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 08: Protect My Family

February 8th, 2008 Posted by david brothers

from marvel comics’s the crew, art by jh williams iii
I’ma protect my family, that’s my word
My wife, child, my dogs, cat, and my birds
I got a happy house, homes, you can’t disturb
You might clapped in the dome, clack, now you heard

–C-Rayz Walz, “Protect My Family”

Most heroes suit up because it’s the right thing to do. Spider-Man, Batman, Superman, all those guys are just trying to do the right thing. The X-Men and JLA suit up in reaction to a threat.

Kasper Cole, the White Tiger, puts on the costume so he can feed his family.

He’s one of the Crew, Christopher Priest’s late, lamented series about a group of men who, if not trying to do the right thing, end up doing the right thing while going about their business.

Kasper’s got a pregnant girlfriend and a nagging mom at home. His cop’s salary really isn’t cutting it, but he lucks out when he happens upon the Black Panther’s costume one night. Now he can engineer big busts, get promoted, and maybe stack some cash on the way. Of course, the Panther doesn’t necessarily appreciate him wearing his colors. Instead, he’s given a new costume: that of the White Tiger. He’s got most of the abilities of the Panther, he taught himself to put on a Wakandan accent to throw people off, and he hits the bricks to make sure that his family can eat.

Kasper is a great character who honestly never should have went away. Where the original Marvel characters were characters who did good, but had flaws in their personal life, Kasper is motivated by his flaws. He’s easy to relate to– who wants to be hungry? Even worse, who wants their family to be hungry? Kasper is a dope twist on the old Marvel formula, and one that kids nationwide could instantly understand. “He does this because he has to do the hard thing to make ends meet.”

He provides a nice mirror image up to The Hood, as well, from the girlfriend to the mother. Talk about perfect enemies!

All Cole needs to be a hit is for a Bendis or Brubaker to remember him and bring him back. He’s a character that has legs, an edge, and a ridiculously awesome visual hook.

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White Tiger: An In-Depth Review

September 12th, 2007 Posted by Hoatzin

I really like comics. Sequential art is possibly my favorite medium. But unfortunately not all comics are good and sometimes it’s necessary to show some tough love. Occasionally one must criticize books that fail at their intended goal and examine what precisely went wrong, for the sake of comics, because comics should be good. The recently completed White Tiger, written by Tamora Pierce and Timothy Liebe and drawn by Phil Briones and later Al Rio and Ronaldo Silva, happens to be one of those books.

Although it’s a niche book, I feel it deserves closer examination for a variety of reasons. It’s a spinoff of Brian Michael Bendis and Alex Maleev’s fantastic definitive run on Daredevil. It’s a comic about a legacy character. It’s a comic about a female character. It’s a comic about an ethnic character. It’s a comic by a popular novelist (and her husband) doing their first comics work. It’s also a comic that, so far, has done very badly in sales, dropping from 24,663 copies for issue #1 to 13,621 copies for issue #5.

Although stellar sales figures shouldn’t be expected from a niche book by an unproven creative team, the fact that the book shedded over ten thousand readers in the course of issues 1 to 5 means people just plain aren’t liking it. In an industry where new characters, even legacy characters, are hard to push and both ethnic and female characters are rare, it’s sad to see a book about a new ethnic superheroine fail so badly. But why did the book fail? After reading it, I have come to a conclusion: It’s a bad comic book, in just about every way. Let’s review. Bear with me: This will be long. Read the rest of this entry �

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