This’ll make sense tomorrow, I promise. But for now, enjoy (and feel free to discuss) this exchange from the letters page of Black Panther #4, which was written by Reggie Hudlin, drawn by John Romita Jr, and collected as Black Panther: Who is the Black Panther?. It’s a good comic, but I needed to excerpt this for another piece I’m working on elsewhere.
I typed all this out myself, so the errors are my own. Here’s the original joint:
Tomorrow: I’m throwing molotov cocktails at the precinct. We can discuss it rightchea if the comment thread on another site (I don’t know why I’m being secretive, it’s not like I write for anyone besides ComicsAlliance) isn’t to your flavor.
I read the Black Panther #1 relaunch with an open mind. I love the character and loved Priest’s run. Honestly, I haven’t liked much of the usual Marvel hype surrounding this new series (obviously aimed at Marvel’s perceived core audience of backwards-hat-wearing skateboarders), but I am totally willing to give the new writer a chance. The result was mixed feelings.
First, it seems that Reginald Hudlin can write comics. Marvel feels that only Hollywood writers can write decent comics; the truth is usually the opposite. I’m always wary of a new Hollywood writer, mostly because the aforementioned hype machine has wildly overrated their talents. But Mr Hudlin can visualize and write a coherent script. So far, so good. The penciling was fine. I did not care for how emaciated and anemic-looking John Romita Jr’s Spider-Man was, but he doesn’t make the same mistake with these characters.
The scripting started to break down about halfway through. Specifically, the meeting in the White House. The suggestion that a top military White House official would call blacks “jungle bunnies” is ridiculous and speaks to Mr Hudlin’s hatred of Bush more than his writing abilities. Really, President Bush has a much more diverse staff than any of his predecessors and the most diverse Cabinet that has ever existed. Is this President really going to tolerate racism in his staff, General or not? This scene did not ring true.
The white industrialists attacking Wakanda in the 19th century were a little more believable. This reflects the gree and racism of the time and besides, black tribes were also showing attacking. Wakanda is a rich nation, and as such is subject to attack throughout history by all sorts of forces. I bought this.
Then there was the Cap thing. I suppose there was a chance that on a really good day T’Chaka could take Captain America, but the scene just reeked of the “all black people are good, all white people are bad” attitude that permeated the story. And of course, our racist white General ferociously denies that such an event actually took place. I suppose this is Mr Hudlin’s way of telling fans like me that if we question that the great Captain America can be beaten (by a black man), we’re just as racist as the General. Sorry, not true. It’s just that it’s hard to beat Cap, period, regardless of the race of the protagonist. I’m still not sure if I buy that, but I suppose it’s possible. Then there was the fact that Cap’s shield was the wrong one for 1944. Of course it’s minor, and no, it didn’t affect my enjoyment of the story, but it’s just another way that NuMarvel in general, and the editor specifically, ignore any comic printed before 2000.
It’s too early to tell if Black Panther is going to be a good adventure comic or a soapbox screaming that every white person (and super hero) is, knowingly or not, a racist. Take a note from Priest on this; his run occasionally touched on racism, but he was never heavy-handed about it. I was impressed when Priest, a self-admitted liberal, depicted President Bush as a savvy leader during his original BP run. Priest managed to tell a story first, and stick in his personal agenda mostly not at all. Can this team do the same?
Again, because of my love for the character, I’ll stick around for the first storyline. I’ll never forget how cool I thought the Panther was in FF during the ’60s. And even cooler when he took off his mask and revealed that he was black (as you well know, black heroes were almost nonexistent at the time). So to the entire creative team, especially the writer and editor: story first, personal agenda nowhere.
Ho-kay, Jerry. You grind quite a few axes with that letter — we lost count by the third paragraph, in fact. We think it’s only fair to let Reggie respond for the record. Reg’?
I respectfully disagree with you about JR Jr’s Spider-Man — you wanna see scrawny? See Ditko’s Spidey — and I love Ditko’s work! There is no doubt John is doing a great job on this book. That said:
Regarding your point that the White House sequence “is ridiculous and speaks to [my] hatred of Bush more than [my] writing abilities”: Whoah. I’ve been black for a very long time and I’ve met prejudiced people in every walk of life — regardless of race, creed, social position, or political affiliation. Acknowledging their existence does not imply that whatever group they belong to automatically shares their beliefs. As for whether such talk could occur in such rarefied circles, plenty of Presidents, from Woodrow Wilson to Lyndon Johnson to Richard Nixon, have been documented saying racist remarks. Do I think it’s in the realm of possibility that a White House staffer from either the Clinton or Bush administrations (remember, the story does not specify who is President) might make a racist comment? Yes. Would such a remark be tolerated? Well, in my story, the black woman who is running the meeting — Dondi Reese — summarily dismisses the idiot without breaking a sweat.
Regarding the Cap thing: I don’t engage in Hulk vs Thing debates, and I won’t engage in Cap vs Panther debates either. I am in the fortunate position of writing Black Panther, and the Panther beat Cap. Now, don’t get me wrong, I love me some Captain America — I spent 200 bucks on one of those fancy shield replicas on eBay — but Panther beat Cap, baby. Live with it.
Regarding your assertion that the whole story was saying “all black people are good, all white people are bad,” all I can say is, this remark says more about you than the comic I wrote. Aren’t the first “bad guys” in the book black invaders with body part trophies from previous raids? If you think I’m vilifying the administration, isn’t that a black woman in charge? Clearly, all black people aren’t “good” in this issue. So maybe the problem, in your eyes, is that there aren’t enough “good” white people? Why? Captain America may have lost the fight with the Panther, but he certainly doesn’t say or do anything to betray the principles he stands for. And when one guy in the meeting says something stupid, everyone looks at him like the fool he is, and once he is dragged away, intelligent conversation resumes — so why brand the entire room as racist because of one guy’s comments? I wouldn’t presume that about them, so why would you?
Finally, regarding your concern that this book will become a “soapbox screaming that every white person (and super hero) is, knowingly or not, a racist,” let me say this: By necessity, many black people spend long hours analyzing the complex permutations of racism, while some of their white brothers and sisters have a harder time discussing the awkward and painful feelings the topic evokes. But sticking our heads in the sand only makes the problem worse. Until we develop a common language and a shared understand of each other’s experiences, these conversations will generate more heat than light. I don’t want to preach to the converted. I don’t want to preach at all. But I do want to challenge readers of every political stripe. I appreciate the fact that you’re willing to stick around. The more you read, the more you’ll see I’m an equal opportunity offender. The more you read, the more you’ll see I’m all about kick-@$$ action and heroics. And if you think Stan and Jack didn’t have a personal agenda, you’re wrong. Like The Beatles, they used their artistic genius to make the world a better place — and they succeeded.