4. Spawn (Image Comics)
First Appearance: Malibu Sun #13 (1992)
Creators: Todd McFarlane
When Image Comics was formed in the early ‘90s, it was hailed as a safe haven for writers and artists to create daring comics without the restrictions of pre-established universes like DC and Marvel. One of the first, and easily the most successful, properties to debut during the company’s early days was Todd McFarlane’s Spawn. Complete with jaw-dropping art and mature themes, Spawn hit shelves in 1992 with the force of a Tyson haymaker, changing the industry forever.
Before becoming Spawn, Al Simmons was a black Marine, meaning that, not only was Image banking on a completely original character becoming a household name, the publisher was confident that Simmons’ skin color wouldn’t be an issue. And they were right.
Spawn #1 hit shelves to the tune of 1.7 million copies sold. The character remained a top-seller for years, until a drop in quality during the last decade turned readers off. Still, this remains a great lesson, not only for comics, but movies and TV as well—if you give people a compelling story, they will cling to it, no matter the race of the character