Monday, May 21, 2007

NOT EVERYTHING IS BLACK AND WHITE



"I hear how hard you been working for the blue skins, and how you helped out the orange skins, and you done considerable for the purple skins! Only there's skins you never bothered with,,, the black skins! How come? Answer me, Mr. Green Lantern?"


This was a wake up call to comics... the now legendary Denny O'Neill/Neal Adams Green Lantern/Green Arrow comics of the late sixties. I couldn't help but think about these books and about all racism, sexism and homophobia when Jerry Falwell passed away. As the leader of the "Moral Majority," Falwell used his pulpit to bully, harass and condemn anyone who didn't fit his very narrow viewpoint. Unlike poor old Hal Jordan (who's biggest sin was naivete and ignorance), Falwell was a bigot of the highest order, using his religion as his weapon and his shield. Falwell hid behind his "faith" as he espoused all manner of negativity and hate. His favorite targets were homosexuals and anyone who believed in Roe Vs Wade. As with most zealots and bigots, Falwell grew more and more intolerant as he got older. He also grew much bolder as his "power" grew until he finally went too far when he blamed 9/11 on homosexuals, abortionists and the ACLU. He actually was forced to apologize for that. With a viewpoint like that, I can't say I'll miss him. Today there is one less hatemonger in the world.

It did make me think about the issue of intolerance and prejudice in comics... (and, no, I'm NOT going to talk about the X-Men) and how it was introduced to me. Before the mutant problem was the cause celebre, the only places you could read about intolerance and bigotry in the Marvel Universe (and the civil rights movement) was The Avengers and Captain America. In the late sixties there were some very good stories featuring the Sons of the Serpent (a hate group who targeted the Black Panther) in the Avengers and there was an ongoing theme of the civil rights movement in Captain America (featuring the Falcon and his supporting cast in Harlem).


This issue of Cap was one of the best of it's time. Issues 153-156 told the story of the replacement Captain America from the 1950's. This Cap and his partner, Bucky found the Secret Soldier Formula of Dr. Erskine and used it on themselves. But without the Vita Rays that had mistakenly bathed Steve Rogers shortly after his transformation and stabilized the formula, this Cap and Bucky slowly went insane. They saw enemies where there were none. The thought everyone was a commie and they regressed into powerful, narrow minded bigots. They were captured and frozen until a cure for their mental illness could be found. Of course, they were released and while the real Cap was on vacation, they surfaced in Harlem and fought the Falcon. He was beaten badly and captured by the two super strong racists. It was then that the people of the neighborhood banded together to save the Falcon. This was one of the most powerful moments I had ever read. Truly great storytelling and more importantly it resonated with the morale that everyone was the same: black, white, poor, rich... we all are the same. Exactly the very ideals Captain America stood for and now it was seen through the eyes of the Falcon.

I have to say that I've always loved the character of the Falcon. I thought he was very cool when he had the hunting glove and the claw-line. I loved it when he got the wings. Always one of my favs. In fact, if I had to name my top ten favorite comic book characters both the Falcon and Luke Cage, Power man would be in there. I never really considered them to be "black" characters... I just knew they were cool. Of course I'm talking about the yellow shirt Power man, not the ridiculous stereotyped bald headed, wifebeater wearing nonsense in the "New" Avengers. (what a fucking joke) I think that's the mark of a great character. Someone that you like not because they are a certain color and someone you like not DESPITE their color. Back in the day, The Falcon was just cool. Not because he was black and not because he was Cap's partner... he was just one of the best characters in comics. And Luke Cage was so innovative when he first appeared. Behind all the blacksploitation and "Sweet Christmas's" he was a very original concept: a hero for hire. A superhero for the poor. I love that concept and I'm sorry it's been corrupted into the bullshit that they've put out lately.

Of course I'm not THAT naive. I know there weren't a whole lot of black characters back in the day. The Falcon, Black Panther, Storm, Cyborg, John Stewart, The Prowler, Blade and two characters that I've never understood: Black Lightning and Black Goliath. I always thought it was ridiculous to call yourself Black Goliath/Black Lightning. I mean, why not just Goliath or Lightning? I would assume that the black part was pretty obvious. Although, I liked Black Goliath as much as I liked White Goliath. (I'm just sorry there wasn't a Yellow Goliath.) I can't really judge if comics have progressed on this front... I don't really think they have. There are still a woeful shortage of non white heroes/heroines. I hope it's not racism and just bad writing. God knows, there's plenty of bad writing out there now.
I'll leave you with this panel from Cap 156. I think it's as true now as it was then. Think about it. Imagine Cap's talking to anyone in the current administration instead of his doppelganger.