Black History Month ’09 #07: These Are Your Shoes, These Are My Shoes, We’ve Got Issues

February 7th, 2009 Posted by david brothers

Talking about black characters in comics puts me in mind of the old joke about newscasters. If they mention an armed robbery and not the race of the crook, it’s obviously a white guy– they would’ve said the race if he wasn’t. This is because being black is Different. It’s something outside of the norm. Basically, to put as blunt a point on it as possible, it’s The Other.

Once you create a book with an all, or mostly, black cast, and you acknowledge their race, marketing and advance word of mouth is given a chance to play up that aspect of the book, no matter how much it plays into the content of the book.

This is what happens when you treat black characters as special snowflakes. This is what happens when so many black characters have to address Racism, or The Streets, or The Struggle, or The Man at some point in their career. You begin to build certain expectations in your audience. You’re waiting for that bit of the book where you get hit over the head with race.

Before The Crew came out, Christopher Priest was already fighting the idea that it was a Black Book.

I briefly wanted to call this book The Black Avengers. It’s a terrible idea, but, the truth is, with this cast, race will speak the loudest. Having not said a whole lot about what this book is, the feedback I’ve gotten thus far has only confirmed that fear. Fans don’t know what THE CREW is, but they know it’s, “A black book set in the ghetto.” So, I figured, why not. Race is all some fans will see anyway, let’s just get to it. The book has a kind of Avengers vibe, anyway, with two archetypical AV characters in our black Iron Man (WAR MACHINE) and Black Captain America (JUSTICE). Moreover, Black Avengers really just nails What This Is in a way “The Crew” really can’t.

It’s kind of funny. If Christopher Priest had replaced the gangs in The Mog with, say, Hydra, you could’ve branded The Crew as The Avengers: The Crew and had the kind of story Hawkeye used to star in. With black heroes up against black gangs, though, it’s a Black Book.

This is essentially what I’m trying, and have been trying, to get at. Books featuring a cast of largely black characters become almost inherently political. They’ve got to be about Black People, rather than about adventures. No, that’s wrong. They seem like they have got to be about Black People, rather than adventures. It’s that perception and prejudice again thing- we’re trained to expect certain things out of these books.

Admittedly, I’m working from a small sample size here, and that’s part of the problem. Talking about this sort of thing is tough when you can only point to a fistful of books for examples. How can you talk about reasonable or offensive portrayals when your sources are lacking? We haven’t had enough books starring black characters to erase the idea that Black Books are always something to be gawked at or treated as a big deal.

The books, and characters, aren’t abnormal. Get your hands dirty, put them through their paces, and make them commonplace. I’m pretty happy about Luke Cage being in New Avengers, in part because that’s the highest profile position for a black comics character since Steel became one of the four fake Supermen over a decade ago. It’s a step in the right direction, at the very least.

I don’t want it to seem like the market should suddenly be flooded with dozens of black people, each with a different gimmick and backstory. You don’t have to “blackify” comics. At the same time… the more black characters there are, the fewer characters there are that will be expected to be official representatives of the race. You’ll have more variety, more characters to identify, and a wider range of experiences.

So, there it is. Nothing’s ever simple, right?

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Black History Month 28: We Fly High

February 28th, 2008 Posted by david brothers

Black Panther
you ain’t ready
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Blade and Brother Voodoo
“There are worse things out tonight than vampires.”
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amandla, man. (sorry)
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The Crew
don’t start none, won’t be none
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Flippa Dippa
look man, i got nothing.
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John Henry Irons, Steel
steel drivin’ man

John Stewart, Green Lantern
taking him for granted would be a mistake

(one more day!)

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Black History Month 20: Priesthood

February 20th, 2008 Posted by david brothers

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art from marvel comics’s black panther and the crew. art by a kubert and jh williams iii, respectively.
I don’t do black music, I don’t do white music
–Eminem, “Who Knew”

Who is Christopher Priest?

Some would say that Priest is your favorite writer’s favorite writer.

Others would say that Priest was the first black editor at both Marvel and DC, in that order. He edited Spider-Man, hired Peter David, had an interesting run on Power Man & Iron Fist (which is practically the patron comic of this site, huh?), and was the source of no end of racial tension at ’80s era Marvel through no fault of his own. At DC, he wrote The Ray and served as liason for Milestone Comics. He had stints filling in on JLA, and wrote his own JLA series. He wrote Quantum & Woody at Acclaim and had a few ill-received series at Marvel after that. Excepting Black Panther, of course.

Black Panther is probably the book that most people love Priest for. He managed to successfully weave action with political intrigue, Kirby-esque plots, superheroic cameos, and romance into one cohesive whole. It wasn’t a perfect run, far from it, but Priest was never afraid to try new things over the course of his five year run. Whether it was reconciling the Kirby-era Panther with the new modern one or revealing that Panther originally joined the Avengers to spy on them, Priest was throwing out ideas at a rapid pace and hitting on almost every single one.

He’s been kind of pigeonholed as a “black writer,” but Priest is the kind of writer who could write a killer Batman or Amanda Waller book. He knows plots and he knows how to work continuity. It’s a shame that people wanted him to fit into a little box, because he can do so much.

After the last of his Marvel work dried up, Priest took a break from comics. I say “took a break” because I want him to come back.

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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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One Year of 4l! or Weapons of Mass Destruction + 112

November 29th, 2006 Posted by david brothers


Today marks the one year anniversary of 4thletter! Technically, we had a Blogger blog before then, but 4l! is what it is now, not what it was then. 365 days, 112 posts and 31,476 visitors later (as of this moment!) and we’re still here. We’ll be here for some time to come, if all goes well!

One year. It’s crazy, huh? One full year of completely questionable taste in comics, Gavok-style lists, brief appearances by the Spotted Wanderer, and hopefully bellies full of laughter. I was going to call 4l! Year Two “Questionable Taste In Comics Harder!” but focus groups decided that that was too clunky. Maybe “Where’s My Money, Honey?” U DECIDE.

Just FYI, 4l! Year One was “Is it time… or hypertime?” I don’t think I actually told anyone that, though, so don’t stress it. It won’t be on the test.

Muchas gracias to my blogmates Gavin and Thomas. The Big Gavoktus is consistently funnier than I am, but the site is named after me technically so it’s cool. We have spent enough time on IRC talking about A) What we would do if we had gigs at Marvel or DC and B) hilarious What If?/Elseworlds ideas that I am confident that if we ever did manage to con/blackmail our way into a position at Marvel or DC, the world would be a better and funnier place for it. Thomas brings a razor sharp critical analysis to the table and lets me bug him on AIM with ridiculous comics questions. He has a Tricky Brain, did you know that? He also has a sick mind for comics trivia, particularly in the X-Men and Spider-Man arenas.

Basically, though, we all love comics. Wait, scratch that. We all love good comics. Bad ones can go hang.

In the past year, I’ve learned that the comics blogospherohedron is kind of shockingly DC-slanted. (That may be just my inner Marvel Zombie speaking, though.) Tons of people have fond memories of the Legion of Super-Heroes, which I only recently got into with the Waid/Kitson reboot, and no one likes Identity Crisis. Feminism in comics is pretty big, too. A couple comics blogs have gone mainstream and ended up attached to Newsarama and Comic Book Resources, and I think that the comics media is better for it. I learned… you know what? This is slightly less profound than I expected. Let me cut to the chase.

I learned that a lot of cool cats like comics and want to talk about the effects of comics just as much as who would win in a fight, Big Barda or Wonder Woman (Big Barda, see below).

I would like to give a special shout-out to the people who let me blab on their blogs comment lines. The crew at Comics Should Be Good and Blog@Newsarma are all good people (and I really need to add B@N to my links there on the right). Kalinara @ Pretty Fizzy Paradise, Ragnell @ Written World, Johanna @ Comics Worth Reading, and Carla (I think?) @ Snap Judgements are all cool peoples. I should probably give special notice to my livejournalin’ buddies Lynxara and JLG. Fun times! Dwayne McDuffie’s forum is also a cool place to hang out, not to mention Batman’s Shameful Secret over at Something Awful’s forums. Best comics forum out, I will tell you what.

Also, my mom apparently reads the blog, so– Top of the world, ma!

One year down, hopefully many more to go. More questionable taste, more inexplicable love for ’90s comics, more stuff you never wanted to know about comics but now you do so you can’t un-know it, sucker!

I’m hoping to get some cool articles from all three of us up to celebrate the anniversary of this blah-blah-blog. Thanks for reading. Stick around, you might learn something!

As promised, here is why Big Barda trumps Wonder Woman:
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Yes, it’s future Wonder Woman, but you can’t argue with five tons per square inch. Big Barda is the truth.

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The Top 100 What If Countdown: Part 20

November 12th, 2006 Posted by Gavok

Well, it’s been four months of lead-up. When the first part of the countdown came out, Lynxara asked about why I’d do a top 100 list for a series of books that only have 175 issues. Especially when I count two-parters as one entry. Truth be told, this isn’t like ranking the best issues of Nightwing or Mighty Thor. Most comic series have cohesion and you usually have an idea of what to expect in each issue. Writers, artists and story remain the same for months and sometimes years at a time.

What If, on the other hand, is different. What If is the ultimate comic book box of chocolates. Writers, artists, stories, ideas and tones change from issue to issue. Many stories are good. Many are bad. But almost every one of them is interesting in its own way. I could have easily have done a top 20 or top 50 list and be done long ago, but there’s too much fun we’d be missing out on. No jive-talking Incredible Hulk, or Matt Murdock crying over Wilson Fisk’s death bed, or Kraven the Hunter eating Peter Parker’s face.

Now let’s get in our Quinjet and take us down to #1.

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The Top 100 What If Countdown: Part 14

September 26th, 2006 Posted by Gavok

The new Marvel solicitations have been released, detailing the new What Ifs. One is based on Deadly Genesis, which doesn’t interest me since I haven’t read that yet. The other, which looks to be awesome, is Age of Apocalypse. This time, Legion did kill Magneto… but he also killed Xavier. Judging from the cover, this could be very interesting.


Issue: Volume 1, #20
Writer: Tom DeFalco
Artist: Alan Kupperberg
Spider-Man death: No
Background: I myself haven’t read the Kree-Skrull War arc, but I get the gist of it from Wikipedia and the Watcher’s introduction. It doesn’t sound very good, all in all. The important parts to note are that the Super-Skrull had captured Captain Marvel, Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver with Captain America, Goliath (Pym), Iron Man, Thor and Vision off to save them. Rick Jones somehow got captured by some Kree guys as the Kree’s fleet prepared to invade Earth. In the end, Rick met with the Supreme Intelligence, who betrayed the Kree. He stimulated Rick’s mind so that he mentally projected memories of his childhood heroes (ie. the Invaders and the like) to beat up the Kree fleet. Sounds retarded, but it was the 70’s. This version of the story is far better. There’s a part of the original story where Rick Jones was brought before Ronan the Accuser. Rick stole a guard’s staff and attacked Ronan, only to do no damage. Ronan noted Rick’s courage and figured he’d make a good slave. In the Tom DeFalco version, Ronan is more pissed than amused and kills the boy with his cosmic hammer dealy. He calls for the fleet to make way to Earth and decimate it.

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Ultimate ROM: Spaceknight 03 – Dire Wraiths

February 1st, 2006 Posted by guest article

A.o.D. brings you Ultimate ROM 03: Dire Wraiths.
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