standing in the ruins of another black man’s life

June 17th, 2011 by | Tags: ,

Flashpoint: Grodd of War is about a telepathic gorilla killing half of Africa while taking over the continent as a sort of Planet of the Apes/superiority thing, maybe you saw this dumb comments thread about it.

You know you’ve got a weak bench as far as characters go when the most prominent black characters in a story set in Africa are five unnamed and generic child soldiers, four of which die on the spot. Isn’t that weird? Sure, everyone’s been murdered or whatever, but are child soldiers a better shorthand for “This is Africa” than grown men with machetes or AK-47s? Like, are child soldiers the new spear-chuckin’ African pygmy cannibals? Is this a thing I need to mark down in my hand-written appendix to the Big Book of Racism!?

It’s so hard to keep up these days. And I have dreams, too. I was hoping that either those dudes who walk hyenas or have that ill fashion sense would be the next signifier for “This is not Monaco, this is Baghdad Mogadishu,” you know? Have you seen these guys? They’re all the way swagged out, like Dipset at their prime crossed with those cats who were cool in the ’70s and rock bright orange double breasted suits these days like they’re all that. Imagine if that was the face of Africa.

But yeah, child soldiers, cool, got it. There’s what, 200,000 kids serving in rebel armies, many of them against their will? No, wait. 200,000 boys, I mean. The girls get raped and murdered. (They call them wives.) But yeah, yo–that’s an intensely powerful idea, right? A swarm of children, a couple million dead, a million-some orphans, millions more who’ve had their lives ruined. That’s a powerful idea right there, the sort of meme that burrows deep down into your brain and rattles your fillings. I think it’s that combination of lost innocence and malice, “kids are patriotic robotic, operate catapults and goose-step over innocence/innocents,” it’s positively sexy. Some good drama in there, some really easy emotional hooks.

It’s a comfortably brown concept, too, isn’t it? We don’t really have that over here. Asia, some of the wilder parts of Europe, Mexico, a bunch of Africa, sure, but ’round here? Nah. Closest we get is gang violence, I figure. Child soldiers. Ill-fitting clothes, big guns… It’s a little edgy, but it’s just distant enough to play in Peoria. And it’s so Africa. A few panels of these little kidlets will give us some verisimilitude.

And man, how about the best guy in Grodd’s army being a white Scotsman who is cursed to become a gorilla? I mean, that’s pretty cool. Golden gorilla–that idea has legs. More like that.

Oh! I just remembered something. I read an interview with the writer of this thing, Sean Ryan, a while back. I made a joke about it on Twitter, I think. I don’t remember right now. Quoth the weblog:

SR: He really doesn’t. They ignore him. A thing I wanted to touch on in the story is how Africa is often ignored. There’s awful things happening in Africa all the time in our own world and we don’t really know about it. It usually takes some kind of celebrity to point it out to us. So that’s sort of what’s going on in Africa in Flashpoint. Grodd has taken over Africa and turned it into a mass grave, but the world could care less. They’re more focused on Aquaman and Wonder Woman.

Sure enough, on the first page, Grodd is all “I slaughter half of Africa… and most people don’t even know my name. Location, location, location.” while chilling on a throne made out of human skulls. Real world reference: complete! CHEA!

Most of all, though. Most of all. I liked that the most significant human character–the only human character left to protect Africa, the only one with a name–is that piece of crap Batman knock-off Catman. He goes down fighting, too, before Grodd pulls his head off. I wish he got some lines. He’d probably say something pretty cool. “You’ve murdered Africa, you maniac! You blew it all up!” Should maybe workshop that line. Seems a little familiar.

Catman: his return to fame was in a Kevin Smith comic (strike 1) as a fat pathetic loser (strike 2) and then he become a SUPER COOL TRAPPER HUNTER WOLVERINE GUY! in another comic (that’s three, clear out, B). He’s a regular old American fella, ain’t doing no harm. He lives with lions, and he just really gets them, you know? Like really, really really. Overhigh girl at a party talking about how beautiful the universe is, man, it makes me wanna cry it’s so unbelievably beautiful gets them.

Count it: five unnamed brown child soldiers (four dead [killed by a child], one living), one Scotsman turned golden ape (he dies), the hero of Africa (a white dude who’s probably from Nowhere, Connecticut in Mowgli drag [ooh, can we tie in the white man’s burden somehow?]), and a continent that’s implied to be a giant open grave, conquered by monkeys who are, at best, smart enough to get a high school diploma.

That smells like Africa to me, bwana.

(This was going to be maybe 150 words long, but took a weird turn around “Isn’t that weird?” and I couldn’t stop for some reason. This is a comic that makes you want to be mean to someone. Turns out somebody likes this piece of crap, though.)

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25 comments to “standing in the ruins of another black man’s life”

  1. Not even a B’wana Beast sighting? Tsk tsk DC. Also, isn’t there supposed to a African Batman caring about this stuff?

  2. But Brian, without Bruce doing Batman Inc there’s no way that guy would be inspired to heroism on his own. Certainly not if THE ENTIRE CONTINENT WERE OVERRUN BY A MONKEY SUPERVILLAIN!

    Seriously, though, DC would rather imply he got murdered early on than use this opportunity to preview a hero who is actually getting his own book in September. What a fucking waste.

  3. Umm… Sorry about cursing in your comments, David.

  4. Catman deserves better than to get pulled into this piece of shit. He’s pretty cool in SECRET SIX.

  5. Maybe you should write black comics for DC and correct all the errors, though reading your sperg rage posts are fun. Nah just rage its better that way.

  6. See, the worst thing about this, the very worst thing, is that there are creators I would trust to pull this story off. You could make a good story out of a evil telepathic gorilla and his army of apes conquering their way up Africa and into the world. You’d just have to, you know, have actual African characters, from different nationalities (because, DC and Judd Winick, Africa is not a country) opposing him and doing heroic things. Hell, you could even have a white guy if you wanted as part of the group. Sure. Just one of the guys, you know, not in command, not the cavalry, just doing the team thing. If Mignola or Waid was writing something like that, I’d read it. Because those guys get it.

    But this….this is a piece of crap. It takes what could potentially be an interesting idea and a chance to introduce a whole bunch of new characters, and squanders it on a racist, condescending, poorly written, ill thought out piece of garbage.

  7. That picture is amazing, oh wow.

    Seeing those dudes running around in comic form would be the best, like if one of Superboy’s universe-punches meant that Nigeria’s highlife scene spontaneously morphed into Lupin III forty years ago and everything has looked like that ever since. Guys in wild suits chasing each other across the country, three-piece horn sections playing in the background everywhere, and everybody divides their time between madcap treasure heists and chilling in cafes.

    But I guess… I guess an entire continent of child soldiers works too? I mean, nobody reads superhero comics because they enjoy escapism, what the heck am I thinking.

  8. David,

    Two things:

    1. I REALLY want that “Gentlemen of Bacongo” book now. Thanks for pointing it out. Now the quest is to find an affordable copy.

    2. This comic should have ended with Tyroc and the citizens of Marzal emerging from their Black Brigadoon to regulate on Grodd and his monkey army wearing their perfectly tailored Saville Row Sunday best.

    – JEP

  9. @Brian Rutty & Ragnell: Wow, that is a good point. A chance to give a new character time to show and prove before pushing him into the limelight. Not a bad idea at all.

    @Aelbein: There are a couple of series I enjoy that feature child soldiers. Joshua Dysart and Alberto Ponticelli’s Unknown Soldier was pretty measured and sad. It made it a point to show just how awful the situation is. Keitaro Takahashi’s Jormungand is another good one, despite being a dumb action manga. It’s better written and has real stakes, rather than whatever this Grodd comic is.

    @Jay Potts: That would be the best possible way to make Tyroc not terrible!

  10. @david brothers: I wasn’t reacting to the child soldiers as such, although I keep hearing great things about Unknown Soldier. I need to pick that up. I’ve never heard of Jourmungand but I’ll look into it.

    What bothered me most was the complete sloppiness of the story and characters combined with a casual unwillingness to try and dig a little deeper. The same way it does when ignorant slam poets drop “the holocaust!” as a cheap and easy way to garner a little pathos. “Look at this terrible thing” is not dealing with an issue and it’s not calling attention to it.

    I hate it when real world issues show up in mainstream Marvel/DC comics. Not because I don’t want to see them addressed, but because it is almost always done in a casual, ham-handed and ultimately insulting way.

  11. As fucking DAPPER as those guys are, and holy god I wish I could dress that well, wasn’t one of your initial points in the original Grodd piece that Africa isn’t a homogenous, one piece take it all together deal? (Which, clearly this was true)

    Yeah child soldiers as “the face of africa” is terrible – but by the same token replacing the “face of africa” with something awesome still says that there is a unified culture that needs a face.

  12. @THOSEGUYSAREAMAZING: Yes, but I sorta feel like crappy cape comix (krappy kape komix? nahhh) have proven that they don’t want to do Africa with any measure of nuance or grace, so if we have to have a face, I’d rather it be one that’s outlandish and interesting and sort of in keeping with the stylings of cape comics (bright colors, flash, a high level of spectacle), instead of one that makes me want to rip my soul out of my body and die at three in the morning.

    If it’s going to be the Dark Continent forever, at least make it interesting and splash some color off in there.

  13. This could have been an interesting story to introduce the long put to the side Justice League of Africa but that, if it were to happen, would probably be mishandled. Nearly all cape stories involving or simply being set in a country in Africa ( which country? Ummmm…South Africa or the Congo if some effort to name a location) seem like the editor watched an infommerical at 4 in the morning or watched a “special report” focusing on the plight of Africa.

    Reading Winicks’ interview about Batwing showed someone trying but perhaps trying to hard.
    He at 1st made a point to say “Africa isn’t a country”. He then proceed to not name the specific country that Batwing will operate in until the interviewer basically asked it as a singular question.

    When talking about what villains Batwing might encounter, Winick names the police as being a constant foils due to their corruption or flat out inefficency. That is a new development in regards to a Bat character. Even in the Nolan films, one of the basic facts is that there are so few good cops, really only one, Jim Gordan.
    All the other good cops are just bad at their jobs.

    When people say all the stories you could tell in cape comics have been told, he disagree.
    There are 53, soon to be 54 locales with millions of people full of stories, legends, and views that could be mined for some I’ll stories but age old relics lke stereotypes and half assed awareness stand as a road block to get to them.

  14. Not really sure why they decided to use Catman instead of, I don’t know, Freedom Beast or somebody. I guess because no one remembers Freedom Beast unless they need a character for Prometheus to kill off.

  15. Well, going back and reading the comments from the previous Grodd entry was both astonishing yet sadly unsurprising. Much easier to cry political correctness and over-sensitivity than reassess your enjoyment of anything with dubious racial connotations though I guess.

    By stange coincidence I’ve just reread the Tommy’s Heroes arc of Garth Ennis’ Hitman and was wondering if anyone had some thoughts on that with regards to a representation of warfare in African nations. Bit of a mixed bag, like the scene with Natt The Hat busting Hacken for thinking that as a black man, Natt would feel like being on the African continent would be a ‘homecoming’, then in the same issue having a character proclaim ‘I am an African’ when talking of his nation’s politics (as a part of an interesting if over-simplified debate on countries that export narcotics as a cash crop). Man, that was a long sentence.

    Anyhow, be cool to see if someone could articulate something a bit better than me on such a story, especially as Hitman was in no small part rooted in the wider DC universe. Ennis sometimes feels to me as though he’s just doing ‘racism is bad guys’ comics when it comes to that issue, instead of taking a closer look at why that’s true. I know that’s a lot do with Ennis’ emphasis on character work rather than pointed social commentary (as opposed to perhaps Warren Ellis or similar), not to mention the comedy inherent in a lot of his work. The Salvation story in Preacher springs to mind.

    So, thoughts anyone? Or am I just rambling? I’ve been awake far too long and this cold remedy seems to be fibbing about its ‘non-drowsy’ claim .

  16. It should be noted that Geoff Johns called this “The best Grodd story I’ve ever read.”

    Geoff Johns turns 39 next year.

  17. Thank for writing this article, because it needed to be written and it should be read. I’m ‘open-minded but apathetic’, in that I’m certainly aware of the problem with comics like this but usually don’t seem to care. This comic gave me a sick feeling in my stomach, though, and made me embarassed for all the people who aren’t embarassed by this.

    That said, c’mon, Catman is cool now. Kind of. Sometimes. He really shouldn’t have been in this comic, of course.

    @Hardcastle McCormick: I rather enjoy Ennis as a writer and I’d trust him to write serious comics over 95% of the talent out there, but what I’ve read indicates it’s pretty accurate to say he never really explores (or explains) social issues. I’m reminded of the final arc of his famous Hellblazer run (#78-83, “Rake At The Gates of Hell”). Satan’s ‘ultimate’ confrontation with Constantine is underlined by a race riot. There’s violence all around in both the confrontation and the riot, nobody wins except to still be standing when the smoke has cleared, and in the end Constantine and the black man who accidentally started the rioting reflect on their culpability in the casualities and their bittersweet luck in still being alive. They trade a racial slur and smile each and go on to live the rest of their tormented lives.

    At the right time, in the right mood, probably during the first reading or just for a moment on a subsequent one, there seems to be a moment of equilibrium – between the two storylines, between the two character’s struggles, perhaps even between the wrongness of the bigotry of the BNP supporters and the rebellious paranoia of the black youth who faced them. But then it passes, and you’re left with a story well told but not at all taught.

    (or something)

    @Dan Coyle: can you think of a better one? I’m not speaking in defense of this one (although I did rather enjoy the bitterness of it when I had my WASP blinders on), but Grodd isn’t usually that compelling a character. Writing him out as explicitly and consciously suicidal seems a fairly novel place to take him when he isn’t caught in the basic super-villain cycle of break out of jail –> fight heroes –> go back to jail. He’s also a bit inverted from the scheming psychic mastermind he’s usually portrayed as – while everybody else in Flashpoint is scheming, he’s enacting a violent and self-destructive “do unto others” philosophy that has created a new order on the continent almost as a side-effect of his bloodthirst. It’d be an interesting (for DC) story if it wasn’t, well, absolutely terrible.

  18. There’s a lot of people that love this Grodd book. They love how powerful it makes Grodd out to be, and have no concern over the messages sent. A lot of people look at the words on the page and consider the issues addressed. It’s crazy how people aren’t just ignorant to the offense DC is throwing out, but how ready they are to jump down your throat for bringing it up.

  19. Reading this article just makes me glad I promised myself and everyone else the only Flashpoint tie-in I would buy is the Batman one.

  20. David, all of our fears and rage at the initial announcement…you know the ones that DC and s***stirrers said were unfounded and that we should give the book a chance…. were proven true… So the shirt goes on today: D.C. = David’s Correct!

    I still say, Joshua Dysart is on your payroll… Could no one talk to the man?

    I will agree with my fellow commenters about Catman. He’s great in Secret Six and if given a chance here, could have had a valiant showing. The lines were terrible…the death more so…

    Brian and Ragnell..thank you for thinking out of the box..I didn’t even think of that and it is genius… which means DC probably never considered putting Batwing anywhere near this book…

  21. @Greg: I keep forgetting that Freedom Beast is dead. It’s like–he was super underused, right? ComicbookDB seems to bear that out. So why even bother killing him? He doesn’t have some secret nest of fans that’ll get upset and rush out to buy the book. Shoot, I bet he doesn’t have a secret nest of fans at all.

    @Hardcastle McCormick: Ennis is interesting. I come down on the side of his stories involving racial issues/politics being pretty good in general, I think in part because he doesn’t bother teaching. He sorta expects you to make that leap yourself, is the feeling that I get. I mean, “racism is bad” is like, basic level “Being A Human Being 101” stuff. Ennis’s scale is so often on the micro–how we relate to one another, how authority relates to a specific representative of us, how hate burns–that teaching is almost out of his wheelhouse. He’s on too small a scale to preach, beyond the preaching inherent in representing every type of person as being a real/realistic person, rather than a base stereotype.

    I need to reread that part of Hitman. It’s been ages. “I am an African” is definitely a reasonable thing to say in certain situations (speaking about the African diaspora, talking about a country’s place in the politics of the area, etc etc) but I don’t remember the context, so I can’t judge that quote, really.

    It’s sorta like how I’m an American, but as a Georgian, I’ve got only certain things in common with Californians. The scale’s completely different, of course, but that’s the closest analogy I got at this hour.

    @Dan Coyle: It probably is. The only other good Grodd stories I can think of are the Grant Morrison/Ed McGuinness JLA: Classified story and Johns’s run on Flash.

    Also, I know you hate Geoff Johns and Bendis or whoever, but seriously: it’s annoying and I don’t care. Leave it out.

    @C: You’re right–the thirst for self destruction is a good angle. A great idea, even. It’s just so clumsily handled that I found myself apathetic at best and openly mocking at worst. He comes off like Alan Moore’s Weeping Gorilla.

    @David Bitterbaum: I liked that one, too. Azz is good and Risso is a monster.

    @Daryll B.: Nah, I don’t like Catman as a concept, and I like Secret Six even less. Thanks though.

  22. I always imagined there were people who disliked Secret Six, but never before encountered one in the wild.

  23. I’m really not sure what’s great about Secret Six. I picked up a copy and it seemed to be a lot of “who’s fucking who in Gail Simone’s sandbox”.

  24. I liked the concept of Grodd as Alexander with a death wish, finding no joy in each conquest, but just constantly moving forward in the hope sof either finding the one who will manage to kill him or destroying everything.

    I just wish it had been written in a comic that didn’t suck as badly as this one did.

  25. I haven’t read this book and I won’t spend my money on it but, after reading these comments I had two thoughts:
    “As this Gorilla gently weeps…”


    Catman wears a tie now. Ties are cool.

    I blame being up for 23hours for this.