In honor of Black History Month, I wanted to focus in on the Blackness of the comics industry. As of late, we’re getting stories and events that are both socially relevant and a direct mirror of what’s happening outside.
From Nighthawk fighting corrupt Chicago policemen to Captain America: Sam Wilson (as he’s now known) defending a young hero from the Americops, and from Miles Morales defining himself beyond his skin tone (and being caught in the controversy of a future vision that may or may not come to pass) to new sensation Domino Crush battling with addictions and past relationships … I wanted to do a piece talking to my Black brothers and sisters on what they feel they themselves are getting out of the comics industry whether it be praise, commentary on a title, or where they would like to see the Industry go for certain individuals.
This is by the people, for the people.
I first really got into comic books in 2014 when I saw the cover of the Saga Vol. 3 trade. It’s of a Black woman with a gigantic fro standing confidently in a meadow. I would later learn that her name is Gwendolyn. It immediately made me want to get the entire series just to see what her story was all about.
After getting the first three volumes, I also later learned that she is not the main character of the story — but another melanated woman is. She goes by the name of Alana. After getting engrossed in Saga, I was addicted. It was the first time that I was truly able to see a reflection of myself in comic books. I made it a mission to find more Black characters in comics and to read them all.
Luckily for me, it seems that this is one of the best times to be a Black comic book fan (the other would be with the birth of Milestone Media and when Blade (the movie) came out). I thought that I would be scraping for comics, but I was happily surprised that I was wrong and kind of overwhelmed by how many series were being published by Black creators.
On top of having series in the big two with Black Panther: World of Wakanda, Power Man & Iron Fist, Miles Morales, Invincible Iron Man, Cyborg, Sam Wilson as Captain America (and now Misty Knight), there’s a TON of comics with Black people at its center within the indie sector as well like Genius, Motor Crush, Saga, The Wicked + The Divine, Bitch Planet, Solarman, BLACK, The Pack, Yohance, Agents of the Realm, The Immortal Nadia Greene. The list really goes on and on.
So overall, I would say I feel overwhelmed and overjoyed. But I am also disheartened when I realize that while there are a multitude of options to choose from, it’s still not nearly enough. I can (and have) created a list of nearly every comic book with a Black lead that I know of. If I did that for every comic with a white lead, it would take forever, because there’s thousands on thousands on thousands.
But nonetheless it’s refreshing to have a variety of series to choose from with different genres. If I want a straight up superhero comic, I can read about Miles Morales or Sam Wilson as Captain America. If I want fantasy, I can go to Saga or The Wicked + The Divine. If I want something with a political bend, I can go to Black Panther, Bitch Planet or BLACK. So, for now, I’m enjoying the ride and the new finds.
It also works as self-care for me. Because these characters share the same skin color as me, it’s sometimes easier for me to fall into their world and be drifted away from harsh realities. I can better use comic books for escapism while being thoroughly entertained with different stories.
I think I’m enjoying comics the most these days. I’m able to see people who look like me in comics. It’s good to read story lines I can enjoy. Having a Black Captain America is dope, especially with the quality writing of Nick Spencer. I know some don’t care for the diversity, but I hope the Big 2 don’t shy away from it. Keep at it, write quality books and have that balance of the old and the new to appease both. The Marvel and DC Universe should look like what I see outside my door.
I feel as if the comic industry needs more writers of color. We can race-bend all we want but if we don’t have POC writing these stories without white guilt spilling into them i.e. Bendis and Miles Morales, then what’s the point? An Afro-Latino would never say Miles needs to be more than his race when he should be proud of being a Black Spider-man and inspiring other POC.
When I started getting into comics back in summer of 2015, I wanted to read something I could relate or look up to.
First DC comic I followed through was We Are Robin by Lee Bermejo and art by Jorge Corona. The series was about a group of teens in Robin-like costumes doing whatever they can to keep their city safe. The concept was awesome because it was just more than teens beating up bad guys, it was the ideal of Batman.
The last arc definitely showed off what the future of Gotham should be, its citizens standing up for what they believe. I was inspired when I first heard the news that a Black sidekick character leveled up to the role of Marvel’s main heroes: Captain America. What I like about Sam taking up the mantle is that he fights for the people. From saving immigrants from the Society of Serpents to stopping the Americops from hurting innocent people, Sam Wilson is my Captain America.
I read the book by David Walker with little knowledge but amazed by it. After the first issue, Nighthawk is the type of hero the Black community needs. In the series, Kyle Richmond has to deal with conservatives who are planning to start a war in the Black community in Chicago. Unlike most heroes, he will kill anyone who has prejudiced views against people of color. If there’s one hero who could take on the KKK, it’s Nighthawk.
I feel like Blacks haven’t been represented as we should be lately in comics. Even though publishers are pushing for diversity, we barely see the fruits of it because either the series are mediocre or short-lived. They rarely promote these books also. Good books like Nighthawk get cancelled after 6 issues while books like Carnage can make it to 16 issues. We need to have Black writers writing these characters. Also these events are doing more damage then they’re worth the deaths don’t feel genuine. I’m honestly tired of it.
So as far as the big two are concerned, they are trying. I guess I can give them that, but I still somehow feel like it’s not enough and the effort could be better.
I love World of Wakanda. I loved that Misty Knight got an issue in Sam Wilson: Captain America. I love that The Ultimates are composed of three POC and Carol’s ass. Other than America, Ayo, Aneka, the queer women of color representation could be far better. As for the younger heroes, while I have some issues with Lunella and Riri, I get their significance in bringing in younger readers. Just wish their handling was better. DC…that Vixen one-shot was cute but other than seeing her in JLA, I wish there were more.
I’ve been getting a lot of my enjoyment from the comics industry outside the big 2. Dark Horse is killing it with Alien:Defiance. Valiant is doing the damn thing with plus size body representation with Faith. Image has given me a breath of fresh air with Paper Girls and webcomics from some indie artist like ohsteenz and bouncecomics have been comforting.
I’m looking forward to what editor Joe Illidge is doing at Lion Forge. I think I’m excited for Catalyst Prime because it’s the jumping point for what I hope picks up where Milestone left off. Stories for everyone, something that has always been important but I think given what’s going on today, is more important than ever. I would like to see more of what Dwayne McDuffie did with Captain Marvel Giant Size issue #1. Characters I care about going through shit that can be relatable in some way or another.
I think within the past decade we’ve seen not only more Black leads in comic books but also views from more intersectional Blacks. Beyond seeing colored versions of classic heroes like Superman from Earth 23, and Miles Morales, the biracial Spider-Man, and Sam Wilson as Captain America, we’ve been able to enjoy stories of non super-powered Blacks such as Squadron Supreme‘s Nighthawk and Genius‘s Destiny.
What I find most enjoyable is that like POC in the real world these characters have begin to feel more fleshed out and less based on racial stereotyping. I think the return of Power Man helps argue the point — Power Man being a character initially known for his Black brute tropes is far different from Riri Williams. Where Power Man often came across as a satire of Black male life, Riri deals with issues in the Black community in a very real way. Power Man often preached respectability politics, delivering a messages such as, if Blacks want to survive they would have to abandon culture norms that others find obscure or savage. Young Riri lives in Chicago and with that comes gun violence. When people died early in the series, the readers aren’t preached to but instead informed that where this young girl live, people are killed in random shootings.
That’s real life. I think one of the coolest stories I’ve read recently is Black. The lead, Kareem, is a victim of police brutality. After being shot and declared dead, he wakes up to learn that he has superpowers and the mutated gene only exist in Black people.
In Nighthawk, Raymond and Tilda are practically the Black version of Batman and Oracle. The characters themselves feel like they now have more depth. Cyborg’s move to Detroit in Rebirth was one of my favorite changes. It’s always been great to have heroes exist in real places but putting a more popular hero in a place where heroes are few in number could be inspirational to the youth.
In Genius, a young Black girl militarized the bloods and crips against the LAPD. Stories like that are bold. Stories that show Black people are also intelligent life forms. Thinking more on it we even have stories like World of Wakanda that center on Black women who are also lovers. I do not have any real complaints about where we are with Black characters right now. Overall, I think we are moving in a solid direction.
Comics has always contained multitudes, I think, so in order to talk about my feelings regarding what has been happening recently in comics I’ll have to talk about a lot of different aspects of the thing.
It stands to reason that some of the most important work being done in comics is actually being done outside of the mainstream sphere, with indie comics, cartoonists, comics writers, scholars, and fans doing a lot to change the traditional landscape. I made a challenge to myself to read more literary analysis for 2017 — including comics analysis — and I have Zainab Akhtar’s Critical Chips on my list, as well as Deborah E. Whaley’s Black Women in Sequence and Andre Carrington’s Speculative Blackness. As soon as Evan Narcisse announces a book I’m there.
I love what Claire Napier and Ardo Omer are doing at Women Write About Comics. I’ve been following JA Micheline and Cheryl Lynn Eaton for a while too. And that’s really one of the interesting trends of this cycle we’re in. Fans are working. Critics have been working, more than just the regular review sites, but critics who also are fans are really fighting for inclusivity in and decolonization of comics and I think that’s so cool because we’ve hit this perfect storm kind of area where the barriers are collapsing. Fan and critical pressure is affecting how the big two operate.
Big two creative teams are becoming more inclusive, and even though there are still flubs — Nick Spencer’s recent Captain America shenanigans/twitter trolling and that whole thing with Lunella’s hair in Moon Girl come to mind — but on the whole I’m more hopeful about mainstream comic inclusivity now than I have been in along time. There’s still a ton of work for these companies to do, and there’s so much indie talent out there that should be getting picked up, shoutout to Jamal Campbell working on both Vixen and Prowler now, but things are seeming hopeful.
The bulk of this work is being picked up by indies, though, and that’s what’s really exciting. Indie teams are producing quality work and challenging the status quo — Eric Dean Seaton’s Legend of the Mantamaji is as good a superhero book as anything I’d see from the big two. I’m beyond excited about Lion Forge’s Catalyst Prime, and I’m hoping to see something similar from Damion Gonzales and his Operative Network. Carrie and Alan Tupper’s Kamikaze is just plain good too. I hype for whatever Whit Taylor is cooking up. Spike Trotman has been putting in work forever it seems like.
And that’s just the tip of things: I haven’t even talked about Black or Agents of the Realm or Tuskegee Heirs, real quality comics work. I was at my LCS and they have the first few issues of Black there and I freaked out. National distribution on a book like that is a really important victory for that team and for comics. I also really dig how much thematic diversity there is in the indie scene, which is something you don’t always see in the big presses. It’s always superhero/subgenere, not a complete take on something that’s not a cape book.
But with indies, you’re seeing great romances, adventures, all kinds of genres. I love superhero books but sometimes I want to read a good high school harem drama, you know? And with indies, you get that. So, that’s a pretty broad take, but I think it’s fitting for where we are now in comics. Things are big and broad and messy and shifting, and I’m really hoping that we’re shifting toward something better.
I feel as though the comic industry needed a change in the race of heroes, but not the heroes that we already know to be the skin color they are now. I feel as though all it does is is create a whole lot of controversy among the comic loving community.
Take for example ‘Miles Morales’ and the new “Iron Man” (who happens to be a Black female). I feel as though instead of remaking the character and changing the skin tone, you can just make a character similar to them or maybe even take a note from the Green Lanterns are have a number of them like how you have Hal Jordan, Jessica Cruz and John Stewart and a few others to show a form of diversity. The comic community usual tends to be in an uproar when said thing happens and it tends to be a lot of racism displayed. I feel as though people have to understand that sometimes change IS needed but also NOT needed if you understand what I mean.
Comics can be a hard medium to maintain a relationship, but admittedly it’s been rather rewarding in 2016. Ta-Nehisi Coates and Roxane Gay were two critical additions to the Marvel creative team lineup and that of course encouraged me to support both Black Panther titles with my dollars. Black excellence is finally something Marvel’s running with. You’re seeing a lot of intelligent, fiercely intelligent characters introduced. This is paramount as Golden and Silver Age Black characters were reduced to brutish tendencies. In short, intelligence was never the focal point of Black characters, but rather their inhumanly strength.
But as a publisher I have to give credit to the always on the pulse, Image comics. Not only am I Black, I’m queer, and the amount of intersectionality that runs through books like Wicked+The Divine makes me so happy. Not only is the inclusion something to look forward to, but the storytelling is rich, advanced and groundbreaking.
Where I have lost steam is in DC Comics, and in all honesty they have a few creator issues over there, so it comes as no surprise. Their Cyborg and Midnighter solo titles were former highlights of mine.
Comics continues to evolve and change and with said evolution comes a lot of fuck ups. Marvel certainly hasn’t always been pristine with their inclusion of talent and characters, but they are taking steps in the right direction, and just maybe it feels like we finally have a seat at the table. (Hey Solange).
Batman #44 – Azzarello/Snyder/Jock, I know we give a lot of credit to Scott Snyder for his Batman run, and a lot of that credit is warranted. I feel like Brian Azzarello, a Chicago resident deserves most of the credit for tapping into real life events going on in America, and events that are really relevant in the Black community. Jock was just phenomenal in bringing those words to life with his near perfect illustrations and news headline back drop.
There are three distinct events that happened in #44 that really resonated with a lot of people from my community; the ones that don’t read comics even felt this issue. The first and most prominent one is the copping killing of Black teenager, Peter Duggio. We have the Trayvon Martins, Mike Browns, Sandra Blands and unfortunately countless others. We know how these deaths can send traumatizing shock-waves through our communities. But that’s not it, I’ve had a childhood friend who met his own fate by a Chicago PD’s gun, so imagine how that can add to the already immense level of mistrust we have with the police.
Next, we have gentrification, a lot of Batman haters, (Mainly Black twitter people who have never picked up a comic in their lives) will say that Batman’s greatest super power white privilege. That is an inaccurate claim to make. BUT BRUCE WAYNE’S greatest asset is his privilege, and in his ignorance, he goes into renovating poor areas of Gotham and he doesn’t realize that he’s killing the people that he set out to save. In that sense, he’s no better than Joker, Freeze, Riddler, etc.
In so many ways Bruce’s ill-conceived efforts are what drove Peter to take the actions he did in the issue. Even Penguin told him that he doesn’t really know his city. And that has been the ongoing theme with Snyder’s run; Batman doesn’t know Gotham as well as he thinks he does. Bruce Wayne was the great Gotham City gentrifier. Gentrification is an ongoing issue that dominates conversations daily, especially here in Chicago. A city where all the projects were torn down and expensive luxury high rise apartments were built in their place.
Thus, displacing tens of thousands of Black families to other areas in the cites, adding to the crime and overpopulation in the most impoverished areas of the city. Finally, drugs kill, drugs have plagued our neighborhoods and communities for ages; from the crack era to the modern day with lean, molly, and other prescription drugs. Basically, what ties this altogether was Daryl Guitierrez (BLOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOMMMMMMM) was selling these super seeds (Crack usually gives crackheads super powers).
To end things I wanted to close out with words from your sponsor.
As of late, I’ve seen different shades of being Black inside the comics I’m reading and are aware of. I see our intellectual prowess in the pages of Black Panther and The Ultimates. I see the struggles of moving in a society that doesn’t think you’re up to par and yet you continue to fight for yourself and the voiceless citizens in Captain America: Sam Wilson. I see the men and women of different sexualities as not only fully realized people with their own stories to tell in titles like Virgil, Motor Crush, and The Wicked + The Divine
While we’re being seen on the pages now more than ever, the writers telling these stories leave more to be desired. Some like David Walker, Kwanza Osajyefo, Ta-nehisi Coates, Christopher Priest, Ronald Wimberly, and Geoffrey Thorne are telling socially relevant stories with characters that mean something to people. Stories by people that look like me, that can chart the characters journey and understand their mindset all the better, I need more of that in my books. Boosting awareness for already existing titles that house these type of things should be given more of a pole to stand on because before we can ever get the word out, the Sales Machine will have done its job and another book is cancelled.