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Stop Jockin’ Jay-Z [Thunderbolts 147]

August 19th, 2010 by | Tags: , , ,

Black people! Comics! It’s been a while, but I’m back for my crown.

There’s tendency in comics to write pretty generic black guys. You occasionally get the Samuel L Jackson Fight the Power Angry Black Fella types, but more often than not, you’re looking at a slightly watered down version of that same type. Sanitized Shaft. Diet Dolemite. Toothless Tommy Gibbs. Put Bishop (pre-mega murder spree), most depictions of John Stewart, Luke Cage, Black Lightning, Mr. Terrific, and Steel in a room together. First, note their hair. Second, note their personalities. They’re all kind of really moral, upstanding human beings… but with an edge. Maybe they used to be mad at the man. Maybe they sometimes have flashy nods to whatever standard of blackness they were born into. Who knows, who cares, but a bunch of black dudes with basically the same moral compass is boring.

(Fully half of black women in cape comix, excepting Storm who has been kept in safety away from all things black up until recently, tend to pop into the snakecharming neck, nuh uh I know that chick didn’t just do what I just saw her do, tell me I didn’t just see that, super ghitto around the way girl stereotype a little too easily. The other half of black women in comics is Vixen, who is like Animal Man, but stuck in boring stories.)

There are no rules for writing black people in comics, and anyone who’d tell you otherwise is someone not worth listening to. In my family alone is a vast range of characters, some less than positive and some exemplary. Everything counts, everything is true. The thing is, sometimes people trip into pitfalls when writing black people, and black guys in particular. You could easily make a list of mis-steps.

One is slipping in slang. Slang is an intensely regional thing with several outside factors. I don’t talk like people from New York talk, but we do share some slang because of shared history or culture. Have you ever seen somebody write “crunked?” I can almost guarantee that person isn’t from the south, because “crunk” is its own past tense. You didn’t get crunked last night, you got crunk. Slang shifts and warps depending on where you are. You wouldn’t catch me dead saying “hella,” but I can’t quite scrub “might could” or “one more ‘gin” from my vocabulary. You seriously can’t just urbandictionary this stuff and expect to get it right.

Another way is by showing how ROUGH and TOUGH these guys are by throwing in some of that old “urban flavor.” Since they were raised on the streets they’re a little harder than some milquetoast whiteboy like Spider-Man! So they’ll slang it up, call somebody a @#$&()&, and then fist bump another guy right before hitting a villain with a yo mama joke or something. And sure, there’s that thing black people do where they nod at each other on the street (don’t front like you haven’t seen it and/or don’t do it on occasion) which makes our white friends ask “Do you know that guy?” in a hushed whisper. I can see how that’d cultivate this crazy idea that there’s a quiet coalition of people with a thug just waiting to jump out of their skin. But (wait for it) not everybody is from the cold, hard streets. Some folks are from the suburbs. Some folks are country.

The biggest offender in my mind, though, is something that probably got widespread appeal back during the blaxploitation era, resurrected by Snoopy Doggy Dogg, and then it caught fire and died when Destiny’s Child dropped a single. I’m sure you know it–some variant of a guy going “SAY MY NAME!” It’s raw dog alpha male braggadocio, a way of humiliating someone by forcing them to acknowledge the fact that you’re better than them. If you’ve ever played Madden NFL 2004 and broke out an eighty yard run to TD off a ridiculous quarterback sneak with Michael Vick, you know exactly what I’m talking about because you’ve done it yourself (I know I’m guilty).

It’s corny, it’s stupid, it’s cliche, and people do it, but I don’t necessarily want to read about it. It’s shorthand for Cool Black Guy, which really just means Black Guy Who Threatens People Other Than Me And Maybe My Friends, and that’s offensive, Mr. Charlie.

But.

Thunderbolts 147. Jeff Parker, Kev Walker, Frank Martin. Here’s two pages and the two spreads that follow them.


And well… they did my least favorite thing and they pulled it off. It’s not forced, it’s not awkward, and it’s honestly the most flavor Cage has had since the Azzarello/Corben CAGE mini from almost ten years ago. The setting, the timing, the violence, all of this is dead on. It’s perfect, it’s believable, and it’s fantastic. It’s not just “Hey, by the way, this guy is black, remember?” It’s a show of authority, it’s a big dog showing his charges exactly who the alpha male is around here.

I like Cage, but I haven’t like liked him in ages. He’s been pretty bland and neutered under Bendis’s run. It’s not that I want the old Cage, the Kurt Busiek/Jo Duffy Cage back, but I kind of do. This thing that Parker and Walker are doing here, though, is the best of both worlds without ignoring either of them.

Every story is true. But, if you’re going to tell some of them… at least put in the work and get it right, like these guys did.

All right? Peace.


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24 comments to “Stop Jockin’ Jay-Z [Thunderbolts 147]”

  1. I always thought “hella” was a Long Island thing. Or maybe Boston. Somewhere East coast involving drunk white boys…


  2. I’ve been thinking about this issue, and I think what makes it work is the fact that it’s not out of nowhere. Luke blows his top, yeah, but this is after like 10-12 pages of him very being a clean, methodical, completely levelheaded leader. Shit goes down, he’s alone, he runs into the dude he probably fantasizes about tearing apart limb by limb at night because of what he did to his wife…. and, well, yeah. It doesn’t feel like posturing, it feels like a genuinely angry emotional reaction. Luke covers it up with the “chump.” later, but you can tell he’s been waiting for that moment since the second he got the job at the Raft.


  3. heella is bay area slang


  4. The thing that nails it for me is that he’s not the only person having this moment, in fact he doesn’t even have the best moment. That goes to John Walker who makes dude bring him a wheelchair.

    Jesus, that shit is demeaning.


  5. Kev Walker draws the hell out of this thing.


  6. I agree with James W. That second page you posted has SO much action and energy. Love it.


  7. >I’m sure you know it–some variant of a guy going “SAY MY NAME!”

    Yes, but I know it as a white guy thing; it’s what Doom & Banner were yelling nearly 4 months ago in Incredible Hulk.


  8. BTW, I’ve been going through the Wire over the last few weeks and just finished it last night; I took a double-take at that gif of Duquan in a “is the internet reading my mind?” kind of way.


  9. I thought that Bendis was the first person to get cage to do that “say my name” thing?

    Also, I think that while Bendis main work with Cage has been poor, I think his confrontation between Cage and Osborn in Pulse was great. Spider-man is all “gee, there is nothing we can do” and Luke just heads down to the courthouse and kicks the shit out of him.


  10. I’ve never really been a fan of Cage. I never read much with him in it until Bendis took over the Avengers books, and then he just seemed like Brian Michael Bendis in a big angry black guy’s body.

    But Jeff Parker’s making me “get” Cage for the first time in T-Bolts, so kudos for that.

    I wasn’t big on this lineup to begin with, but four issues in and it’s come together so wonderfully. I’ve been with T-Bolts since issue 1, and having Abe, Melissa, Norbie, and Karla there is a plus, but the new team members are really entertaining as all hell so far. Add in John Walker, a personal favorite character of mine, and have him do awesome shit like this, and you’ve got one hell of a winner of a book so far.


  11. That last scene with Cage and Osborn in PULSE was horrible. Way to emasculate that superhero, Cagey!

    I don’t think Brian Michael Bendis likes Peter Parker very much.

    //Oo/\


  12. @Matthew Craig

    A guy doesn’t spend 10 years or more of his career writing various versions of a character he doesn’t like.


  13. @Matthew Craig

    …And this is why “Ultimate Spider-Man” has been a critically and fan-acclaimed book for almost 150 issues, right? C’mon, now…


  14. OOPS! Also meant to say, most wonderful article, David. That MAX “CAGE” book made me a fan of the character, and although I rarely have the chance to read a monthly book these days, I’m glad to see the character being treated positively. Such a good thing in so many respects.


  15. Enough about Luke Cage! When do we get get to discuss John Walker’s crippled master routine?


  16. Do I really have to put a colon-capital-P at the end of every paragraph?

    Because that last sentence was written with tongue firmly in cheek.

    Come on, now. Why would a man knowingly lie about a writer he has admired for ten years?

    COLON CAPITAL-P.

    I’m totally serious about that Osgoblin sequence, though. But I won’t say any more than that.

    //Oo/\


  17. Well, I gotta agree about that Cage-Goblin fight too.

    Especially considering that Osborn escapes promptly afterwards and Spider-Man has no issue clonking him in the back of the skull with a mailbox, yet there, he was all “Stop that awful mister Cage!”


  18. […] Brother’s discussion of aforementioned battle, specifically Luke Cage’s part, over at 4th Letter!. Brothers is one of my favorite bloggers. His stuff is always worth […]


  19. This is why I like 4thletter. It has intelligent, thought-out criticisms and analysis, but the articles all have this charisma, this swagger to them.


  20. Strong piece here, but I’d like to suggest that examples like Bendis’ use of Cage might be his way of avoiding slipping too much into PABF territory. If anything, I’m glad that Bendis wrote Luke in such a way that other aspects of his character got to shine: his friendship with D. Rand; his relationship with Jessica (when was the last time an interracial couple was this close to the top of the 616 pecking order?) and his leveling-up in the MU superhero community. When Steve Rogers himself gives you an Avengers franchise – and Clint Barton won’t even object to it – that’s also something to celebrate.


  21. @Discount Lad:
    Agreed, I check this site multiple times a day every day just to see the articles. This was a really strong piece, and what you said about there being no rules for writing a black character was genius. I really get tired of how often we can only be written in a few stereotyped ways. We’re not robots with 3 personality settings; straying a bit from an “established” formula isn’t a bad thing.

    Anyways, forgetting my rambling, I’ll be checking out Thunderbolts again after reading this; I enjoyed the previous Caged angels arc, but once Secret Invasion started/ended and the book changes totally, I just packed up and left.


  22. “Have you ever seen somebody write “crunked?” I can almost guarantee that person isn’t from the south.”

    Why must you treat Iconz like that?


  23. Aw man, why you gotta remind me of them?


  24. […] Comics) – This is quickly becoming my favorite book at Marvel. David said all there is to say about Luke Cage, but let’s talk about John Walker. Walker was introduced by Mark Gruenwald in his classic […]