Vincent S. Moore Presents:
Bring On The Black Bad Guys, round 2
The last time I discussed this subject it somehow caught the attention of a number of folks. I didn’t know black supervillains were talked about in places beyond those of black comics fans’ message boards and wherever black comics fans gather while buying their books. Yet, it seems I struck a partial nerve.
And it’s a wonder why.
I mean, who really cares about black supervillains anyway? It’s obvious that neither Marvel nor DC do. Given how both companies show their love for the black superheroes they own, it wasn’t a surprise at all to see the dearth of “cool” black supervillains.
So what am I complaining about?
That is hard to fully express in mere words.
For a brief moment, those of you out there who are white, imagine what it is like to be a black person, male or female, that is told overtly and covertly by the Mainstream Media there is something wrong about being black. That your skin is too dark, except when it comes to those hard earned tans, real and chemical. And your hair is too kinky, unless it is a perm put on blonde tresses. That black criminals are more plentiful than white ones. That black men and women of sports and entertainment are shown as the preferred role models, especially when such figures play the role of the outlaw or the thug. Now imagine that to escape for a time such a black person chooses to read superhero comics, in the hopes of seeing what it’s like to stare at the stars instead of the gutter and see worlds outside of real ghettoes and those of the mind. See that black man or woman pick up any superhero comic, only to learn that black folks aren’t even bad enough in those universes to be the criminals that every other medium tells black folk over and over that they are.
Isn’t that frustrating?
Or is it just ridiculous?
I’ll admit that I may be exaggerating my point just a tad. Still, the sad fact is that a significant number of black supervillains running around in either the Marvel or DC Universes would be seen as reassuring, in a dysfunctional way. That at least that aspect of the black mystique is intact in these United States of America. And that would be comforting to black comics readers.
Then again, what else should a reader such as myself expect from superhero comics?
We are talking about the superhero, the final example of white male hopes and dreams and fantasies. Any other characters featured in such tales cannot held up in the same fashion.
As Steven Grant pointed out in his rebuttal to my original column, any character of color that does appear in a superhero comic is primarily and ultimately defined by his or her color. Period, end of sentence. Beyond that choice of informing the colorist to use anything but the standard “flesh” color options (Digression: anybody here old enough to remember ‘Flesh’ color crayons? That obnoxious pinkish, peach stick that was included in every box of every brand? Ah, the comforting yet casual arrogance of white folks!), all of the skills of a writer--you know, imagination and research--halt and cease to function.
Naturally, the (in)convenient excuse of white liberalism is used as a defense. After all, the many lefty leaning white male comics writers and editors don’t want to be accused of thinking that Black Is Bad, varying how both Grant and Gerard Jones put it. No, they don’t want that. Not when everyone else in Mainstream Media does see Black As Bad. And not when the options to show Black Can Be Good are just so difficult to implement. Oh, those poor white comics writers, their work is so hard and underappreciated. How dare any comics reader of color ask so much of them! That is almost too much with which to deal.
Yet I ask the question again and again, if a comics writer can imagine an alien from another planet being raised by humans to become Earth’s greatest hero or that a billionaire would put on a costume to fight crime or that a stick could turn into a might mallet, then why can’t they imagine the same things happening to us poor colored folks?
What happens to all that creative energy when it comes to crafting characters of color?
Trust me, I am not naive enough to not know the possible answer. That the doing of such things would be to question the seemingly fragile white male status quo and power structure. And we can’t have that, can we?
Oops, wait a minute, we do already have that. We must since I haven’t had any water from a Blacks Only water fountain lately. And what’s all that news I keep hearing about a black man as President of the United States? That can’t possibly be real as it challenges the white male status quo. And that just doesn’t happen.
Besides, white characters are defined just as much by their color as any other characters are. I mean, the quiet imperialistic attitudes of Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Captain America, and others are nearly always there. That pinched up face, we’re-better-than-you approach to life when having to deal with real world problems influences every action Green Lantern or Green Arrow or Daredevil take. Think of how Hal Jordan (or comics writers and fans, Gerard Jones’ marvelous GL: Mosaic series not included) often treat John Stewart. To some extent the only white superhero that doesn’t fit the stereotypes is Spider-Man. On that I have to agree with Walter Mosley’s recent assertion that good Spidey is effectively black. Which fits given that he’s always assumed to be the bad guy anyway.
Perhaps the real challenge would be to get the superhero writers to stop applying variations on The Man stereotype to most superheroes. If the majority of the heroes created by the Big Two could stop acting as if the whole world revolves around them and their viewpoint, then maybe would be some room for a few more superheroes and supervillains of all colors and sexes.
Or perhaps, that would only incite White Rage.
Yes, we do have to be careful about that White Rage. Where Black Rage burns down a few city blocks, White Rage bombs cities and oppresses peoples. We don’t want to deal with White Rage.
And I’m not saying we have to.
See, the hidden agenda behind asking the whereabouts of the “cool” black supervillains was to start people thinking about the lack of cool black superheroes. And Asian superheroes. And Hispanic superheroes. And really good superheroines.
And yet again, we know these sorts of characters do not exist because of the White Male Status Quo and Power Structure. We know this all too well.
But we also know that the numbers of blacks, Asians, Hispanics, and women who are into superhero comics are growing. How many years has ECBACC, the East Coast Black Age of Comics Convention been happening? Nine, ten? The very first Asian American Comic Con is about to happen as of this writing. The Friends of Lulu are out there, trying to get more women into comics. Let’s face it, those of us viewed as The Other are coming.
And while we are coming, those white male comics fans and creators are getting older and/or drifting away.
I will keep making this point over and over until it is understood: in order to stay viable, beyond the day when Hollywood’s love affair with comics is over, the American comics industry will just have to start giving all of those Others something to read. Some of us are already here but we are the cuckoos in the coal mine; we may not fit in properly any place else and have found a home with superhero comics. But we are few. And there are many of those Others out there with money in their pockets, looking for some “cheap” entertainment. It is in the comics industry’s better interests to try and grab some of that money. Especially in these rough and tumble times.
After all, isn’t the color all Americans care about the most the color green? As in greenbacks?
For that long green, it might be worthwhile to create a few more cool black superheroes and supervillains.
Then again, it might just be too much for the white superhero comics writers to imagine a character of color with goals, motivations, and conflicts not solely defined by that color. After all, isn’t that exactly how they write the white guys?
I guess the white guys don’t have all the fun, after all. They are too busy keeping the world revolving around themselves.
Namaste until next time, when I hope to make a big announcement just in time for Comic-Con International: San Diego.
Copyright 2006- 2010 Marc Mason/Comics Waiting Room. All rights reserved