The Black Major (name derived from El Comandante Negro) first appeared in 1983 in the UK Battle Action Force comics as the right hand man of Baron Ironblood, the leader of the Red Shadow terror organisation.
He is actually John shepherd son of a British aristocrat family. Vicious even as a boy with an overwhelming desire to always come out on top, Shepherd showed his vicious side to schoolmates and was often aloof and a loner.
He later joined the armed forces as a marine, and was later recruited to join Action Force as top choice from his unit. Even then, his mind was unhinged and he often committed serious crimes whilst always managing to avoid being tied in to anything untoward.
His major weakness was his fear of enclosed spaces which Baron Ironblood was able to use to turn his mind and bring him over to his organisation using brainwashing. This allowed Shepherds evil side to emerge and he became "The Black Major"
The palitoy decision to make an enemy force to fight Action Force was a stroke of genius and they wove an incredible back story to Baron Ironblood, emphasized by the Battle Action Force comics.The Black Major appeared in well over three quarters of the Battle Action Force comics in some way, and was a constant character nearly always appearing with the Baron.
Since the figure was merely a repaint of an officer figure it was not expected to be popular, but instead the character became an instant hit, possibly because he was not just plain red, but probably helped by the incredible back story surrounding him and even now he is constantly selected as one of the most popular characters in the range of figures. Being so vicious and without emotion probably made him more interesting than most of the other characters in the Red Shadow world most of whom were frequently disposable to the baron, so it is a mark of the popularity that the Black Major survived. No attempt was ever made to make him some kind of comic sidekick-he was simply an evil soldier. Due to the nature of the figure it went without saying people were uncomfortable the figure was too close to a Nazi officer.
The Black Major was so popular he survived the integrating of the UK range with G.I. JOE.
The major re-emerged with Red Laser and Red Vulture to lead the Red Shadows into the new era, no figures were produced because the UK range started to use the Joe style articulation, but the Black Major survived on, first leading his ragtag shadows who were seriously decimated by a U.N. resolution after Baron Ironblood betrayed them. In the UK version, Ironblood went on to become Cobra Commander thus tying in the stories with the toy range. Despite no new models to represent him the Black Major continued to battle Cobra and Action Force appearing three or four times before vanishing completely only to re-appear relatively unchanged in vacation in the shadows (with a newly revitalized version of the Shadows). The previous couple of times the shadows were shown to be almost at breaking point many without helmets etc.
His appearence has changed many times whilst always retaining the black and red uniform. In early battle action force he was always shown as a middle aged man around 40 years old with pockmarked skin and an unshaven appearance. In the later battle comics he was shown as unshaven but looking younger wround the mid thirties. When he made his appearence in IDW issues he was again a middle aged man in his thirties Vacation in the shadows shows his looks as much younger around the early thirties with lighter hair - likely inspired by the repaint figure supplied with the comic and likely to make him more popular with a younger audience. Bizarrely later appearences as wilder vaughn show him as a much older man possibly in his late fifties or maybe early sixties. He is one of the least consistant characters in appearence.
He continues to attract interest and never underestimate you have seen the last of him