Me and My People Got History: Why & How I Write About Race

November 27th, 2012 Posted by david brothers

I’ve been wanting to write about Marvel’s ’70s comics for a while, especially the ones featuring Luke Cage and the Black Panther. I do it here and there, but never in depth, because I haven’t found a subject that I really want to put my foot in yet. Just a nebulous “Oh I should do this sometimes.”

I started work on a piece springboarding off an excerpt from Grant Morrison’s Supergods that was a good example of what I don’t like to read when people are talking about ’70s comics. Part of chapter 11 is dedicated to what Morrison terms “the relevance bandwagon,” the stream of socially aware or conscious comic books that began coming out in the early ’70s that included books like Green Lantern/Green Arrow and Jungle Action. It’s also the only part of the book where Morrison spends any amount of time discussing black comics characters in detail.

Morrison got it wrong when it came to why those books were relevant and good comics, basically, in a couple of different ways (factually, thematically). He got it wrong in the same way that people keep getting it wrong when they talk about this stuff. He spends more time on that stupid Lois Lane comic where she turns black for a day than John Stewart and Luke Cage combined, right? Which makes the entire affair feel condescending bordering on dumb insulting, especially when he says that Luke Cage “soon outgrew his origins to develop as a rich and enduring character, still central to the ongoing Marvel story decades past Shaft and Jim Kelly.”

Yeah nigga naw, Luke Cage has been rich and enduring ever since page one, panel one. The redemption story sucks because it erases the history of the character and the people who created him. I’m really fond of the Kurt Busiek and Jo Duffy eras, less so the Steve Englehart-scripted issues, but there’s a ton of things in there to enjoy. Not to mention the art teams, you know?


Hiding that history behind the idea that Cage needed rehabilitation hurts comics history. You don’t get Milestone Media without black artists finally getting a chance at the big leagues in the ’70s. Denys Cowan studied at the feet of Arvell Jones and Ron Wilson, among others like Rich Buckler and Neal Adams. Years later, Cowan bugged his friends with the idea that they needed to set out on their own and take full control of their careers. Then: Milestone, a company that focused on representing the world at large, across a wide variety of cultures and orientations and philosophies.

As halting and awkward as Luke Cage occasionally was, it’s not worth losing that history to point out how far we’ve come. I guess it’s a big deal to me because we’ve already come pretty far, and it was ten years before the theoretical redemption of Luke Cage. The redemption story furthers the idea that the mainstream comics industry was adrift when it comes to this stuff until NuMarvel, and that’s just silly. We’ve been better, and then we lost it, and now we’re trying to get back.

But I can’t make this post of mine click like I want to, no matter how clear I am about the component parts of it. I want the Supergods excerpt to be a springboard, not the focus of the piece. “This book doesn’t have it right, and here’s a corrective that can stand on its own.” vs “This guy is a big dumb face who didn’t pay enough attention to this thing I like in his big ol’ dumb face book.” I do care that Morrison got it wrong — it definitely put me off the book, even after a friend was kind enough to get me a signed copy from the UK because I am the BEST FRIEND — but I’m not interested in debating how or why he got it wrong.

That kind of point-by-point rebuttal isn’t where I’m at; it isn’t what I like to do. It makes my text too dependent on his, rather than something that can stand on its own two. I just want to talk about how these colored folks from times past laid the foundation for Milestone or how Luke Cage goes way deeper than “where’s my money, honey?” pretty much from the start of his series. I want to talk about how it wasn’t the social relevance that made these comics so enjoyable and important. The social aspect was important, sure, but that doesn’t mean anything if the books aren’t good. No, when I look at those books, I see a sudden burst of inclusion, not just comics writers exploring politics. Those books gave normal people who were underrepresented in these wonderful universes sudden representation, and it oftentimes turned out pretty well. Marvel especially managed to capture a specifically black aspect of the zeitgeist very well, and married it to their continuity in a way that worked really well. When that got stale, they hitched kung fu to Luke Cage’s truck and pow, they were right back in the thick of it.


So my springboard ended up being a stumbling block. There is no post that’s pure enough, not yet. But I’m used to this. I can’t fold, so I re-up and reload. I’m okay with having ideas that don’t make it from conception to birth. Ideas are cheap. There’s a kernel in my scrapped draft (technically 1.5 scrapped drafts) that I’ll be able to plant elsewhere and let it grow to fruition at some point. Plus, it’s nice to have crystallized those ideas over the course of writing the failed post, but that post ain’t what I need it to be. It’s not what I want, no matter how many words or secret rap lyrics I add to it. One day I’m going to find that trigger and squeeze it and blow someone’s mind, but today wasn’t the day. If you read my tumblr, you’ve probably seen a lot of ideas that didn’t quite go anywhere until months later. Build and destroy, right?

Writing about race is so weird. I often feel like I’m walking on eggshells or tip-toeing across broken glass sometimes, despite how often I’ve done it and how comfortable I feel with doing it. Like, as soon as you acknowledge that race exists and affects things in a positive or negative or in-between manner, armies of dudes strap on their fedoras and get to typing about how it’s not that serious, you’re reading too deep, why you gotta play the race card, chill out, bud, can I call you bud, my black friend lets me call him bud when we hang out, I’m down, brother. Or whatever. This paragraph got weird.

I wrote a thing about Robert E Howard’s racism a few days ago and didn’t say anything about the subtext beyond what like a moderately culturally-aware teenaged black kid would notice, like how power is clearly distributed across skin color lines or how the sexual aspects of a certain story break down and relate to its racial aspects. I talked about things that have been around and part of American culture for centuries, even if they’ve only relatively recently been named and shamed. Basic racial awareness stuff, right, like avoiding “niggardly” because it’s awkward and you’re probably a jerk if you’re intentionally using it around black people or not touching or asking to touch black people’s hair.

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Darryl Ayo said “I love when David Brothers explains very carefully and in detail about racist undertones in a work and some commenter is “uh uh, no!!”” on Twitter and I was like pshaw, I got this son, watch me do the knowledge and stunt on these bros… and then some dude told me to keep my emotions and politics out of things I read even if they are by an actual racist because I didn’t do the research and it doesn’t mean anything if he didn’t mean it and I had to slam the comments shut before I lost my doggone mind.

I think that’s part of why I try to keep the tone light when talking about race and comics, because it’s clear to me that it makes a whole lot of people (some people can’t separate what they like from who they are) uncomfortable, even if it’s something innocuous as “this racist guy wrote some racist stuff by accident.” I even brought a couple of gifs out of retirement, even though I don’t really get down like that any more. Keeping the tone light is a defense mechanism, I think, because it lays a foundation for me to laugh it off when things get stupid, as they do 99% of the time. If I poured my heart into something and kept it clean and then some schmuck came along talking about bootstraps, I’d feel much, much worse than when someone takes a lazy jab at a post with a funny gif of Method Man and Redman in it.

But I don’t think trying to lighten the tone actually works like I think it does? It makes me feel like I’m tip-toeing around what I want to say. Which, in turn, makes me think that maybe I should just go in and make things even more plain, because if people are going to flip regardless, why should I stress over how something is going to be taken? I could talk about things like how unbelievably off-putting it is that Brian Bendis and Sara Pichelli’s otherwise divine Ultimate Spider-Man features a black dude named Jefferson Davis, especially considering that the book was sold on the back of its lead being black and latino.

How do you talk about that bout of tone deafness — which should probably be explored at least a little bit within the greater context of well-intentioned tone deafness in the comics community, which I would argue is probably the biggest race-related problem in mainstream comics — without being an unfair dick to Bendis, who apparently named the character after a friend and not the dude who was a scumbag traitor to the Union who took up arms for his right to be a racist and own other people, like that’s a cool thing for people to do? (I went to a school named after Jefferson Davis for a while and basically wanted to die.)

I don’t make a conscious try at it, but I feel like I’m real layman friendly. I don’t talk about privilege or whatever other big words people are using to talk about race and culture. Not because I don’t like them or don’t understand them, but because that’s just not how I think about race. I didn’t go to college for this stuff. I’m either speaking from my own life experiences or those of people I’ve read, known, or respected. Some of it’s book-learning and some of it’s personal trauma, but you know what I’ve found is the most true and most effective when talking about race? Common sense. Racism, as a philosophy and practice, does not make common sense. It makes economic and nationalist sense, but not common sense. So, I’m just trying to say what I have to say in a way that everyone who pays attention can overstand it. It’s complicated, but it’s not complicated. You don’t have to talk about it like it’s astrophysics or microbiology or uh… precalculus. It’s best understood and discussed in basic terms. It’s thorny, I think is the word I’m trying to pull off the tip of my tongue, and complex, but not incomprehensible. “Food for thought, you do the dishes,” like an aight man once said.

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I have a voice and a platform that a lot of other writers who care about black issues in comics don’t. I don’t have the responsibility to write about that stuff, because I firmly believe in doing what I want, when I want, and how I want to do it, but I do have the inclination to do so. I enjoy it, at least at first. It’s like therapy on a budget, and a few people have written in to say I helped them figure things out in their own life, which is awesome/terrifying/awesome.

I really, really care about this stuff. I care about others getting it right and I definitely care about getting it right myself. Otherwise, you get “LOL Luke Cage” instead of treating the guy like his history is as rich as it actually is. Which I think is why I’m so careful and pointed about what I don’t. I’m playing with the cultural equivalent of a loaded gun here and throwing in a bunch of rap lyrics and jokes. But I don’t want people to misconstrue what I’m saying or get it twisted, so I pick my words very carefully. Deliberately. Some people are still going to get hot under the collar, but “fuck boys do fuck shit,” right? I just have to do what I do and keep focusing on getting better at it instead of the dudes who are mad that their favorite comic is pretty crappy when viewed through a certain light.

I think about this stuff a lot. I mean, the REH post I wrote on a Saturday morning because I was bored and felt like it, but the ideas in there definitely percolated for months before I put them to paper. At the very least since I read the first issue of the Conan relaunch. There were six or seven issues out when I wrote a post that mentioned REH’s racism in passing, so let’s call it six months. I notice something, I talk with friends about it, and then I push it to the back of my mind, where the real work gets done, until I have something to say.

Even when I’m shooting from the hip — usually on Twitter, rarely on 4l! — it’s never just to talk or something I’ve only half-examined. I think about the intersection of race and comics so much because I feel like it’s something that is incredibly important that is vastly underserved, or outright mocked, on a mainstream level.

Like, here’s a real life example: I mentioned the gross aspects of interracial (again, genre, not description) porn in that REH post, and the way it plays upon the fear of a white woman being tainted by the black penis. Some of it focuses on the shame of a white guy that a white woman would sink so low, which is the really, really gross stuff, but most of it’s about debasement. “She said her price’ll go down if she ever fucks a black guy, or do anal, or a gangbang; it’s kinda crazy it’s all considered the same thing.” if you need a topical reference and/or a reminder that Kanye’s “Hell of a Life” is a shockingly good song.

Luke Cage and Jessica Jones’s relationship began with rough sex in Alias #1, a Bendis/Gaydos joint. (I swear I’m not trying to pick on Bendis here, I’m just going with whatever examples come to mind and I’ve read a lot of Bendis comics. Probably more comics by him than any other singular author outside of Garth Ennis or Grant Morrison, honestly.) It was intended to show her at her lowest, how actively self-destructive she was being at that time in her life, back before she got married and had a kid with Cage. How do the fans refer to their hookup in that first issue?

“Interracial anal.”

Alias is a good comic. I went from Daredevil directly to Alias and had a grand old time. But how am I supposed to feel about that aspect of the series? It’s 2012, the issue came out in 2001 or whatever, so these jokes aren’t new. And that’s the go-to joke? That’s how people describe that scene? If I tell somebody to read that comic, five’ll get you ten that some schmuck is going to pop up with a dirty joke about it if that person decides to talk about it online. And that’s pathetic.

There’s already something uncomfortable about the debaser being black and the debased being white, regardless of Bendis’s motivations when writing. Bendis stuck the landing on that front in the text, but outside of it? He’s enabled his fans to run with this, make cute image macros out of it, and I’m like 90% sure he’s brought that phrase up in the Powers letter columns himself, though in a self-deprecating way.

I’m not with that. Not at all. I said a while back that one of the biggest parts of being black in America is being constantly reminded that you are black. That’s a clear example. Black is different, black is weird, black must be pointed out when you see it, especially when it contrasts with normal. I mean, white. It makes you feel like you don’t belong every minute of every day, like you’re an intruder in the only home you’ve ever known.

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And I’m not even talking about this like I think Bendis and his fans deserved to be nailed to the wall for whatever. That’s not where I’m at, and it’s not how I work. But I do think that not talking about it, not having that conversation, knowing how crappy it makes me and people I know feel, is a mistake. Having that conversation is at least as important as talking about when somebody gets something so right that you’re left amazed. Talking about race can’t be limited to just dudes in white robes burning crosses or racial profiling. We have to talk about the little things and the everyday things, too. “Don’t go to jail unless you want to be Antwan’s wife!” things, or “That’s so ghetto” things. “Storm and Panther only got married because they’re black!” things.

Race is bigger than racism. Racism, as far as I’m concerned, is a small and probably the least interesting part of talking about race.

Why do I write about race? Partly because other people are so terrible or inept at recognizing the impact of race on their life, let alone actually talking about it. When I first started, it was a lark. Then I thought I could convince Marvel and DC to do something other than pander to their audience. Then I realized that was stupid, and I’d be better off just talking about this stuff. I’ll spit hollowpoints at them them when they miss, praise them when they hit, and hopefully someone who reads me will look and go, “Oh, this makes sense” and tomorrow will be a little better.

It took me forever to come to that point, though. I figure it’s obvious if you read my posts from that first Black History salvo on through today. Maybe not. Maybe I’m the only one that pays that much attention to what I do. But I have changed and grown as a result of talking about race and comics.

I can’t really speak authoritatively on the Big Two’s racial issues any more, outside of when they step into a realm where I don’t need deep knowledge of their books, and I’ve more than dipped my toe into spotlighting black creators of all stripes. I just need to figure out where my lane is now, where I best fit in, and how I can continue the conversation.

I want to continue the conversation because it’s too important to leave alone, no matter how much I get down on it sometimes. It’s too important to me to leave alone. I had to piecemeal together black heroes and history as a kid. If I can save someone the trouble, so much the better. I want to continue the conversation because if I won’t, that cuts the number of vocal black people willing to get their hands dirty about race & comics and have a platform like I do by half. It’s me and Hannibal Tabu out here, unless someone’s slipped my mind. (There are no black women at the big sites, which sucks. But I know of one site that’s actively working on it.)

I feel like I needed to say this here so that I don’t need to say it any more. I’m working this out in public. Thanks for following along.

(Luke Cage, forever thugging. The images in this post are two of my most favorite Cage comics. The old, dirty scans are from Essential Power Man and Iron Fist, Vol. 1 (Marvel Essentials), with words by Mary Jo Duffy and pictures by Kerry Gammill and Ricardo Villamonte. The newer scans are from New Avengers: Civil War, with words by Brian Michael Bendis and art by Leinil Yu. I love that Cage, as a character, is strong enough to support stories of both types, and can be funny without being a buffoon. Luke Cage was created by John Romita, Sr and Archie Goodwin. Thank you.)

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Bendis vs. Johns: Conquering the Big Threat

June 10th, 2012 Posted by Gavok

I’m one of those comic fans who tries not to allow himself to be dragged into the whole Marvel vs. DC argument based purely on the characters and being loyal to them. It’s all about the writers and the quality that comes with it. Sure, there are many times when the scale is skewed immensely, such as pre-Flashpoint when I was only reading a couple DC comics compared to now, but that’s on them. For the past 6-7 years, when you compare Marvel and DC, there’s no better writer sample size than Brian Michael Bendis and Geoff Johns. These two are the butt of a crazy amount of jokes about how they each write 80% of the comics of their respective companies.

Hell, I’m guilty of this myself. If they ever brought back Amalgam Comics, every issue would be written by Geoff Bendis.

They both have their strengths and weaknesses. I dropped all the Bendis Avengers books after growing impatient and realizing that the only reason I was reading them in the first place was because of enjoying what he used to write. At the same time, I’m really loving Ultimate Spider-Man and the whole Miles Morales experiment. With Johns, I lost complete interest in Justice League shortly after the origin arc, yet I eat up his Green Lantern and think his Sinestro is the most compelling character going in DC. Not that that’s hard, considering he has a head start over 95% of the New DC cast.

This isn’t so much a simple Bendis vs. John post, but more a comparison over something Johns does that I’ve always dug about his work and really helps earn him his spot as “that DC Comics guy”. It’s also something that I’ve found Bendis to almost get, only to drop the ball and go the opposite direction.

What I’m talking about is setting up a threat, usually in the first act, that allows the readers to say out loud, “These heroes are absolutely screwed.” This is a lot better as a selling point to a comic than “it’s important.”

I’m going to focus on the event storylines, since these are the ones given more emphasis and put under such a microscope that the two writers have to make extra sure that their threat is something that can’t simply be waved away.

I’m also going to skip over Avengers Disassembled and Green Lantern: Rebirth, since I don’t even really see those as events as just gigantic plot points meant to set up the next several years of storyline. Disassembled is something I read years after the fact and found it to be kind of a mess in terms of storytelling and Green Lantern: Rebirth was a big mess of retcons and reveals meant to pave the way for Johns’ lengthy run on the Lantern corner of the universe.

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Whodunnit? I can’t call it.

April 3rd, 2012 Posted by david brothers

I’m working on another Thing, and that Thing led to me downloading Brian Bendis and David Finch’s New Avengers #1 off the iBooks store for free. (iBookstore?) It’s intended to get you to buy the full trade for $10.99. I flipped through it and had a funny thought. I thought this was a stupid little mistake and almost didn’t post this, but I thought about it and here we are. Bear with me.

This is the page where you go to download the sample:

This is the title page:

This is the inside front cover:

This is the recap:

And this is the second story page:

Here’s a random page with a blank spot thanks to two-page spreads:

And here’s the last page (tapping this page takes you to the iBookstore to buy the full comic):

Nowhere in the comic is the creative team listed, barring the front cover, which just lists Brian Bendis, David Finch, and Danny Miki. I downloaded a sample of the actual book, which is the first twelve pages, and found a similar issue.

Here’s the page with the creative team from the printed comic:

I was thinking about this, and I sorta understand what happened. Bendis and Finch are listed on the cover to the free preview (and on the covers in the sample), as well as on the iBookstore. Cutting the credits box is SOP for Marvel’s trades, since it leaves the art cleaner and they throw a credits page into the front of the book anyway. This time, it slipped through the cracks. I checked another sample, Amazing Spider-Man: Big Time, and it still has a credit box on the opening spread. It’s an accident, then, right?

But what made me pull this post from the trash and finish it is that there’s an entire page dedicated to Marvel’s execs. A new page, one that hasn’t been in any printed comic ever. I think it’s pretty messed up, whether it’s once or twice or three times, that people who had very little to do with the actual creation of a comic get better billing than the people who spent months of their life working on the stupid thing. I mean, let’s be real here–I’m sure that Marvel Senior Counsel David Althoff (to pick a name at random) is a nice guy. He’s got a splendid first name, in fact. But what did he do that gives him bigger billing than anyone else on the creative team, half of which doesn’t even get credited at all?

This is a nitpick. I’ll cop to that. But at the same time… it really isn’t. Mainstream comics has a real problem with valuing the people who actually make the comics, and I think the prioritization of corporate over creative, which is exactly what this is, is pretty screwed up. I feel like it’s important to point out when this happens, even if it’s an innocent mistake. (Also I think I got the flu while I was out of town, I’ve been doing shots of cold medicine, and everything feels like a good idea right now.) We’ve got to do a better job of prioritizing creators over characters, and especially over corporate, especially when it would be as easy to fix as this would be. Yes, Bendis & Finch’s names are on the store, but there’s nothing about their roles. At the very least, that info should be in the comic.

If you’re inserting a dedicated corporate masthead into the book, make the facing page the creative team. The creative team is the important part, anyway. I try to emphasize that whenever I can. Let’s do better.

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The Revengers Explain Themselves

January 4th, 2012 Posted by Gavok

This week Marvel released Avengers Annual #1 by Brian Michael Bendis and Gabriele Dell’otto. It’s the long-awaited follow-up to New Avengers Annual #1 from several months ago, which featured Wonder Man’s Revengers beating the stuffing out of the New Avengers and trashing the mansion. The new issue reads almost like a Garth Ennis anti-superhero story where he somehow reins in the sodomy and bad language. Despite his extreme actions, there’s little reason not to root for Wonder Man. He brings up good points about why the Avengers may not be worth having around and their rebuttal is never anything more than, “My God, Simon’s gone insane!” or “Are you being mind-controlled?” or “Please, Simon! You need help! Would punching you in the face help? I’m going to punch you in the face. It might help.”

The Avengers naturally win and the final scene shows that Wonder Man’s reasoning for wanting the Avengers disbanded goes deeper than originally thought. Before that, after the other Revengers are taken down, one of the Avengers wonders aloud why they did this. Bendis had his own spin on it, having them express feelings of revenge, atonement, insanity and — in Anti-Venom’s case — full agreement in Wonder Man’s mantra. Me? I think Bendis was as off the mark as he is whenever he writes any scene with Marvel Boy in it.

Okay, that might have been a little harsh. It’s not that bad. Still, I think I can shed some better light.

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Ultimate Comics Spider-Man #1 Review Station

September 14th, 2011 Posted by david brothers

A quickie, since today looks to be dumb busy at work:

I reviewed Ultimate Spider-Man for ComicsAlliance. Creative team’s Brian Michael Bendis/Sara Pichelli/Justin Ponsor. Here’s a few random excerpts:

In a development that will surprise absolutely no one, Sara Pichelli (art) and Justin Ponsor (color art) absolutely knock their half of the book out of the park. Since this is a quiet issue, Pichelli doesn’t get a chance to really chew into any action sequences with her usual flair. Due to the absence of action sequences, we’re left looking at Pichelli’s other skills: fashion, body language, facial acting, and everything else that comes into play when drawing people.

Ponsor’s color art is pretty good, too, and a great complement to Pichelli’s art. There’s a page around the middle of the book that features five characters of a few different races. There are five different skin tones present in the scene. That’s something that is painfully rare in cape comics, even when talented colorists are doing otherwise virtuoso work on the page. I don’t know that this is worthy of praising Ponsor to the high heavens–“He got it right when everyone else didn’t, even though they should have!” only goes so far–but I definitely appreciated seeing this sort of attention paid to race in a Marvel comic.

A lot was made of Marvel’s new black Spider-Man by everyone who heard about the character, whether they were for or against the idea. I was pretty pleased to see that the issue of Miles’s race got just the amount of attention it needed in this issue: none. Setting aside the difficulty in explaining the complicated racial and ethnic overlap and intersection between blacks and Latinos — a subject that is probably too complicated for cape comics — Miles and his family are presented as just like any other family in comics. He doesn’t fight roving bands of racists, the Klan, or talk about how he’s from the hood. He’s got a family, his parents want his life to be better than theirs, and they love him very much. He’s normal, and that’s just as it should be.

Despite my qualms about the length and price point, this first issue hooked me. Miles Morales isn’t Peter Parker, his status quo isn’t Peter Parker’s, and his powers have just enough of a twist (hinted at early in the story) that they aren’t exactly Peter’s either. I wanted Bendis to impress me with this issue, and he did. My complaints really boil down to how much space he was given to impress me, rather than anything he did wrong, exactly. This is good comics, and the start of something cool.

And I seriously want to shake Bendis and Pichelli’s hands for introducing an Ultimate version of one of my all-time favorite members of Spidey’s supporting cast.

The new Ultimate character is Prowler, but not Hobie Brown.

I’m mad I left the scare quotes off the one time I said “black Spider-Man.” Turns out being passive-aggressive and snarky late at night is tougher than I expected.

Four bucks for twenty pages is 2011% garbage, but I liked it. If I’d paid for it, I might feel otherwise, I dunno. Anybody read this yet? Spoil away in the comments.

Marvel can seriously blow me over that price, though. Disgusting.

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The problem with “black Spider-Man” is…

August 15th, 2011 Posted by david brothers

…that it is essentially covert, or maybe just casual, white supremacy.

How great does this kid look, by the way? Sharp haircut. Sara Pichelli is great.

Here’s the short version:

The long version keeps drifting on me and not coming out correctly, so let me try and boil it down:

The words you choose to use simultaneously reflect and create the world around you. If you make an effort to be effusively positive about things, you’re going to attract people who either share in or enjoy your positivity. The odds are good that they will be positive, too, setting up a situation where you both feed off each other. If you want to keep up a too cool for school distant air, and so your version of effusive praise is “Oh, yeah, that was cool,” then you’re going to attract like-minded people who understand you. Make sense? Everything feeds on everything else.

“Black Spider-Man” otherizes Miles Morales. (It also ignores that he’s half-Puerto Rican, but that’s another conversation entirely.) He’s not Spider-Man. He’s black Spider-Man. He isn’t the new Spider-Man first, or Ultimate Spider-Man first. He’s black Spider-Man. Which is funny, because Barry Allen and Wally West were just the new Flashes. Hal Jordan is a Green Lantern, but John Stewart is the black Green Lantern.

It foregrounds Miles’s race in a conversation where his race should be irrelevant. His race is probably going to end up being just as big a part of his character as it was for Peter Parker–which I do think was a fairly significant part of that character–but in terms of who the character is and how we refer to him, “black Spider-Man” is garbage.

It sets up the adjective-less Spider-Man as the default, and therefore superior, version. Black Spider-Man will always be second-best because he wasn’t first. Comics fans in particular like to prize the original flavor, or whichever flavor was dominant whenever they began reading, so you can’t tell me that isn’t true. Every time I read “black Spider-Man” I taste battery acid. It feels mean, like the most important part of Miles’s character is that he’s (whisper this with me) not white!

Every single person who has dropped the “Batman of Africa” phrase into their news report, writing, solicits, interviews, commentary, criticism, or emails is lazy. Plain and simple. Every single one. If they aren’t mocking the phrase, they are lazy. Whenever I see it, I want to (and usually do) stop reading whatever page I’m on. There is no Batman of Africa, just like there’s no Batman of South America or Batman of Europe. There are Batmen of France, Argentina, and cities, but there are no Batmen of continents. David Zavimbi, Batwing, is the Batman of the Democratic Republic of Congo, or maybe the Batman of Fake-Kinshasha.

“Batman of Africa,” like “black Spider-Man,” plays into these subtle, but still awful, racial and national stereotypes. Africa is “AFRICA” in people’s minds because lazy, racist fiction and news painted it as a monolithic dark continent full of black people. Lies cloud the mind. Africa, like any other continent, features an astonishing amount of ethnic diversity, whether native or immigrant. You don’t even have to open a book to know this. Charlize Theron is African, man. More specifically, and more respectfully, she’s South African. She’s from Johannesburg. She’s famous.

But the mental image that leaps to mind when people say “Africa” is bone nose savages, savage warlords, savage child soldiers, and AIDS savaging the countryside. Not Egypt, or the Ivory Coast, or a continent of one billion people, most of whom are just like us and go through many of the same trials and travails that we do. There’s no diversity in “AFRICA!” That fact is ugly and stupid. It’s 2011. What’s wrong with you?

David Zavimbi, presumably, is Congolese. “Batman of the Congo” has less of a ring to it, but it doesn’t make you look as unforgivably ignorant as “Batman of Africa” does.

Being black is no more remarkable than being white. Miles Morales is notable for being the first black Spider-Man, particularly in Marvel’s Ultimate Universe, but it isn’t his blackness that makes him special. It’s the fact that he’s not Peter Parker. The fact that he’s half-black, half-Puerto Rican, (and how cool would it be if his dad was a dark skinned Puerto Rican and his mom was light skinned black?!), that it looks like he’s taking part in a lottery to get into a good school in the preview images, and that he’s thirteen years old is just sauce. It’s not the meal. It’s part of the meal, sure, but you do yourself and the character (or rather, the concept, what the character represents, or something, because we do not respect characters ’round these parts) a disservice by boiling him down to “black Spider-Man.” He’s so much more than that, judging by the press run Marvel just went on, that breaking him down to being the black Spider-Man is… it’s garbage, it’s lazy, it’s stupid.

It makes you look like Stormy.

This is drifting.

Black Debbie doesn’t exist. I probably could’ve left this at the Sealab video and been good.

Please think before you speak.

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got the internet goin’ nuts: spider-man, racism, manga, & peanuts

August 2nd, 2011 Posted by david brothers

This review of Fantagraphics’ Peanuts reprint project is great. This little girl gets exactly why Charlie Brown and Snoopy are so wonderful. Hang it up, everybody else.

-My main man Tucker Stone turned five and then got back down to the business of showing you the guts of this week’s comic books.

-Rich Johnston pulled together a post meant to educate some dickface retailer about racism and speaking in public. It’s a good one, very well done. He asked me if I wanted to contribute, but I declined. I felt like that guy had gotten enough, or even too much, of my attention after I tweeted about it two times. C’est la guerre, right?

-The reason that retailer went off on the racist tip is that the new Ultimate Spider-Man (created by Brian Michael Bendis and Sara Pichelli) is a half-black, half-hispanic kid named Miles Morales (alliteration, holla). While I stand by my position that original characters are greater than legacies, who are by their very nature subordinate and inferior to the original model, I also understand that cape comics are screwed and cannot support new original characters. They have to be tied to the old in order to survive today. It sucks, but that’s the industry we’ve built, right?

-The retailer, of course, is noted sexist douchebag Larry Doherty of Larry’s Comics in Lowell, MA, whose previous claim to fame, a year or two before making jokes about “nigga lips,” was calling out ComicsAlliance editor-in-chief Laura Hudson as a one-trick pony who only talks about sexism in comics and, I assume as some sort of incredible zinger, sending her a photo of a woman with a bunch of hot dogs stuffed in her mouth. It’s cool that he’s outed himself as a racist, too. Gotta catch ’em all, right?

-Every time I see somebody on Twitter shouting that guy out like “Yo this guy knows how to sell comcis!” my eyes narrow a little bit. Watch who you associate with, because it’s all too easy for their actions to define you.

-I don’t necessarily think Marvel should be patted on the back, but this is a pretty cool move. No other major character–and the major characters these days are Superman, Batman, and Spider-Man, make no mistake–have been replaced by a non-white. In this case, the one, true Spider-Man, or Ultimate Spider-Man, or whatever, is a black guy. What’s more, this’ll pull the Ultimate universe away from pantomiming the past, which is what the last murderfest and reboot was supposed to do. You can’t do a retread of Venom with Miles Morales. They don’t have the history, and there are no expectations.

-No, there are some expectations. We’ll see the classic villains, probably for the first year or so, to ease readers in. Seeing how the new guy (and I hope he has a different personality than Parker and doesn’t use the same yiddish slang) interacts with these old characters will be more interesting than seeing Parker do the same old song and dance. Word is that he’ll be working with Aunt May and Gwen Stacy, too, which is cool.

-I tweeted some stuff about the new Spider-Man and the marketing of the character, too: “It would be nice if the Big Two could treat diversity as a fact of life, but the market & genre demand events/hype. It’s nice when they try. So, though I haven’t been a big Bendis fan for a while, I’ll try out this new Spider-Man. It’s (mostly) new and fresh. I hope it works out. Wonder Woman’s pants has been a running argument for over a year now. A new Spider-Man, and what’s more, a black one, is gonna be a big deal. It’s like that bit in Casanova. “The genre demands it!” The cape industry bends strange in a lot of nonsensical, but traditional, ways. but anyway, Sara Pichelli is ill, and I’m all about her getting a brand new #1 to call her own, and hopefully a fat sack of royalty checks”

-One request: can we not call him “Black Spider-Man?” That’s stupid.

-There’s this quote from Sara Pichelli in Marvel’s PR that I wanted to pull out: “Maybe sooner or later a black or gay – or both – hero will be considered something absolutely normal.”

-What she says works directly against Marvel’s marketing. (Spider-Man is black now!) She’s saying that this sort of thing should be par for the course, rather than an aberration. I like that she slipped that in there, whether my understanding of her statement is what she intended or not. The big deal about Nightrunner, the new Aqualad, and… who am I forgetting? Batwing? Blue Beetle? The big deal about all those guys should’ve been no big deal to us. I don’t get hype when an ill new black character shows up in One Piece (word to sleepy old Admiral Kuzan) or in a new movie. Why should I when it happens in the comics I’ve been reading since I was a child? If anything, these books should be the ones blazing trails like they used to do.

-Pichelli’s art is great. I did a Pretty Girls on her last year. Happy to see her with a huge gig.

-Thinking about this deal (and regrettably reducing it to a tired old Big Two competition, which I normally loathe but in this case is a viable angle for analysis)… Marvel’s never really had as much of a problem with race as DC has had. The ’70s were very good to them in terms of introducing cool new faces, and the 2000s (and maybe a little earlier–Priest’s Black Panther) saw a resurgence of strong titles featuring black characters. I think we’re long past the day when someone like Triathlon could gain traction, but Marvel definitely tries something new time and time again. Therefore–they didn’t have to create Miles Morales. They have characters who we love who are good.

-DC pushed Cyborg to the front lines as part of their big diversity push (at least in part) because he’s the only black guy they have that 1) has a fairly sizable fanbase (due to Wolfman/Pérez Teen Titans mostly) 2) doesn’t have Black in his name (eliminating Black Lightning from the runnings) and 3) isn’t a legacy character (peace out, John Henry Irons, John Stewart, Mr Terrific, Aqualad, and a handful of others). Not to say that he doesn’t deserve to play in the Big Leagues, because he absolutely does, but there’s a… paucity of candidates, aren’t there? He also isn’t named Vixen, which is a huge bonus.

-Marvel, though, has a figurative ton of black characters they could throw into the Avengers without anyone batting an eye, other than the people who make a hobby out of batting eyes. What’s more, they put him into their biggest costume. So, yeah, maybe this new Spider-Man really is something to be applauded. I’ll have to think it over some.

-I was on a Best/Worst Manga panel at SDCC 2011. You can read Deb Aoki’s great recap here.

-I liked this NYT piece debunking a few myths about slavery, marriage, and family, too.

-This post on Eating Watermelon While Black was also a pretty fun read. It’s interesting seeing other people’s perspectives on the very real cultural/social divide between black and white.

-Geez, I guess I did have something to say about Miles Morales after all. Hopefully the new book is good. Both companies’ sudden stabs at being inclusive seem sort of like a last-ditch gasp for air before the lights go out, but at the same time… I appreciate that they’re trying. Better late than never, right?

-New costume is pretty tight. I like the black and red, and the webby fingers.

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The Problem with Death of Spider-Man

July 5th, 2011 Posted by guest article

Gavok note: For the past year or so in my This Week in Panels series, panels for Ultimate Spider-Man have been supplied every month by regular reader Michael Stangeland, otherwise known as Space Jawa. With Ultimate Peter Parker’s corpse still a bit fresh, Jawa wanted to touch on his perspective of the mini-event. Since we’re always open to reader guest articles, I was more than happy to oblige.

I’ll admit right off the bat that when I first heard about Bendis’ The Death of Spider-Man story arc, I was concerned. Initially, it was worry about the titular character actually biting it, in spite of how he’s been around since the launch of Marvel’s Ultimate line-up. So it’s entirely possible that my reaction to how the story actually went there and did what’s previously only been done in a few dozen different issues of What-If?.

However, I’d also like to be able to think that I’m not that close-minded. After all, I was willing to see the entirety of the story arc through before passing final judgment, and I recognize that sometimes, character death is for the best, and a lot of great things can come out of it. After all, look at what Brubaker did with killing off Steve Rogers (before he brought him back, of course).

And for a world to truly move forwards, sometimes the characters we know and love have to move on so the next generation of great characters can take their turn in the spotlight and provide new story opportunities. When I first read Lord of the Rings back when I was in grade school, my gut reaction was to be disappointed that Bilbo wouldn’t be the main character again. Fortunately, I moved past that quickly enough and was able to get through the entirety of JRR Tolkien’s masterpiece.

So I’m hoping that I’m being honest with myself that the real reason for my distaste for the whole Death of Spider-Man arc is truly in reaction to how it was carried out rather than the end result. If it looks otherwise after I’ve said my piece, I encourage you to call me out on it.

I wish I could say that the use of “proudly” wasn’t meant to be serious.

The first major problem with Death of Spider-Man shows up in the very first three pages of the story. The major driving force behind Ultimate Pete’s death is that Norman Osborn is back from the dead. Of course, characters coming back from the dead isn’t anything that comics are unfamiliar with.

Problem is, this is Marvel’s Ultimate Comics universe. And if I’m not mistaken, one of the major points that has been made about the UC is that when characters die, they stay dead. Something that brings it even closer to being set in the “real world” than the classic 616 universe.

Read the rest of this entry �

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Avengers Prime: Mark Waid Edition

January 8th, 2011 Posted by Gavok

Last Wednesday brought us the end of Avengers Prime by Brian Michael Bendis and Alan Davis, which really should have been called Avengers: Ah, I Can’t Stay Mad at You. Steve Rogers, Iron Man and Thor accidentally get sucked into one of Thor’s locales. There, they all have their separate moments of being badass, deal with Enchantress and Hela and a subplot involves Rogers hooking up with a blue elf lady. That might be a little scummy, since that means he’s cheating on Sharon, but I’m pretty sure the “what happens in Vegas” rule applies to most of the nine realms. The point of the miniseries is to put the three guys in a situation that reminds them that they’re buddies and thick as thieves.

But still, the ending rang pretty familiar to me…

Odin’s will be done.

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The Cipher 09/29/10

September 29th, 2010 Posted by david brothers

said the shotgun to the head
-Maybe this is unfair (it isn’t), but if you only ever talk about what’s wrong with race in comics, and never what’s good, I don’t care about anything you have to say. It’s like–congrats, man, you can recognize something so obvious that children can see it. I’m not gonna congratulate you for doing something you should be doing anyway. I’m tired of reading or being linked to know-nothing junior varsity scrubs armed with an at best theoretical understanding of racial politics that they got from some college or the rest of the internet. Real talk beats jargon any day. Do better.

-Brian Michael Bendis was talking greasy about comics journalism last week. I felt some kind of way about it and responded on Twitter more than I should have, when what I really should have said was this:

Twinkletoes, you’re breaking my heart!

-Did you guys see that X-Men: Curse of the Mutants Saga came out on ComiXology’s digital comics service this week? For two bucks? That comic was free in stores. C’mon, son. That’s just clown shoes.

-Greg Burgas reviewed Top Cow’s First Look over at Comics Should Be Good!. I liked the Genius story in there and honestly have yet to read the rest. That’s beside the point, though. Burgas makes a reference to Top Cow’s checkered past (specifically: “Mysterious Ways is the third story in the collection, and it’s really what you think of when you think of a stereotypical “Top Cow” comic.”) and manages to piss off both Ron Marz and Atom!, who is Top Cow’s new “Direct Market Liason” guy.

They pop up to explain that, hey, that isn’t Top Cow, you’re working from old data, and things just devolve from there. I figured I’d do us all the favor of pulling some covers from the recent past, including Artifacts, one of the books that Marz and Atom! are telling us we shouldn’t be judging.

I’m not even being disingenuous and cherrypicking here–these are the covers to some fairly high profile series starring Boobs Goesfast, Razor Cleavage, Nightgown Lass, Thinly Disguised Alien Guy, and… I don’t have any dismissive and/or clever supranyms ((c) Adam Warren) for Aphrodite IX and the angel chick with the massive wings (Sexy Seraphim?) but they look like the same old Top Cow crap we used to eat up back before the internet existed.

Look–Top Cow is better than it was ten years ago. That’s obvious. Witchblade wears more clothes, for one thing, and what I’ve read of Phil Hester’s The Darkness was pretty swift. But- Witchblade Takeru still exists and this sort of thing still happens:

It’s cool you changed or whatever, but if you’re the guy who gets blackout drunk and turns into a douchebag every time he goes out, and you’re that guy for years, don’t be surprised if people go “Whoa whoa whoa, did that guy just behave himself?” when you go out, behave yourself, cover the tip, and bid a nice lady a chaste goodnight. That’s your bad. You earned that rep.

If Top Cow spent the past decade and a half pumping out critically acclaimed books, and then suddenly started producing crap, the response would be equally as confused. If Donna Troy suddenly magically lost her ability to put me right to sleep, I’d react with surprise, just like Burgas did.

-In the interest of semi-fairness, this cover for the aborted Joe Casey/Chriscross Velocity is super dope.

the inevitable rise and liberation of niggy tardust
-Comics Alliance stuff: video game censorship, why Wildstorm/Zuda/CMX bit it, a Hetalia image gallery, and an interview with all-star colorist Dave Stewart.

-Amazon stuff: Saving money as I come into the orbit of NYCC, so all I got was Shanna, the She-Devil: Survival of the Fittest (for Khari Evans), Love and Rockets: New Stories because everyone says it’s the best, and Die Hard Collection because if you don’t like Bruce Willis, you’re no friend of mine.

-I read Bulletproof Coffin #1 and caught up on Chew on ComiXology. Both are really solid works, especially BC.

the dead emcee scrolls
Fear Not Of David: Amazing Spider-Man 644, Atlas 05
Esther Says: Definite: Action Comics 893 Maybe: The Brave and the Bold 21, Detective Comics 869, First Wave 4
Know Gavin: Time Masters: Vanishing Point 03, Atlas 05, Captain America 610, Franken-Castle 21, Namor, Secret Warriors 20

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