Why Night Thrasher tops Luke Cage as our top African-American comic character

Night Thrasher

As Black History Month draws to a close, it is worth noting and spotlighting a character who is arguably the most influential and successful  African- American comic book hero of all time (The Black Panther is not American).

That would be Dwayne Taylor, a/k/a Night Thrasher, who was created by Tom DeFalco and Ron Frenz in 1989 and, as a cross between Batman and Iron Man, led a team called the New Warriors in that team's book, which during its initial run of 75 issues from July 1990 to September 1996 - largely with Fabian Nicieza's writing and Mark Bagley's art - became one of Marvel's most popular books. Night Thrasher even received his own solo series, which lasted 20 issues, during this span.

While some would argue that Luke Cage deserves that distinction, especially now with his own Netflix series, until Brian Michael Bendis got a hold of him, Cage's look and attitude were inspired by the blaxploitation films of the '70s - which he took decades to shake - and the common "angry black man wrongly imprisoned" trope. This is not to say that cage wasn't influential. Just that Thrasher's black man who was brilliant, wealthy and a team leader was groundbreaking. 

Since its first run, there have been four attempts to relaunch the New Warriors in their own title, but none have come close to lasting as long or getting the original characters - which also included teen heroes Nova, Namorita, Speedball, Silhouette and Marvel Boy - right. None have been able to get the characters to gel and connect the way Nicieza did - and that starts with him making Night Thrasher complex and unique.

"Tom DeFalco and Ron Frenz created Night Thrasher but from page one of issue one of New Warriors, anything that was done to develop him (for good or bad) was all my creative work, along with my artists and editors," Nicieza said. "Ron and Tom created a template and basic origin, but I developed him as I thought was best needed for the book."

"I liked the simplicity behind the idea of a 'teenage Batman' and all the complexity that concept involves," he continued. "A tragedy in his life drives the totality of who he is expected to be and really, until he forms the Warriors, he hadn't questioned that at all. I loved that an African-American character would be leading the team, too."

Nicieza gives DeFalco and Frenz credit for choosing the diverse team lineup.

"Tom and Ron developed the roster," he emphasized. "They looked at the character assets Marvel had in its stable and put together a group of non-X-Men affiliated characters that could offer interesting story opportunities - but what those opportunities would be was my responsibility."

As someone as wealthy as Bruce Wayne and Tony Stark who had lost his parents and was a team leader, Nicieza felt there was a lot to explore with Dwayne Taylor.

"I looked at him as a very smart, very capable and very driven young man who knew very little about social graces and even less about friendship," Nicieza stressed. "He took a path of inexperience in leading the team at first, but slowly he became more compassionate and patient".

"I wanted to write a character -- I think I said it in one of the letters' pages in his solo book - who didn't know what it meant to be African-American in the United States but needed to learn," he continued. "Having lived such a secluded life in many ways for so long, he had no commonality to his life experiences to anyone of any cultural background or ethnic type, but to fully mature into adulthood, he would need to be more a part of the real world."

As for why more fans don't see the historical importance of Night Thrasher, it's due in part to the poor way the character has been handled in recent years.

"You have to be of a certain age and have been a Warriors reader to feel that way, probably," said Nicieza, of the fans who give the character his due. "I don't think the character or the book get the respect they deserve now and most of that lack of respect comes from people who never read the title to begin with and have 'categorized' it in their minds as whatever they think it was."

One of the highlights for fans has been seeing Night Thrasher interact and mentor his "Robin" - who was even younger and angrier than Taylor remembered ever being. He was Robin - if Robin was as strong and fearsome as the Hulk.

"Through the use of Rage, I just wanted to teach Night Thrasher compassion, responsibility and the need to make compromises," he said. "Before the 'Nothing But the Truth' story line (which occurred about two years after Nicieza first started writing the book), Dwayne was a far less compromising person. Very black and white. That story - and the complex truth about his past - was intended to launch his monthly book as a character who would be, for the first time, exploring the grey areas in life."

As for making the general public more aware of Night Thrasher and the New Warriors, Marvel Studios head honcho Kevin Feige has mentioned the team is one of his favorites - but Nicieza has heard many rumors over the years, beginning with a rumored TV show for Night Thrasher for UPN (now part of CW) way back in 2002.

"I believe Marvel Television is working on a sitcom pilot called New Warriors. I really think its focus is on Squirrel Girl, I'm not sure, but it's being called New Warriors. Their property, their right to do with it as they please," he sighed. "I'm sure I would have been more bothered by something like this twenty years ago, but I've seen Marvel relaunch this title four times without ever once asking me if I'd be interested in writing it, so that horse is long out of the barn."

Would Nicieza be interested in writing a script for Night Thrasher and/or The New Warriors if such a project does become a reality?

"I'd have to be asked first and if you note... that hasn't happened in over twenty years."