Wednesday, November 9, 2011

DC NEW "BLACK" 52...or has DC Comics finally figured out how to position it's BLACK SUPERHEROES?

Being as opinionated as I am about "BLACK COMIC BOOKS" and the comeuppance of "BLACK SUPERHEROES" in this POST OBAMA world...many of you might be wondering why I have not yet commented on the bold new direction of DC Comics's African American heroes who have been rolled out in the new "52" package. I have remained tight-lipped regarding these products because I am pretty much disgusted and unmoved by their efforts. This is going to be a rough ride, so please...the following article is not written for the squeamish. This is an important rant and complaint to the establishment or status quo...and I realize most of us have been hypnotized into thinking we are satisfied with "status quo" but let's take the red pill and examine the host of black comics that have been released over the past few months.

DC COMICS has never really produced any black superheroes that were particularly relevant to me. Black Lightning created by Tony Isabella was kind of groovy but even as a kid back in 1977, I always sensed that DC was holding back or "keeping a brother down" as they say. There's always good old John Stewart (THE Black-face GREEN LANTERN) but if you have read any of the previous blogs on this site...Stewart has been categorized as a SECOND Banana hero or a STEP and FETCH it other words it took the acceptance of a white hero to clear the road for a black version. That's not to say I don't enjoy the recent incarnation of John Stewart but it cannot be denied that his origins were as a funky sidekick to a more serious and noble Hal Jordan character. If you doubt what I'm saying, do your research on the character's first appearance and then we will take it from there. The point is...DC was not very focused or just wasn't very successful creating minority characters...particularly black ones who could stand on their own two feet. Now if you compare the evolution of the BLACK SUPERHERO at MARVEL COMICS during these early periods, you get a vast range of characters like BLACK PANTHER, THE FALCON, LUKE CAGE, and STORM just to name a few...and this is where one can begin to understand that DC is just a conservative, dare I say "stodgy" company who had fallen behind the times. Black Panther was an African King at the head of a technologically advanced empire solely run by black folks. The fact that MARVEL stepped outside the box to even suggest such a concept is still mind boggling. But DC didn't get it...until the nineties.

1990. I was there. A young college student...full of hope and optimism. Full time hip hop fan and film critic (among other things) appetite for pop culture during this period was enormous. Spike Lee and Robert Townsend had recently sparked a shocking, out of nowhere BLACK RENAISSANCE in the film industry with flicks like SHE'S GOTTA HAVE IT and HOLLYWOOD SHUFFLE. These films had been fueled by the growing and outspoken art form of hip hop which was painstakingly pre-packaged for mainstream American consumption by pioneers such as DJ COOL HERC, Afrika Bambaataa, and Sugarhill Gang. This cultural cauldron of African American angst and creativity continued to simmer until there was a full blown explosion. It was amazing. It was powerful. And I witnessed and participated in it all. The flowering of this new "BLACK CONSCIOUSNESS" was also spurred by the new found interest in Malcolm X no doubt instigated by Chuck D and Public Enemy and the fiery chants of groups like X-Clan who encouraged young blacks to investigate their "real" roots. POP CULTURE is contagious...this re-awakening to the contributions, history and talents of African Americans spilled over into many different mediums...including comic books. DC Comics rode the wave by creating Milestone Comics. Milestone Comics was revolutionary and seemed to be an abrupt U-Turn for a company as rigid as DC had proven itself to be. But in a world that had been overturned by an emcee named ICE CUBE, overcome by bold fashion statements reflecting urban street sensibilities like CROSS COLOURS, and interrupted by the brash new television show sporting a predominantly black cast...IN LIVING COLOR...Corporate America had been socked in the jaw by "JUNGLE FEVER" and was thrilled by the economic prospects of appropriating this neo-blak culture. DC COMIC got involved in the feeding frenzy. Static was one of the superheroes introduced in this bold new universe of black intriguing animated series was spawned by the original comic book series written and created by the late, great Dwayne Mcduffie, and now a new series in DC's NEW 52.  And away we go....

When the first of the new DC 52 books shipped, I passed on Static Shock. My primary reason for doing so is because times are hard. It's an economic recession and brother man got bills to pay. That being what it is...I picked the book up and just wasn't intrigued by anything I saw in it. I must also confess that when I originally picked up Static back in the nineties...I was geeked for like the first six issues and then the whole notion of neo-blak comic books kind of went sour for me. Static was cool for what it was...but I kept getting the feeling I was reading a cleverly disguised Spider Man story. The new STATIC SHOCK by DC in the NEW 52 is promising but there's something missing. Virgil Ovid Hawkins is our intrepid teenage hero with the crazy bio-electric powers that enable him to levitate, fly and beat the mess out of super-villains. He's still the positive, nerdy, cerebral teen wiz that he was in the original series and the cartoon. I confess I did not actually purchase this book because of the scratchy, uninspired art...but I did something that is considered taboo at the lcs (local comic book store)...I read the whole run, issues 1-3, in the shop. My immediate concerns for Static Shock are the basics...artwork, setting and script. To me this book is just not getting the love it deserves. One very big mistake is pulling Virgil out of the Dakota Universe. One day, I plan to revisit my Milestone Collection and re-read the various titles so I can write a very careful assessment of what I thought was hit and miss about the universe. The one thing I can tell you now though is the setting of all of the Milestone stories was in the fictional city of Dakota. This was an awesome setting and allowed these characters to live and breathe in slightly different air than the DC proper heroes. The midwestern city of Dakota in this new series has been dumped for New York City. How exciting. Another teenage adventurer in the Big Apple. The villains are also kind of blah and Virgil goes through the same things we see most teenage heroes going through. It's awwwwright....but just not good enough DC. John Rozum seems to be a competent writer but he has already left the book and that's cool with me because it felt like he was phoning it in anyway. Whoever writes Static Shock needs to write it with the same passion and love for the character that Mcduffie had, and that person needs to also understand that every time they bang out mediocre product on this title...the harder it's going to be to resuscitate it later.

Next up is Mr. Terrific. Wow. What can I say? This book is stunningly offensive to the senses. It is an exercise in straight up boredom, sub-par artwork and devastatingly bad dialog. I first became attracted to the character of Mr. Terrific through the JSA title he appeared in from time to time. I liked his costume and thought it was cool that he was this hyper-intelligent adventurer who solved crimes with his brains and tech-toys. Was this enough to warrant publishing his own series? Probably not. Mr. Terrific is a horrific mess of a comic that I wish somebody would have had the cajones to put to death before it saw the light of day but the deed has been done. Another thing that just flat out annoyed me throughout the course of Mr. Terrific's exploits is we keep hearing that he is "the world's third smartest man." Third? Who the hell is the first and second? That's just so stupid. Hopefully the book is about to be cancelled with authority. Personally, I would have preferred for DC to have used this re-launch energy toward a new HARDWARE series (My personal favorite Milestone Media character) or even a pimped out GREEN LANTERN in the HOOD title starring John Stewart. Come on DC!!!!!!!

Last but not least....BATWING. The Black Batman of Africa. Batwing was one of the many thought-gasms produced in Grant Morrison's balls out attempt to retro-fit Bat Man and undo some of the harm caused by the DARK-WATCH Syndrome of the eighties. Bat Wing was a cute and interesting thought to ruminate on after closing the final page of a BATMAN INC comic. I think I can speak for us all when I say that there are many other interesting black characters I would like to see depicted in their own series before an African Black-Face Bat Man facsimile. I tried to read the book based on its Morrison pedigree. I did not like it. Nor do I see the potential for ongoing adventures. It's like having a comic book version of Hotel Rwanda or Tears of the Sun. Granted...there could be some really interesting stories told about the continent of Africa (check out Unknown Soldier issues of recent vintage) but they would need to be thoroughly researched and the characters should be more than 2d cut outs of an existing super-hero. Again, this book seems to be getting positive buzz about it's storyline and the art but I'm not feeling it. The art looks like someone is playing with different computer paint programs. I can tell the person is talented but the art is watery and murky.

So as a black writer of my own comic book starring a black superhero...I can definitely say that I'm not hating. I wanted these things to be good. Great even. But it looks like until the big companies start letting minority writers and artists come in and work on these're going to continue to get these half inspired attempts at creating meaningful black heroes. The whole reason I started writing LUCIUS HAMMER is because my main go to comic book companies (Marvel Comics and DC) would not produce the kind of product I'm looking for. I'm sure Dwayne Mcduffie tried to tell them. But they refuse to listen. They probably won't learn even after having to cancel all three of these titles we've discussed. And these titles will be canceled.

Here's a thought DC...why don't you try hiring a few black writers and artists to produce these books? What could it hurt? Is racism still that strong that black creators are not even recruited to delineate the adventures of superheroes of their own race. Playing devil's advocate, I can see the trepidation in letting a black man take over the writing chores of say...The new DC 52 Superman. But Static Shock? Black Lightning? Bronze Tiger or Green Lantern? I challenge DC and Marvel to make a commitment to it's characters of color and employ folks of more diverse backgrounds so we readers can read more diverse stories. Hell....Judd Winnick can't write everything!            

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Blogger Justin Tiemeyer said...

Thanks for linking me to this article via Twitter. This is exactly the kind of conversation I've been looking for about black superheroes in comic books.

I'm wondering if you might write about some of the other black main characters in DC books and also expand on your thoughts about Marvel's black characters. I'd love to hear your opinion.

I do want to point out that Mister Terrific is, before it was canceled, was written by Eric Wallace, a minority, and more specifically black, writer. I think it's going to take more than just including more minority writers and artists. I think they're going to have to have more freedom to choose who they want to write and what stories they want to tell.

I was hoping to link to your blog and even reference some of your arguments in a future blog post of my own. Would that be all right by you?

August 22, 2012 at 3:28 PM  

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