“Imagine if there were real superheroes or vigilantes, every time they tried to fight crime in black neighborhoods they would be called racist and people would want them arrested.” I responded to this by saying, “Superheroes wouldn’t give a F—k what they were labeled, they would continue to work outside the law to help people.” That was the end of that geek argument, but with current events putting law, race, and perception at the forefront, there is a real debate to be had on the subject. There will never be anybody in a Bat suit that goes out and stops hand to hand crack sales in East Baltimore. There will never be a guy with a Skull on his T-shirt that Punishes a dude that tries to steal blunts from a corner store. There will never be a God of Thunder that follows behind a teenager in a hoody because he looks suspicious. However, in the fantasy world of comic books, these real life events could be used to help current and future generations to understand each other in a real way. Comics work as allegory in order to discuss difficult themes, but recently, it seems as if the big two, Marvel & DC, are happy to bow out of the social commentary in terms of race relations in the United States, an act that is grossly negligent and wildly irresponsible.
50 years after the Civil Rights movement America is still very much a racially segregated country. From the communities, to the malls, the school cafeterias, even on social media people migrate towards those that look and behave like them. Consciously and unconsciously generation after generation continue to self-segregate for various reasons, not all having to do with bigotry or racism. The question remains, how do other races view Black America? The politically correct BS answer is, “We’re all progressive enough to see a person before we see a color.” That’s very John Lennon, but it’s a naïve blanket that doesn’t open up conversation or move the issue forward. White America as well as other races living in the United States view Blacks through the lens of the media. News and Entertainment to be exact. Movies attempt to diversify, but aside from films about slavery or the BIG 5 Black actors that transcend, Blacks are still background players. Coming in to drop a hip-hop slang word, support their white best friend, or play the role of Thug #3 in a random crime movie. Black culture’s biggest influence is music. All genres, even country, have felt the hand of Black Culture over the years. The biggest genre being Rap. White America has embraced hip-hop, and some actually understand and feel its message or sometimes lack of… Others hear the cursing and still regard it as noise. Nevertheless, the stereotypes remain because the cultural representation is inconsistent. Ask someone white to do an impression of a Black person in private, it will not be based off their friend Anthony from work, it’s based off some media stereotype because Anthony isn’t how they see the race, he's an exception, it’s the stereotype that remains as the ultimate representation.
One form of media that I want to focus on is one that no one brings up, Comic Books. While not as influential as they once were in the shaping of young minds, they still have an impact. When a white pre-teen or teenager picks up a comic book, how will they view Blacks? Let’s take away his Will Smith movies, his Jay-Z CD, and keep his TV off of BET or VH1. Let’s say this 14 year old white suburbanite only has ten Blacks in his entire school, and his only exposure is from new coverage, Action Movies, and his graphic novels. How does this Marvel or DC Comics fanboy see Black America?
The answer is, he doesn’t. Comic books show Blackness by drawing a character and coloring him light or dark brown. There is nothing besides that colorist’s choice of hue that represents Blackness! This isn’t a slight at those writing comics today, as they try their best to incorporate racial and gender diversity as best they can. But making the “Fake” Spider-man brown or reimagining Wally West as Black, doesn’t bridge the divide. Many of these creators grew up in the 70’s and 80’s and they don’t understand current black culture and never will. A white person can read 20 issues of Ultimate Spider-Man and be impressed with the storytelling and have empathy for that character, but that character is only black on the surface. It’s a fantasy representation that doesn’t have roots in reality. Therefore, as soon as a white Ultimate Spidey fan walks down the street and a guy that looks like Miles Morales walks towards him, his heart will skip a beat. He doesn’t see Spider-man, he sees A Black Man.
Black Man is more Scary than Bullseye, Mr. Sinister, and all the Goblins combined, because unlike those characters, a white fanboy doesn’t understand Black Man. Comic book heroes and villains are given origins and backstories to make you understand that this isn’t about right or wrong, it’s about their life’s journey. No matter if it’s Thanos murdering his classmates or Rogue running away from home after nearly killing her boyfriend, these characters are given proper backstories so that you empathize with their struggle. Black people, as a whole, have never been shown as real characters in comics, or given authentic backstories that aren’t contrived or generic. “I’m from the hood and want to join Luke Cage to fight The Man”. FOH! They are white washed, slang spewing, hip-hop referencing, C list players. Or they get updated and given personalities that are indistinguishable from their white counterparts
I’m not raging against Black superheroes, I’ve already done that. What I’m raging against is Black representation across the board. F—k the Black Hero, where are the Black Villains? Go down Batman’s rouge gallery a few randoms—but nothing major since Eartha Kitt. The Black Manta is an Atlantien, he may as well be an alien. Marvel has such heavy hitters as Tombstone who is pasty white and dumb as a brick. Let’s not forget the legendary Man-Ape… a Black dude in Africa that battles in an ape suit. There can be an argument made for Apocalypse since he was Egyptian, but who knows if En Sabah Nur was Cleopatra “Greek Egyptian” or North African. Either way it’s never been brought up, nor will it ever be brought up in the X-titles, where they continue to march Storm out like, “See. Power to the people!”
Right now in Ferguson Missouri, the country is experiencing yet another crisis of race that will further divide us in terms of how Blacks are portrayed in the media. No matter the news coverage, there will be other races that duck their head into the sand and ignore the story or shrug it off. There only response, “Well wasn’t he some thug.” Or “Fuck the police, I’m with you brothers.” The role of Blacks in America is ignored because no one knows what to say. If you point out the crime, you’re a racist. If you point out Oprah and Barack Obama, you’re naïve. It’s not about either or, it’s about the whole of the people and that’s what’s not being represented in comic books today. I challenge Marvel, Image, and even the happy go lucky DC Comics to do something about this in their medium.
Gotham City is supposed to represent a city that’s overrun by crime. Yet, when you pick up a Batman book, the gang members and hoodlums he’s fighting are this multi-colored bunch of street punks. The big bad he’s fighting is still generic Mafia bad guys or deranged psychos freshly freed from Arkham. Batman doesn’t fight Black D-boys (I challenge anyone at DC to define D-Boy). The Court of Owls weren’t former Black Panthers looking to take back the city. For someone fighting urban crime 24-7, why doesn’t Batman take on Black supervillains? Gotham is pretty much Chicago, yet DC Comics doesn’t address urban gang crime like that of the Latin Kings or Vice Lords. Why must he be shown attacking the rainbow crew? Because DC Comics feels that Batman going after a Black criminal would be racist. It would send the message that Black people are criminals. No! What’s racist is whitewashing the situation and not showing true diversity. Gotham city, like Ferguson was once predominately white, these days, the vast majority of that city is most likely Black or Latino. All the Whites have moved to the suburbs or gone off to the bright Boy Scout guarded city of Metropolis. DC doesn’t have to create a Black Batman to make people happy, but you show the social/economic impact of a big city where people of a certain ethnic background don’t have jobs and don’t have family structure and why some feel a need to go left while others go right.
Gotham city could be a perfect metaphor as to why some Black communities are angry. You have high crime, which means easy money. Why work for Wayne Industries when you can sell dope? That’s a real situation for a lot of people in the inner city, but it’s not represented. Gotham city is decaying with corruption and has a massive death toll due to sh*t like the Joker gassing people at random. You mean to tell me, that wouldn’t drive pissed off minorities who lose family members and make them resent the Police and follow their own laws? Those are the stories that need to be told, not Nightwing having Daddy issues. You take one of these Gotham citizens, a Black man that feels he can’t get ahead, have him rise to the top of the criminal world beyond Oswald Cobblepot, and you make us feel his struggle the same way you made us feel Harvey Dent’s torment. You don’t have to redeem this character for the sake of race relations, but you must show that even though he’s Black, he has a reason to be doing what he’s doing. At that moment when you can show a Black character good or bad, being written with the same complexity as Bruce Wayne himself, that’s when you can claim you believe in equality.
Marvel comics needs to step their game up as well! It’s not enough to put a black person in a Captain America suit and call it a day. Marvel plays in the real sandbox of New York, they can use the real Chicago. Yet like the DC Comics, they choose to show this multi-ethnic gang BS. Why does Marvel do this? Because they don’t want to offend. Stop worrying about who you offend and tackle the reason that Blacks in New York may not F—k with Spiderman. Why Blacks in New York don’t think rich boy Tony Stark represents them. Why Blacks in New York don’t trust a White man with a club that dresses like a Devil. Why Blacks in the Marvel universe would get to the point where they take to the street because Frank Castle shot an unarmed Black man?
These are only stories, but people learn through entertainment and media. There will always be independent movies that show another side of Black life not shown in the big budget Hollywood films. There will always be rappers that let you in on the good, bad, joy, and pain of life as a Black American. TV will always throw an Olivia Pope to balance the playing field of the ratchet reality TV shows. Comic book stories inspire morality at the youngest age, so when will they accept the challenge and show Black Heroes and Black Villains in a realistic light that makes people of all races understand what life is like for a Black American???? When will they stop being afraid to be racist, and start having these iconic heroes tackle the cultural problems of the real world? When will Peter Parker’s New York be Eric Garner's New York? When will Bruce Wayne’s Gotham reflect Hadiya Pendleton’s Chicago? When will Marvel and DC use their fantasy to help us understand each other on a real level? The days of Xavier’s dream are fading, we reached the mountain top that Martin Luther King spoke of and that Stan Lee used as a metaphor in those X-Men books. Now we have a new mountain top to reach and new racial struggles to overcome, and it’s time that comic publishers took up the charge.
I ask that everyone send this to @DanDidio1 and @TomBrevoort ask that do their jobs as Americans, not just editors.