Grounded #7: The Big 2 & Their lack of African American Comics

The year is 1966. Marvel’s main title for bringing characters into the mainstream, their first family, the Fantastic Four, reveals the publisher’s first Black superhero. King T’Challa, the Black Panther. Time has gone on in comic books, much like the real world, and with that time has come change. The integration of different races and different walks of life into their storytelling. The most easily seen examples of this are Marvel’s Black Panther being one of the biggest movies not only in America but in the world as well as CW’s television show about DC’s Black Lightning being one of the most popular superhero shows on television.

The bigger problem we face currently, however, is that even with as much time has passed, both DC and Marvel struggle with bringing people of color to their own titles. In Marvel’s case, while we can say that Black Panther has not only his main title but also two spin-off mini-series going on showcasing his sister Shuri and his villain Killmonger, the same cannot be said about his fellow black superheroes in the Marvel Universe. In DC’s case, there’s not a single solo title for a person of color that can be spoken of regardless of the popularity of one of their biggest shows. Why is that? Why are the two biggest comic book publishers neglecting to publish books about African Americans? Today we examine this question as well as what would bring African Americans to the comic book medium and candidates of heroes that should have books in comics as of today.

 

The Milestone Clause:

BEFORE ANYONE SAYS ANYTHING…NO…Just no. Milestone Comics, the titles created by Milestone Media and published by DC Comics cannot factor into this discussion due to the legal situation going on with DC Comics and the estate of Dwayne Mcduffie. That means all of you Static fans are going to be a bit disappointed, but my hope is that you will read the entire piece and learn about other amazing heroes. For more information see this article by Variety

 

The Capitalism of Comic Books:

We should have seen this one coming. The current cycle of comic books is this:

  • A new diverse character is introduced. Whether a person of color, a woman, a member of the LGBT community.
  • Comic receives grand praise due to a spectacular creative team as well as sells amazingly in its first issue
  • Within 6-12 issues, the series is canceled, or, in many cases, said later on to be a “mini-series” when it was solicited as an ongoing title.

And the cycle continues over and over again. Why is that? Why would any of these books sell so well in issue 1 and 2, but then drop so low to warrant cancellation? The first main factor is the speculation market of comics. Whether is a new issue #1, or the first appearance of a character, comic book collectors eat it up. Meanwhile, the average comic book reader or even the person who walks in for the first time and picks up a book about a character they connect with, and within 6 months, they are canceled. Now while there are circumstances such as poor quality of the book from story or art, there are books that go on to win awards that are canceled before they can receive them. Now granted all of this falls under a system of supply and demand like any other product, but when people aren’t informed of these book’s existence, and when these characters aren’t given enough time to develop with each issue being monthly and some titles being canceled before issue 6, what’s the point of even creating the material if it can’t even be given a chance?

 

The Big Two:

In a previous article, I attributed the failure of some African American solo titles such as Falcon, Cyborg, and Miles Morales Spider-man to the lack of support for these titles. My stance on this still is pretty much the same that if we as an African American community can call foul at Marvel and DC for not giving us the books we want, we, in turn, must support those titles. However, the primary blame for these books not even being able to even get off the ground still falls on the big two being Marvel and DC. With a lack of promotion for these titles in places where people of color or even a casual movie fan would see it, the books see no purchase. With the only option for purchase is in a specialty store, or on an online location that not every casual fan knows about, the books see no purchase.

Now one thing of note that we have seen is a rise in graphic novel sales. With big stores like Barnes and Noble or even Amazon selling massive amounts of Black Panther trade paperbacks prior and after the movie’s release due to fans wanting to learn about the character. So it’s obvious that Black Superheroes are desired.

Let’s start with Marvel Comics. Within the past two years, we have seen Black Panther: World of Wakanda, Black Panther & The Crew, Power Man & Iron Fist, Luke Cage, Mosaic, Ultimates, Miles Morales Spider-man, Falcon, and Riri Williams all taken off of store shelves. The two Black Panther books telling stories where the former saw supporting characters in Wakanda such as the Dora Milaje and new villains coming to the kingdom, and the latter told of some of Marvel’s most prominent black heroes fighting a crime wave in the streets of Harlem. Power Man & Iron Fist saw their end by their Netflix shows seeing release and them being split into separate books where due to the same circumstances, both ended. Ultimates, a team of 3 of Marvel’s most powerful black heroes as well as Captain Marvel and America Chavez saw its rushed end when it was very obvious that this cosmic level Avengers team could have continued if not for cancellation. Falcon saw cancellation 8 issues in and was said to be canceled before his first arc could even wrap up, while Marvel’s two biggest legacy heroes in Miles and Riri are yes getting another shot this fall written by Saladin Ahmed and Eve Ewing respectively, but if they aren’t given the necessary promotion and availability for fans to purchase, they will face the same fate.

Now for the more egregious one. DC Comics. Until January this coming year with Brian Michael Bendis and David F Walker’s Naomi, DC has NO BLACK SOLO TITLES…That’s a problem. Thankfully there’s at least some hope with cases like John Stewart and Cyborg both being on Justice League teams, Black Lightning co-leading The Outsiders with Batman, and Mr. Terrific leading the Terrifics, but no. There is not.one.single.black.solo title. We saw things this past year such as Batman and The Signal where it looked as if the Dark Knight’s latest protege Duke Thomas was finally getting the chance to be his own hero, but it only lasted 3 issues before he was shoved into the upcoming Batman and The Outsiders. Also, there’s the case of Black Lightning as previously mentioned is one of CW’s biggest shows right now, but for some reason, he was given a mini-series as season 1 approached release, but nothing else. Why? Why is it that DC sees no market for black heroes? Yes, there is the Milestone Clause that we will not talk about today, but DC desperately needs core black heroes that can represent them.

 

How do we do it?

DC…Marvel…let’s talk. Yes, you need to make money, I get that. But DC you know Black Panther is the biggest thing in the world, you need icons to rise up to meet him. Marvel? You know that T’Challa sells, but he can’t be the only one. With that, you can’t just chuck them to the trash the minute sales drop. You know that you’re not going to cancel Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Spiderman, Avengers, Captain America, Iron Man, or Black Panther. You need to give others the same respect.

Art By: Luciano Vecchio

Along with these Icons, you need to bring Black writers to the table. Michael Davis one of the founders of Milestone once said, “Black People have never been in control of their own stories in this country”,and that is very true. If we aren’t allowed to tell our own stories, we will never truly see characters like ourselves.

Art By: Luciano Vecchio

Also, the thing about it is, a good number of the time, Black Superheroes are used as social talking points a lot. Yes, everything about being Black is seen as “Politics” to some people that hate us or view our existence as a problem. But here’s the thing. We don’t need to defend who we are all of the time. Yes having comics that reflect our real world is needed. But on certain days, Captain America isn’t always punching Nazi’s, he’s punching Aliens, monsters, whatever threatens the everyday citizen. If little Black kids can’t read about people who look like them doing the same thing, then why put the hard work into creating those heroes? Now at the same time, we do need to talk about social issues at times. Shows like Black Lightning and Luke Cage show that we can be heroes while addressing the problems in the real world. Do not be afraid to show the world what it really is on the page. We need heroes who will fight back against the true evil, and the evils we make up to inspire others. Kareem Abul-Jabbar said in an article that

“A black superhero must have a social conscience that makes them aware that they are a minority and what that means to them and all others who are marginalized. Being black isn’t just having the colorist shade the skin darker, it’s a significant personal element that motivates the character’s actions.”

So we need icons, we need Black writers to create stories for those icons, and we need a balance of inspiration that is part social issues, and part fun/epic stories. Now…who can be the heroes of those stories?

DC Comics: 

On May 11th, 2017, Injustice 2 released for PS4, Xbox One, and later PC. In that game, 3 DC Comics Black characters were made alternate skins for white characters…that’s a problem. All 3 of them, should have their own titles at DC as well as new rising stars that can be the next generation.

 

 

Vixen:

Let’s be real here for a minute. Vixen is the DC Female Black Panther without a kingdom. She has the key to all of the animal spirits of the red. She should be a DC Icon. Recently we saw her being the leader of Batman’s Justice League of America but as we know, the JLA is always canceled. But from being on multiple teams to even being given mini-series, Vixen has never been given the respect she has deserved from the beginning and has earned moreover. Mari McCabe has seen some success making guest spots on CW’s Arrow and Legends of Tomorrow to let folks know she had an animated “series” on CW Seed, but Vixen has the strength and the heart to stand alongside Diana of Themiscyra as an icon of DC.

 

 

 

Green Lantern:

Alright. Look’s like I gotta be the one to say it, Hal Jordan…you need to retire. I’m serious. You have been doing the damn thing for too long. Too long to the point that you have died, been evil, been DC’s Ghost Rider Equivalent, and came back and resumed being DC’s main Green Lantern. But the time has come to retire your ring. John Stewart has ridden shotgun for too long. Being the token Black guy of the lantern corps for too many years when he was first created, John has done so much from being a leaguer to even being the head of the corps for a while. John is an architect, someone who can create amazing things with a thought. He’s even gotten the opportunity to be an entire generation’s Green Lantern on the Justice League Animated series. If you need more proof look at Scott Snyder’s recent run of Justice League where John is seen being able to put mistakes that result in tragedy behind him and free himself from unseen evil. John Stewart needs to be DC’s Green Lantern.

 

 

Black Lightning:

Jefferson Pierce not only should be an icon of DC, he pretty much is already but DC keeps taking it away from him. From multiple memberships on the Justice League and the Outsiders, to even being made the secretary of education of the United States. From his current show on CW to multiple animated series guest star appearances. Black Lightning should be the African American Leader of DC Comics. He’s a teacher, a father. Someone who has shown that he will look adversity in the face and never back down. He deserves more than a mini-series. He serves to have an ongoing and the promotion to keep it going as long as there are stories to tell.

 

 

 

 

DC’s Next Gen:

Alright so from left to right, Christopher Priest you think I didn’t notice you threw Tanya Spears Power Girl into a wormhole with the predecessor, but Tanya was given the name by Karen Starr and should be allowed to be apart of the future of DC Comics. A strong intelligent female that had the guts to stand up to Deathstroke the Terminator, DC…bring her back. Wallace West aka Kid Flash is someone I’ve had my on conflictions about. originally a race change to a longstanding character, DC Rebirth gave him the ability to stand on his own two feet and be something. Now he has the ability to be something…if only he’d get over the fact that he shouldn’t exist. Literally, he’s fighting with Barry about the fact that if it weren’t for Flashpoint he wouldn’t exist. Naomi is an all-new character coming to us from Bendis and Walker in 2019. Investigating the last time a super-powered event occurred in her town, she looks to be the start of change at DC, but the change should have come long before her. And Aqualad. JACKSON WHERE ARE YOU?! Ever since issue 19 of Teen Titans which was months ago, Jackson Hyde aka Kaldur-Ram has disappeared from the DC Universe with no actual explanation of where he is. With him being both a black character and a gay character too and his just gone?! He can be the future DC. Bring him back. Bring Tanya back. and let these kids be the heralds of change in your books.

“James! Did you forget somebody?” Some of you may be asking. Nah. He’s the subject of next time.

 

 

Marvel Comics:

Okay, Marvel. Like we said. Black Panther good. But here’s the thing. There are other characters you can show African Americans besides Black Panther and his ensemble cast. There are amazing heroes that should be given stories and we should create new ones to go with them.

 

Falcon:

Okay, yea this one is for me. Falcon was canceled too soon after he had his flag taken from him. Both Nick Spencer and Rick Remender wrote Sam in a way to show that he could be the next generation’s, Captain America. Rumors have even said that Sam was slated to stay Cap after Secret Empire, but it just wasn’t in the cards. Instead, we had famous writer and producer Rodney Barnes step up to the plate and show us that Sam could move past this hurdle and continue to be a hero and even a leader for the Avengers…then Avengers got relaunched and that was taken from him…and this book was canceled…Falcon literally is Marvel’s Black Lightning. Someone who ironically got their start in their golden boy’s book, Falcon with Captain America and Black Lightning with Superman, Falcon is the son of a preacher who was killed and he chose to be a hero to defend the little guy. He even took under his wing the new Patriot which showed the full evolution from being the partner of a shield wearing hero to training the next generation’s shield bearer.

 

Power Man & Iron Fist: 

So recently we saw the cancelation of both Luke Cage, and Iron Fist on both the Netflix side of things, and previously their solo titles. All 4 of these cancelations coming after the cancelation of David F Walker and Sanford Greene’s Power Man & Iron Fist. A book that saw after years of being Avengers, Luke Cage being a father and Iron Fist raising his successor in young Pei (see Immortal Iron Fists the Comixology exclusive #notaplug), the boys get the old Heroes for Hire business going and taking on the worst that New York’s streets had to offer. This book is important because it shows that yes these two do not have the ability to stand alone for long, but together, showing that racial boundaries can be broken and we can work together to build the future can be achieved. from the streets of Harlem to the reaches of space, these two have done it all and they deserve to keep doing it for the readers who love them.

 

 

Monica Rambeau/Photon/Spectrum:

 

I’m going to catch some heat for not putting Storm on this list but I have a good reason! It’s because Monica Rambeau is better. That’s right I said it. This woman is literal light energy and is overpowered as hell. And also, she was Captain Marvel before Carrol Danvers. That’s right. The first woman to be Captain Marvel was Black. She’s been an Avengers multiple times and she was apart of that awesome team I mentioned full of Black people, Carol and America Chavez…which they should also bring back #BRINGBACKULTIMATES. Whether she goes by Photon, or Spectrum, or something new altogether. Monica Rambeau much like Vixen should be one of Marvel’s icons and someone little Black girls can look up to and love.

 

 

 

Marvel’s Next Gen:

Like previously stated, Miles and Riri already have the future lined up. The problem is, the fear that they are DOA due to the judgment of sales. But regardless of what the haters and racists think, these two will one day overtake both Peter Parker and Tony Stark as Marvel Icons. the two wild cards here are Mosaic and Patriot. After gaining special abilities to jump from body to body professional basketball player Morris Sacket becomes Mosaic…until he was cancelled. and Patriot was lined up to be Falcon’s protege and a new premiere sidekick to the point that he’s even on Marvel Rising: Secret Warriors. These amazing young people have the potential to be great. They just need to chance.

So Marvel, DC. I’ve made my case. Now it’s up to you to bring the change to the people. The African American community have shown they want heroes to look up to and love. It’s up to you to make that happen and not just cut them. Bring us the future.

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James Portis

James Portis

Editor-In Chief
Founder of Shoot The Breeze Comics. Co-Host of the comic book news podcast Panel To Panel. A longtime comic book, video game, and anime nerd. Favorite Superhero is Aquaman...Fight Me
Written by
Founder of Shoot The Breeze Comics. Co-Host of the comic book news podcast Panel To Panel. A longtime comic book, video game, and anime nerd. Favorite Superhero is Aquaman...Fight Me

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