Tuesday, June 14, 2011

DRC: Writer Judd Winick on the "African Batman"

 Winick

In September, DC Comics introduces David Zamvimbi as Batwing, the first black man to be Batman as part of DC Comics mind boggling relaunch of 52 of its titles, re-starting all of them at issue #1.

For those who don't keep up with race and the funny books, DC's PR dept has had some fires to put out lately. Back in May, DC released a map for its Flashpoint mini series. The map labels the African continent as "Ape Controlled." Even before the map came out, 4th Letter blog warned about the whole gorilla Grodd thing:
Seriously DC Comics: get a black friend. Male or female, it doesn’t matter, just get one. We’re easy to find. Get one and then ask him if it’s cool to have Africa ruled by a monkey. Just run it by them, real casual-like. “Hey man, what do you think about this?” If they give you the gasface or their eyebrows narrow… change your plans. How come Africa is always the one continent that someone gets to rule ALL of? No one rules an entire continent in the real world, and Africa has dozens, if not hundreds, of distinct peoples and cultures. I get that treating it as something other than a homogeneous Dark Continent would require, I dunno, opening Wikipedia or something, and that it’s just easier to make up a country with an African sounding name.
Anyway, DC comics now puts the first black man in the cape and cowl, and over at Newsarama, Vaneta Rogers interviews the "Batwing" writer and DC editor, Judd Winick, who sheds more light on where in homogeneous Africa this is taking place. Excerpt:
Nrama: You mentioned a city. Does Batwing have a base of operations? 
Winick: Yes, he's based in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and his city is called Tinasha, which is a fictional city based on a real city in the country. Africa is a continent, so in comparison, think about Batman in relation to North America, and how often you see Batman in Canada or Mexico. Not often. So in that sense, Batwing will actually be localized to one city and one country in Africa, with some zipping around here and there. 
Nrama: Have you been to the Congo? 
Winick: No, but I'm thinking DC should send me there to check it all out. I think I'd need a month or so to really soak it up.

... and on the approach:
Winick: Yeah. I think the more it was thought about, it makes a bit of a statement. It's the first time that a black man has been Batman. It was a bit of a "eureka" moment, to realize we could actually do Batwing and have him be in Africa. Not bring him to America or something, which we never really considered it. He's an African living in Africa, fighting the fight for his country. It's a truly international book. It shouldn't feel like a book that could just happen in America. I'm hoping this feels like a book that can't happen anywhere but Africa. This is truly an African story. 
Nrama: It totally removes it from that Western view of the world. 
Winick: Yeah, and the volatile nature of this country lends itself really easily to the big superhero stories. Big battles are still being waged there. On this continent you have dictators and warlords and entire armies populated by children. Entire kingdoms being overthrown. These are crazy, insane ideas that are actually happening day-in and day-out, and that's non-fiction. We don't have that here in America. In our superhero stories, we have to create fabrications of criminal organizations and gangsters and battles and wars. But that's part of the fabric of Africa. So for this title, we're going to tap into that in a superheroic way. It's also the cradle of civilization, still fertile and rich and really, in some places, untouched by humanity. So we're hoping to tap into that too.
You get the feeling Batwing is going to be a little of everything you might have wished for and everything you're going to hate. If nothing else, hopefully it keeps that "eureka" light bulb on, passing along to other writers the same realization that every African country has all it takes to support a rich comic narrative and superhero universe.

2 comments:

bingol said...

This will not end well. I'm not sure you get 'truly an African story' without 'truly an African writer.'

I'm a white guy who's written what he imagines is 'truly an African story,' and I'm confident that anyone who is 'truly an African' from the country in question would have a pointedly different opinion.

(My agent, btw, said, 'This is great, but if we want to sell it for any amount of change, we need a European or American main character. Can be African-American, that's fine, but can't be African-African.')

I hope the guy at least reads The Wizard of the Crow. Frankly, comic books trade in stereotype, the fundamental idea of heroes and villains is a stereotype--and when you step into a realm in which dramatic stereotypes overlap with racist stereotypes ... well. I give it seven months.

bunmi said...

I had a longer reply. But the "7 months" made me laugh and derailed the train a train or two in my head.

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