Dangerous Black Superheroes

If you’ve read much of my other work on this website, you’re probably looking at the title and going, “What? But he’s always linking to that piece over at Jezebel about how brown kids deserve more brown superheroes!” Well, two things about that: 1) I’d probably do just as well linking you to “A Superhero That Looks Like My Son” and 2) they absolutely do, but I’m concerned that this mandate might encourage us to settle for just about any Black superhero, when that is simply not enough. We do owe it to children of color, to say nothing of LGBTQ+ youth and others, to represent their diversity in superheroes. But first, let’s deal with why it is that comics and superheroes matter so much.

Perseus_Cellini_Loggia_dei_Lanzi_2005_09_13The easy answer is that superheroes aren’t just fantasies; they’re deities. In our modern context, where our media at least appears to be pluralistic and decentralized, our deities come in all forms, and some of them wear capes. I say that to express that superhero stories are modern mythologies. They’re a method by which we represent the best of our culture to ourselves, and also by which we work out the issues currently facing our society. We’re prone to associate the word “myth” with things that didn’t actually happen—events strictly in the realm of fantasy. But take, for example, the story of Perseus and Medusa. Perseus goes on a hero’s journey, beheads Medusa, rescues Andromeda, etc., etc. Clearly a story. Many of the great mythographers of the 20th century, however, regard this myth as a representation of an actual event. From the third volume of Joseph Campbell’s The Masks of God:

 The legend of Perseus beheading Medusa means, specifically, that “the Hellenes overran the goddess’s chief shrines” and “stripped her priestesses of their Gorgon masks,”…that is to say, there occurred in the early thirteenth century B.C. an actual historic rupture, a sort of sociological trauma, which has been registered in this myth.

Pictured: Culture Hero

Pictured: Culture Hero

All that to say that the myths passed on by a society are not simply the idle results of primitive beliefs or childish minds. Even if they do not encode actual events, they record perspectives, cultural norms and ideals, and desires. Thus, when we write superhero stories, we are telling tales about idealized versions of ourselves. If my little mini-lecture about occidental mythology was not convincing, take Captain America: The Winter Soldier. That film could not more blatantly be about the relationship between freedom and security, the tension between individual liberty/honor, and the modern surveillance state. Plainly, it is a 170 million dollar exploration of one our society’s most pressing issues. Continue reading

On Black Characters and the Cost of Diversity

michael-b-jordan-fantastic-four-e1392904953390As you likely already know, Michael B. Jordan will play the Human Torch in the new Fantastic Four film, slated for release on June 19, 2015. This casting decision was met with its fair share of outcry, because Johnny Storm is understood to be a White character, and Michael B. Jordan is clearly African-American. I think it would be easy to write it off as just another instance of fans of a very White and very male industry being a very White and male kind of racist. But there are deeper questions about misunderstanding of the role of diversity in artistic representation. During my tenure at this blog, I’ve written a fair amount about race and representation in the geek world, not just in comics, but also in video games, and theatre. I’ll be honest, I’ve found a dearth of good arguments against increasing the level of racial diversity in geek culture. Once more, with feeling: brown kids deserve more brown superheroes. Most counter-arguments to that notion are vapid, disingenuous, or just plain racist, like “most people won’t be able to relate to that character if his race is changed/is nonwhite”. There’s a comic over at Critical Miss that sums it up perfectly:

People can identify with Fox McCloud and he’s a bipedal fox. But a dude with darker skin is somehow too alien? What is that if not [racism]?

Arguments like this one are easily, and hilariously, dismissed (seriously, go read that comic). But every once in a while, a more seductive argument against diversity of representation pops up. It usually goes something like: “Why is it okay to change the race of [x], who is White, but not okay to change [y], who is a POC, to a White character?” The argument relies on a rather misguided sense of absolute equality, among myriad other problems. It’s probably easier to get traction on such an issue if we phrase it in terms of concrete examples.

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Representation Roll Call: The Black List

Welcome back, gentle readers! My cute little roll call format and I have missed you so. Lady Saika and I wrote a post about the new Mighty Avengers (2013) #1, which features a great cast of characters, many of whom are black and/or Hispanic. Since you might not know who some of them are, I figured I’d give you a little rundown on the crew.

Let’s jump into it, shall we? According to Wikipedia, the Infinity Event Mighty Avengers includes the following characters: Luke Cage, Victor Alvarez, Ava Ayala, Monica Rambeau, Otto Octavius/Peter Parker, Adam Brashear, Samuel Wilson, and Jennifer Walters. You’ll recognize some of those names right off the bat, but I think it’s telling just to look at the names of the cast laid out. I’m not going to address all of them, just my relevant favorites (sorry Otto/Jennifer/Sam/Adam)!

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The Mighty Avengers #1

mighty-avengers-banner

Saika: I’m starting to consider the possibility that Marvel has a psychic on staff. How else could they have perfectly timed the release of The Mighty Avengers #1, a comic that unbenches and gives the spotlight to several well-loved PoC heroes, to coincide with their not-so-Distinguished Competition’s putting like eight feet in its mouth last week?

Ink: Speaking of eight feet, do you know who’s completely unbearable? Superior Spider-Man, aka Otto Octavius in Peter Parker’s body. This issue opens with the first of several chump villains, the Plunderer. As he and his henchmen attempt to separate Horizon Labs from their hi-tech doodads, they are confronted (which is a euphemism for beat about the head and body) by Cage’s new Heroes for Hire crew. Superior Spider-Man joins the brawl against the Plunderer, and ridicules the gang for their mercenary behavior, right after giving the etymology of the word mercenary. That’s what’s different about our soon-to-be Avengers: they have to keep the lights on.  After being abandoned by White Tiger, the team retreats, leaving its individual members, which includes the new Power Man (Victor Alvarez) and the Blue Marvel, to contemplate their future.

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