I think it’s fair to make that comparison. The creators of what would become the basis of superhero mythology (i.e. Siegel & Shuster, Kane & Finger, Marston, Lee & Kirby) came from impoverished and marginalized first-generation immigrants whose hopes and dreams manifested in these new literary beings, which inspired generations… Kinda like Hip Hop…
Also, both comics and Hip Hop were, and still are to an extent, considered cheaply-produced, low-brow entertainment before they achieved economic success and cultural relevance… They both still carry that in their DNA.
Comics are an integral component to Hip Hop.
The essence of Hip Hop is dual consciousness. Darryl McDaniels famously said that DMC was his Superman persona. Tsidi Ibrahim, a daughter of South Africa, takes the name Jean Grae as her Hip Hop secret identity.
Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five dressed like ghetto superheroes. The Soul Sonic Force took the Afrofuturistic comic-book stylings of Parliament / Funkadelic to another dimension of peace, unity and having fun. The Wu-Tang Clan is basically the Hip Hop Avengers. The first major Hip Hop release, Rapper’s Delight by the Sugarhill Gang, name-drops Superman. The Souls of Mischief name-drop Colossus and Magneto on their debut cut Let ‘Em Know. Of course, The Last Emperor’sSecret Wars is self-explanatory.
Understanding the history of comics is critical in making new and interesting material. Robert Kirkman’s Secret History of Comics series would be required viewing in my class, especially, the Milestone episode. That episode clearly illustrates that the emergence of Hip Hop was a direct influence on the rise of the Black Comix movement. Hip Hop created larger-than-life musical superheroes that gave hope to a generation. Hip Hop gave the oppressed a voice that would resonate across the globe, a voice that despite best efforts cannot be silenced.
The reason why the Black Comix movement is called such is because of the creator, not the creation. The creator will define the creation, no matter how inclusive in content. The fact alone that we create makes whatever we do political. So, I say lean into it not in the sense that your creation is the definition of “Blackness” (which is extremely diverse anyway), but in the sense of being proud that you, as a Black creator, are making work that, hopefully, challenges and entices whatever audience you are attempting to reach.
That’s the thing… The artists, writers and creations of the Black Comix are walking legends. In their own way, each of them has changed the game. They showed us that Black stories matter, and that, independently, Black folks can create dope-ass concepts on par, and in many cases, better than anything that the “Corporate Two” could come up with.
They are the reason Blade kicked off the modern superhero film. They are the reason John Stewart became the Green Lantern for a generation. They are the reason Marvel hired Christopher Priest to set the stage for Black Panther’s ascension to the probably most-anticipated movie of the year.
Best believe, DC and Marvel were checking out what was going on, what all of these creators and more brought to the table, and knew they had to step their game up.
Each of these titles, each of these, inspired me to create The Horsemen and start Griot Enterprises. Not the Justice League, not the X-Men, but these books. And, I’m not the only one who thinks this. You all are part of my comic book DNA, of every brother and sister making comics today, and you should be celebrated as such…
And, I’m waiting to see what y’all are going to do next…
So, as you anticipate the release of Black Panther next month and check out Black Lightning on Tuesday, support the brothers and sisters creating our heroes outside of the “Corporate Two.”
The 4 Pages | 16 Bars: A Visual Mixtape anthology series is a celebration of where true diversity exists in this industry, a sampler for potential fans to enjoy our intellectual properties, a showcase for existing and upcoming talent as well as a source guide for those fans to purchase our books.
It’s the multicultural Heavy Metal magazine for the 21st Century.
The superhero is a mythological construct unique to American society and the backbone of the American comic book industry. The superhero is the construct of immigrants; people from different cultures coming together to form a new nation where the unique attributes of each culture contribute to the greater whole.
As, arguably, the first immigrants (other than British and French) of America, African Americans were, initially, left out of the equation when constructing the superhero myth and were relegated to supporting roles. With the Black Panther’s appearance in Fantastic Four, African Americans were introduced into the mainstream consciousness of superhero myth.
The current curator of the Black Panther myth is Ta’Nehisi Coates, national correspondent for the Atlantic and recipient of the MacArthur Fellowship…
And some people have an issue with his handling of this particular mythology.
Personally, I don’t mind Coates’ take on the Black Panther mythos. His are the kind of stories that I, to an extent, would write. It has been slow building and it is a depiction of Wakanda as if Wakanda were an actual African country dealing with real political issues. I would argue that Coates’ run on the series will be as impactful as runs from Don McGregor, Christopher Priest and Reginald Hudlin.
That being said, some people are just not feeling Coates’ work on the title. So much so, some feel as if he is deliberately trying to bring down the Black Panther in terms of relevance and trying to destroy Wakanda in a way Namor or Doctor Doom or Thanos never could.
Which… Is ridiculous.
I understand some of us want to see T’Challa infallible, invincible, with Wakanda being the Afrofuturistic utopia of our dreams. We want our Black Panther bitchslapping Steve Rogers for putting mayo on his sandwich instead of mustard. We want to see the Dora Milaje single-handedly taking down S.H.I.E.L.D. because it’s Tuesday. We want that escapist wish fulfillment that we are not getting in our daily lives, especially in today’s political and social climate.
The problem is, utopias don’t exist. Not even in comics.
For example, did Coates force misogyny and rape culture into the mythos of Wakanda, or did he use the construct of Wakanda as a vehicle for commentary to what is happening not only on the continent, but in the world right now? Wakanda is in Africa, which has been dealing with issues concerning rape culture and slavery recently.
Have we already forgotten Boko Haram? Are we oblivious to the slave trade happening in Libya right now? Anyone?
In Coates’ interpretation, despite its majesty, Wakanda is no different than the creation of other great nations: not only African, but globally…
Well, with the exception of aliens losing their land instead of other Africans.
And, that little wrinkle in the Black Panther myth has added to the ire that some Black Panther fans have for the writer.
In reality, Wakanda has never been simon-pure. Priest had Wakanda dealing with an uprising from within at the beginning of The Client, McGregor created Killmonger in Panther’s Rage as a revolutionary whose basis for overthrowing Wakanda was tribal and personal, etc.
T’Challa, from McGregor’s run onto Coates, has always been depicted as a man torn between duty and desire. In the mythology, he has always preferred being a hero to being a king much to the chagrin of the Panther god and the Black Panthers before him (see the 1988 mini-series by Gillis and Cowan, Who is the Black Panther Pt.2 by Cowan and Lashley, the Black Panther: Man Without Fear arc by Liss and Francavilla for examples).
Besides, it’s not like T’Challa hasn’t met, or worked with, despots before. When the first Illuminati became the Cabal following the events of the Secret Invasion storyline, Namor tried to get T’Challa in to balance the likes of Doctor Doom, Loki, the Hood and Emma Frost. In New Avengers, he was working alongside Namor after Atlantis attacked Wakanda in Avengers Vs. X-Men and after Namor sold out Wakanda again to Thanos’ forces in Infinity.
So, after Doomwar, AVX, Infinity and Secret Wars, I would imagine Wakandans would feel some type of way about T’Challa and the court after those back-to-back tragedies. In fact, that’s referenced in the first issue of Coates’ run.
In the Nation Under Our Feet story arc, rape culture is an issue in Wakanda. Aneka and Ayo, the rogue Dora Milaje now the Midnight Angels addresses it, which brings attention to the royal court. With the rebellion and subtle coup from the confusion happening, the Midnight Angels, along with his sister Shuri (who returns from the Djallla following the “Living Death” as a more powerful and unique character), Changamire, Hatut Zeraze and the Crew help T’Challa not only quell the rebellion, but also helps to institute a parliamentary democracy with a constitutional monarchy in order to deal with such issues in the future.
And, the problem is? Apparently for some, Coates’ work taints the fantasy of an Africa we, as African Americans, wish existed.
But, what good is showing a better world without showing the struggle it took to create it? I mean the X-Men works as a concept because a marginalized people, mutants, fight for a better world that doesn’t currently exist… right?
One doesn’t have to like every iteration of a character or gush over every interpretation. For instance, my issue with Hudlin’s run was that I thought it was too light, too “comic book.” I felt he eschewed the complexity of Priest’s work for more of the wish-fulfillment aspects of Black nerdom. It was fun, but left me feeling a little flat.
A major strength of Priest’s run was, as a writer and former editor of comics, he understood the mechanics and quirks of the medium. He was able to marry the more complex themes of the book with the action that comic book fans are used to.
I think an issue with Coates’ run is that he is too serious a writer for some fans. In addition, outside of the bit of writing he does for Marvel, he’s not known as a writer of fiction. Scriptwriting, especially comic book scriptwriting is not his forte. For me, it’s akin to Doo-Bop (Miles Davis’ last album before he passed); a Hip Hop album by one of the all-time great jazz musicians, but didn’t spend a lot of time in the realm of the new music form he was trying to emulate.
Coates does bring depth and nuance to his run as a myth curator. He just doesn’t have the seasoning of good comic book storytelling to make his run more palatable. In other words, people don’t feel joy reading his stories. They are not fun. Because of this, people complain about the weight of social issues he brings to the mythology as if the mythology of the Black Panther wasn’t steeped in social commentary from his first appearance in 1966 onward.
Not only is Coates challenging the mythology, he’s not making it an easy go for the comic book reader. He’s writing the book as if it were a fictional novel written by an academic social essayist (which, he is). There’s not enough escapist water for the casual reader when the sociological meat is too hard to swallow. If Coates had a stronger comic book writing sensibility, I feel that his critics wouldn’t be too up in arms about the subject matter he’s brought to the mythos.
At the end of the day, the core issue is whether or not Coates can write entertaining comics. Honestly, comics are not his strong suit. They are not in his wheelhouse. He was brought onto the title because his name carries weight outside of comics…
Like Reginald Hudlin.
So, do I think Coates’ run is terrible?
Do I think his run has been great?
Do I think Coates is a superlative comic book writer?
But, do I think he has an agenda to “bring down” the Black Panther as a character?
Finally, for those of you getting your pitchforks and torches ready (not the Tiki torches because these fans aren’t butter-soft alt-right scrubs), you’re not going to see more of the “problematic” elements of Coates’ run in the upcoming Black Panther film. So, Coates’ detractors should take a deep cleansing breath. The ingredients for this particular dish will probably be 2 cups of Priest’s run for story, 1-¼ cups of McGregor for world-building, 1 cup of Hudlin for attitude with a dash of Coates for social relevance.
Again, I would have incorporated a number of elements Coates introduced in his curation of the Black Panther myth if I were approached by Marvel to write the book. The difference is that I understand the mechanics of comic book writing and would have incorporated more of the wish fulfillment of the fan base. It would have been, hopefully, as complex as the work of Christopher Priest and Don McGregor. It also would have been as fun as Reginald Hudlin’s work as well.
But, I didn’t. That’s why I created The Horsemen…
Because I am in the business of creating mythology.
However, the Black Panther also used to frustrate the hell out of me.
Six years earlier in 1960, 17 African nations gained independence from their colonial overlords. Jack Kirby and Stan Lee, two men of Euro-American Jewish descent, famously introduced The Black Panther in Fantastic Four #52 dated July 1966, three months before the revolutionary Black Nationalist organization of the same name.
I don’t know if the upheaval in the continent influenced the creation of T’Challa, but the introduction of the Black Panther was a revolutionary moment.
To have the first mainstream Black superhero in comic book history come from the continent, from a country (though fictional) that was technologically ahead of the Western world, to have that hero not only as competent as, but superior, to his white counterparts (he defeated the Fantastic Four in his first outing), was as radical as the Civil Rights Movement and as resonate as the African Independence Movements. The Black Panther was ahead of his time…
Too far ahead.
I will say that Don McGregor is a cornerstone in the development of the Black Panther’s world. McGregor would build T’Challa’s court including W’Kabi and Taku as well as creating, arguably, T’Challa’s greatest adversary in Erik Killmonger as well as his first great love, African American musician Monica Lynne.
The story was called Panther’s Rage, which ran as a 13-issue story arc in the bi-monthly Jungle Action title from 1973 – 1975. Recognized as the industry’s first “graphic novel,” Panther’s Rage was an epic tale set in Africa. Beautifully illustrated by Rich Buckler, Gil Kane, Billy Graham, Klaus Janson, P. Craig Russell and Bob McLeod, Panther’s Rage was dense, complex and sensuous.
T’Challa was depicted as a man of great passion and determination. Killmonger was more than just a standard mustache-twirling villain, but a revolutionary wanting justice for his father who died laboring in the vibranium mines (the fictional metal of the Marvel Universe and the source of Wakanda’s vast wealth). T’Challa and Killmonger’s rivalry was personal and brutal. Every victory was hard-fought and hard earned in this story. McGregor was able to infuse the world of the Black Panther with some realities of life on the continent giving the story and the character a resonance that one would think made the Black Panther a character to be reckoned with, an A-list property if you will…
Despite McGregor’s Panther vs. The Clan follow-up arc to Panther’s Rage, the Black Panther failed to gain substantial traction as an ongoing series. Oh sure, he would pop up in other titles, sometimes as a guest star, but mostly stayed in the background, the veritable “Franklin” of the Marvel Universe.
The mainstream comic book industry was, and is, dominated by white men. It’s majority-cultivated fanbase, until relatively recently, was geared towards white male power fantasy. In the late ‘60s and early 1970s, creators of color, especially writers of color, were few to none. Though this period saw the emergence of Black comic book artists the likes of Billy Graham, Arvell Jones, Trevor Von Eeden and others, the voice of Black superheroes was the voice of the other…
And, T’Challa suffered from it.
From the age of ten, I knew that I was going to be a comic book creator. I became enamored with the medium the second I opened the first comic book my father gave me. My love for the medium was beyond mere brand loyalty. DC, Marvel, Atlas, Charlton, First Comics, it didn’t matter. I was a nerd in the classic sense. In addition to comics, I was interested in science fiction and mythology. This love of mythology, coupled with the awakening of my political philosophy and Diasporatic African identity, led me to study the ancient faith systems of the continent. This largely untapped subject matter became the well from which my eventual contribution into the industry would spring forth. I was an Afrofuturist before the term was coined.
And, it was in this emergence of my creative self that my frustration with the Black Panther began.
Though the character would be the focus of various mini-series by Peter B. Gillis, Denys Cowan, Don McGregor, Gene Colan and Dwayne Turner, I felt that the character was underutilized and that the Black Panther was a treasure chest of untapped potential and untapped exploration…
The Black Panther became a promise unfulfilled.
I erroneously thought that all creators tapped into the same wellspring of creation, that we all studied the same points of interest and Marvel had dropped the ball by not making Black Panther an ongoing series thereby giving these creators the opportunity to utilize the revelation of story ideas that the exploration of African history, politics, culture and mythology had provided me.
But eventually, I realized that T’Challa’s development, as a character was, ultimately, not my concern. Though I had affection for the Black Panther, I did not own the character, he was not my “child,” so to speak. I had to use my resources and influences for my benefit, for my creative process. I had to use the elements that were “forgotten” in the Black Panther’s development for my own purposes.
I had looked to the promise of the future that would be labeled as the Black Age of Comics, or Black Comix movement, for my inspiration. Inspired by the emerging voices that Milestone Media, Brotherman, Tribe and others brought to the industry, I forged ahead with my exploration and development of my property, infusing my nascent universe, The Horsemen, with the elements I felt missing from the Black Panther.
In reality, the only thing that T’Challa needed were Black voices to tell his tale.
Christopher Priest found T’Challa’s voice in his silence. When Black Panther Vol.3 debut in 1998, Priest (along with artists Mark Texeira, Joe Jusko and Mike Manley) made T’Challa the epitome of detached cool. The Enemy of the State arc made T’Challa, and Wakanda, a force to be reckoned with in the Marvel Universe. A tale of espionage, Priest created State Department attorney K. Everett Ross to be the white reader’s entre into the Black Panther’s world. More importantly, Priest introduced the Dora Milaje, T’Challa’s personal guard of women warriors, which added a much-needed feminine strength and energy to the world of Wakanda.
Following Priest’s impressive 62-issue run, a new Black Panther series was launched in 2005, which ran for 41 issues. Scribed by Hollywood writer and producer Reginald Hudlin (Boomerang, House Party, Django Unchained) and illustrated by John Romita, Jr, Hudlin’s Who Is The Black Panther arc introduced a neo-Kirbyesque Wakanda that was never conquered, defiant and untouched by the taint of colonial influence. More so, Hudlin’s arguably greatest addition to the Black Panther’s mythos was the creation of Shuri, T’Challa’s younger sister who would become the ruler of Wakanda and a Black Panther in her own right following T’Challa’s incapacitation.
In 2016, author and journalist Ta’Nehisi Coates would create a Wakanda rooted in a less romantic, more fact-based context reflecting the reality of the African continent. Though somewhat controversial amongst long-time Black Panther fans, Coates’ A Nation Under Our Feet arc tapped into the wellspring of African mythology, philosophy, culture, politics, and social issues I thought abandoned by other creators save myself. With a sense of novelization rivaling the earlier work of Don McGregor, Coates weaves a Wakanda exclusively from Afrofuturistic cloth, fulfilling the promise of a Black Panther I thought would never be realized.
This promise will be further made good come February 2018 when the Black Panther hits the big screen. Thanks to director Ryan Coogler, lead actor Chadwick Bosemen, Danai Gurira and the rest of the cast and crew, This will be the first time that audiences worldwide will see a vision of Wakanda and the Black Panther that had always existed in my mind, but will be new and exciting for the majority of a people who have been historically denied the ability to imagine a fantasy world where they play front and center.
In 2017, I attended the annual Chicago Comic and Entertainment Expo (C2E2) not as an exhibitor, but as a fan. I strolled the convention taking in the sights and visiting the creators’ tables in Artist Alley, something I rarely had the luxury of doing since I began to attend comic book conventions over 20 years ago. Brian Stelfreeze, artist of Ta’Nehsi Coates’ inaugural run on the title was in attendance. I was able to strike up a conversation only to be surprised and humbled that an artistic hero of mine followed my work.
But, the best part of our exchange?
We acknowledged that we were drawing from the same wellspring for inspiration…
T’Challa has lived up to his promise. All hail the king.
No, that’s not the total truth. The truth is that so many of the things have happened in the past almost-year I’ve written about before…
“But what about Hidden Figures? What about Get Out? What about the #45thRegime? What about Wonder Woman…”
Yo, there have been so many think pieces about all of that, and more, I felt that I would just be adding noise to the ether, especially when so many of those pieces touched on themes I would touch on but in, some cases, a more eloquent way.
Then, Friday happened.
Here’s my response to that. Art and words by yours truly…
I will be giving you more of what (I hope) you remember me for soon and frequently. For the New Jacks checking this out for the first time, welcome.
Straight up, this is the Black nerd’s Lemonade right now.
For the first time in history, a comic book featuring an African superhero, written and illustrated by African Americans, is the highest-selling title from the Corporate Two. Yeah, having the character steal the show in the best comic-book related movie this year and a major marketing push definitely helped, but this is what happens when you #BetOnBlack…
The Black Panther marketing plan should be taught in schools. It’s actually a pretty textbook marketing strategy. They got the right team, did the proper product placement and marketing and got a winner on their hands.
Furthermore, they respect the importance of the character that is in their stable, a character, which encapsulates the hopes and dreams of a marginalized demographic. They actually heard this fan base and gave the character its due respect, steeped this character in its culture (fictional, but based on an amalgam of existing cultures from the marginalized demographic) and gave this character the necessary agency this character, and the marginalized demographic it represents, deserves. Because of this, Marvel produced yet another profitable situation that they, and their parent company, will benefit from greatly. This bit of good will is, in fact, good business.
In short, Marvel created the climate in which the Black Panther could be Columbused. We are seeing the effects of this as I write these words.
This should be a call to arms of what happens when you produce a fantastic product and market a great property.
Too bad DC Entertainment wasn’t in class that day… If you’re in the minority that DC has kept it on point cinematically, read this article written by Verge Entertainment bigwig and former Milestone and Batman editor Joe Illidge:
This information puts to bed a lot of superfluous “explanations” of why product featuring and created by people of color doesn’t sell. Independent creators should use this fact to push our products to the forefront…
Some people want to bring up Spawn as a counter to my statements. To that I say…
I am way more excited about this development than I ever was with the introduction of Spawn in the early 90s. In fact, if you wanna be real Image about it, I will always hype Tribe way more than Spawn as it was the first comic book featuring characters, and created by people of color, Todd Johnson and Larry Stroman, that sold over a million copies, which adjusted for inflation is on par with BP’s sales.
In other words, I’d rather celebrate the whole cake rather than just the frosting…
This should be inspiring to a lot of us independent creators of color and we need to capitalize on the climate. In fact, a number of us are.
We have seen an increase in coverage concerning independent properties dealing with the discussion of diversity (i.e. Black, The Legend of the Mantamaji, Niobe: She Is Life, Watson and Holmes, Exo: The Legend of Wale Williams, Solarman, etc.) exactly because these cats had their marketing game down and went beyond the perceived market to find their audience.
Of course, it doesn’t hurt that these projects are expertly created (i.e. writing, art, etc.), but creating is the easy part. Marketing is where the work comes into play.
This is the kind of work we should continue to push and purchase in addition to showing love to the “Corporate Two” when they “get it right.” Way more than being a DC or Marvel fan, I’m a fan and practitioner of the art form.
Interesting times indeed.
So, let me know if you are interested in more than just enjoying this historic moment in representation. Let’s keep it going. Let this be more than just a moment. Let’s make this a fact of life.
Speaking of, I’m going to be teaching a course on this exact subject through the International School of Comics starting in July. Granted, this class will be in Chicago, but if there is enough interest, I would possibly take this bad smoker into the remote teaching realm.
P.S. Personal note to the brothers Johnson and Stroman, c’mon fellas. We need to do a Tribe trade so that people can experience the loveliness that book was and can be again. Get at me.
It is very hard… very hard for me to give this kind of assessment. I’m tighter with ratings than The Source used to be. With that being said, this is a 5-mic film. Any criticism would be some extreme nit-pickiness bull-caca. Anyone fronting on this movie is a hater, plain and simple…
I feel those fans who find criticism complain about the what-iffery of certain elements in the film, great elements that bring color to the narrative, not coming to fruition even though they weren’t supposed to. A few points (SPOILER-ALERT):
1.) I appreciate that at the end of the day, the “Civil War” was a very personal conflict that dealt with the loss of families (Zemo’s, Stark’s & T’Challa’s)
2.) That Zemo, basically Bin Laden-style, did to the Avengers that Loki, Ultron and Hydra couldn’t do… Destroy them.
3.) Because of the personal nature of the story, we didn’t need to see those other Winter Soldiers in action against our titular heroes. Then, it would have been Universal Soldier: Regeneration wasting the emotional currency, which drives the film.
4.) Storytelling was on point. Things followed through logically and I felt that all of the important elements in the film had organic conclusions. Even with Spider-Man’s inclusion at the eleventh hour didn’t feel tacked on and yes, just like Jon Bernthal made the Punisher his character, Tom Holland IS Peter Parker. And, I am a big fan of Marisa Tomei as a modern Aunt May. There were no plot holes.
5.) CW was a sequel for two movies, Captain America: Winter Soldier and the Avengers: Age of Ultron, and a fine one for both.
6.) Everything made sense. Everyone was true to character. Every character had their moment to shine. The battles were top-notch with each character’s physical language as unique as the character themselves.
7.) CW is the rare instance that the film was better than the mini-series… Yeah, I said it. Also, remember that Thor and the Hulk weren’t around during the mini-series either.
8.) Just the hint of the Dora Milaje, along with the taste of Wakanda was enough for me. I’m gonna get all that goodness in the Black Panther solo film.
9.) According to Dwayne McDuffie’sRule of Three, this is the MCU’s Blackest movie to date… And it was so on point with the diversity and agency of Black folks from Alfre Woodard’s brief, but crucial scene, to War Machine, the Falcon and, of course… This is the rare movie I would pay full price to see again in the theatre… Immediately.
10.) The secret sauce in making this delicious meal is Nate Moore as Executive Producer for the MCU. Yes, the characters would have been there eventually, but having a brother as an exec. producer helped to ensure that said characters did not come off as stereotypical ciphers, but rather fully realized people making their ethnicity natural, yet crucial in the MCU.
Realize, there is no one representation of “Blackness” in the MCU, nor do we just add color to the background. From War Machine to the Falcon to BP to Nick Fury, etc., each character is unique, each character has agency, each character is authentically Black in their own way.
Brother Moore has made sure that we haven’t been seen as a monolith, but in a rich tapestry more in line with how we really are as opposed to how the Other often portrays us.
These reasons, and more which I’ve mentioned in previous posts, is why not only is Captain America: Civil War a more satisfying film-going experience than Batman Vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice, but also why Marvel has all but decimated the DCCU.
Quite simply, Marvel trusts and cares about their properties, DC does not. Marvel has been playing chess in unfolding their universe, taking time to craft their cinematic universe so that it has the same resonance as the comic book universe.
DC has been playing checkers, rushing product and blowing their wad repeatedly on half-baked measures which treat their properties as cash-grab ciphers rather than respecting the history and mythology of the characters to craft tales which speak to the human condition using the superhero as an analogy to inspire and make us seek out our better selves.
Here’s something to chew on: when people start writing think pieces on your film discussing the deeper ramifications of what your heroes represent in the larger world context rather than judging success or failure of your project based on how much money it makes, you’ve made a better film. When you respect not only your hard-core fanbase, but also can make your properties resonate with the casual viewer, you’ve made a better film. When you focus on storytelling rather than spectacle, you’ve made a better film. And, said film is steadily going to make a lot of money rather than suffering a near-90% drop in viewership the second week of release.
Personal point of order… A few years ago, I got caught up in a what-iffery tread about a potential (at the time) Black Panther movie in which I broke down how I felt Wakandan self-image should be portrayed.
Then, Captain America: Civil War.
It’s like the Russo Brothers read my mind. For about 35 seconds, I thought: “Man, I may not have to do The Horsemen anymore…”
Then, I got out of my fanboy phase and became even more inspired to make more work.
Trust, that is the highest of praise.
So, I’ve never fallen into one camp when it came to the “Corporate Two.” I loved DC’s icons and Marvel’s B-list. But, after Daredevil: Season Two, Jessica Jones, Captain America: Civil War and the upcoming Luke Cage…
The Black heroes are coming, y’all… I SAID THE BLACK HEROES ARE A’COMIN!
Right now, some would feel that American society is under attack. The heroes they would normally turn to have been compromised, captured, and in some cases, systematically destroyed as their way of life is going through a fundamental shift. To those feeling this pressure, I would like to say one thing:
Get over it.
In the past couple of weeks, amidst the heart-breaking tragedies, amidst the ongoing home-grown terrorism that people of color, women and other communities that are not Cis-gendered, White men have been subjected to, amidst the blustering of would-be demagogues and the corruption of elected officials who would rather save their own skin than bring the gross abuse of injustice to light, something else has happened:
Diversity has come to heroism.
I’m going to concentrate on what has happened, what has been revealed on the television, digital and widescreens. I am going to celebrate what is already here and what is to come…
And yes, I’m going to give the Corporate Two their props.
First off, let’s talk briefly about Creed. Let’s talk about a little film that at once is an amazing addition to a beloved film mythology, yet can stand on its own while creating a completely new franchise. Let us praise Ryan Coogler’s vision of a Black hero, Adonis Johnson (Creed) the son of fallen hero Apollo Creed once rival then mentor then brother-in-arms to the lovable underdog Rocky Balboa. Let us praise Michael B. Jordan’s performance of a young man saved by Creed’s wife, had a good job, but gave it all up to pursue his passion, his father’s passion, for boxing. Let us celebrate the portrayal of a determined young man finding his way, forming his family and taking control of his own destiny.
Second, let us give thanks to the appearance of Luke Cage in Marvel’s Netflix series Jessica Jones. Let us take note of how a character that once epitomized the stereotype of the hyper sexualized angry Black male became an emotional center of perhaps the most mature depiction of superheroics on the screen. Mike Colter’s portrayal of the future Hero for Hire showed a true depth of strength, honor and heart. From the casual use of his super strength to his almost casual boredom when an assailant tried to pierce his unbreakable skin to his interaction with Krysten Ritter’sJessica Jones in probably the most honest portrayal of interracial relationships even seen on film, his Luke Cage may have had steel-hard skin, but his heart was all gold…
And, left viewers wanting more. With his series coming in 2016, we will probably see the Blackest, make that honestly Black, superhero series since the first Blade movie make it to the screen. Furthermore, we will see the first Black heroine, Daughter of the Dragon Misty Knight on camera as well…
And no, Halle Berry’sStorm does not count. As marginalized and as tepid as Ms. Berry’s performance was in those films, in addition to the fact that she never once captured the majesty of the Wind Rider, I cannot in good faith count that a strong representation of the Black heroine. The abysmal Catwoman only further validates my stance.
Speaking of cats…
I have to say, and I’m sure the majority of my fellow Nerds of Color will agree, that the absolute best elements of the upcoming Captain America: Civil War trailer was the inclusion of the King of Wakanda. Yes, we finally, finally, saw T’Challa, The Black Panther on the screen… For five seconds. But, damn, those were some of the best five seconds ever. Here he was, our hero, the Jackie Robinson of comics, being that hero. Dusting Captain America in pursuit, Capoeria-kicking the Winter Soldier clear across the screen, leading not following. About 20 seconds after the release, memes and gifs flooded my Facebook page featuring our hero (shoot, I made one myself).
Sorry, Falcon. No disrespect, War Machine. But, our hero has finally arrived and Marvel is about to get all of that Black Geek Money… Hell, Disney is about to get all that Black Geek Money (I ain’t forgot you, Finn).
I would remiss to ignore what DC has done to bring Black heroes and other heroes of diversity to the small screen week after week. If you truly pay attention to Arrow, what they have done on that show is create a team that is predominately female and people of color. Think about it, we have the Black Canary, Speedy and John Diggle finally in costume (though the helmet is still so problematic that some in my community have taken to call him “MagNegro”) fighting alongside the newly christened Green Arrow with Felicity as their information hub.
Over in the world of The Flash, we were introduced to the new half of the Firestorm matrix, a young Black man (though not Jason Rusch) and the Latina Hawkgirl. Both characters will be featured to the upcoming Legends of Tomorrow series.
Finally, the fledgling Supergirl series gave us a real treat. In a fascinating bit of race-bending and character merging, the mysterious leader of the DEO Hank Henshaw (played by David Harewood) was revealed not to be the Cyborg Superman (which I expected), but instead J’onn J’onzz AKA the Martian Manhunter.
I call this an interesting case of race-bending, as J’onn himself is a shapeshifter. Before the Justice League cartoon series, J’onn J’onzz would transform into a white detective calling himself John Jones. However, in the cartoon, actor Carl Lumby, an African American, would voice J’onn. As a result, from the Smallville television show to now Supergirl, the human identity of J’onn J’onzz would be played by and African American first, by Phil Morris and now Mr. Harewood. With a simple choice of voice actor, the Martian Manhunter would now forever be associated with a true sense of what it is like to be a person on the fringes of what is considered normal society.
Mythology is crucial to the development of a society. We need heroes. This is a fact of life. Heroes reflect the best of us. They are the models of perfection that we aspire to achieve. The heroes that a society creates represent the dreams, the goals, and the psychology of that society…
Yes, American society is under attack. American mythology is under attack. In fact, I would go so far to say that the destruction is irreversible. Everything that you thought was true isn’t. The lie has been exposed. The Wiz is just Richard Pryor in a bathrobe and the Emperor has no clothes. What is this, this thing you thought to be a fundamental truth now ripped to shreds and thrown around like so much confetti into the air? What is this security blanket, Linus, that used to wrap you tight now shredded and discarded on the ground and trampled into the mud? The lie exposed is this:
The White man is the only model of heroism.
The Black heroes have come and there is nothing that you can do about it. We need them. America needs them. This is only the beginning…