Monday, September 20, 2010

Africa: From Wakanda to New York

Below, G4 TV dropped a comic book scoop last week: starting in December, Marvel's king of the fictional African kingdom of Wakanda, otherwise known as T'Challa or the black panther, will be the mysterious super hero filling in Matt Murdock's crime fighting shoes in New York city

for a while...

Marvel has more preview pages - here. Catch up on Marvel/BET's take on black panther and Africa which in the U.S got dumped to itunes and dvd - here.

Though it doesn't look like black panther will be putting on Murdock's red suit and tossing the billy clubs, there's been a theory circulating of late about how such fill ins are used, by DC comics for example, as a device that suggests "racial politics of regressive storytelling" in comics. John Jennings and Damian Duffy discussed it over at GQ back in July:
JJ...Why is there a ceiling on how well a comic with a black protagonist can do?
DD: I really think it's a characteristic of the direct market. The direct market is completely insular—it just sort of feeds this one particular demographic, the 20s-to-50s white male who's been reading this stuff since the '70s. And they just want to see the same thing over and over. There was that essay recently— 
JJ: Right, Chris Sims' essay "The Racial Politics of Regressive Storytelling," about how DC Comics keeps creating these non-white versions of its heroes—a black guy becomes the new Firestorm, an Asian guy takes up the mantle of The Atom—only to kill them off or marginalize them in order to restore the characters to their "classic" incarnation, which always means putting a white guy back in the suit.
DD: I think that's a characteristic of the direct market, too. Those are the characters that their fan base, or their demographic, the people who go to comic shops every Wednesday for the new books—that's what they're interested in. That nostalgia. So I think part of the reason they do that is because they have to. The reason there's this "black books don't sell" stereotype in the direct market is that the direct-market audience is, by and large, still interested in the books they read when they were kids, and when they were kids, it wasn't even socially acceptable to have black characters.
JJ: Exactly. It's hard to bust into institutions, whether it's the institution of the superhero or the institution of the direct market. It just seems like institutions are really good at not changing. They're awesome at not changing.
DD: Well, they change, but it's at the speed of erosion.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

As succinctly as I can, I will try to explain why ethnic superheroes are so poorly represented in comics:
(1) RESISTANCE TO CHANGE. This is the foremost reason for regressive storytelling. People who believe X is X aren't always so accommodating when others come along claiming that A is now X.
(2) LIMITED CULTURAL KNOWLEDGE. Writers don't want to write the unfamiliar any more than readers want to see the familiar bastardized.
(3) DISINGENUOUS DIVERSITY aka DIVERSITY FOR DIVERSITY'S SAKE. So much could be said about this one alone. Basically, any attempt to force a minority character onto readers without proper transition, proper characterization, proper visibility and proper 'time' to establish a visible/vocal fanbase. Not only will these characters be hated, they will be doomed to fail. 75-90% of Marvel and DC's recent attempts at diversity fall into this category.
(4) THE 'WHITE PEOPLE ARE UNDER ATTACK' MYTH. As if making a few WASP characters an ethnic/religious/sexual minority means that White people run the risk of becoming minorities themselves.

Now I will try to explain why ethnic superheroes need better representation in comics:
(1) WE LIVE IN A MULTICULTURAL WORLD. White kids have Black friends, Asian friends, homosexual friends. Some of their coworkers are Muslim. Some of their bosses are women. And some of them... are pretty cool. Some of them would like to at least see some semblance of that reality represented in fantasy.
(2) PROGRESSIVENESS. The WASP perspective is so assumed and dominant that simply being anything else is more interesting by default.

* Before I end I would just like to add this last point:
Regardless of whether an ethnic superhero is an original or a so-called affirmative-action legacy, what matters is the FANBASE. Even Bruce LeRoy could replace Bruce Wayne as Batman if he was written well enough, visible enough, and was given the ‘time’ to establish an equivalent fanbase.


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