I Call My Brother “Son” ’cause He Shine Like One

August 7th, 2008 by | Tags: , , , , , , , ,

This bit of audio here is important. It’s from DC’s Final Crisis Management panel from San Diego Comic-con 2008. Thanks to Jamie Coville for the mp3 of the panel.

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The bit I want to talk about:

The whole idea with Mister Miracle, Mister Miracle was supposed to be a book where everyone was black and that was the idea. I wanted to do like, Metron as Sun-Ra. He’d sit in this big Sun-Ra chair with mirrors and stuff.

But, it wasn’t drawn that way. And when they drew the second issue, they drew the homeless New Gods as white guys, don’t ask me why. ’cause everyone in that book was supposed to be black characters ’cause I wanted the whole thing to be based on Shilo Norman and his world. But, those guys shouldn’t be white, sometimes things just happen, artists tend to draw white guys.

Before I go in, I should probably explain some things about myself.

It’s fair to say that I’m under-educated. My college career was derailed around two months before it really got going, and I’ve been off-track ever since. I went from almost being a Buckeye to being whatever this is. It sucked, if you were wondering.

I eventually got serious about school, starting caring again, and flexing my underachieving muscles. Kanye West dropped his College Dropout album and I hated on it originally. “Telling kids to drop out of college?” I thought. “Way to go, Kanye. I thought you were supposed to be smart.” I mean, here’s a bit from his song “School Spirit:”

Told ’em I finished school, and I started my own business
They say, ‘Oh you graduated?’
No, I decided I was finished

So, yeah, a few years later and I’m pretty much officially a college drop out with a job that pays better than anything I’d have gotten fresh out of college.

The point of this is that I’m not exactly trained. Almost everything I know, I learned because I wanted to or because I experienced it. I can’t cite sources or trace lineages for ideas, but I know a little bit about a little bit. I’m smart enough to be able to form arguments and talk about them intelligently. I’m not Encyclopedia Brown, is my point. Pardon my poor phrasings or ignorance.

What’s this got to do with black New Gods?

Grant Morrison came very close to writing one of the best stories about the black experience. I can’t speak to whether it was on purpose or not. My gut says “Yes, to an extent,” so I’ll go with that.

Looking back, in most things I’ve read, most advice I’ve been given, and most stories I’ve heard, the one theme that’s almost universal among black people is “elevation.” You are more than what you appear to be, you will be more than you are, what you are now is only the beginning, and so on.

If you put some thought on it, it makes sense. Slavery stripped blacks of almost every possible form of identity. National, familial, religious, and tribal identity were completely wiped due to the slave trade. At that point, what history do you have left? Not much of one, right? What do you do when you don’t have a past?

You embrace the future.

I can’t speak to the specifics of Afro Futurism, but it’s a common trait amongst a lot of black thought. Boiled down, it’s all about being more than what you are, because what you aren’t isn’t that much at all. We aren’t slaves– we’re kings and queens. We came here on slave ships, but we’re gonna leave on space ships.

What’s getting high? Getting lifted.

You can see it in the music. Andre 3000, Sun Ra, George Clinton, and even Lil Wayne are examples of Afro Futurism. Saul Williams in particular has wholly embraced the idea of it. Here’s an excerpt from “Ohm” off the Lyricist Lounge record.

the beat don’t stop when, Earth sends out satellites
to spy on Saturnites and control Mars
cause niggas got a peace treaty with Martians
and we be keepin em up to date with sacred gibberish
like “sho’ nuff” and “it’s on”

It isn’t just about being “weird” and “out there,” though. You can see it in a man’s swagger. Swagger isn’t just about how you walk. It’s your style. It’s your demeanor. It’s how you walk, how you talk, how you dress, and how you carry yourself. A lot of hip-hop heads are gadget hounds. They’ve gotta have the newest and baddest thing out there. There’s a lot of jokes about bling bling or whatever, and part of it is certainly crass commercialism, but it’s also another way to show your individuality and embrace something bigger than you are. It’s a way to become you.

It’s like Key23 in The Invisibles, or “Let there be light.” it’s turning fiction into fact.

Look at the Wu-Tang Clan. The RZA is part rapper, part kung fu warrior, part chess master, part superhero, and then part Bobby Digital. Bobby’s something greater than the RZA who is in turn greater than Robert Diggs.

The cipher is an important part of rap. Or it was. I can’t tell any more. Another word for it is “circle.” The cipher contains men who are not much by themselves, but are something important when together. You’ve heard the advice “Watch who you let into your circle?” Your circle is your cipher. It’s your family and it is important.

Parents want their kids to be better than they were. What matters is that the next generation ends up better off than the previous one. Go to school, get a job, leave the ghetto, do something, be something. You don’t have a history and your people don’t have a history worth speaking of. So, you have to create one.

Elevate yourself. What you are is not everything that you are.

I’m not an expert on Afro Futurism. I can’t tell you exactly where it came from, but I’ve got a pretty good idea why it exists. It is about elevation. It’s taking what you are and becoming something else. It’s being a butterfly.

Chris Randle picked up on the Morrison thing a while back. He linked to this fascinating piece about black sci-fi. I don’t know that I’ve read any, to be honest, but the themes and ideas in it are familiar. Creating/ascending to/acquiring/forcing a heaven that you do not currently have into existence.

All of this goes back to having the direct link to your past stolen by slavery. It’s all well and good to know that you came from Africa at some point– but where? When? Who were you related to? How do you get past that?

Why is this important and how does it relate to the New Gods?

The New(er) Gods were originally all supposed to be black at first. They were the new incarnations of the New Gods, who were themselves the successors to the Old Gods of the Third World. The New Gods becoming black would have continued the tradition of elevation.

In 7 Soldiers: Mister Miracle, Shilo Norman pulls off a trick that involves escaping from a black hole. Inside the hole, he met Metron of the New Gods, who informed him that evil was on its way and that Shilo must be prepared for the coming horror. He meets the reincarnated, or maybe just incarnated, versions of the good New Gods while going through his training, and they are broken and decrepit. The evil gods have won. Shilo passes through the crucible and beats death, finally proving that he’s ready to lead the charge. In Final Crisis, he’s seen gathering heroes to fight Darkseid and the forces of evil.

Shilo being the champion of the New Gods is an intensely powerful image on a variety of levels. By being the first of the New Gods, he’s attained what Afro Futurism and elevation represents. He’s elevated to a higher state. He’s achieved his potential. His figurative lack of a past no longer matters. He’s beyond that now.

On a level that’s both higher and lower than that at the same time, Mister Miracle represents something else entirely. He’s the world’s greatest escape artist. He can easily escape from traps, games, gimmicks… and chains. He’s thrown off his personal chains of oppression. He’s a freed slave, and in becoming so, is also the master of his destiny. He becomes the Harriet Tubman (or maybe Catcher Freeman) for the superheroes/New Gods. He has to rescue them and lead them to safety.

He’s found his true identity and elevated.

Grant Morrison has said that all we’ve seen of the New Gods before Final Crisis is just a sliver of their true existence. In FC, we see the full extent of their being. Isn’t this similar to the idea that a person represents something greater than himself? You are not what you appear to be, you are something more?

If not for that unfortunate art error, Morrison might have written a story that’d resonate even deeper with some of his fans. It’s already rife with layered meaning, but the meaning that almost was is amazing.

It’s worth thinking about. It’s probably a story worth telling, too.

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29 comments to “I Call My Brother “Son” ’cause He Shine Like One”

  1. I’m glad you wrote this – I feel that Morrison has been catching some heat lately for his portrayal of minorities in both Batman RIP and FC, and it’s nice to see someone actually taking a deeper look at things rather than just assuming he made certain character choices based on some type of racist bias.

  2. I think that’s an extraordinarily spurious, if not wilfully ignorant bit of phrasing, Matt – I love Grant like no other writer and don’t believe for a minute he possesses a ‘racist bias’ but, nonetheless, I was pretty much forced to accede that Honor Jackson (in ‘RIP’) is, almost line-for-line, the “magical negro” of cliche. Marc Singer explains shit better than I could in comments.

    Note also that the (absolutely excellent) piece at Gutteral David links to for this (I think Octavia Butler is/was the leading light in black s/f, DB) says likewise. I’m honestly not sure if casting all the New Gods in their homeless incarnations as black smacks of eliding, as I have been guilty of myself (without – I’d hope – ‘racist bias’,) race and poverty all too neatly – there again, clearly there is a positive tip and intent, as Randles and this piece have elucidated beautifully.

  3. […] links of fury – David Brothers at the 4th Letter looks at Grant Morrison’s Mr. Miracle as a work of afro-futurism. […]

  4. Your insight into being an university failure illuminated something for me. I always wondered who the specific target audience for the sophomoric pablum of modern comics was; it certainly isn’t most actual sophomores. But now I think I see. The college dropouts and arts majors who write comics are writing them for OTHER college dropouts and arts majors. Comics have ceased to be a subculture and are now just a validation mechanism for the liminal and the unneeded elements of the dying middle class. Insularity is the only attribute current comics readers share and now I see why.

    For helping me see that at least, thanks.

  5. Yeah, actually, you’re exactly right. I hadn’t realized it before now, but my college dropout status is exactly why I enjoy reading comics.

    Sometimes I get together a like-minded bunch of college dropouts and arts majors. I do drugs with the guys and the girls let me touch them in their no-no places.

    It’s a hard life, being uneducated and insular. I have a degree, despite being a dropout, but they let me into the parties because it’s just an Associate’s.

    I really liked your movie. Dark Knight was awesome.

  6. You know, Nolan, I’ve been thinking, and I’m beginning to see that you have a pretty good poi–

    “Grant Morrison, Alan Moore… both luminaries are Satanists, writing too much comicbook for it to be healthy for a judaeo-Christian civilisation.”

    Certainly, many elements of the comic book industry are too reflexively self-informative, and a broader and deeper appreciation for Western literary tradition and the themes that inform it would be nice to–

    “Secret Invasion is the mongoloid that can’t help shitting itself version of the original skillful and highly enjoyable ROM Spaceknight series big bad- the Dire Wraiths.”

    Though I think that, in all fairness, maybe you could be less of a condescending pri–

    “Newsarama is a pathetic joke. Their spin on the reported earnings of Marvel is that Marvel is doing super well. Apart from the comic section, you colossal amateurish dickheads.

    I’m just glad that only the tiny and shrinking fanbase even read that sort pablum.”

    Also far be it for me to object to some insane asshole on the internet letting his thesaurus come wildly all over each and every one of his sentences, but “pablum?” That’s where you’ve chosen to hang your rhetorical hat? Fuck you.

  7. Can I agree with Nolan that SI was better when it was the Dire Wraith War but still think he’s a pretentious jack-ass?

    Anyway, great essay on Shilo Norman. Actually makes me slightly interested in the character…

  8. Great article. I was at that panel, and had a chance to speak with Morrison the next day. That dude is light years ahead of the people employing him. I can’t believe they’re letting him do all the crazy stuff he’s doing right now. Shilo Norman is my hero.

  9. I just wanted to join in on the comments (even though I already talked about it) regarding how fantastic this piece is.

    As we said, man, Mister Miracle is the black fantasy, the pinnacle of escapism and the ideal for not just any specific subsection but the entire human race. He may be the single most relevant ‘superhero’ ‘operating’ today, especially in conjunction with Sonny and the Super Young Team.

    Your piece rules, this comic rules, QED.

  10. I bought Uncanny X-Men 300 and saw Sun-Ra’s Orchestra live on the same day when I was like 12. It was a cool ass day.

  11. Joe, what tripped you out more, Sun Ra or the kickass Fatal Attractions hologram?

  12. aw man that wasn’t the fatal attractions issue my marvel-fu is weak

  13. […] from David Brothers on race in the comics of Grant Morrison; I really want to reemphasise the Chris Randle piece he […]

  14. […] got a link on io9 about my post on afro futurism. I’d have responded there, but I can’t comment or whatever, so I’ll just do it […]

  15. Insightful piece. Being that there are plenty of intellectual or financial greats who either didn’t go to college or dropped out- it really doesn’t matter or take away from the fact that you provide very thoughtful/knowledgeable commentary on a issue that is not discussed frequently.

    Being that I am in a moment of pique, David, pls indulge me on my comments below….

    It is unfortunate that this type of discussion attracts cretins who have very little to contribute and are clearly making a pathetic effort to alienate others (sometimes negative attention is better than no attention, little Jonathan) because of their failure to attach with their caregiver as a child and probable chronic bedwetting into pre-pubescence. Have you heard of pull ups? You can even wear them at night. Google– pampers.

    As obviously YOU are not a college dropout or art major, it begs the question, why the h– are you here, on a forum that is about which you condem and out of your demograhpic? Oh, the question is rhetorical.

  16. […] a Grant Morrison quote from DC’s Final Crisis Management panel in San Diego as a springboard to talk about the New Gods and Afro Futurism. First, the Morrison quote, which is interesting in itself: The whole idea with Mister Miracle, […]

  17. There’s a great quote from George Clinton in Jim DeRogatis’s book on psychedelic rock “Turn on Your Mind.” Speaking of psychedelic rock I would include Hendrix on that list of Afro Futurism.

    I think it’s perfect how Kirby’s concepts fit into these milieu of Black sci-fi so well. I realize it’s because Jacob Kurtzberg called himself a “ghetto kid” in one of his text pieces those Fourth World books. Scott Free escaping Apoklips to Earth was inspired by Kirby escaping the slums of the Lower East Side (as well as him escaping Marvel and maybe a ton of other things). Morrison figured out how to apply all that to modern America.

  18. interesting take
    I love the Mister Miracle character and usually I’m not a fan of character make-overs or things similar, but I really enjoyed Morrison’s Shilo Norman and I definitely feel like he’s the go-to guy if the New Gods (or some sort of incarnation of them) is to have a future. I also like this fitting into Afro-Futurism…. and Metron as Sun-Ra is both spot on and hilarious (in a way).

    Oh and as for your “not exactly Mr. College Guy” disclaimer… Yeh, you’re probably missing a fair amount of literary/cultural theory that would help back up your point but your eyes and your heart seem to be in the right place and that’s what’s important. Though, you could be a bit tighter with your writing (i.e. could’ve been shorter with your disclaimer)… And no, I am not exempt from my own criticism.

  19. Autodidacts (e.g. Morrison, Ras Kass) ftw.

    I, ah… did an English degree, because honestly I couldn’t think of anything better to do; it’s okay, it teaches sort-of surgical dissection of things, gets you to read stuff you’d not otherwise, but ah, ’tain’t proven terribly useful.

  20. ‘Ah’ x 2 = poor form

  21. Yeah, I actually got my Associate’s and then spent another couple years screwing around in school taking every English class in sight. I’ve definitely got an english major’s background, and I think I’ve got maybe a semester left if I wanted to get my Bachelor’s? I dunno, I’m doing pretty good.

    I wish Ras Kass had been a little better at self-training… Nature of the Threat is kinda hard to listen to sometimes.

  22. What this reminds me of, which may be tangential to your point, is that around the time when Jack Kirby was doing the original run of his New Gods stuff, DC approached him about trying to launch a line of books aimed at black readers. They wanted an all-black romance comic.

    So Jack sat down, read black magazines and studied black stars, and drew the comic. It was clearly a project he put great care into. I have seen the pages from this dead project reprinted somewhere-or-other, and they are gorgeous. DC’s editors at the time rejected it because they felt it was “too black”. Jack had drawn too realistically, and so the characters were basically not white enough for them.

    I guess my point here is that what Morrison attempted to do, Jack probably would’ve done himself if the time had been more right. You don’t make a poor black kid Mr. Miracle’s ward for no reason, and Jack was of the old generation where poverty and oppression based on ethnic origin had many colors.

  23. I wish I could take credit for that audio clip, but it’s not mine! I did record a bunch of panels from San Diego, but the DC’s Final Crisis Management was not one of them.

  24. That’s embarrassing!

    I just realized that that’s from DC’s own website.

    I am, however, probably going to end up using your Black Panel audio later, so consider that a preemptive thanks!

  25. […] Nice article on Grant Morrison’s Mister Miracle as an Afro-Futurist text […]

  26. […] skeevy-looking Master Rich may pay for something horrible to be done to you. * missed it: a long essay riffing on a snippet of audio from the Final Crisis Management panel at San Diego’s CCI… * some not comics, publishing division: hearing about a half dozen people I know that work in […]

  27. […] essay on the female half of Black Trinity. I wrote last year about Luke Cage as the Black Reality, Shilo Norman as the Black Fantasy, and Black Panther as the Black Ideal. Three aspects of one people: pure wish fulfillment, reality, […]

  28. […] http://www.4thletter.net/2008/08/i-call-my-brother-son-cause-he-shine-like-one/ […]

  29. […] [see: I call my Brother "Son" Because He Shines Like One"] […]