“All up in the Kool-Aid and don’t know the flavor.”

May 11th, 2011 by | Tags: ,

People were linking “Fanboys” by Alexander Chee around earlier this morning and praising it for putting superheroes on blast for being so shortsighted. Since I’m a killjoy who hates to see wack things get shine, here’s a rebuttal.

-His basic point, the one that people have latched onto because it confirms whatever biases they have about cape comics, is that superhero comics have gotten whiter since Giant-Size X-Men 1. He hitches this point to the idea that this is cultural backlash because we got a black president. So:

1. Chee simply doesn’t know enough to talk authoritatively on this issue. The story about the white mutant messiah was announced as early as June 2007. Sorta hard to look at it as a reaction to a black president when you know that. It’s a coincidence, and nothing more.

2. Weasel words are great when your point is this thin, so when he says, “Most of [the X-Men] are entirely white,” he’s not incorrect. Uncanny X-Men is pretty white (though Kitty Pryde is Jewish), but Astonishing X-Men has both Storm and Armor. X-Men Legacy has had a rotating cast with a latino dude, Japanese-American girl, Indian girl, and several other races.

He mentions, but then ignores, the New Mutants. New Mutants stars Cannonball, Danielle Moonstar, Sunspot, Karma, Magik, Magma, Warlock, and Cypher. That’s Kentucky hick, Native American, Brazilian, Vietnamese, Russian, fake South American Roman from Brazil, robot, and Generic White. That’s three, maybe four (Magma is questionable), white characters on a team of eight.

Are most of the books entirely white? No. The only one that genuinely is is probably Uncanny X-Men. Precision is key here, because you aren’t just trying to describe a movie you saw yesterweek while falling asleep at 2am. You’re trying to make a point about an intensely personal subject and do so by using facts. If your facts are suspect, your point is suspect, so please stop screwing it up for the rest of us.

3. White isn’t a single monolithic group. There are different types of white, which absolutely counts as diversity. Russian White, Jewish White, Fake South American Brazilian White, Welsh White, and Generic White (Cyclops, Captain America, Batman, blah blah blah). Treating them as a single group makes the argument into “white vs other,” which treats white as both the default and superior to every single other race. That’s stupid. But, this piece does it, and does it repeatedly.

4. If you’re going to make grand, sweeping statements, you don’t get to pick and choose. Comics haven’t gotten “more white.” That’s absurd. The books he picked up are fairly white, yes, but in using those to make his point, he ignores the books that are diverse.

If you want other books that feature a diverse cast, look at Heroes for Hire, Power Man & Iron Fist, Black Panther: Man Without Fear (as wack as that book is), and a fistful of others. Spider-Girl stars a Latina. Thunderbolts has a majority white cast, but never felt “white.” Dark Wolverine stars a Japanese-Canadian. Amadeus Cho is Korean and a major player. Jubilee just came off headlining a miniseries with Wolverine. How is that “more white?”

Look: cape comics are always going to be for white dudes. People who are not white dudes will read and enjoy them, but at this point? Comics can’t even afford to launch new series. They had their chance to branch out in the ’90s and early ’00s and dropped the ball. Certain specific writers and artists will do a good job with what they have, presenting diverse casts and telling good stories, but as a whole? Marvel has one audience, and whoever else they get is just a bonus. It is what it is. It sucks, but to suggest that things have regressed from 1975… that’s laughable.

words by zeb wells, art by leonard kirk

5. One more excerpt:

You could ask of the Captain America comic, “Did we go to war as a result of the comic?” or “Did the comic depict our unconscious desire to go to war?” This is a difficult question. Most of the people who could answer it are dead. Many of them died fighting that war.

“Difficult question.”

Whatever dude.

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11 comments to ““All up in the Kool-Aid and don’t know the flavor.””

  1. From what I read in the article most of the books he was talking about came out before Heroes for Hire or Power Man and Iron Fist. Siege was real chalky looking man. Both companies are real white right now.

    Also they couldn’t expand much in the 90s and early 00s because they lost the newsstand entirely. Marvel was bankrupt most of that time. The post crash sucked but I feel was more diverse in characters and books than we have now.

    Also the writer does say the New Mutants are the most diverse team with it’s latinos and black characters.

  2. “Yeah, we were gonna let this whole Pearl Harbor thing slide, but this guy is *punching Hitler in the face*. I mean, damn.”

  3. @Julian Lytle: You could make a case for DC being pretty white, but Marvel? No way, no how. That is empirically incorrect.

    And New Mutants disproves his point, and he’s wrong about X-Factor, too. Monet is Algerian, not Brazilian.

    The ’90s had comics selling in the millions. That was the time to reach out. The ’00s had comics movies blowing up and people getting curious about comics again. That was the time to reach out.

  4. Thank you for saying this.

  5. Nice response. Mr. Brothers, you remain one of the top writers on race in comics.

    I think one problem with pieces by Chee is that a lot of writers, even comic book readers, think social issues in superhero comics are easy to write about because those comics so often approach the issues with clumsiness and simplicity. But there’s more to critiquing this than accepting it on face value and cherry-picking your examples, as you’ve demonstrated.

    Comics aren’t instantly easy to write about even when they’re stupid, is how I’d put it. Some writers who want to weigh in on comics properties in pop culture are probably surprised to find out that there’s a small but strong group of people who do this as a job, or like it’s their job, and that there’s a legacy of thought and critique here that goes back decades. It’s easy to pick on superhero comics, and often quite wise, but it’s no good to assume that you know more than you do about them like Chee does here.

  6. @david brothers:

    By the way, is there a comic anywhere that shows Monet as a bourgeois Algerian in a post-colonial context? (Man, that sounds boring as hell to describe but maybe not to read.)

  7. @D. Druid: Thanks for the compliment. Good question, too. I haven’t read a comic featuring Monet in years (PAD’s writing doesn’t agree with me), but maybe in the older Generation X stuff? That’s where her haughtiness took hold, and I believe they did a handful of stories about her family. I haven’t read any of that series in years, though.

  8. @david brothers:

    I think you can make a case for Marvel being a little extra white also. Just because they put Misty in a book, have Luke in the B Avengers title and stuck Black Panther with the left over ruined DD book don’t change that fact for me.
    That’s my feeling though, I feel Marvel is real lame right now. DC is kinda terrible right now too but I wash that away with some good DC media on TV.

    He messed up on Monet yes, but from what I read of X-Factor that isn’t the Monet I knew or liked to read. PAD is making her into whatever he wants her to be. At least that is the way I feel after reading some issues.

    90s was the reach out. The 90s was mainstream. The crash took that away. You can’t sell comics to millions in a couple thousand Comic Shops. Even the book store market is confusing for the most part. Hopefully they can figure out how to do it with digital but really I doubt it will be the big 2 who figure it out at all.

    P.S. I also don’t think a person has to be steeped in comics to write about their feelings on them.

  9. Holy hell, that article is terrible! Also that fifth excerpt you provide above, that guy can seriously stuff it with that garbage…jeez, I think I’m actually a little bit offended by that.

    Not even up to the Freud/Obama/Cheney/Thor/WHATEVER thing yet…!

  10. I would kill for something other than Greek or Norse mythology in superhero comics. Where’s a book about Shango or Eshu? Or Lugh?

    @Julian: I don’t think so either. The Druid was saying that this person was writing about comics in a “Holy shit! I’m bringing ACTUAL CRITICAL THOUGHT to dumb lowbrow crap! No one has ever done that before!” The article was just smug.

  11. I know this week David, between the Breevort statement and the DC FCBD coloring “snafu” I got a lil heated and even lost a little control on the AfroNerd internet show…

    However, Mr.Chee’s articles showed me what happens when you let passion and paranoia run without having logic to counter balance it. And you are quite on point with the fact checking thing. Sheesh, this along with this Hollywood reporter statement about how Superman should have killed Osama instead of renouncing the US (yeah, there’s like 10 things wrong in that statement…but I digress).

    Great, logical article counter balancing the furor David and inherently, I guess this is why New Mutants and X-Factor are the only X-Books I like and read regularly anymore (I skipped the Age of X thing though. I knew it would be a letdown like DoomWar).

    The inclusion of race and gender within comics should be easier than it is. However the stigmas an the fans’ own conditioning make this harder to achieve on the whole. What I would like to see is when race and gender are not the story in terms of the book, only a facet in the character’s tapestry.