Robot 6

Black History Month ‘09 #14: Simple, Ain’t It? But Quite Clever.

Editor’s note: In honor of February being Black History Month, David Brothers is taking “every day in February to talk about specific aspect of black culture and comic books. It’s mainly focused on superhero comics, since that’s what I grew up reading and still makes up the bulk of my reading material.” The series is running over at the 4thletter!, and David was gracious enough to let us repost some of them each Saturday in February. The one reprinted below appeared on the 4thletter today.

by David Brothers

I don’t read comics because of Jack Kirby, but I do enjoy them more than I would because of the ones he created.

There are a few hero pairs out there, groups like Superman/Steel, Captain America/Falcon, Iron Man/War Machine, Scott Free/Shilo Norman, Captain Marvel/Monica Rambeau, Hal Jordan/John Stewart, and maybe a few others. Generally, I’m talking about either the black replacement or the black sidekick.

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Most authors tend to set up a situation in which one hero is better than the other, sometimes even to the point where one hero defers to the other just based on stature. Other times, the black heroes are left to languish for years. John Stewart is kind of clearly the red-headed step child of the Green Lantern Corps, being the only one without regular panel time. Shilo Norman was in limbo for years and Monica Rambeau still hasn’t gone anywhere. It’s almost always a little off balance.

Kirby’s treatment of Captain America & the Falcon was pretty amazing. Even though Captain America is an icon and a war hero, their relationship was one based purely on friendship. Falcon wasn’t consumed with hero-worshipping Cap, nor was he just on sidekick status. They were just friends. They would hang out, do things together, and get into adventures. It was a buddy movie, rather than anything involving sidekicks.

I mentioned it last year, but Kirby invented Gabriel Jones, Black Panther, Flippa Dippa, Vykin the Black, Black Racer, Sam “Falcon” Wilson, Princess Zanda, and Mr. Miracle over the course of his career. I’m sure that he created more, but these characters alone are impressive. What Kirby did was push forward a diverse cast of characters. He was a guy who did the stories he wanted to tell, and those stories weren’t all-white.

In an email, Tucker Stone from The Factual Opinion said this to me:

Wouldn’t it be better if you hired a writer who pitched a black story because that’s the story he wanted to tell? I flat out refuse to believe that there’s nobody with one. There’s a million douches with fantasy stories about Power Girl. There’s somebody with a black Firestorm story. Wouldn’t you just be starting from a cleaner point? A point where you say, hey, this guy is black so fucking what. I have a story I want to tell. Instead, you get: this guy’s black now. Figure it out and make it work.

That’s what Kirby did. He wasn’t given an order to create a Black Superman or Black Firestorm. He just wrote about black characters because he thought it’d be a good story, not because there was a need for a New Diversity Initiative. No one in a board room was sitting over his shoulder, telling him to make his books ethnic or urban or whatever fake word we are using now to mean “black.” He wasn’t trying to fix anything. He wasn’t trying to be anti-racist.

He just did it because he wanted to.

That’s how it should work.

*****

Read David’s other Black History Month posts over at the 4thletter!:

Black History Month ‘09 #08: The Theme Song is “It’s Yours”
Black History Month ‘09 #09: Shakey Dogs
Black History Month ‘09 #10: Stay True
Black History Month ‘09 #11: America! United We Stand, Divided We Fall
Black History Month ‘09 #12: Banned For Life (Spit the Real)
Black History Month ‘09 #13: I Could Forgive The Past, But I Never Forget It

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5 Comments

Falcon was created by Stan Lee and Gene Colan. Captain America # 117

All of that is easy to say, but the fact is Jack Kirby always has been and always will be singular in everything he did. Including racial diversity.

Most comic book writers are white and will write about white people. I don’t think it’s a bad thing to have editors force them to move outside their comfort zone and create new things. Especially when the new characters are diverse. I think it helps push the creators to use their imaginations and helps make comics more diverse.

It’s just hard to hear people complain about racial diversity initiatives when the vast majority of comic book characters are white. Shouldn’t racial diversity be a good thing, even if it is an editorial mandate?

Roshow writes: “Shouldn’t racial diversity be a good thing, even if it is an editorial mandate?”

I disagree. Racial diversity enforced by mandate is dangerously close to tokenism and quota systems. In other words, as a comic book reader, I would rather read a fascinating and compelling story that happens to focus on a black character or a hispanic character or a gay character or ________ character, than a mediocre (or worse) story written solely because the writer “had to” use/create a character strictly for diversity reasons.

Gotham Central by Greg Rucka starred both a lesbian character and a black character, and was easily one of the most compelling stories DC was putting out at the time. Not because Montoya was gay or because Allen was black, but because the stories were fantastic, and the characters fit naturally within the framework of the story. The story touched on Renee’s girlfriend and romantic life, just as it touched on some of the difficulties Cris faced as a black cop raising a family, but those were components of the whole.

It worked because Rucka had a story he wanted to tell, not because DC had some policy that demanded a certain percentage of racial/sexual diversity.

The Mister Miracle created by Jack Kirby was a white guy, yes? An alien white guy, sure, but still….

Max: Kirby also created Shilo Norman!

ewh84: Crap, I thought I’d edited that out. Thanks for the correction, regardless.

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