What Warner Bros. Needs To Do To Replicate Black Panther’s Success

What Warner Bros. Needs To Do To Replicate Black Panther’s Success

This week, every movie studio is likely scrambling to figure out how to replicate Black Panther‘s success. As Marvel’s main rival in the realms of comics and movies, all eyes are on Warner Bros, home of the live-action DC superhero movies, in particular. Here’s a pro tip: The answer is not Cyborg. Nor is it John Stewart, the Green Lantern best known from the Justice League animated series. What the WB needs is an Icon.

From left to right: DC heroes Icon, Cyborg, Signal and Vixen. Illustration: DC Comics

Dreamed up by the legendary Dwayne McDuffie in 1993, Icon was a Milestone Media character that provided a clever riff on the Superman concept, and his origin story gives the character the same kind of metaphorical power that Black Panther has. Born to an advanced society in a far-off galaxy, he wound up on Earth after rocketing away from an exploding interstellar starcraft. His escape pod wound up in the Deep South in 19th-century United States, where his DNA imprinted on the first lifeform to approach.


Arnus’ ship lands in the South. Image: DC Comics

The enslaved black woman who found the altered infant inside became the adoptive mother of Augustus Freeman, the identity of the human once known as Arnus. Augustus’ extraterrestrial origins gave him super-strength and energy manipulation abilities that he kept secret over his longer-than-normal lifespan.


Arnus recounts his life on Earth during the Civil War. Image: DC Comics

Augustus grew to be more than a century old, living a life where he fought in the Civil War and rubbed shoulders with luminaries of the Harlem Renaissance in the 1920s. But a tragic loss led him to become a recluse until some underprivileged teens tried to rob his mansion. A display of his powers awes a girl named Raquel, who dreams up the superhero identity of Icon for Augustus. (She would become the superhero Rocket.) He dons a cape and mask once she impresses upon him how much he could inspire the economically disadvantaged black people of Dakota.

Like the fictional country of Wakanda, the character’s mythos gives access to the sweep of black history and the same reservoir of myth that Black Panther taps into so well. Icon began life on Earth as an immigrant unable to assimilate into the upper castes of American life. Even though he isn’t a native of this planet, he still survived and suffered through the brutality and injustices of systemic racism, because he was locked into the form of an African American man. His arc of abandonment and reconciliation with black humanity holds significant metaphorical power, just like Erik Killmonger’s relationship with Wakanda, only he’s a prodigal son who returns as a hero.


Icon argues with the young anti-heroes of the Blood Syndicate. Image: DC Comics

An Icon movie wouldn’t have to hew exactly to the character’s published comics history. That escape pod could land in the African continent or the Caribbean, setting up the start of Augustus’ life somewhere else in the black diaspora. It’d be important to keep Raquel as central to the narrative, though. The stories in Icon were as much about her learning to believe in herself as they were about Augustus reconnecting with his own hybrid humanity. Augustus Freeman is a black man who lived throughout the entire 20th century, meaning filmmakers could put him in World War I, the Civil Rights Movement, or at any other moment where history took big pivots towards greater human rights for all. The big sci-fi plot elements would be easy enough to do, but it’s the payoff that would matter most: A black superhero who has a fraught relationship with his own disenfranchised community saving the world that discriminated against him.


Raquel Ervin presents the idea of Icon to Augustus Freeman. Image: DC Comics

There would be hurdles to jump. While the Milestone Universe of characters was incorporated into the DC Universe in 2008, Milestone Media is its own discrete company with entanglements that would need to reckoned with before Icon could ever come to the silver screen. Besides, the state of affairs in Warner Bros.’ superhero movie division seem to be in constant flux, too. But the potential for success would be huge, and the character could become a foundation for bringing the whole multicultural Milestone Media universe to the silver screen.

Icon is the DC Comics-adjacent character who most approximates the allegorical strengths driving Black Panther‘s cinematic success: He’s someone who is everything black people have been throughout history, a hero that’s been lost, found, and elevated into a symbol for all the world to look up to. As Raquel says when she first enters Augustus’ house, “Whoever lived here had more than money. They had knowledge. They had history. And I wanted it. More than I had ever wanted anything in my life.” Chances are that audiences would feel the same way.


  • No just no stop the sjw bullcrap because it doesn’t matter who the main character is what matters if its good or not

    • And Black Panther is an average film with questionable CGI and a drawn out runtime.

      I agree, make good films.

        • Every time someone makes a succesful movie that isn’t about white men happens, people come out of the woodwork to scream SJW OMFG, so I’d say a lot of people are asking that question.
          I mean there’s like 10% of movies coming out of Hollywood where the star is not a white person and yet there’s a screaming match about the world being choked with SJW bullshit. That’s 90% white people and 10% all the other people, but that’s some kind of hijacking of our media.

      • It doesn’t no. But this article is basically saying that DC/WB should make a black hero now because of BP. Besides Cyborg (And let’s be honest, that’s the one they would make), they’re not going to choose some minor hero.

        And let’s be real here: Icon (Yes, I’ve read his comics) is a Conservative Republican black man. It comes up often. So they’d either not let him speak of politics, which would be a sin, or make him liberal, which would be another sin. Icon isn’t going to be their choice. Ever.

        • What I got from the article is that studios are likely frantically trying to figure out how to make a repeat of Black Panther. So they’re going to be trying to figure out how to make a “black” hero movie. If they are going to make one, they shouldn’t use Cyborg, they should use Icon, instead because *list of reasons*.

          So it’s not coming out of nowhere. We all know that studios are reactionary as hell and they will be trying to get in on this whole afro-scifi deal as soon as possible. Most people would agree (i think) that Cyborg isn’t going to cut it. Now that Marvel has proven you can trot out some seriously obscure characters and build a movie around them (Ant-Man and Black Panther mostly, but also Thor to some extent), Icon seems like a solid candidate. I really don’t think this is a diversity argument, this is an op ed based on the solid assumption that WB is trying to figure out a black man in a suit movie right now.

      • Well it didn’t mention sjw but its its just sjw often complain about how representation matters and what not and people should focus on making good story’s yes you can use black characters but that doesn’t make your work of fiction any better if it was with white people

        • You can have representation matter and also do a good story. Luke Cage is full of references and cultural phenomena I as an Australian white dude don’t really get, but it delivers in spades for a demographic that don’t get a lot of tailored media and is also a really good shown on top. Representation does matter in story telling because it gives a writer access to more perspectives to explore and it gives me, the end consumer, a wider variety of stories.

          Having shows, or any media really, that are created by or for different demographics is good for me as someone that enjoys stories and seeing things I won;t encounter in my lived experience. If that means black people are happy because they’re getting air time and can identify more easily with a character from their diaspora, then that is objectively good as well.

          • Yeah I do agree with you something can be full of black people or women or whatever however that is not what should be the main appeal that it is diverse as possible.

          • Why shouldn’t it be? Why should you tell anyone what they can and can’t like or what they can and can’t produce as art or commerce?

          • People can make these types of fiction, but if they are just if the main appeal is shoving a bunch of black people In my face without it being enjoyable, also its personality’s that and goals that define a character not how they look

          • You realise you need to make a decision to watch the black people face shoving, right? Like you need to get a ticket, then go all the way to the place, watch the face shove for hours… It’s not mandatory.

          • How is a second hero movie (out of like, 30?) that has black people in it shoving it in your face?
            I mean, you can not care, or not want to watch it, or whatever. But it’s not like every movie is now suddenly black-only.
            In 2014, 89.5% of movies made in Hollywood had a white lead actor. That last 10.5% is all other non-white people combined. You’re probably noticing it a lot because there’s a change happening, but it’s really not an avalanche of change. It just seems big because most people don’t notice the things they’re used to.

            I don’t have a link to the study right here, but i remember it was from UCLA. Sorry. I’d link it if I could.

        • first of all, I don’t see Evan complaining. He’s just giving his opinion on how DC can emulate Black Panthers success using a character they will probably overlook.

          Second of all, it’s fantastic that a superhero film directed, written and starring a nearly entirely black cast was so good and successful. No one expected it and it hasn’t been done before. Enjoy that for what it is.

  • Or…….

    They can just make a good movie. The race of the people doesn’t matter.

    Turn everyone in Black Panther white. It’s still a good movie at it’s core. Even the ‘best’ DC movie, Wonder Woman, wasn’t all that great once you got past the “women empowerment garbage”

    • Wonder Woman was great because it wasn’t about all that “woman’s empowerment garbage”
      I expected it to be in your face like Lady Thor and it didn’t even go there once and it made it extremely enjoyable.

      Sounds like you got some personal shit to deal with if that film shrivelled your nuts so bad.

    • Turn everyone in Black Panther white and demolish all of the themes in the film that make it interesting. OK dude, I don’t think you understood the “core” of Black Panther.

    • Wonder Woman was a genuinely well made movie with a plot that made sense, characters had arcs, the action was good, and it had generally good performances all around. It was competently shot, well scored, had a very nice colour palette, and did a good job at leaving the story ready for a sequel.
      It was set in WW1, so there was essentially no “women empowerment garbage” explicitly mentioned at any point. Anything you got from that was in your reading. It was objectively well made and more or less universally critically acclaimed.

      Perhaps your issue is less the movie and more personal.

  • How is it that people don’t think of Blade this fondly? Remember that kickass action film? Made by Marvel and it was gory and violent. You know, had s Black guy with no political statement, just a fun film?

    That’s right, it had no political statement so it’s worthless now.

    DC just needs to make a quality film people will enjoy. Not thrust a social agenda down our throats hoping the warriors will go see it.

    I’m signing off now before people look into my comment for racial undertones. So BLM, you SJW folk and remember Wakander Forever and May the Force be with you.

    • Everything needs some deep and meaningful message these days. Every one wants to be some hero of some cause. You can’t just make a movie any more it has to have multiple parts and expanded universe and some sort of social and political commentary.

    • Because Blade wasn’t that good. I mean, it wasn’t bad. It was the best superhero movie ever made at the time. But it didn’t have the budget or care put into it to make it a big Hollywood action movie.
      It’s like asking why People rave about any modern shooter but nobody talks about Timesplitters anymore. Not a word against it, because it was good. But it was a different thing made for a different time.

  • Black Panther was a good movie that i really enjoyed, but i really don’t understand the hype – it’s a great movie…for a superhero movie, and there are others just as good (like iron man and ragnarok) – There was nothing ground breaking or spectacular about it at all.

    • It’s because it was made with and by black people, and that makes the media go crazy for it. When in fact, it was just a REALLY good movie made by really good writers, actors, directors etc. Iron Man 1 is still my favorite, but BP is probably top 5.

    • Because when black people want to make a movie, they usually only get a green light for “Movie that’s kinda like Friday No.45”.
      A big budget blockbuster made and starring pretty much entirely black people is both groundbreaking and spectacular because it exists.

        • Moonlight isn’t a huge Hollywood production. It’s a queer coming of age indie film that had “Oscar Bait” written all over it. It had a budget of less than $4 million (including advertising) and the cost of it was split between indie company A24 and Brad Pitt’s vanity project company Plan B.

          You might find an exception. I don’t think you will, but even if you do, an all black sci-fi blockbuster being used as a major studio tentpole basically didn’t exist before this.

  • Static Shock would be the clear choice, but Black Lightning would likely create too much power overlap; which is unfortunate.

    Not really sure how you would do Icon without making him more palatable to what people want to see in a super hero movie these days, though some centre right heroes wouldn’t exactly be unwelcome.

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