Black History Month 11: Do It For Delf

February 11th, 2008 by | Tags: , , , , ,

i stole these images from wikipedia.
You can’t drive a knife into a man’s back nine inches, pull it out six inches, and call it progress.
–Malcolm X

If you’ve been reading comics blogs at all, you probably know who Spoiler is. If not, the Cliff’s Notes is that she was a supporting character in Robin, was briefly promoted to being Robin for a couple issues, was fired, started a gang war, was tortured, and eventually died from her wounds in what was basically the worst crossover to hit comics in years. She was a supporting character for Robin for quite a while, and her shtick was basically being the daughter of a villain and trying to make good. “Do the sins of the father” etc etc and all that.

Something of a web movement called Girl Wonder has sprung up using her as a symbol, which campaigns in part to get a memorial case in the Batcave for Spoiler ala Jason Todd and fairness toward women in comics.

Orpheus was another supporting Bat-character. Cliff’s: He was an entertainer turned gang leader, but one who was trying to turn the gangs toward more positive directions. With his partner Onyx, they were Bat-sanctioned and doing a pretty good job of things. Literally right before Spoiler was captured and tortured, the villain who did her in stepped out of the shadows and unceremoniously slit Orpheus’s throat. Later on, the villain wore Orpheus’s face as a mask, because I guess people are so dumb that they can’t tell when somebody’s face has been cut off.

I’m leaving something out, though, aren’t I? What’s the difference between the two? Both of them were/are niche characters, though Spoiler appeared in considerably more books than Orpheus before she died. Both of them were sanctioned, though to varying degrees, by the Batman. Both of them were killed by the same guy in the same crossover, though Orpheus missed out on all the torture.

Oh yeah– Spoiler is a young blonde girl. Orpheus is a grown black man.

Orpheus is not the symbol of a group campaigning for right-making. He is rarely mentioned and has essentially been forgotten.

Why is Orpheus forgotten and why is Spoiler an icon? Maybe it’s the cynic in me, but this sounds familiar.

I’m not trying to diss anyone here. It’s just an interesting little comparison that I thought of while I was mulling the two characters over in my head.

I think it boils down to this: Spoiler is much, much more marketable than Orpheus is. If vigilantes were real, and Spoiler went out like she did? It’d be a 24 hour news cycle with breaking updates from various talking heads, constant news tickers, and the whole shebang. She’d be Jonbenet Ramsey, Natalee Holloway, Laci Peterson, and Chandra Levy all in one, with a side of Patty Hearst.

Orpheus… not so much. History bears this out. Crimes against black people just don’t get a lot of media attention, unless it’s something either a) totally outlandish or b) talked about enough that the media can’t get away with ignoring it. Darfur didn’t just start when movie stars started talking about it. The Jena Six didn’t just suddenly pop up last summer. Do y’all remember Megan Williams (link one link two)? Beaten, tortured, and raped by six people over the course of a week? No?

picture1.jpgI just went to CNN.com to look up a link for Megan Williams. Off in the sidebar where they keep the videos? Some reporter uncovered new info about (pause) Natalee Holloway!

I can’t make this stuff up, man. This is real life. Honest to goodness. I had to take a screenshot of it just to be sure that my eyes weren’t deceiving me.

Anyway, how do you combat this? You’re already starting behind the eight ball. You have to prove that you’re just as worth it, even though your starting line is a good 50 meters behind everyone else’s. Not to put too serious a point in it, this is the dilemma that many people face everyday. You’re a quota hire, a sports scholarship kid, or someone who gets bussed in to school because of tricksy zoning. People look at you like you’re not supposed to be there and treat you the same.

It’s that feeling you get when you have to work twice as hard for half the respect. You have to show and prove, not because it’s right, but because it’s the only way to get anywhere.

So, what do you do? You do for delf. You look out for yourself first and foremost. It doesn’t matter what the next man is doing. If you don’t look out for yourself, no one will. You can’t expect anyone to do anything for you.

This is how cynics are born. People who feel like the world is against them and the only thing they can do is fight back. If enough people spit on you often enough, you begin to feel like that’s the way things are and the only thing you can do is put your eyebrows down and ice grill everyone who comes along. Finding that balance between cynicism and pragmatism is tough. A lot of people fail to do it, with good reason. Sometimes you can’t tell how hard you have to push back.

If you don’t hustle and beat feet, you are going to get pushed off that Headline News 24-hour ticker. You are going to be ignored, minimized, and left out. Everything is politics and everything is popularity. You have to do it yourself.

I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know, though, am I? I’ve heard this speech ever since I was a kid.

I didn’t learn this lesson from Orpheus. It’s something that I, and millions of other kids worldwide, learned as children. Spoiler and Orpheus just provided a neat comics parallel. Equal situations, characters of a similar stature, and so on. Spoiler wasn’t poor (she was kind of decidedly middle class). Orpheus was upper middle class, but not Bruce Wayne rich. They both had chances, they both became heroes, but Orpheus never, ever got the attention Spoiler did.

You gotta hustle in life.

Don’t forget about Megan Williams.

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10 comments to “Black History Month 11: Do It For Delf”

  1. I can think of a couple reasons why the set up between Orpheus and Spoiler was different beyond race.

    1. Spoiler was Robin, if only briefly. I’d say there is SOME difference between being an actual member of the BatFamily and someone who allowed to run around in tights in his city.

    2. Spoiler had a lengthier history with a greater number of appearances, even in non Batman books. The character had ties to various DC characters. Robin, Batman, Black Canary, etc…

    Not that the character wasn’t gacked in a stupid way to push forward a crap story…

  2. David:

    Thank you for reminding me of Orpheus and how he was treated as a character and that characters of color, as well as fans and creator of the same, have a hard road to travel.


    What David didn’t point out about the dichotomy between Spoiler and Orpheus is that while she was a long running character in Robin and other DC books, Orpheus was commissioned as a character in order to add more color to the Bat books and the DC Universe. What happened to Spoiler in the end was not the best thing, yet how can DC have agreed to remove a black hero whose only reason for existing was to add a black hero into the Batman milieu?

    Where you are coming from is a point of having more invested in a white female character than a black male character, therefore finding the cause for a display case to be a valid one. However, no one has said anything about killing off the black guy who only existed for the sole purpose of being the black guy in the Batman milieu. Meaning, that David’s argument, that this society pays more attention to the trials of whites and especially white women than those of blacks male or female, stands as valid.

  3. I liked reading this–i think it’s a bit unfair of me to throw huge amounts of support towards it–i didn’t think much of any of the comics in which orpheus appeared, and i probably only loathe spoiler more solely because she appeared more often. But the parallel between the reality of Megan Williams is an apt, and intelligently written one.

    I still don’t buy into the idea that bringing about equality in shitty comic book stories is somehow going to do anything to bring about any sort of real equality–the majority of people who buy the damn things are already old enough that they should have either learned better long ago, or they aren’t people worth dealing with anyway. I’m doubtful that there’s too many future valuable members of society who’s comprehension of race and gender relations can be seriously swayed by what Jeph Loeb and Geoff Johns produce. Somebody who’s that simple-minded could just as easily be swayed to kill muslims because the price of bread went up. (not to lump you in with any group, or imply that your trying to start a Orpheus version of Girl Wonder.)

    Nice post.

  4. They seem to have killed that guy for the same reason they shoehorned in the Gordon girl’s physically impossible injury: more comics fans were gratified by it than offended, and the rest were willing to forgive. Those two characters were disposed of in the same way they as the underprivelidged Todd and the comic-book “crazy” Valley, exept with less fanfare and less demonization.

  5. […] light of something David Brothers said this week, I’m going to take some negative energy directed in my fashion and speak on something […]

  6. Well, there’s not a concern about a character until somebody raises one. I’d think that most of the Girl Wonder folks would agree with you about Orpheus, especially the way his death was used.

  7. This one of the Girl Wonder folk certainly does agree (and I have written, if tangentially, on Orpheus at Girl-Wonder, here: http://girl-wonder.org/girlsreadcomics/?p=79)

    I’ve always thought that his death was utterly stupid, but I’d never considered the (in retrospect, obvious) link between crimes against young white women versus black people, and the lack of concern over this erasure from the Batbooks.

    Thanks for this excellent article, David – I’ve linked it on the Girl-Wonder blog, here: http://girl-wonder.org/gwog/2008/02/comics-black-history-month

  8. Huh. Well, I didn’t even know who Orpheus was, & I didn’t buy any of–what was it called?–“War Games” or whatever, where they were killed.

    But that sucks.

    To be fair, it’s “contempt for minor character” as much as it’s racism. I’m still sore about Ant-Man & Yellowjacket (the ones who weren’t Hank Pym) being killed in Avengers, & the mountains of obscure characters Geoff Johns has killed off-panel in JSA.

    But it’s so true.

  9. I believe that if more black people supported and help out
    black people in different ways, then it’s all gravy.

    Like for example, instead of doing what you can to
    have the ‘mainstream’ news media to acknowledge what happening
    in your neighboorhood, how about you let other media news acknowledge
    your situation (or someone’s elses) and make sure that certain
    media news coverage is sincere on doing so.

    Black Men Screaming broadcast is a good example of
    getting the ACTUAL facts straight.

    Fox News on the other hand…well, you get the idea.

    Just remember, you can’t depend on the mainstream
    news media to notice EVERYTHING that’s going on
    in the world (whether they’re do intentionally
    or unintentionally), so bother supporting
    yourself to news media that don’t give
    a care about anyone that they’re
    not interested in taking any news
    coverage from?

    Also, if you’re going to work as twice as hard
    in life, don’t do it because you just want
    to impress and/or prove to some people that
    you’re just as better than the next person,
    but do it to built confidence in yourself
    (and/or within others) and do not
    worry so much on what and how
    other people see you, but in how
    The Lord see you (and how all of
    us see within yourself).

    If more and more people do that
    then more chances we can ALL
    be better off in more ways than one.

    But, you do have a point on how and why
    you must look out for yourself.

    Really, at the end of the day
    even if you do anything (and/or
    everything) just as hard as the next
    person for any person at all, then
    expect NOTHING at all for it.
    If certain people don’t, then
    don’t beat your head on the wall
    over it. Just remember that
    you shouldn’t do things to just
    earn notice, respect and decency
    from other people, but do it
    impress and honor God
    and/or inspire confidence
    in yourself and/or others.

    Well, that’s that.


  10. […] crap character in a bad story?” The posts I made during BHM that were about busting shots at characters or bloggers? Those got […]