Archive for the 'black history month ’09' Category


Black History Month ’09 #18: One What? One Love

February 18th, 2009 Posted by david brothers

The thing about black culture, and this is something that’s often understated or ignored when discussing race in America, is that it is American culture, through and through. Black culture has permeated American culture across a variety of formats and in varying degrees. In music, the progression from gospel, blues, jazz, rock, and rap has run the industry for decades. Kids all over the country are wearing white tees and baggy jeans, no matter their racial background or upbringing.

Is it racial appropriation? Is Eminem a wigger because he’s a kid who grew up to be a rapper? Is Ill Bill out of line for making White Nigger, about his childhood growing up as a white Jew? Was it cool for Big Pun, a puerto rican from the Bronx, to be one of the best emcees that ever did it? Or did they grow up able to relate?

One of my favorite music videos is Three 6 Mafia’s “Dope Boy Fresh.” The important part is the video part of the music video. The song is straight, but beside the point. It’s a flip on the movie Being John Malkovich, and allows viewers a trip into the mind of Three 6. My favorite bits in the video are the young kid at the beginning (“Murcielago with the wings out!”) and the asian girl at the end (around 3:33, though 3:36-3:38 is on some next level amazing type thing).

The first thing I thought when I saw this video was “Man, that’s pretty dang cool.” It’s a video that stuck with me, though, which doesn’t happen with most. The more I thought about it, the more I felt like it was illustrating some seriously basic point, a point so basic that it was tough to put it into words. Realizing that these people were stepping into someone else’s shoes and clothes, but still looking normal was the key. Sure, the old white dude is kinda corny, like the old guy at the club who nobody knows but keeps dancing with the young girls, but the rest of them just look like people. They look natural.

It put something into perspective for me. I’ve never really bought into the idea of wiggers or whatever. C-Rayz Walz and 4th Pyramid’s “Blackout” basically killed that entire idea for me.

If you black, with a degree, and you work
and got a happy family, they say you wanna be white!
If you white, with bells, smoke weed, listen to rap
and live free, they say you wanna be black!

It’s all the same. The white kid on the bus with his short hair covered by a New Era isn’t jacking culture or appropriating ideas. At this point, he probably grew up with it. It’s what he knows. It’s what we both know.

Coming to this realization was the final nail in the coffin for both wiggers and blacks in comics being something special. Everybody’s got black friends. My mom listens to some rap, but she also put me on to No Doubt back when Tragic Kingdom came out. I’ve got white friends who consistently surprise me with their rap knowledge.

Comics, in general, treat white males as normal. Women and people of other races are notable, and are judged on a frankly pathetic scale. If you write a mediocre comic featuring a gay couple or a black guy or a woman, well, hey! Have these awards! Way to go! The barrier for quality is lower, since if you’re already doing something adventurous by even writing black people, you must be doing something right!

If you compare comics and real life, though, you’ll find a different story. It’s 2009. At this point, so many things are normal that were not previously that comics need to adjust to compensate. We don’t need Black Panther launching during Black History Month twice in a row. It’s nice, and I appreciate the sentiment, but break out of this idea that each new thing that isn’t white and male is an event.

At the same time, we need to stop rewarding people for doing the barest minimum. Ham-fisted allegories or cheap and emotionally manipulative scenes means that you’re a hack writer, not some revolutionary bringing the truth down off the mount.

If you go outside, you’re going to see someone who looks, talks, or acts like me. If I go outside, I’ll see someone who looks like you. We’re both normal. We are different, but we aren’t different. By and large, we share the same culture.

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Black History Month ’09 #17: Still Dreaming

February 17th, 2009 Posted by david brothers

One thing Marvel has always pushed, which DC hasn’t, is the idea of social injustice. The X-Men and other mutants are hated and feared. Many of their heroes are outlaws. I think this is a large part of why most black people I’ve talked to preferred Marvel to DC as a kid.

It’s a strictly unscientific survey, but every once and a while I’ll ask my black friends, who I know read comics, what they read as a kid. So far, I think it’s been all Marvel, with a focus on X-Men and Spider-Man. The ’70s pulpy books (Cage, Shang-chi, Moon Knight, Ghost Rider) get a lot of love, too. I’ve always been surprised at the answers I get, though they tend to be the same answer each time. I don’t know if the results are due to some sort of selection bias, but they’ve been pretty true on two different coasts now.

If I had to put my finger on it, a lot of us dug Marvel because we could relate to the fact that the heroes weren’t always on top and that the books took place in more of a real world than DC’s. Superman lived in Metropolis and Batman lived in Gotham, but Spider-Man lived in Queens and Luke Cage in Harlem. They had to struggle for cash, navigate complicated family relationships, and weren’t super jet pilots or scientists. Spidey was extremely smart, and Cage had a heart of gold, but both suffered under the knowledge that no one was going to respect them for that.

Part of the relative lack of black characters in comics meant that we had to learn how to relate growing up. You’d find aspects of characters to latch on to, and these would give you an in. I didn’t get bullied at school, nor did I live in Queens, but I could relate with being smart and having a single parent. I thought the X-Men were cool because they were from all over the place. While Claremont’s pidgin English is quaint these days, as a kid, it just hammered home that they were different, but still accepted one another.

It’s been nice to see comics growing up as I grow up. They’ve gone from vague metaphors to just letting it all hang out, so to speak. Brian Bendis put some fairly well-thought out commentary on racism and unjust laws in New Avengers: Civil War, Marvel’s big event at the time. It was light, and served as the impetus for a fight scene, but he managed to do it without being overly preachy or having someone stand up and pontificate for twenty-two pages.

Milestone may have been ten years ahead of its time. It launched during a glut and told some great stories, but it was during a time when people were more concerned about flipping comics for cash than reading comics for a story. So what if you were trailblazing for an entire industry, this issue of Spider-Man is worth thirty-five dollars. Let me tell you, this is gonna pay for my kid’s college fund!

It’s nice to see Milestone making a come back, and I hope that DC does right by them. An aggressive trade program, one that’s much more aggressive than DC’s current “It’ll be out when it’s out, we just work here, man” program, is necessary. Pound the books out like there’s no tomorrow. Get them in print, in libraries, in bookstores, and into the hands of the people who want to read it.

Push those Milestone books like they were crack. Every four to six weeks, a new book. The market for those books overlaps somewhat with the current comics readership, but there are kids out there who made Static Shock more popular than Pokemon who are hitting their twenties now. Put these books, which are simple enough for kids and layered enough for adults, into their hands.

We’re past the point where we just have to settle for relating. Now, we can see people who look like us in action.

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Black History Month ’09 #16: My Country

February 16th, 2009 Posted by david brothers

A few years back, John Ridley and Georges Jeanty wrote one of the most interesting comics to come out of Wildstorm since Wildcats 3.0 and Adam Warren’s Gen13. Its setting is simple. It is in a parallel version of our 1960s, except the American government has been manufacturing heroes and villains as part of a superheroic Cold War against communism. The Civil Defense Corps is run by the Federal Disaster Assistance Administration. Note that I said creating heroes and villains- most of the fights are staged for the public’s benefit, and the lack of the internet basically means that the public has no idea of the truth.

The hook of the book is pretty interesting. A member of the Civil Defense Corps dies in battle. The FDAA needs a replacement, and their hotshot new PR guy has a great, if controversial, idea. Hire a colored, put him in a costume, and call him The New American. To avoid public panic, put a full mask on him. Let him work for a few weeks or months, gain the public’s trust, and then, when the time is right, reveal that he’s black. One problem: he’s revealed on his very first mission and a wave of distrust and fear sweeps across the public.

One of the government’s pet villains, an insane and murderous racist, breaks from his leash. The Southern members of the CDC don’t take the revelation of their colored comrade well and essentially secede from the organization. Civil rights protestors end up dead. Heroes are revealed as regular human beings, no matter their extra-normal powers, and that human pettiness is shown to be something very damaging. And, in the middle of it all, Jason Fisher, the New American, needs to decide whether he owes more to his people or his country, despite criticism coming from all sides.

The American Way is how you do comics. Not Issues comics, though it very definitely deals with a variety of issues. Not black comics, though it is a comic starring a black male. Not even superhero comics. It’s how you do comics. The characters have depth, plenty of thought went into how the story plays out, and Georges Jeanty’s art is excellent.

Fisher being black is a large part of the book, since if he wasn’t, there’d be no conflict. How people react to his race is the interesting part. It varies from outright hatred to fear to good old fashioned exploitation. When his brother finds out that Jason’s enhanced, his first thought is that Jason needs to hit the road and start making some noise and forcing people to wake up to civil rights. Others want him to keep his head down, because he isn’t going to do anything but cause trouble.

Overall, it was just a great book. It isn’t centered 100% on race, with Keenan Ivory Wayans dropping in for “MESSAGE!” To quote Tucker Stone again,

I guess what i’m saying is: the best thing isn’t for black characters to be in some “let’s talk about being black” comic book, it’s for black characters to show up in good fucking comic books. If they want to talk about problems getting cabs, fine, but it better need to be there for the story, and not as some garish window dressing designed to make intellectual panties wet.

The American Way isn’t that book meant to make guilty liberals stop their grinnin’ and drop their linen, though I’m sure it will. It’s a well rounded look at an alternate world, interpersonal relationships, and the measure of a hero.

It’s a good comic book.

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Black History Month ’09 #15: Halftime

February 15th, 2009 Posted by david brothers

Superheroes were dedicated to kids for a very long time. Probably for the majority of their existence, I think. Heroes had to be true blue, respectable people. They were scientists, rich men, and reporters. Villains were bad, or evil, but not sadistic. At the end of the story, and later the issue or story arc, the villains were defeated, lessons were learned, and the status quo was resolved.

This set up a Manichean Storytelling Machine, to butcher a phrase, where good was good and evil was evil. Even the darker heroes fell into this– the Punisher, though a murderer, was portrayed as a hero above all. Ghost Rider used his hell-born power to save innocents. While there were shades of grey, these shades weren’t too far off from the norm.

This sets up a traditional story-telling style that is singularly unequipped to handle race. In fact, “handling” race is part of the approach that’s problematic in comics. It’s treating race as a problem to be fixed, a villain to conquer, or an obstacle to hurdle. It’s something you must work around and with, rather than something that informs a story.

Once this approach to race was set up, it started a snowball effect. Heroes have to beat this villain and prove racism to be evil. This is a surface-level reading and reaction to race, and one which can’t handle the complicated reality of what race really is. You have to prove something, and the length of a comic means that you’re limited to just proving that either your hero is racist or he isn’t.

Race and racism are actually much more complicated than that, and tough to get across in 22 (or 32 or 48 or 64 or 96) pages. You have to rely on being able to reduce the situation into an easily digestible bite. Making the move is a worthy effort, and it is definitely important to raise the profile of this sort of thing, but it also does the whole situation a disservice.

It’s too simple. You can’t beat racism. You can’t “e-racism,” like all the bumper stickers said in the ’90s, and which still sounds like a fancy way of saying “internet racism.” It isn’t going to go away and disappear into the ether. It’s not something that’s hard-wired, but it’s pretty close. It’s all wrapped up in nationalism, classism, and tribal thought. Our race informs our personalities, our history, and how we live in the day to day.

So, in a way, talking or complaining about race in comics isn’t swinging for the bleachers as much as it is swinging for home plate. You want to find something wrong about black people and comics? Throw a stone. You’ll find something to talk about.

This isn’t to say that we shouldn’t expect more out of superhero books. If we can tell nuanced and exciting stories about being depressed in Nebraska, the deconstruction or destruction of a superhero, entire universes being wiped out, or what it really means to be a hero, certainly we can do something similar about, or involving, race?

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Black History Month ’09 #14: Simple, Ain’t It? But Quite Clever.

February 14th, 2009 Posted by david brothers

I don’t read comics because of Jack Kirby, but I do enjoy them more than I would because of the ones he created.

There are a few hero pairs out there, groups like Superman/Steel, Captain America/Falcon, Iron Man/War Machine, Scott Free/Shilo Norman, Captain Marvel/Monica Rambeau, Hal Jordan/John Stewart, and maybe a few others. Generally, I’m talking about either the black replacement or the black sidekick.

madbombMost authors tend to set up a situation in which one hero is better than the other, sometimes even to the point where one hero defers to the other just based on stature. Other times, the black heroes are left to languish for years. John Stewart is kind of clearly the red-headed step child of the Green Lantern Corps, being the only one without regular panel time. Shilo Norman was in limbo for years and Monica Rambeau still hasn’t gone anywhere. It’s almost always a little off balance.

Kirby’s treatment of Captain America & the Falcon was pretty amazing. Even though Captain America is an icon and a war hero, their relationship was one based purely on friendship. Falcon wasn’t consumed with hero-worshipping Cap, nor was he just on sidekick status. They were just friends. They would hang out, do things together, and get into adventures. It was a buddy movie, rather than anything involving sidekicks.

I mentioned it last year, but Kirby invented Gabriel Jones, Black Panther, Flippa Dippa, Vykin the Black, Black Racer, Princess Zanda, and Mr. Miracle over the course of his career. I’m sure that he created more, but these characters alone are impressive. What Kirby did was push forward a diverse cast of characters. He was a guy who did the stories he wanted to tell, and those stories weren’t all-white.

In an email, Tucker Stone from The Factual Opinion said this to me:

Wouldn’t it be better if you hired a writer who pitched a black story because that’s the story he wanted to tell? I flat out refuse to believe that there’s nobody with one. There’s a million douches with fantasy stories about Power Girl. There’s somebody with a black Firestorm story. Wouldn’t you just be starting from a cleaner point? A point where you say, hey, this guy is black so fucking what. I have a story I want to tell. Instead, you get: this guy’s black now. Figure it out and make it work.

That’s what Kirby did. He wasn’t given an order to create a Black Superman or Black Firestorm. He just wrote about black characters because he thought it’d be a good story, not because there was a need for a New Diversity Initiative. No one in a board room was sitting over his shoulder, telling him to make his books ethnic or urban or whatever fake word we are using now to mean “black.” He wasn’t trying to fix anything. He wasn’t trying to be anti-racist.

He just did it because he wanted to.

That’s how it should work.

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Black History Month ’09 #13: I Could Forgive The Past, But I Never Forget It

February 13th, 2009 Posted by david brothers

You want to know the problem with doing A Very Special Issue of a comic book? Nine times out of ten, it ends up being stupid.

JMS’s Nighthawk is my usual punching bag for this sort of thing. He’s basically a black nationalist. A better way to describe him would be as a “high school rebel.” You know the kid that read a bit of Marcus Garvey, maybe a little Ellison, and now he’s all “whitey” this and “cracker” that? That’s what Nighthawk is. He’s ostensibly there so that JMS can make a point about race, but it’s been a few years and I have no idea what that point could be, other than something completely surface level. Racism is bad? Black people can be racist, too? One time a black guy called JMS a cracker, and JMS felt really guilty about possibly having a racist thought in response, so Nighthawk is his penance, always there to chastise him and keep him on the straight and narrow? I do not know.

I read Superman 179 recently, which was co-plotted by Geoff Johns and Jeph Loeb, with scripting by Loeb. It’s A Very Special Issue of Superman. It’s the one where he comes face to face with Race and conquers the fell beast. I’m going to let this excerpt tell it.


So, what have we learned? That being an alien is just like being black? That sometimes black people get angry? That whitey is wrong AGAIN? That Superman is the smuggest jerk alive?

Now raise your hand if you didn’t know any of that before you read this issue. In fact, raise your hand if this portrayal of the subtleties of black/white interactions and inner city social politics is deeper than, say, what you learned about that back in kindergarten. No hands?

What, exactly, are we supposed to take from this?

This kind of story goes nowhere, says nothing, and is just one of those books that get done just so someone somewhere can check off a box and pat themselves on the back, for lo, they have written about racism and found it good. Look, there are even references to things black people like! Muhammad Ali! Malcolm X! We put “Fight the Power!” on the cover, that’s some straight up Public Enemy right there, boyeee! Plus! Hold on, get this, man!

Muhammad X is from Harlem!

Black cred? Skyrocketing, baby! Another issue like this and I bet we can totally dap up our homies, smoke Newports, drink foties, say nigga, and dance with black chicks without getting funny looks!

There’s a few bars from an OutKast song that I’m overly fond of. It’s about authenticity and appearances. “Now, question. Is every nigga with dreads for the cause? Is every nigga with golds for the fall? Naw, so don’t get caught up in appearance.”

In short, Superman 179 is dressed up like it’s down for the cause. It’s a story that’s ostensibly about how Superman is beyond race. He’s a human being, and human beings aren’t racist to other human beings. Even then, Superman will look out for Harlem and spend some time thinking over race. He’s Superman, of course he’s just that awesome.

Don’t be fooled. This grade school, Mickey Mouse, chirping bird approach to race is foolish. No one learns anything, it gives the hero a chance to be either pompous or admonished, and in the next issue, whoops, Harlem’s gone again! Superman’s back saving a mostly white cast! Ron Troupe, Superman’s brother-in-law is now divorced and MIA!

Superman 179, and books like it, are lip service in the worst way. They are an acknowledgment that race is a Thing, with a capital T, that must be dealt with in some way that usually does not involve punching. However, it will involve speeches, navel gazing, and a healthy lack of perspective, not to mention the general low level of quality. It’s false representing.

“We’re down with you!” books like this seem to say, but its eyes are hiding a corporate cunning. “We’re going to hook you, and you will like it, because we understand what you, a black person, go through daily! We did our part, now read Superman monthly, $2.99!”

Please. It’s a strikingly cynical approach to the whole subject, and one that isn’t at all thought out, at that. We know racism is bad. I’ve known that on a very real level since kindergarten. And yet, the comic books that keep talking about it keep doing it on the level of a four year old, with a hard black and white philosophy applied to situations that are anything but.

The problem is that we aren’t stupid, and we might have paid for it, but we ain’t buying it. Try again, kid. Maybe you’ll get a cookie when you write a good book, instead of going for a cheap pop.

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Black History Month ’09 #12: Banned For Life (Spit the Real)

February 12th, 2009 Posted by david brothers


Yeah, that’s Vertigo’s longest running main character John Constantine getting his Kramer on right there.

I thought about getting tricksy and putting the rest of this entry behind a cut to get your interest and see what’s up with John C getting all British National Party on us, but I’ll just go ahead and say that there’s a plot twist toward the end of this post. Oops, spoilers!

I’ve talked about context before, but I want to revisit it with a slightly less flippant tone this time around. Do read that post, however, as I think it makes a very good point about lists of items with no discussion or commentary.

Tropic Thunder was one of my favorite movies last year, if not my absolute favorite. It was definitely the movie I saw the most, with three times in the theater and a few more times once the Blu-ray dropped. Part of it was that I cried the first three times I saw it from laughing so hard. The other part was that it was one of those features that butts right up against race and doesn’t back down, resulting in something brave and interesting.

The surface value reading of Tropic Thunder, the kiddy pool reading, is that it’s a movie that features blackface, an ignorant and offensive portrayal of a black person by a white person. It was used to keep black people from roles in motion pictures.

The problem is that, in the context of the movie, that isn’t what Tropic Thunder is about at all. Instead, it’s about the amazing self-centeredness of actors, a self-centeredness that allows an Australian actor to think that it’s a good idea to dye his skin and pretend to be what he thinks a ’60s era black man was like.

Brandon Jackson, who plays rapper Alpa Chino, comes into major conflict with Robert Downey Jr’s character throughout the movie. He calls him out regularly, even going so far as to say that there was one good role in the movie for a black man, and “they gave it to Crocodile Dundee.” It sets up an interesting and surprisingly deft commentary on race, actors, and Hollywood. Race is treated as a commodity, something to be bought and sold.

RDJ’s authentic impression of a man doing an inauthentic impression of a black guy probably hits its peak when he goes off about how he’s going to collar up some greens, y’all, you realize that he’s working from a stereotype and just didn’t bother to actually see what real black people are like.

John Ridley says this in response to a columnist suggesting that there is no situation in which a blackface performance is at all acceptable:

Really? Can’t imagine any circumstance to use the word Nigger? You mean, like in a Ralph Ellison novel?

Trustees of the Liberal Plantation aside, Downey Jr.’s performance is sharp, smart satire. Clever, but aimed squarely for the gut, in the way the New Yorker’s Barack/Michelle-as-radicals cover was aimed at some other Brahmin organ that giggles with delight when it’s self-manipulated.

Nothing’s taboo. I don’t know that there’s a single subject out there which isn’t worthy of examination. Some comics have dealt with rape in terrible ways. Others, like The Slavers, leaves you feeling angry and pessimistic because it’s real. Same with racism, sexism, or anything else. The only barometer for what’s appropriate or not is the level of quality. If it works, it’s fine. If it didn’t work? Try again, kid.

This brings me right back around to comics. When is it appropriate for John Constantine to say nigger?

hellblazer_083_p21 hellblazer_083_p22

When he’s speaking to a friend he has history with, both of whom have just been through hell in a very literal sense of the word.


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Black History Month ’09 #11: America! United We Stand, Divided We Fall

February 11th, 2009 Posted by david brothers

Something Garth Ennis does that I love is that he tends to have really obvious soapbox moments in his comics. The Boys has had a few of them so far, and The Boys 27, part five of We Gotta Go Now, had a particularly well-timed one.

tb27-023 tb27-024

One thing that’s vital to remember when discussing, mulling over, or thinking about race is this fundamental fact: we are different, but we are the same. Our parents’ parents’ parents might came from somewhere else, we have different accents, and our skin color is different, but fundamentally, we all want the same things out of life.

Yes, there is always the crushing weight of history. We might have had different starting points, our peoples have gone through various tragedies and so on and so forth, but in the end?

It’s 2009 in the United States of America.

I think that it’s fair to say that I’m a little conflicted as to where I stand on the racial identification/country loyalty scale. Am I black first or am I an American first? Which comes first? Do I feel comfortable pledging allegiance to a country that’s spent much of the past treating people who look like me as less than trash?

I guess it’s all in how you look at things. I don’t use the phrase “African-American.” When I was younger, I thought it was both corny and self-limiting. I’ve kept with black for ages, and I don’t think I’ll ever change. It’s simple, it’s descriptive, and honestly, it sounds pretty tight.

At the same time, I’m still an American. I was born here, I’ll probably die here, and I can’t really think of anywhere that’s better than here. It isn’t perfect, but near as I can tell, it’s about as perfect as things are right now.

I don’t think that your entire culture should be absorbed into the mass, leaving one featureless mess. There’s something to be said for embracing your past even as you move into the future. It’s kind of like I mentioned here, with how post-racialism is going to begin.

So, am I black or am I American? I can’t decide if the answer is “both” or “That’s a stupid question.” The two are not mutually exclusive, and celebrating one doesn’t denigrate the other. I think Billy Butcher’s approach up top is really interesting, and maybe crucial. We’re all under the umbrella of American, and that’s a beautiful thing. It’s the old melting pot or salad bowl analogy. A bunch of different things mixed in to make one wonderful thing.

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Black History Month ’09 #10: Stay True

February 10th, 2009 Posted by david brothers

I went to New York Comic-con 2009 this weekend and had a grand old time. I met up with Gavin, Tucker and Nina Stone, Timothy Callahan, Julian, Ron Wimberly, the Funnybook Babylon gang, LeSean Thomas, Sean Witzke, Cheryl Lynn, and probably half a dozen more people over the course of the weekend.

What’s striking, though, is how the con doesn’t really represent the make-up of the stereotypical comics reader. Yes, there are the chubby white dudes wheeling carts full of comic books to be signed and being rude (a special shout-ot to the guy dressed as a robot who hit me in the head with his boombox). Yes, there were dozens of Slave Leias clogging up the aisles like half-naked roaches. However, there were a lot of girls, latinos, and black folks.

This wasn’t really shocking to me as much as it was just a confirmation of the song I’ve been singing for years now– we’ve always been here. I grew up on comics. Everyone I know grew up on these books, black or white. We all found something to love. I’ve noticed that most of the black people I know leaned toward Marvel for a variety of reasons.

The con was real life– it’s the world that I’m used to seeing, it’s the world that I grew up in, and it’s the world that all of us know. I saw black dude working a booth with some anime thong on his head (I *smh*’d, seriously), others wearing Naruto headbands (I *smh*’d again, you aren’t tupac), and others just dressed like normal people. Some were even dressed as grown-ups. What matters is that there was a huge variety of people there. Young, old, and everywhere in-between. Some were there for indie books, others for superhero pieces, and still others for that creepy porno people always sell at cons.

I went to two panels on Sunday, which doubled my total for the weekend. The first was the Multiculturalism in Comics panel, which was okay, save for a few bumps which I probably won’t get into later as they’re overall meaningless. But, the second panel was the Hip-hop and Comics panel, which was not printed in the show flyer (It was shown as ??? and had no description). It featured Chuck D, DMC of Run DMC, Kyle Baker, James Bomb, Adam Wallenta, and a couple other guys whose name escapes me.

It was pretty wonderful. Rather than being a shillfest for PE’s comic, which was only mentioned maybe twice, it was about growing up in the ’60s and ’70s and what they were into. It was about the intersection between rap and superheroes. It was about everything I’ve ever talked about in one hour long panel.

One thing I hate are comic fans who get upset when somebody goes “Ha ha, nerds!” It’s stupid self-hating lack of self-esteem-having silliness. This panel was the opposite. It was a bunch of guys in touch with their inner nerd and not feeling bad about it at all. One guy mentioned that he was getting stellar grades in school and was being tested for access to a gifted class in school. The teacher asked him if he knew what espionage meant. His response?

“Like in Supreme Headquarters, International Espionage, Law-Enforcement Division?”


“Uh, it means spy stuff. Espionage.”

Other notable shout-outs were White Tiger (Hector Ayala from Spanish Harlem, “’cause where else are you gonna put a Puerto Rican in New York City?”), Shang-Chi, Moon Knight, and Spider-Man (who is from Queens, and a favorite of Kyle Baker and DMC, both of whom are Queensborn).

I wish I had recorded the panel, because it was everything I want to do in BHM09 all in one place. It talked about how the fact that Marvel’s characters had problems you could relate to and lived in NYC made them more real and relatable than other characters.

It was as much a celebration of comics, and loving comics, as it was about hip-hop. They often mentioned how secret identities informed the creation of rap aliases and costumes, and even how Peter Parker being a normal kid with an outlandish alter ego helped turn Darryl McDaniel into a Devastating Mic Controller.

Everyone reads comics. Comics are a mirror to our society. It shows our fears, hopes, dreams, failures, vulnerabilities, and possibilities. For comics not to reflect us (and by us I mean “people,” not “black people”), even as it reflects all this other stuff, is silly.

No, silly is the wrong word. It’s stupid. It’s stupid because it’s so glaringly obvious a child can see it.

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Black History Month ’09 #09: Shakey Dogs

February 9th, 2009 Posted by david brothers

Shades & Comanche are two villains with delusions of adequacy. They failed at being successful criminals, failed at uniting the prisoners behind Luke Cage, and then they broke out of prison and kept failing upward. They failed their way into supervillaining, costumes, and high tech weapons. Eventually, they failed their way out of existence, as they haven’t appeared as a duo in years.

They were part of Luke Cage’s amazingly colorful cast of supporting characters. They were supervillains in that they tried to do bad things, but they were usually spectacularly ineffective. Gavin made a good point when I was talking about this post with him. Shades and Comanche are victims of the idea of “escalation” from The Dark Knight. When heroes appear, villains appear. When heroes up the ante to beat the villains, the villains do the same.

The problem is that for every Joker, there are undoubtedly fifty Jokesters, Comedians, Wildcards, Clown Kings, Clown Crowns, Laughing Boys, and Sitcom Commandos running around the city and lowering the tone. Shades and Comanche were those guys. They put on costumes and did dirt. Sometimes they would end up having to team up with Luke Cage to make it out of a tough situation.

Boiled down, they were bunglers and idiots, but, like an insane amount of Cage’s supporting cast, incredibly charming. Before Deadpool charmed the pants off a generation of fans, Shades & Comanche were a couple of lovable failures.

They’d be pretty easy to bring back, too. Cage is a big name Avenger now, and it’s only a matter of time before someone leaks his location. And what happens when you’re a Name and you’ve got family or idiots in your past? They come calling.

So, it’s easy. Traditional failures, Shades & Comanche, show up on Luke Cage’s doorstep in full costume. “Luke! You have a kid. You should retire… we’ll take your place.” Seems pretty solid, right?

Now imagine them speaking with this guy’s voice:


Revamp of the year, sensational character rediscovery of 2010.

S&C would fill a pretty cool niche, I think. They aren’t 4th Wall Funny like Deadpool or Creep Funny like Ant-man. They’re just… dumb. Very very dumb, but also very, very earnest. If anyone should’ve given up years ago, it should’ve been these two, but they keep on, keepin’ on.

These two are one of my favorite little bits of black comics history. I don’t know that I’d ever call them major players, but they were a fun little slice of comedy, intentional or unintentional, in Luke Cage’s books.

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