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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Let’s Not.

January 13th, 2009 Posted by david brothers

Here’s a question*. Do you think that people who are interested in reading Vixen: Return of the Lion, with words by G Willow Wilson and pictures by CAFU, care about this?

The correct answer is no.

Vixen is a series that is a repositioning of a recently reintroduced Justice League character who hasn’t appeared regularly for years. Batman appears on a few pages out of the issue as a guest star on a rescue mission. There’s no mention of his troubles in RIP– he’s just Guest Star Batman. Guest Star Superman, Guest Star Red Arrow (ugh), Guest Star Black Canary, and Guest Star Black Lightning round out the cast.

No one cares about Batman RIP because it doesn’t matter in the context of Vixen. How about we kill this continuity spider-web stuff and just stick to the shared universe approach? “Hey, it’s Batman! I like Batman, and even though he is currently Jean Paul Valley in his ongoing comic, I’m not enough of an anal-retentive OCD nerd to care!”

I’m not saying that you should never acknowledge things… but use some discretion. It’s worthless here.
On the flip side, this is kind of hilarious. One of my favorite things about Marvel is that they don’t throw anything at the wall to see what sticks– they throw everything.

For those of you who don’t know, Midnight Sons was Marvel’s ’90s supernatural line. Morbius, Blade, Hannibal King, Frank Drake, Ghost Rider, Johnny Blaze, Vengeance, and Marvel’s other supernatural characters were in a supergroup, or loose affiliation to this supergroup, called the Midnight Sons. They fought vampires, satanist mummy people, demons, Mephisto, and whatever other vaguely supernatural enemies decided to come calling. They were about as edgy as you’d expect, too. The satanist mummy chick had her pentagram on her right breast, for example.

Anyway, it’s the kind of idea that you’d never expect to make a comeback, but so far we’ve said that for Luke Cage, Iron Fist, Bucky, Hellcat, Captain Marvel, Moon Knight, and so on- you get the picture. Marvel has a habit of revitalizing their b, c, d, and z-list in a way that’s either genuinely entertaining or entertaining on a curiosity level, at least temporarily.

I can’t promise it’ll be good, but it’s almost sure to be more interesting than the latest Superman origin re-telling.

*This question takes place after Secret Six Discussion, but before Weapons of Mass Destruction.

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Paper Bags

November 7th, 2008 Posted by david brothers

I figure I have a reputation to keep up with, so let me get on with it.

Scipio from Absorbacon, on the day after Barack Obama was elected president, had a few things to say. I pulled an excerpt out for y’all:

Sorry to rain on anyone’s parade, and I’m sure this is going to anger a lot of readers, and I’m going to be misunderstood. But here goes….

Barack Obama’s not the country’s first black president; Barak Obama’s not black.

First, let me affirm, and strongly: I supported Obama during the primaries; I voted for him in the general election. I was, am, and, hopefully will every reason to continue to be, a strong supporter.

His election is not just a victory for an individual or a party, but for American democracy and spirit, which it has revivified. And I couldn’t be happier about it.


I am not delighted by the constant characterization of Obama as the first Black president. YES, he certainly “looks black”. Yes, because of that he’s certainly had the experience of growing as a perceived black person in the last 40+ years. And, yes, that is very significant. It’s of great signficance and a great sign of hope for the future that the American people would elect such a man as its leader.

But, for one thing, he’s biracial. That, to me, is more symbolically significant, since he personifies (or could) a post-racial way of viewing the world, one that is the only real hope for social unity in our nation. That’s something that gets swept aside when he’s characterized simply as “our first black president”.

I don’t think that Scipio will be misunderstood at all. His point is clear as day. “Barack Obama is biracial, therefore he is not black.” In his own words, “Barack Obama’s not black.”

The problem is that Scipio is wrong. His opinion is wrong, his point of view is wrong, he’s uninformed whatever whatever. You know what I’m saying. There is actual factual reality and then there is Scipio, over here saying things.

My first thought after reading this post on Wednesday was a Paul Mooney skit. “White folks made up the word ‘nigger’ and don’t want me to say it.” His point is that nigger is not new, and was not created by black people. Was it adopted? Yeah, it was.

“Being black” is similar. Black people didn’t decide who got to be black and who didn’t. One drop rules aren’t from Africa. That’s something we inherited. However, we took the handoff once the ball got rolling. Got free, reclaimed it, and made it ours.

So, basically, you don’t get to decide who’s black or not. Black people got that treatment for a few centuries and now it’s over. It’s our turn. We know who’s black and who isn’t.

Being black isn’t a matter of having two black parents. It isn’t that simple. It’s not about being from the ghetto, or talking slang, or liking rap. It’s not about education. It’s not about status. There are a wide spectrum of experiences that make up the black experience.

Most of all, though, Barack is black because he says so. In his own words: “If I’m outside your building trying to hail a cab, they’re not saying ‘Oh, there’s a mixed race guy.'” He’s said over and over again that he’s black.

Who are you to say that he isn’t, in the name of making him fit your agenda? Being biracial is more symbolically significant than being black when attaining the highest public office? Really?

How about if it’s good for Barack, it’s good enough for me? And you? And anyone else who cares to question his own personal racial identity?

I’m sorry he doesn’t fit into the little box you’ve prepared for him.

So, in the spirit of not misunderstanding–

Scipio says “Barack Obama is not black.”

Barack Obama says he’s black.

No misunderstanding there at all.

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