Robot 6

Black History Month ‘09 #17: Still Dreaming

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 Feb. 17.

by David Brothers

One thing Marvel has always pushed, which DC hasn’t, is the idea of social injustice. The X-Men and other mutants are hated and feared. Many of their heroes are outlaws. I think this is a large part of why most black people I’ve talked to preferred Marvel to DC as a kid.

It’s a strictly unscientific survey, but every once and a while I’ll ask my black friends, who I know read comics, what they read as a kid. So far, I think it’s been all Marvel, with a focus on X-Men and Spider-Man. The ’70s pulpy books (Cage, Shang-chi, Moon Knight, Ghost Rider) get a lot of love, too. I’ve always been surprised at the answers I get, though they tend to be the same answer each time. I don’t know if the results are due to some sort of selection bias, but they’ve been pretty true on two different coasts now.

If I had to put my finger on it, a lot of us dug Marvel because we could relate to the fact that the heroes weren’t always on top and that the books took place in more of a real world than DC’s. Superman lived in Metropolis and Batman lived in Gotham, but Spider-Man lived in Queens and Luke Cage in Harlem. They had to struggle for cash, navigate complicated family relationships, and weren’t super jet pilots or scientists. Spidey was extremely smart, and Cage had a heart of gold, but both suffered under the knowledge that no one was going to respect them for that.

Part of the relative lack of black characters in comics meant that we had to learn how to relate growing up. You’d find aspects of characters to latch on to, and these would give you an in. I didn’t get bullied at school, nor did I live in Queens, but I could relate with being smart and having a single parent. I thought the X-Men were cool because they were from all over the place. While Claremont’s pidgin English is quaint these days, as a kid, it just hammered home that they were different, but still accepted one another.

It’s been nice to see comics growing up as I grow up. They’ve gone from vague metaphors to just letting it all hang out, so to speak. Brian Bendis put some fairly well-thought out commentary on racism and unjust laws in New Avengers: Civil War, Marvel’s big event at the time. It was light, and served as the impetus for a fight scene, but he managed to do it without being overly preachy or having someone stand up and pontificate for twenty-two pages.

Milestone may have been ten years ahead of its time. It launched during a glut and told some great stories, but it was during a time when people were more concerned about flipping comics for cash than reading comics for a story. So what if you were trailblazing for an entire industry, this issue of Spider-Man is worth thirty-five dollars. Let me tell you, this is gonna pay for my kid’s college fund!

It’s nice to see Milestone making a come back, and I hope that DC does right by them. An aggressive trade program, one that’s much more aggressive than DC’s current “It’ll be out when it’s out, we just work here, man” program, is necessary. Pound the books out like there’s no tomorrow. Get them in print, in libraries, in bookstores, and into the hands of the people who want to read it.

Push those Milestone books like they were crack. Every four to six weeks, a new book. The market for those books overlaps somewhat with the current comics readership, but there are kids out there who made Static Shock more popular than Pokemon who are hitting their twenties now. Put these books, which are simple enough for kids and layered enough for adults, into their hands.

We’re past the point where we just have to settle for relating. Now, we can see people who look like us in action.

*****

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

Black History Month ‘09 #15: Halftime
Black History Month ‘09 #16: My Country
Black History Month ‘09 #18: One What? One Love
Black History Month ‘09 #19: Bridging the Gap
Black History Month ‘09 #20: It Ain’t Hard To Tell
Black History Month ‘09 #21: Ether

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Comments

6 Comments

I always though of DC being more interested in social justice. Look at half of Alan Moore’s work, Seven Miles a Second, Hellblazer, Animal Man, Suicide Squad and countless others. It’s a bit more of a comparatively recent trend though.

“The X-Men and other mutants are hated and feared. Many of their heroes are outlaws. ”

To me, that’s the biggest fault of the Marvel Universe: why are mutants (and Spider-man) hated, while the Fantastic 4 and others are not: do all non-mutant humans in the Marvel Universe have the ability to instantly know if someone is a mutant, so that they know who to hate?

It always annoyed me that mutant haters weren’t running the Fantastic 4 and Thor outta town.

Vincent, the key distinction is that mutants are a new race/evolutionary step/etc… The Fantastic Four were a freak accident, as were many other Marvel heroes. Thor is a relic of a bygone era, not an example of what is to come. The X-Men were proof positive that your genes could be as relevant as Cro-Magnon Man’s within a few generations.

They’re fear of white folks becoming the minority in America, or of gays mainstreaming. Those are the buttons they push.

Nobody is terrified that their cultural identity is going to be supplanted by people in experimental rockets. ;)

And of course just like so many enemies of the X-Men, the bigots out to get gays and other victims of discrimination have giant killer robots and cyborgs to commit mass murder for them.

Kevin T, I know that. But there’s still no way to tell the difference between a rocket accident and a mutant, is there? To the general Marvel public, Mr Fantastic should be just as reviled as Magneto, because there’s no difference between the two, outwardly (and likely not a lot of difference DNA wise).

Why does the Marvel public love the Thing, but hate Kitty Pryde? It makes no sense.

When I was a kid I loved DC comics, such as All Star Comics, Justice League of America, Green Lantern, Black Lightning, Mister Miracle, but Batman and the Legion of Super Heroes were my favorites. If I remember correctly, Marvel was a bunch of bad asses dukeing it out, while DC had quirky little stories,with bizarre concepts that actually pulled me in. I remember seeing Luke Cage and being slightly embarrassed; mostly because of the exzagerated hip jargon. Marvel was about diversity, but their characters were incredibly stereotypical.

DC wasn’t big on diversity, maybe the Legion counts but it was about acceptance, rather then segregation.
I was reading about things that were new to me; bogus science that at the time felt futuristic and made me want to learn more. Thanks to DC comics I was two reading levels above my peers mostly because their books made want to do research, and I had a wider vocab.

Over at Marvel I loved Falcon and Black Panther , Shang Chi, X-Men, and Iron Fist and his supporting cast, and Thor.
Falcon was angry; I knew about that; at the time the Panther was involved with the inner city; I knew all about that. Iron Fist was in a relationship with a black woman; that was new to me. During the time I was reading the X-men (Claremont and Byrne ) it was high adventure and they weren’t hiding from no one. Thor tapped into another love of mine mythology.

I had a strong family system and I was highly involved in my church and community, and I had a fair amount of friends. You’re right, Marvel was about real world (relatively speaking) but when I read comics I did want to see people who looked like me, but I was also attracted to concepts that was new and different to me, and that wasn’t Marvel Comics

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