Black History Month ’09 #20: It Ain’t Hard To Tell

February 20th, 2009 Posted by david brothers

G Willow Wilson and CAFU’s recently completed Vixen: Return of the Lion miniseries is an interesting little book. It’s not quite part of DC’s Year One initiative, where characters have their origins revamped and retold for a new audience. At the same time, it isn’t quite something like Huntress/Question: Cry for Blood, where an already established character is just thrown at you with little to no context. It exists in this in-between state, since it re-introduces Vixen to readers of the DC Universe and firmly establishes her place in, for want of a better word, continuity. Marvel pushed out a similar miniseries a couple years ago called White Tiger, written by Tamora Pierce, Timothy Liebe, and drawn by Phil Briones. It wasn’t so successful, and I’ve got a few ideas why.

There are more than a few similarities between the two books. Both were written by women, with White Tiger being co-written by Pierce’s husband. Both spun out of events in Justice League of America or Daredevil, depending on the character. Where Vixen had to rediscover her center and learn new things about her powers, White Tiger had to figure out her heroic identity for the first time. The difference, and I think the largest part of why Return of the Lion is a successful story and White Tiger is not, is in the portrayal of the two heroines.

(As an aside– there is a tremendous difference in art in the two series. CAFU is a true talent, and draws people with distinctive faces, backgrounds, sizes, and so on. Vixen: Return of the Lion is one of the best-looking mainline DC Comics in ages. To put it bluntly… White Tiger isn’t. The art is uninspired, poorly laid out, and overall very dreary.)

One thing I love about G Willow Wilson is that she does research. The care she takes when writing shows in her work, as the fictionalized Africa that serves as the setting for Return of the Lion feels just as authentic as any story about real Africa. The people don’t speak in pidgin English. Instead, they talk like regular people. The cadence or rhythm of their speech may be different, but that’s a more skilled way to do accents than throwing in random words or phrases of “African.” Even the clothes and characters in the series, courtesy of artist CAFU, look great.

Pierce’s White Tiger is on the opposite side of the spectrum. A college-educated, veteran FBI agent, and grown woman falls back on Claremontian ways of showing just how foreign she is. “Estupido!” and “Puto!” abound in the series. I could buy the occasional “tio” or “tia,” as people tend to talk differently around family than they do in public, but when the Japanese characters show up, it’s pidgin Japanese and talk about honor and seppuku all over the place.

If you compare the two characters, White Tiger feels cheap. She’s a cardboard cutout, a Paper Puerto Rican. Setting aside how confused and directionless the series was, White Tiger, as a character, was weak overall. She never rings true on any level, except maybe “woman.” Vixen, on the other hand, feels much stronger. She’s focused, she reads as an experienced adult, and her personality comes through clear as a bell. Wilson has a very solid grasp of dialogue, and she gives Vixen the kind of personality that clearly portrays her as a tough person, but still human. When she is weak, she is weak for very specific reasons.

Vixen feels authentic, White Tiger doesn’t.

Writing black characters, or any characters, isn’t as simple as dropping in a few buzzwords, a backwards cap, and “yo.” Having the speech down is the first step, but that’s just surface level stuff. You need to have the structure of a firmly realized character to hang that surface level writing on in order to make someone worth reading.

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Black History Month ’09 #19: Bridging the Gap

February 19th, 2009 Posted by david brothers

A book that I’m enjoying quite a bit is Joshua Dysart and Alberto Ponticelli’s Unknown Soldier from DC’s Vertigo imprint. I first found Dysart via Mike Mignola’s BPRD series, and Ponticelli’s entirely new to me. Together, the two of them have created one of the more interesting books to come out of DC Comics in more than a few years.

Previously, the Unknown Soldier was just that- an unknown soldier. Depending on the version, his identity was kept secret from the characters he interacted with or even the reader. He was often tied to World War II, but the new one is more closely associated with the war-torn land of Uganda.

It stars Dr. Moses Lwanga, a normal man and relief worker who has come to Uganda with his wife. He’s a good man, and a kind one, but this kindness backfires when he runs out of the camp to help someone and is ambushed by child soldiers of the Lord’s Resistance Army. A voice whispers in his ear and he knows exactly what he has to do in order to kill the children and save his life. He does it and is immediately overcome with despair. He destroys his face with a rock and lays down to bleed to death.

After a curious series of events, Moses has found himself in a situation where he is traveling under a false name and danger lurks around every corner. Eventually, push comes to shove and he has to listen to that little voice in his ear to survive, even if surviving means the death of multiple children by his own hand. Add in the trials of Moses’s wife, who does not know what happened to him or where he is, and you have a startling picture of modern-day Uganda.

Unknown Soldier, when it’s on, is a gripping comic. The end of the first issue is a pretty good depiction of despair and fear as any, and was what originally hooked me on the series. Dysart has clearly done his homework, as both the work and his supplemental material shows. Ponticelli’s art isn’t realistic in a Bryan Hitch kind of way, but still does a great job of getting across exactly what it needs to. The violence is ugly, wounds look painful, and damage goes further than “ripped shirt, scuffed cheeks, bloody nose.” When Moses destroys his face, there’s a panel where the rock catches on his lips. “Beautiful” is the wrong word for it, but it’s a little touch like that that sells the book.

I think that if Unknown Soldier keeps up, and the quality stays high, it could be one of those classic Vertigo books that really captures people’s hearts. It’s not high fantasy for dreary goths, and it isn’t an irreverent spin on American culture. It’s just the story of a man who is up against a wall, knows exactly what to do to escape, but finds the solution so reprehensible that he can barely stand to do it.

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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.

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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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