did they send him. How did Lion Man meet Bubba? Who named him Lion Man and who named Bubba?
I don’t expect 1940s comics to be specific or anything but there are so many questions. This is why there should’ve been multiple issues or it should’ve been picked up in modern times. Comic book writing has gotten so much better that Lion Man and Ace Harlem would’ve had deep stories.
Of course, there could be the risk of Lion Man being considered a Black Panther rip-off. The only things they have in common is that they’re athletically gifted, college educated, and they protect precious resources from invaders and poachers.
In Lion Man’s adventure, he’s dealing with poachers after the uranium and manages to defeat them with the help of Bubba.
Those are the two stories of note in All-Negro Comics #1. There wasn’t much to the Lion Man and Bubba story at all. Like Ace Harlem, it was meant as an introduction to the characters. Orrin Cromwell Evans and crew had every intent of doing more with their characters but were froze out of being able to print more.
While it cost more than other comics at the time at 15-cents, it had a fanbase. The problem more than likely came from other publishers not wanting All-Negro Comics, Inc. to cut into a potential fanbase for them. When you consider that other publishers started doing comics to reel in Black audiences, there could be some weight to that theory.
It’s just a shame that over 70 years later and the rights to All-Negro Comics are floating in the public domain. While it’s great that the comic can be experienced for free as a result, the characters of Ace Harlem and Lion Man are languishing. It they couldn’t be used in comic form then they should really be in pulp adventure novels–especially since those are making a comeback of sorts.
Staff Writer; M. Swift
This talented writer is also a podcast host, and comic book fan who loves all things old school. One may also find him on Twitter at; metalswift.