“To every thing (turn, turn, turn)…
There is a season (turn, turn, turn)…”
– The Byrds
Marvel is working hard to get your dollars…
I recently picked up their free Previews magazine and I saw not one, not two, but ten books with characters of color in its upcoming roster of releases post their current Secret Wars event.
However, only two of their books have characters of color as the lead, those being the upcoming Spider Man featuring Miles Morales and Ms. Marvel featuring Kamala Khan.
Fine and good, right? I’m sure some of you and definitely Marvel is breaking its metaphysical arm patting itself on the back as it celebrates its latest stab at diversity.
Well, let me throw this out there: I looked at the creative teams on the books and do you know how many writers of color are going to be on these books?
Yes, yes y’all… It’s about that time.
I’ve noticed that every 20 years or so, the mainstream comic book industry all of a sudden becomes diverse… Really diverse… As in, they lean into diversity like a corrupt police officer leans into a defenseless “suspect” of color.
Granted, the seeds are planted a couple of years before the crop fully matures. For instance, Marvel planted a seed when the Black Panther first debuted in 1966. They planted another seed with the Falcon in 1969. But, we didn’t get the full crop of Black superheroes until the 70s with characters like Luke Cage, Brother Voodoo, Misty Knight, Storm, Blade, Black Goliath (later, the Black Giant Man) and more. Of course, that crop coincided with the escalation of the Civil Rights Movement, but more so came to pass because of the proliferation of African-American themed action films (commonly known as “Blaxploitation).
DC, which by the way has always played catch-up to the change of society, followed with the first of the “race-bent” characters. John Stewart inherited the mantle of Green Lantern in 1971, a full five years after T’Challa’s debut. Tyroc (the Angry Black Man with the voice of an angel) joined the Legion of Super Heroes in 1976 and Black Lightning didn’t appear on the scene until 1977.
Now, I know what you’re thinking…
“Jib, we know this. You’re just repeating the same old thing…”
And, you’re right. But, bear with me… I’ma take this to another level. I just need to put what I’m about to explore in an historical context.
Here’s the thing: Diversity came into the mainstream comic book industry purely because of profit, not because of any underlying social responsibility these companies felt. Indeed, once the books failed to yield any lasting sales (i.e. Black Lightning’s initial run only lasted 12 issues, Brother Voodoo only lasted 5 issues as the headliner in Strange Tales, etc.), many of the initial crop of Black superheroes were either folded into larger superhero teams or teamed-up with other characters (i.e. Black Panther and Falcon joining the Avengers, Luke Cage teaming up with Danny Rand aka Iron Fist, Storm always being and X-Man, etc.), or, more commonly, sent to the minor leagues to fade into relative obscurity…
In other words, the explosion imploded.
Now, that’s not to say that we didn’t have African American characters created during the 80s. Indeed, the 80s saw the debut of Monica Rambeau as Captain Marvel (initially a “legacy” character that would later claim her own identity as Spectrum), Cyborg, Vixen and others. However, none of these characters would be the lead in their own title. Captain Marvel was a member of the Avengers, Cyborg was in the New Teen Titans and Vixen was a part of the oft fronted upon Detroit Justice League.
While Hip Hop was emerging as the dominant cultural force in the United States, while the Cosby Show was the most popular television show of the decade, We wouldn’t see an African American lead a comic book in the larger comic book community until the 90s…
Until Brotherman… An independent comic book created by creators of color.
Then, the floodgates opened again. After Brotherman, the next big African American superhero was Spawn. Once again, emerging from the independent sphere.
However, when Milestone Media came along (and best believe, DC never owned Milestone), the game done changed. All of a sudden, we were seeing Black characters popping up left and right, and the independent scene led the charge. From Tribe becoming the biggest selling comic book from creators of color in history to the start of Ania to Blackjack, Prophecy of the Soul Sorcerer and more, brothers and sisters were creating some exciting IP…
And getting paid.
DC and Marvel took notice. They had to. New characters like Steel were carrying their own books, Black Lightning got another shot at being a headliner, the first Blade movie would become the template for the eventual domination of the cinematic Marvel Universe, the list goes on and on.
More importantly, we saw more people of color creating product at the “Corporate Two.” Writers like Dwayne McDuffie, Christopher Priest, Alex Simmons and others were getting the opportunities to shine, creating innovative and provocative concepts. Artists like Ken Lashley, Darryl Banks, the late Steven Hughes, Eddy Newell, ChrisCross and many more emerged as the visual caretakers of the American mythology. For a time, it was all good…
Then, the implosion happened… again.
This time, the implosion happened behind the scenes.
To be clear, we still had characters of color shining. Black Panther had two successful titles in the new millennium. Luke Cage became a major player in the Marvel Universe. Nick Fury became Samuel L. Jackson. DC kept on race bending and creating “legacy” versions of Mr. Terrific, the Crimson Avenger, and others. John Stewart, thanks to Justice League Unlimited, became the Green Lantern of a generation. Vixen went from a footnote to a strong character that will be getting her own animated series at DC. And, of course, Miles Morales and Kamala Khan would enter the scene.
However, fewer and fewer writers of color would be hired to chronicle their exploits, so much so that we would have to celebrate one Black writer getting hired at Marvel since 2009 and one Black writer getting hired at DC since 2011. To be fair, artists of color working for the “Corporate Two” are still getting love. And, some would argue that we’ve got brothers and sisters in other positions at the “Corporate Two,” but there are no Black editors. It seems that we are only good enough to draw the characters, not write them. It’s as if our images matter, but not our voices.
Our voice is important, now more than ever. With the murders of Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner and too many others painful to name at the hands of corrupt police practices and systemic racism, with the too-recent atrocities of Ferguson and Charleston, with the displacement of hundreds of thousands of Haitians in the Dominican Republic, from Boko Haram and #BringBackOurGirls, to the bravery of our real-life superhero Bree Newsome and the new leaders of the #BlackLivesMatter movement, we cannot be silenced. We must not be co-opted.
We should not and cannot be satisfied with the status quo. The scraps of representation others give us should not placate us, especially when the creators of said representation do not look like us nor care about the issues that continue to plague our community. The “Corporate Two” has been pulling a Rachel Dolezal on a large, and growing, part of their audience for far too long. And, don’t get it twisted, as soon as sales drop or don’t even achieve the break-even point, these books will fade into obscurity, once again to be mused upon until the next cycle of diversity comes around.
Yet, there is a bright light amongst the despair. And, once again, it’s coming from the independent sphere. From projects like Exo: The Legend of Wale Williams to the satirical Trill League, from webcomics like Project: Wildfire, Hunter Black, Kamikaze, Bounce, Diskordia, Matty’s Rocket and many others, from books like One Nation, Midnight Tiger, The Horsemen, Kid Code, Molly Danger, Concrete Park, Dziva Jones, Juda Fist and so much more, creators of color are coming on strong, taking no shorts, providing true representation, and giving voice to the voiceless. We’re saying it loud and we’re saying it proud.
The question is: Are you listening?
I don’t know about you, but I’m not gonna wait another 20 years for the “Corporate Two” to get around to some half-assed stab at diversity if it doesn’t work this time.
Vote with your dollars, support those who speak with your voice and #PlantYourFeet.