Friday, September 01, 2006

Be careful what you wish just might get it...

So a while ago, I went on a semi-rant about the lack of black super heroes and villains in comics and movies. Primarily I was focused on the lack of villains, mainly due to the lingering stereotypes that have pervaded fiction, principally that black folks aren't smart enough to BE super villains, that deep down inside we're the best people in the world and that its truly our poverty and our circumstances that make us resort to crime. If given all the opportunities in the world, we'd NEVER resort to criminal mastermind-ery.

HOGWASH! Boulderdash, I say, with great gusto and furious flying spittle!

But it is an old rant, and one that I had thankfully laid to rest, engaging myself in other, gentler pursuits, like The Onion, Joystiq, and Rapebear (Go to the June archives and scroll down to the 'On Follow-up Calls' entry. Just trust me).

But my good friend Gikinmaro had other plans for me. Other plans indeed. You see, my amigo, The Gikin, as he is sometimes fearfully named by those foolish enough to anger him, is an avid collector of comics and graphic novels. This all started when he birthday-gifted me with a copy of Truth: Red, White, and Black, which is the story of how the military perfected the serum that gave Captain America his powers on black soldiers long before they gave it to Steve Roberts. He loved the comic so much and it opened his eyes to the artform in its entirety and how it had grown (mostly) out of its infantile stages of protraying women as bra-busting sex objects and men as tough-as nails, musclebound freaks who get off on violence. Since that day he has been a virtual comic-hound, seeking out the best, the most interesting the most poignant comics that have graced the printed page. And then he shares them with me.

Oh how I enjoy those random late-night visits when he shows up at my doorstep, a handful of comics in one hand, a ridiculously bad horror flick in the other, and a grin on his lips that says 'Oh wait till you see what I got for you THIS week!'

This was how I came upon the wonderful graphic novel 'It's a bird!' by Stephen Seagle, a semi-autobiographical tale in which a young comic artist must come to grips with the task of writing a superman comic, even though he hates superman with all his heart. The story is well crafted, deeply personal and resonates on many different levels. Definately worth the read if you have even a passing interest in comics or superman.

I have since been bitten with the comics bug. The graphic novel bug. I had it when I started reading The Sandman series by Neil Gaiman but it died down again when I didnt have the heart (or the money) to persue any more comics, partly for fear of buying stinkers and burning the damn things on the barbecue grill as kindling.

But today, gentle reader, today was a new day! Something inside me told me to take up the old rant, but this time Do something about it. I Searched for Black Superheroes. Like a wandering fool in search of enlightenment, I asked my question to the Google Priest ontop of the mountain (or in the browser) who brought me without delay to...

The Museum of Black Superheroes.


I hit the muther-trucking GOLD MINE! They're Here! They're all here! Blade! The Green Lantern! War Machine! Even the very first black Marvel Superhero, the subtly named 'Whitewash'! I was overjoyed. I was ecstatic! I clinked on the gallery pictures, which brought up websites of black heros I hadnever heard of!

This lead me to a new site, Urban Style Comics. It is here that my joy waned and my trepidation grew. Dreadlock? Okay, he seems pretty cool. I guess. Son of a God, Blessed with powers beyond mortal reckoning. Dreadlocks. Seems pretty straight forward. But then we get to Jihad-A.D.? Huh? Pharohn? Okay. But then...

Nubian X?? and happiness completely replaced by confusion and despair.

But, bless my heart, I kept clicking.

That led me to (seriously, thats the name. Click on the link!) another Urban Style Animation. Whats Urban Style? Oh, I guess its city themes and black folks. Cause all us black folks live in the city. What, didnt get the memo? Its around here somewhere...

Well, Gettosake, has all sorts of wonderfully odd superheroes, from the powerful Chocolate Thunder and the enigmatic Johnathan FIERCE!, to the sublime Venus Kinkaid and the artful Soul Sista. I mean, with heroes like these, how can we, as black people, NOT rise up?

But this is what you wanted, isn't it Benticore? Black Superheroes? A place where the african-american hero can thrive and tell tales that matter culturally to you and your kin? Isn't this the genesis of your dream of the eventual and inevitable Black Super Villain? Isn't this your WISH?

I thought so. But now I'm not sure. I know these artists have poured a lot of hard work into their product and I dont mean to make light of their achievements. It's's almost a pyrric victory. One of the reasons why I never got into comics as a child was because they seemed so masturbatory in their glorification of impossible male and female forms. And their stories sucked. They just felt like it didnt matter, that it was an in-club thing. The power of the Interweb allows all ideas to have at least a small random audience, if nothing else, and it is in this vast and terrible wasteland that these black heroes are starting to get their due. But I guess this is part of the growing process. Mainstream comics went through it. Indie Comics are going through it. So I guess the Black Super hero has to grow up some too.

Nubian X, though? Seriously?

Maybe I want too much too soon. Half of me wants the race of these superheroes, and therefore ALL race to not matter. The other part of me wants to have my ethnicity put on stage and glorified for all the world to see. I cant have it both ways. Welcome to being Black in America, Benticore! Glad you could make it...sigh...Maybe its not a bad thing. Maybe these superheroes are the burgeoning mythos of the Urban African American culture, the backbone of myths and legends that african americans are woefully short of thanks to the incalculable power of Slavery to block the past from the present for so many black folks. Maybe one day, my grand daughter will be telling tales of The Negromancer, who brought knowledge and hope to all those who would listen to his music, and how he didnt save the world but he saved peoples lives one day at a time, one song at a time.

I can hope.

I'll keep searching for the gold, keep reaching for the brass ring, and keep an eye out for the things that truly matter, be they the Black Superhero who isn't a cliche, to the Black Villain who has an aspiration towards evil and has the ability to carry out those aspiriations. Once I find them, I'll let you know.

But hey, at least they havent gone the whole Black Sword fighter with the 'avenge my parents' complex who says cool witticisms to his defeated foes, right?

Oh, wait.



*EDIT* Maybe I spoke too soon...I checked out many of those links and most are dead. Maybe the age of the black superhero has come and gone...maybe its too late for the Urban Style Animation and it's purveyors...maybe...

Oh wait...Nevermind...forgot about Wesley Snipes...Mr. Always-bet-on-black himself.

Well, that's that then.

*Lights himself on fire*


Jaelithe said...

I say, stop waiting for someone to write it for you. Find yourself an artist to collaborate with, write your own black superhero and your own black supervillian, and post the comics on the web until someone gets smart enough to publish them.

(Cuz you have all the time in the world to do that, right? You're just rolling in free time to track down an artist and write. Just like I myself have all the time in the world to write a kids' fantasy novel starring a girl with a plot that has nothing to do with princesses, pretty little fairies, or pink horses . . . I suppose Coraline came close, but it was more horror than fantasy . . .)

Still, I get the feeling you'd do an excellent job with this subject given the opportunity. And I say this as a former comic geek (who stopped buying for the same reason you did-- too expensive).

The Gikin said...

I'm here to clear up a few misconceptions.
"The Gikin, as he is sometimes fearfully named by those foolish enough to anger him"
To say my name requires breath, something those who anger me quickly find themselves without.
"avid collector"
I have merely been exposed to comics as a medium, and 'collect' them in the same vain as anyone else would collect books or movies. I find stuff I like and I buy it. Not exactly grounds for 'avid.'
"...the artform in its entirety and how it had grown (mostly) out of its infantile stages..."
Comics primarily do still bear the putrid stench of maturity unattained. I've just learned how to scent the good ones.
"a ridiculously bad horror flick"
'Saw' was cool, not great, but I take offense at ridiculously bad! and how do you mention that and not 'Tsotsi???' Or did you classify that as 'a ridiculously bad horror flick?' And so long as we're mentioning what goes on did you tell the lovely readers out there about me thrashing you in Soul Calibur??? HMMM????
Back to subjects at hand: I'm reminded of a time some years ago. I rented a bad video game, not an uncommon occurence, but this time Adam happened to be over. I classified it as a turd in five minutes, Adam would not follow suit. He was determined to find some value in this game. I remember saying, "Adam, the game is craptacular, just put the controller down." I reflected on this the following day, and realized the Pantheon is a filter for games when it comes to Adam. We all like similar style games and own game systems, but Adam doesn't. Everything goes through us before hitting him, hence why giving up was so difficult. He did give up, but not like you or I would. He stopped doing what the game wanted him to and spent his time molesting tree spirits for kicks. This story was recalled for the parallels to the present. Don't believe for a second that comics have come that far, you just have good filters, Adam first, now me. I still have a couple of mistake purchases I can show you for proof. Look through that 'Previews' mag and see what I'm talking about. Trust me you still want to be cautious.

Aeshema the Fury said...

Well, Gikin, In comparison to me, you ARE and avid collector, in that you spend the time to sift through the weeds to find the good stuff. I dont have that inclination.

"And so long as we're mentioning what goes on did you tell the lovely readers out there about me thrashing you in Soul Calibur??? HMMM????"

Whats that? Huh? I...dont seem to recall that senator. Can you define sex, please?

As for the medium moving beyond big breasts and hunks with paper thin plots, I'd be forced to agree with you about the medium as a whole, but it seems that there are more opportunities for the more artful and intelligent story to be told and get published that there were in the past. There are more options now, and the interwebs make those opportunities expand exponentially. Sure, that means you get more prepubescent fantasies, but you also get some interesting, intelligent ones (Lackadaisy Cats, I'm looking at you!) that are bound for publication.

As long as YOU are my filter, I dont think I'll be led astray. And I'm okay with that.

Hmm...Soul..Calibur, you say? I dont think I've heard of the thing. Certainly there were no THRASHINGS, as you seem to insist. Ahem.

(Oh wait...I do recall some Ringout Matches with Astaroth and whatever poor overmatched sap you happened to pick...but my memory seems to begin and end there. ah well...)

Queue said...

Justin I will say you have never brought a wack movie to my home nad for tha ti am extremely grateful...

I don't know about any soul Calibur whoopins though...