It seemed to happen just like that for me. POW! Marvel got black alla sudden! Realistically, comic books have had characters of colors (Storm), I just didn’t pay any mind. I’ve seen EVERY SINGLE BATMAN FILM in theaters since I was five. But I’ve never seen myself or anyone I know in the wealthy white Bruce Wayne (or any of the auxiliary characters). I have watched all the X-Men, Captain America, Spider-Man, ect. movies because I’m compelled to. Summer blockbusters are like that, you have to watch them because it’s an American pastime. They can get a little stale though. . .
And then, POW! Something about 2016 woke me up. It may have started with Captain America: Civil War and my introduction to Black Panther. Soon after that, Netflix announced the Luke Cage series that would follow in the same vein as other gritty New York superheros. Finally, when there were murmurs of an all-black cast for the 2018 Black Panther film. It all happened in a quick rapid-fire of “black people are going to be doing this, and this, and that!” It was a lot for me to catch up with.
When I found out that my favorite Atlantic journalist, Ta-Nehisi Coates, was writing the Black Panther comic books, I took this trend seriously. I went down to my local comic book store and sought out the things I’d seen on the big screen. Now I’m a black comic book nerd. Or a comic book Blerd, if you will.
It was a forum that I never felt I could enter. It seemed like a sphere that was dominated by white males who took shit way too seriously, but I’m finding my own community of black comic fans who recognize the intersection of race, gender, and heroism. Here’s my current comic reading that helps me feel pretty powerful:
1. Black Panther
As I said, this series is written by Ta-Nehisi Coates, journalist of The Atlantic. He’s written amazing articles about race in America and I knew he’d bring something interesting to the table. I’m not too familiar with the Black Panther story, but what I’ve read in this newer series is fascinating. We’re dealing with the complicated nature of leadership, colonialism issues, the role of women, insurgent uprisings (that may have some legitimacy). This shit is real.
2. World of Wakanda
Speaking of the role of women, please check out the spin-off of Black Panther. World of Wakanda is co-written by feminist essayist, Roxane Gay (Bad Feminist) and poet, Yona Harvey. Along with Coates, the trio put together an exciting first issue. In this series, we get a closer look at lovers and female warriors, Ayo and Aneka, as they struggle with the changes in their country. They break rank and travel the land, empowering oppressed women. They’re enacting my dream: Building a female army to topple a patriarchal institution. There’s also another female character who is a trouble-making sorceress with revenge on her mind. The LGBT perspective is refreshing and long over due. We’re dealing with black female protagonists who are complex in their love and motivations.
3. The Invincible Iron Man (RiRi Williams)
I might be the most excited about this series. RiRi Williams is a 15-year-old black girl from Chicago and she’s a super genius who engineered her own Iron Man suit so she can fight crime. Holy shit, she’s everything I wished I could be when I was 15! There are some real-life complications in Williams’ life, gun violence in Chicago kinda solidifies her motivation for seeking justice in the world. The writer, Brian Michael Bendis, used a real world fear that young black kids have and wrote about it in an even-handed manner. I really appreciated that. In a powerless situation that kids find themselves in, Williams’ is a really empowering figure. I also appreciated little RiRi’s ambition for learning and innovation. GIRLS IN STEM!
I’m certain I’ll find other comic books that will feed my new obsession. I’m making regular trips to my local comic book shop and the owner knows my titles (which makes me feel more legit). I’m excited that this is how America reacts to racial violence in our day-to-day lives. I sincerely appreciate the activists who take it to the streets, but I also enjoy seeing art that reflects what America really looks like. Who knows what kind of woman I would have been if I had RiRi Williams in my life when I was a kid? I’m glad that little girls, of today, have her. They need to see someone, who looks like them, doing extraordinary things.
It’s a new year and things look very uncertain under a Trump administration. I don’t know what’s going to happen with policy, economics, or race relations. It’s not looking too hot right now. . . But reading about these black characters, who are taking control of their destinies, is having a positive affect on me. I don’t have an Iron Man suit, but the panic attacks over an uncertain future have ceased, lol!