Tag Archives: comic book publishing history

Lobo the first Black Superhero by John Goodrich

Ah Lobo, the last of the Czarnians, the Main Man, Spanish for wolf, but the only thing hispanic about him was his Danny Trejo inspired facial hair. Created by Roger Slifer and Keith Giffen, the alien bounty hunter with an attitude first rode the cosmos of the DC Universe in 1983’s The Omega Men #3, terrorizing Kalista and her crew. He became so popular and a fan favorite that the Main Man received his own miniseries by Dell Comics in…1965? Y’up nearly twenty years before Slifer and Giffen ever thought of an alien bounty hunter with an attitude, writer and editor Don “DJ” Arneson and artist Anthony “Tony” Tallarico made a two issue comic series about a cowboy who went by the canine name Lobo.

Set right after General Lee’s surrender in the American Civil War, our hero was a private Buffalo soldier in the Union army with no name, gaining his namesake later in the story, his friends were attacked by Confederate soldiers, killing them but only knocking our hero out before more Union soldiers came and saved him.

After all that destruction he got up and destroyed a rifle in anger and left on his horse, Midnight, to find an honest living, leading him to get a job as a real cowboy herding cattle. Private no name and his new coworkers, Ace, Smoker, Johnson, and Red Carson herded cattle to Abilene TX, but when heading back home someone robbed their boss and killed half the crew. Ace and Smoker tried to pin the blame on our hero, but the Midnight rider managed to tie them up and ride away, thus giving our hero the name…Lobo a lone wolf.

Our two hoodlums managed to escape their bonds and told the local sheriff that this lone wold Lobo was the one who killed their boss and stole the money. Since he never told anyone his real name Lobo was the moniker used for his Wanted posters. While on the lamb Lobo saved a prospector from drowning. The prospector Lobo called Old Timer was also running from the law for a theft crime he did not commit, and became a prospector to gain his wealth back, but after twenty years he was too old to spend the gold he found. Grateful for Lobo saving his life the prospector made Lobo a large handful of gold coins with a wolf on them, creating Lobo’s calling card.

Lobo managed to find some of the stolen money and captured Ace, Smoker, and Red Carson, turning them to the sheriff. Then he went after Johnson, the final culprit, in order to clear his name for good. Unfortunately, Johnson was already dead, preventing our hero in ever clearing his name. Afterwards Lobo went back to visit the old prospector to find him lying in bed and nearly dead.

The old timer’s final request was to watch the sunset one last time and gave Lobo the moral of his journey. As long as Lobo goes out there in the world doing good, helping people like him from drowning everyone would know Lobo not as the outlaw but a hero of the Old West.

The second and final issue is what the series would have been if it was left to continue, helping someone in trouble, stopping the episodic villain of the story, this one was a greedy landowner called The King of the West, equipped with his own medieval castle, trying to kick out the rest of his town’s residents so he can own their property. Lobo defeated King, leading to King’s arrest and again rode off into the sunset. Allegedly the Fugitive themed western comic did not sell very well to keep the series going. When comic book press writer Jamie Coville interviewed artist Tony Tallarico in 2006 for his blog the artist claimed that some of the bosses in charge of Dell comics were against the idea of a leading black cowboy and did not deliver most of the comics to newsstands to sell, so out of the 200 thousand copies of the first issue printed out, only 10-15 thousand copies of Lobo were sold. The writer DJ Arneson though disputed Tony’s claims years later in his 2010 interview that no one at Dell Comics was secretly against the character and it was strictly the poor sales that led to Lobo’s cancelation.

Both creators have stated in their interviews with Jamie Coville that they were the main creator, Tony Tallarico claimed that Lobo was his idea he pitched to his editors and DJ Arneson only scripted Tony’s plot points for the series. After his interview was published DJ Arneson emailed complaints to Coville’s editor to set the record straight, Arneson claimed he was the one who came up with the idea, originally pitched as Black Lobo, inspired by the Buffalo Soldiers in the Civil War who became cowboys after the war ended, Tony Tallarico was one of Dell Comics artists who worked with DJ Arneson before and after Lobo, notably Dell Comics’ Beverly Hillbillies series and The Great Society, a political superhero comic about President Lyndon B. Johnson. What both creators agree on though was that they both received approval for Lobo from Dell Publishing President Helen Meyer, the first woman in charge of a major publisher.

At the time black leads in comics were a rarity, Lobo predated all the main iconic black superheroes from the Big Two publishers. Black Panther did not pounce the pages of Marvel Comics until a year later in Fantastic Four #52 in 1966 and did not get his own titled series until 1977, Falcon first partnered with Captain America in #119 in1969, and Luke Cage busted through with his own solo series Luke Cage, Hero for Hire in 1972. Green Lantern John Stewart, DC’s first black superhero, didn’t appear until 1971 in Green Lantern #87, Black Lightning only electrified the News Stands with his own solo series in 1977. Before our ebony cowboy rustled across the printed page, most black characters in comics were either racial stereotypes, from the Congo natives in Tintin to Ebony White in the late Will Eisner’s The Spirit, or characters pushed by black creators like All- Negro Comics from journalist and NAACP member Orrin C Evans, and the Fellowship of Reconciliation used the comic medium to tell the story of Martin Luther King Jr’s Montgomery bus boycotts in 1955. Unfortunately, despite the press release from Time Magazine, Orrin C Evans’s comic only lasted one issue.

Dell Comic’s Lobo was an inflection point where white creators and a then major comic book company all took a chance on creating a story of Black America written and drawn in a positive matter. Despite Lobo’s commercial failures, their attempt was both commendable and a sign of how far the Civil Rights movement had become where companies thought nonproblematic portrayals of Black America could indeed become profitable book titles. In other words, the cowboy hero Lobo walked so other characters like Black Panther can run.


John is a graduate student at the University of Texas Arlington and hopes to work in Public History.  At twelve years old he picked up Frank Miller’s Daredevil at his local library and became a Comic Book fan ever since.

essay ©2024 John Goodrich



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