Archive for Race Issues

Superman Smashes the Klan!

Superman versus the Ku Klux Klan by Rick Bowers

I picked up this book a few weeks back, and I wasn’t expecting a lot — I know Scholastic Books publishes a lot of good stuff now, but when I grew up, it was strictly for kids’ books — and not particularly good kids’ books either. But I ended up liking what I read here.

This is basically a history book, with its initial focus on the history of Superman, from the early youths of Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, through their initial failures in the comics biz, to the unstoppable success of the Man of Steel, and clear through the way Siegel and Shuster got screwed out of their rights to the character. There’s quite a lot of info about the years when “The Adventures of Superman” was one of the most successful programs on the radio, earning millions of dollars for his advertisers and enthralling legions of fans, both kids and adults.

The book’s other focus is a fairly detailed and warts-and-all history of the Ku Klux Klan, neo-Nazi organizations, and hate groups in 19th and early 20th centuries. And a lot of this is stuff that was definitely never taught to me when I was in school, mainly because textbooks have always seemed to put more emphasis on teaching kids the national legends instead of the actual facts. There were times when the KKK and pro-Nazi groups had a lot of political power — and a lot of times when they were mostly devoted to fleecing their members of every dime they could get. And a lot of the time, there were a vast number of people, ranging from everyday citizens to federal officers to Southern newspaper editors, who hated the stuffing out of the Klan.

And it all comes together after World War II when the advertising execs for Kelloggs — who also managed the Superman radio show — decided they wanted to try pointing the power of Superman at the nation’s social ills, particularly racism and intolerance. And what was interesting to me was that the radio producers didn’t just bang out some scripts for Superman to fight some Nazis — they did intense research on how to educate children about racism, and they interviewed people about what the Klan was like behind the white hoods. One of their interviewees was a man named Stetson Kennedy, a publicity-hungry Southerner with a serious mad-on against the Klan — he heroically infiltrated the organization while simultaneously campaigning publicly against it.

And what they came up with were a couple of storyarcs that infuriated the KKK and the rest of the nation’s racists. And that by itself is a pretty awesome victory.

Verdict: Thumbs up. It’s well-written, it’s detailed, it’s entertaining, and it’s filled with really interesting characters, including Siegel, Shuster, Stetson Kennedy, radio producer Robert Maxwell, education consultant Josette Frank, and even several of the Klan’s leaders, who generally come across as either charismatic lunatics or craven greedheads.

There were a couple of things that I knew already, being a longtime comic fan — but it was still nice to see them pointed out in a book designed for younger readers who probably aren’t as familiar with the history of Superman. The first was that in Superman’s earliest appearances, he was a very, very political guy — and he definitely came across as a liberal, since most of his opponents were greedy politicians, crooks, and factory owners who were making things hard for the common man. The second reminder — there were a huge number of Jewish people who had a hand in Superman’s success, including Siegel, Shuster, their publishers, and even their radio producer — no wonder they were so interested in putting the smackdown on the nation’s hatemongers!

I was pretty impressed that this book didn’t sugar-coat very much. These days, you read the newspapers and watch the news shows, and they’re absolutely devoted to never saying whether any group is right or wrong. If they mention the Klan these days, they definitely never say that they’re evil racist scumbags — that wouldn’t be properly Broderian or moderate — and they might offend some lunatic on hate radio. Rick Bowers really doesn’t do things that way — Superman’s the good guy, the Klan are the bad guys, and that’s really all there is to it. He also doesn’t mince many words about how Siegel and Shuster got mistreated after DC got its claws on Superman, and that’s pretty refreshing, too.

So there’s Superman versus the Ku Klux Klan by Rick Bowers. I liked it — go pick it up.

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Torching the Protocols

The Plot: The Secret Story of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion

I found this a couple weeks ago and was actually really excited to get it. I’d heard that Will Eisner was working on this a few years before he died in 2005, but I’d never managed to find this in stores and assumed it was out of print by now — I was glad to see I was mistaken.

Basically, Eisner — one of the most important creators in the history of comics, creator of “The Spirit,” creator of what’s considered the first graphic novel — decided a few decades back that he wanted to research and write a history of “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.” If you’re fortunate enough not to be aware of that, it’s a very old anti-semitic hoax claiming to represent a ploy by Jews to take over the world.

Eisner starts his story all the way back in 1848, with a French writer named Maurice Joly, a critic of Napoleon III. Joly wrote a book called “The Dialogue in Hell Between Machiavelli and Montesquieu,” a coded, over-the-top denunciation of Napoleon III as a diabolical dictator who intended all manner of cartoonish evil for France and the rest of the world. Joly’s book was mostly forgotten until 1894, when members of the Russian secret police resurrected it in a bid to influence Tsar Nicholas II. Some creative rewriting of Joly’s book, and the focus was changed from Napoleon III to the ever-popular scapegoats in the Jewish population.

And a couple decades later, Hitler got his rotten hands on it. And from there, it was off to the races.

Artistically, I think this has Eisner near the top of his game, which is pretty awesome, considering that he finished it only a few months before his death. Lots of wonderfully expressive faces and postures — most of the work here looks just as fantastic as anything he ever did on “The Spirit.” It’s a bit of a shock at times to see how much Eisner uses really insulting caricature — one of the characters is depicted as a dead ringer for Rasputin — but on the other hand, a lot of the characters depicted were responsible for the most disgustingly hate-filled rhetoric on the planet, and it’s a bit hard to work up much sympathy for them. So they’re depicted as ugly, barely human cartoons? Well, turn-about is fair play.

On the other hand, there’s a lot less art than you’d probably expect. The entire book is very text-heavy. Page and pages are devoted to side-by-side comparisons of Joly’s “Dialogue in Hell” and the Protocols, along with vast amounts of background and analysis. Eisner was clearly thinking of this less as a comic book and more as a simple history book with some illustrations. But if you’re expecting a fast, cartoon-filled read, you’re not going to get it — reading the whole thing is a bit of a slog.

One of the interesting — and I suppose, depressing — elements of the tale is how frequently the Protocols get debunked, always in high profile exposes in prominent publications and by powerful organizations — and every time, the debunkers allow themselves their moment of triumph and think, “Surely, this is the end of the Protocols. No one will ever believe it now.” And every time, the damned Protocols just keep on going and going. Eisner was at least under no illusions about what effect his graphic novel would have on the people who wanted to believe lies. In other words, don’t get this expecting a happy, uplifting ending — hate always finds a way forward, unfortunately.

Verdict: Thumbs up. But with some reservations. When I said it was a slog to get through, I mean, seriously, it was a major slog to get through. The side-by-side comparison, for example, while certainly informative, ran the narrative straight into a brick wall. This is less a graphic novel and more a graphic historical narrative.

Nevertheless, it’s still worth reading. It may be a slog to read as a comic book, but it’s much quicker to read than a full-length history of the Protocols would be — and it’s clear that Eisner meant it to be that way. He didn’t mean this to be the be-all-and-end-all of Protocol histories — he knew that more complete books had already been published and more would eventually follow. So this was, I think, always meant to be more of a fast summary of events — enough to quickly refute the Protocols and get other readers interested in more of the history (the book includes a nice bibliography).

And again, you get some really outstanding Will Eisner artwork. So you get to enjoy awesome comic art and strike a blow against haters and Nazis at the same time. Sounds like more than enough reason to pick it up…

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The Wrong Stuff

The New Avengers #6

Well, I didn’t like this one at all.

Wolverine has been mystically granted the full power of all the Avengers so he can fight Agamotto, which he does, for page after page after page. Agamotto is a shapshifter, so he never looks the same twice, which was probably the only way to make Glowing-Wolverine-fighting-magician-on-pages-with-no-backgrounds at all interesting. The rest of the Avengers mostly sit around in a magic circle and chit-chat about what’s going on. Dr. Voodoo’s long-deceased brother Daniel is in Agamotto’s realm and tries to help out, and Voodoo freaks out, goes charging into the fight, and sacrifices himself to destroy Agamotto.

Ladies and gentlemen, Brian Michael Bendis, writer of “The New Avengers” and way, way too many of Marvel’s books, just killed the black guy so he could move Dr. Strange back into the Sorcerer Supreme slot. And that’s about 18 months after Bendis himself moved Dr. Voodoo into that same position. What was the point? Bendis hadn’t gotten to kill a random character in too long? Bendis decided he’d be more edgy and exxxxtreme if he killed a black character for no reason?


(Pictured: Brian Michael Bendis, unretouched photo)

On top of that, on the last page, Daimon Hellstrom goes out and scolds a bunch of random New Yorkers because they weren’t genuflecting low enough to the Avengers.Who didn’t really do much beyond sitting on their butts while a non-member, Dr. Voodoo, saved everyone. Why? I dunno, maybe because Brian Michael Bendis is a colossal douchecanoe.

So to sum up: Wolverine does stuff. Dr. Voodoo does stuff. Dr. Strange cries. The rest of the Avengers sit on their butts. Bendis collects a fat paycheck for writing yet another rotten comic book.

Brian Michael Bendis is an extremely lazy and vastly over-rated writer.

Verdict: Thumbs down. And you can add Bendis to the list of writers whose comics I won’t read any more.

Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne #6

Finally, and only a few weeks late, Grant Morrison drops this bucket of insanity on us. Bruce Wayne appears at the very end of time, dying of an infection by Apokolyptian monster. The mostly-robotic keepers of the end of time can keep him from dying, at least temporarily, and they disguise him as one of their own number. He returns to the present and fights off the current version of the Justice League while Superman, Green Lantern, Booster Gold, and Rip Hunter try to figure out a way to follow him when they don’t even have a time machine anymore. Wonder Woman hits Batman with her Lasso of Truth and learns that his armor is now possessed by Darkseid’s last doomsday weapon while deadly Omega Radiation burns him from the inside out. Is there any way to save Batman and save the world?

Verdict: I think I’m gonna thumbs it down. There was a lot of good stuff here, but it was all just a bit too frantic. And coming after Bruce Wayne made his return last week in “Batman and Robin,” it takes a lot of the oomph and thrill out of this one. Maybe it’ll all look better in the trade paperback…

Batgirl #15

After a great opening where Stephanie tries to explain the ins-and-outs of the Bat Family to Wendy using funny cartoons, we jump to Batgirl beating on a bunch of robed bad guys when she’s interrupted by a guy calling himself the Grey Ghost — actually an obsessive train bomber who Steph corralled a few issues back. Unfortunately, the Grey Ghost’s inept intervention allows the robed guys to kill a university student — and who’s gonna get the blame for that one, huh?

Verdict: Thumbs up. The opening cartoon is just plain wonderful, and the rest of it ain’t bad either. Excellent dialogue, action, humor, you name it. Have I told y’all before how great this comic book is?

Today’s Cool Links:

Oh, and while I got y’all here — don’t forget the meeting that’s being held TONIGHT about possible future comic conventions in Lubbock. Remember, it’ll happen at 8 p.m. this evening in the Metro Tower/NTS Building downtown, up on the 19th floor. If you’ve got any interest in comic-cons in Lubbock, don’t miss it…

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Oh Brudder, Where Art Thou?

Via Snell and Kevin Church and Benjamin Birdie: Okay, lemme set this up. The most recent issue of Brian Michael Bendis’ “New Avengers” comic reveals that Dr. Strange is no longer the Sorcerer Supreme — he’s been delving too much into black magic, and he’s fallen from his mystical perch. As the Avengers, Strange, and a bunch of supervillains try to track down Strange’s magical accoutrements, including the Eye of Agamotto, we discover that the new Sorcerer Supreme is very likely going to be Jericho Drum, a.k.a. Brother Voodoo.

Very cool, sez I — nice to see a little shakeup on the mystical front, and Brother Voodoo has been a fairly cool character who has mostly been neglected since he was created in the ’70s.

Brother Voodoo’s debut as the Sorcerer Supreme looks like this:

Oh, wow.

The guy was educated in the U.S., and spent quite a few years stateside working as a psychiatrist, fer gosh sakes. He’s been running around the superhero community for who knows how long. He’s the brand-spankin’-new Sorcerer Freakin’ Supreme, and Bendis sticks him with insulting and possibly racist pidgin dialogue.

Coming up next month in Marvel’s numerous Bendis-written comics, Cecilia Reyes will show up wearing a sombrero and taking a siesta under a cactus, Hulkling will develop a lisp, and Amadeus Cho will get coke-bottle glasses and gigantic buck teeth. Why Bendis has been doing such a good job with Luke Cage, I dunno, but maybe he’s gonna start back up with the “Sweet Christmas” stuff again…

Come on, Marvel, enroll Bendis in a sensitivity class before it’s too late…

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The Black Dossier

I know this has been out there forever, but I only managed to grab this one after Christmas, thanks to some handy and much appreciated gift certificates. So what the heck, let’s review it.

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: The Black Dossier

This picks up several decades after the last episode of the entirely classic “League of Extraordinary Gentlemen” by Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill. (And if you haven’t read that yet, you really, really should. If all you know of “LoEG” is that awful Sean Connery movie, then excise all memories of that pile of cinematic dreck and go read the comics, ’cause they’re really cool.)

Aaaanyway, it’s 1958, Big Brother’s dictatorship from George Orwell’s “1984” has just fallen, and Mina Murray and Allan Quatermain are still kicking around England. Thanks to an encounter with the “Fire of Youth,” both are now basically immortal. They’re after a book called the Black Dossier, that includes the complete, secret history of their League, as well as the Leagues that came before and after.

While most of the main story is told through traditional comic illustrations, the material from the Black Dossier is, for the most part, recounted in straightforward text. These include a lengthy comic strip focusing on the life of Orlando (the immortal gender-swapping swashbuckler from Virginia Woolf’s novel); a “Fanny Hill” sequel; a short story written in the style of the ’50s beat writers; a Tijuana Bible about life and sex in Big Brother’s England; and a comedy combining P.G. Wodehouse’s Jeeves and Bertie Wooster with H.P. Lovecraft’s cthulhoid horrors. There’s also an actual pair of 3-D glasses to go along with the extended 3-D sequence at the end of the story.

Verdict: Well, I’ll give this a thumbs up, partly because I’m not sure I’ve got it in me to thumbs-down an Alan Moore story, and partly because I thought “What Ho, Gods of the Abyss?”, the Jeeves and Wooster story, was extremely funny. But yeah, this story has some severe problems. There’s vastly too many folks running around without their clothes on — sure, there’s an awful lot of classic literature that’s pretty wildly bawdy (like, fer instance, almost all of Shakespeare’s plays), but “The Black Dossier” really does desensitize you to sex and nudity after just a little while. (“Oh, look, it’s Mina without any clothes on. Oh, look, it’s Fanny Hill without any clothes on. Oh, look, it’s Orlando without any clothes on. Oh, look, it’s a Tijuana Bible. Oh, look…”)

In addition, several of the text pieces were really difficult to read, partly because of formatting issues (Paragraph indents, Mr. Moore! And less single-spaced stuff, please!) and partly because they’re not all that well-written — “The Crazy Wide Forever,” written in the style of Jack Kerouac, was almost unreadably awful.

All the stuff drawn from “1984” was a bit of a setting breaker, too, frankly. I just can’t buy into the idea that England would transition so quickly from a fairly normal society, to a crushingly autocratic dictatorship, and then back to a normal society in such a short space of time. The Ingsoc from “1984” wasn’t a government that was going away any time soon, and the concept of doublespeak wasn’t something that would allow a normal, well-adjusted society to occur, in any case.

And finally, one of the characters who shows up at the end is a giant Golliwogg doll. If you’re not familiar with those, they were blackface minstrel ragdolls. Why is there a racist doll running around England with an airship? I got no idea. And it really pulls you straight out of the story. You’re reading along, you’re in an exciting chase sequence, and then, hello, racist stereotype doll! What the frackin’ frack?! Weren’t there any other popular children’s toys in England in the late 1950s? Winnie the Pooh, maybe? Peter Cottontail? Betsy-Wetsie? Madame Freakin’ Alexander dolls?

I really do think this is my least favorite of all of Moore comics, and I’ve read a ton of ’em. But even with that caveat, I still think it’s probably worth reading.

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Wholly Spirit

Wow, two comics came out this week about “The Spirit”! Sure, that means DC and Warner Brothers are trying to drum up some interest in the Spirit movie that’s coming out in December — might I add, the Spirit movie that’s coming out in December and looks like unmitigated garbage.

Ahh, but on to the comics for now…

The Spirit #23

Ooh, lookit! A cover by Joe Kubert! BONUS!

Anyway, in this story, the Spirit travels, with Commissioner Dolan and his daughter Ellen, to a dude ranch for a little Wild West R&R. Along for the ride: a wealthy industrialist, his unfaithful trophy wife, and his scheming assistant. When the industrialist is murdered, will the Spirit be able to pin down the murderer, even with the “assistance” of a dimwitted sheriff and a mysterious Indian?

Verdict: Thumbs up. Sergio Aragones and Mark Evanier’s version of the Spirit is often too silly and not rooted deeply enough in the grime and grit of the city, but this is excellent storytelling, along with an enjoyable (if a little obvious) mystery.

The Spirit Special #1

This is the real deal — four classic stories from Will Eisner himself, creator of the Spirit and one of comics’ greatest storytellers. The stories range from 1947 to 1950 and are perfect examples of Eisner’s pulpish, gritty film-noir style. We get one story featuring the villainy of the Octopus, a story about an assassin gunning for the Spirit, and a two-parter telling the story of Sand Saref.

Verdict: Thumbs up. This is beautiful, vital stuff. The most uncomfortable part of the entire thing is the story that includes the Spirit’s sidekick, Ebony White. While the modern incarnation of the character is a perfectly normal kid, the version from the ’40s was a crude minstrel stereotype. Modern opinions on the character consider him an unfortunate element of the story who still managed to transcend the era’s racism, to some degree. But it may still make you really uncomfortable reading him.

Aside from that, again, it’s an amazingly beautiful comic, and I recommend it highly. Get it and see how a true master put his comics together.

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Hispanic Heroes in Comics

The calendar on the wall says today marks the official beginning of National Hispanic Heritage Month, which seems like as good a time as any to review the presence of Hispanic characters in comics. Though the Wikipedia page on Hispanic superheroes lists a whole lot of characters, the vast majority of them are either from small-press companies or are not currently appearing in any books. I’m not going to even try to address all of them, just because there are a ton of these characters who I know absolutely zip about, but let’s take a look at a few of the more prominent Hispanics in comics. (NOTE: No, this isn’t every Hispanic character ever — I tried to stick to characters who were currently being published.)

bane

Bane – His real name is unknown, but his origin says he was born in and grew up in a brutal prison in a fictional Latin American country. He’s generally been portrayed as a supervillain — most prominently as the guy who broke Batman’s back — but he has occasionally operated as a superhero.

Bane is one of the characters in DC’s new “Secret Six” series.

bluebeetle001

Blue Beetle – Probably the most high-profile Hispanic character in comics right now — which is a bit depressing, because the “Blue Beetle” comic book has struggled with low sales numbers and always seems to be on the brink of cancellation. Jaime Reyes is an El Paso high school student who finds a discarded blue scarab which ends up fusing itself to his spine, allowing him to turn into an armored superhero with a vast array of weaponry. Most of his supporting cast is also Hispanic.

Jaime currently appears in “Blue Beetle” and “Teen Titans,” with some appearances in “Tiny Titans.”


thedarkness

The Darkness – Jackie Estacado is of mixed Spanish and Italian ancestry. He’s a Mafia assassin who winds up possessing a power called the Darkness which allows him to create almost anything, though his abilities only function in darkness. Technically, his powers are actually aligned with elemental evil forces, but he seems to end up working on the side of the good guys as often as not.

The Darkness appears in — duh! — “The Darkness” and the new “Broken Trinity” miniseries from Top Cow Productions.

darwin

Darwin – Armando Muñoz is a mutant in the Marvel Universe. He has mixed Spanish and African ancestry. His mutant power is “reactive evolution” — in other words, his body adapts to almost any situation or environment to allow him to evolve new powers. Turn out the lights, and he’ll be able to see in the dark. Dunk him underwater, and he’ll grow gills. Stick him in a burning building, and he’ll evolve fire-proof skin. Put him in a fistfight against the Hulk… and he’ll evolve the ability to teleport to a safe distance away.

Darwin is a regular character in the current incarnation of “X-Factor.”

eldiablo

El Diablo – Originally a Wild West hero, later an unpowered crimefighter in the ’80s, the current version is a criminal named Chato Santana who operates as a bit of a Robin Hood kind of guy. He’s a drug dealer, but he uses his money to benefit the less fortunate. That’s about all I know about the guy right now — his series is brand new, and I haven’t picked it up yet.

El Diablo appears in DC’s current miniseries called “El Diablo.”

gangbuster

Gangbuster – Jose Delgado got his start as part of Superman’s supporting cast, where he operated as an unpowered vigilante who targeted street gangs. Since then, he’s become a cyborg and has kinda-sorta retired. However, he’s been brought back around as one of the main characters in DC’s current weekly series “Trinity.”

Gangbuster currently appears in “Trinity.” Wait, I said that already, didn’t I?

kylerayner

Green Lantern – Specifically, Kyle Rayner. He discovered towards the end of his solo comic that his father was from Mexico. A graphic artist and cartoonist, he was given the last Green Lantern ring in the universe after Hal Jordan destroyed the Green Lantern Corps. After operating on his own for many years, he used a temporary boost in his powers to re-create the Guardians of the Galaxy, the planet Oa, and the Central Power Battery. I think he’s always been my favorite GL.

Kyle appears regularly in “Green Lantern Corps” and makes guest appearances in “Green Lantern” and other DC comics.

hawkgirl

Hawkgirl – Both Hawkman and Hawkgirl reincarnate every time they die, but the current version of Hawkgirl, Kendra Saunders, is of mixed Hispanic descent. This is almost never referred to by anyone. Until recently, I thought she was 100% Caucasian. Though she wears a set of artificial wings, her power of flight is actually because of a belt she wears which is made of a substance called “Nth Metal.”

Hawkgirl appears in the “Justice League of America” comic.

loveandrockets1

Love and Rockets – Well, it’s not really one specific character, but this long-running independent series, created by Gilbert and Jaime Hernandez, features a large number of Hispanic characters, including Maggie, Penny Century, Luba, Ray, Speedy, Vivian, Izzy, and the population of the village of Palomar, as well as numerous other characters. The ongoing stories in this series are a combination of realism, punk rock fantasy, and magical realism, like in Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s novels.

There is a current series of “Love and Rockets” on the shelves, but there are also extensive reprints and anthologies of the older series that you can buy.

reneemontoya

The Question – Renee Montoya is a former Gotham City police detective who quit the force after she was outed as a lesbian. Knowing he was dying, the original Question, Vic Sage, took her under his wing and trained her to replace him. Operating as a vigilante, she wears a special mask that makes her appear faceless.

You can read Renee’s full origin as the Question in the “52” miniseries from a couple years ago, and she has appeared several times in the “Final Crisis” series and as a guest in other DC comics.

rictor

Rictor – Julio Esteban Richter is a former mutant able to generate seismic energy and shockwaves from his fingertips. After being depowered, along with most of Earth’s mutants, he has joined the “X-Factor Investigations” private detective agency.

Rictor appears in Marvel Comics’ “X-Factor.”

zorro1

Zorro – The granddaddy of all Hispanic superheroes. Heck, he was one of the major inspirations for Batman, which definitely makes him one of the most influential characters in adventure fiction. He was created in 1919 by Johnson McCulley for a pulp magazine. While masquerading as an ineffective fop, Don Diego de la Vega donned cape, mask, hat, and sword to battle corrupt officials in Spanish colonial California.

Though he’s most associated with movies, TV, and prose fiction, there have been several incarnations of “Zorro” comics, including a recent series from Dynamite Entertainment.

So there’s what we got. It doesn’t look like that bad a list of characters — but I am consistently surprised that there aren’t more Hispanic characters in comics, especially with a rapidly-increasing population of Hispanic-American citizens. Is it just a matter of the comic book industry being dominated by Caucasians, both as creators and as readers? That is probably a big part of the problem, but the smart companies should start realizing that a more diverse selection of characters would be more appealing to a more diverse readership.

I’ve always thought reading comics about the Guild of Perpetually White Superheroes was dull as cheap vanilla ice cream — and having more minority characters in comics makes the stories more appealing, as well as making a fictional comic-book universe more realistic and interesting…

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Politics in Comics: Captain Confederacy

 

I read this comic for the first time not that long ago. It was originally published by SteelDragon Comics, and later by Marvel’s Epic Comics imprint, and it was created by Will Shetterly and Vince Stone. The series ran from the mid-80s to the early-90s. I’d read something about it elsewhere, in which someone assumed, not having read the comic, that it was a pro-Confederacy, pro-racism, pro-Treason-in-Defense-of-Slavery hack job.

It’s not a comic for kids. There’s sex, violence, and a number of very bad and very hurtful words. But I think I can report that it isn’t racist.

Background: The story is set in an alternate history where the South successfully won independence from the North in the Civil War. From there, the rest of North America balkanized into a number of different countries, including the Republic of Texas, Deseret, the Great Spirit Alliance, the People’s Republic of California, and the Louisiana Free State. And in the Confederate States of America, the prime motivator of the Civil War quickly becomes a moot point, as the slaves are freed all over the South. It doesn’t make the CSA a haven of racial harmony, though, as non-whites are second-class citizens. A lot of the bad guys use racist slurs — even some of the heroes use racist slurs.

Which brings us to our main characters — four actors, two white and two black, who are given a super-soldier serum so they can function as a combination of superheroes and propaganda figures for the government. The two white actors become Captain Confederacy and Miss Dixie, defenders of the South, while the two black actors become their opponents, designed to demonize black activists who wanted equal rights. But one of the actors decides to defect to the North, and the government, fearful that their fake superheroes are going to be exposed, brings the hammer down, forcing the actors to decide whether they want to keep pretending to be heroes or go out and become heroes for real…

Shetterly and Stone are reprinting the full comic series in blog form — frankly, their current format is a bit difficult to navigate from within their site, so here are links to the individual chapters.

Again, this is a comic for adults. If you can’t handle sex, violence, extremely bad language, or critiques of racial politics, DO NOT click on those links.

The comic uses a great deal of racist language. But I’ve never believed that racist language alone causes a work of fiction to be racist itself. As a writer, if you’re putting together a story about a deeply racist society, like the CSA in “Captain Confederacy,” if you leave that kind of language out, you make everything look sugar-coated and fake. And this comic, though it has characters who use racist language, comes across as an actively anti-racist book. The villains are people who are working to keep an entire class of people subjugated. The heroes are people who are working to change society for the better. They’re not trying to overthrow the Confederacy, but they are trying to turn it into a vastly less oppressive nation.

As for the story itself, I think of it more as alternate-history science fiction. Altered Civil War settings are one of the more popular styles of alternate-history sci-fi. But you can’t have a story like this without addressing racial issues — sure, they’re somewhat fictionalized, but you can’t live anywhere in the South — heck, anywhere in America — for long before you realize that, no matter how improved we are from decades or centuries past, we ain’t got anywhere near a truly free and racially-equal society. We still got people who think it’s okay to drop the N-word in casual conversation. We still got politicians who’ll kiss up to racist groups for the sake of politics. We still got hardcore racists all over the ‘Net. We still got schoolkids who think nooses are a joke.

There ain’t a comic book in the world that can change that (though comic creators have been trying since Lee and Kirby’s “X-Men #1” in 1963), but it doesn’t hurt at all for comics to try to change what they can.

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The Human Brain is an Unpredictable Critter

Oh, the crazy things that go through my mind late at night when my brain is jacked up on Diet Cherry Vanilla Dr Pepper and Marshmallow Peeps…

You may have heard that Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale are going to continue their color-coded series at Marvel, following up “Spider-Man: Blue,” “Daredevil: Yellow,” and “Hulk: Gray” with the new “Captain America: White.”

 

Now, I’m sure it’ll be a really nice series, lots of great stuff about Cap during WWII, lots of beautiful art… but frankly, I just can’t seem to stop myself from re-naming it, every time I see the title, to “Captain America: Honkey.”

Yes, I know. Still can’t help it.

And I keep imagining a plot for it, too. It’s basically Cap standing around, saying stuff like, “Wow, I love country music. Aren’t sweater vests great? Who wants some Wonder Bread? I just don’t get Dave Chappelle.” And the Falcon and Luke Cage and Storm and the Black Panther show up every few minutes to yell, “Shut up, honkey!”

Other crazy comics ideas that run through my head when hopped up on candy and diet soda: Spider-Man should have a pet bear. It should be named Spider-Bear. Next year’s big comics crossovers should involve superheroes just sitting around and hugging pretty ponies and kitties and puppies. And Congorilla should totally be in the JLA.

It’s probably a good thing that I don’t write comics, ain’t it?

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Comics in Color

jackieormes

Here’s something for you comic historians out there: Jackie Ormes, the first African-American woman cartoonist.

 

Nancy Goldstein’s Jackie Ormes: The First African American Woman Cartoonist is a scholarly yet highly readable account of Ormes’ life and work. Born Zelda Mavin Jackson to a well-to-do family in Pittsburgh, Ormes, in Torchy Brown comics and the single-panel Patty-Jo ‘n’ Ginger, created stylish black female characters who scrutinized Cold War policies, advocated for civil rights, and poked fun at human foibles. Her drawings found a grateful audience in black-owned newspapers such as the Pittsburgh Courier.Author and doll collector Goldstein discovered Ormes’ story while researching the Patty-Jo doll Ormes designed. It was the first high-quality dark-skinned doll for girls, meant to replace stereotyped mammy dolls. A treasure-trove for any reader interested in African American history or American popular culture, Jackie Ormes includes more than 125 of Ormes’ cartoons and color comics, reproduced for the first time since their debut. Many are annotated with explanations of current events.

In 1948, little Patty-Jo urged, “How’s about gettin’ our rich Uncle Sam to put good public schools all over?” Her high-heeled big sister holds a pamphlet for the newly begun Negro College Fund. Way ahead of its time for showing how pollution unequally affects minorities, in 1954, Torchy in Heartbeats depicts a handsome black doctor who saves a black community from environmental poisoning masterminded by a bigoted industrialist. Naturally, Torchy, a nurse, falls in love with the doctor.

The book captures the sophisticated whirl of Ormes’ social life, with photos of Ormes rubbing elbows with Eartha Kitt and Duke Ellington. Her life wasn’t without tragedy: her only child, a little girl, died at age three, and the FBI investigated her. Yet her talent, supportive husband, and convictions assured her successes.

Ormes never seems to get much publicity, partly because she didn’t draw superhero comics, partly because, let’s face it, she got a double dose of marginalization because of her gender and her skin color. That’s starting to change, thanks in part to Goldstein’s book and the Ormes Society website. And here are some other good resources about Ormes’ life and artwork.

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