Friday, May 06, 2011

Tony Stark doesn't care about black people.

A couple of Fridays ago, Comic Book Resources ran one of their regular columns, in which Marvel’s Senior Vice President of Publishing Tom Brevoort puts on a funny hat and answers questions. I don’t normally read those, because Robot 6 does a great job of poring through Brevoort’s statements and Twitter-stalking him, so if he says anything particularly funny, insightful, mean-spirited or foolish-sounding anywhere, it usually ends up getting its own post on CBR’s blog.

This time, it was actually Graeme McMillan writing for Blog@Newsarama, my blog away from blog, who pulled out the fact that Brevoort said Marvel repeatedly passed on doing all-black Avengers books. General reasons were articulated by Brevoort, mostly on Twitter and outside of the original interview, and a lot of them were a little unconvincing.

I left a quick comment in the comments, remembering that Reginald Hudlin was seemingly building up to a Black Avengers team of some sort in his Black Panther run during 2006, and then pretty much forgot about it.

The other day though, a friend of mine who’s comics-literate if not a regular reader, sent me a link to discussion of Brevoort’s statements on The Root, a black-perspective online news magazine, in an article with the unfortunate headline “Comic-Industry Rep: Market Won’t Support Black Comic Book Characters.” That article links to one at Color Lines, another daily news site, this one with a focus on racial justice issues. Their also-doesn’t-sound-good headline was this: "Comics Industry Rep Accidentally Shows How Pop Culture Stays White."

If this issue interests you at all and you haven’t been following it, or reading Brevoort’s statements and clarifications, I’d suggest you go do so now. If you already have, feel free to read one. If you don’t care at all, check back tomorrow and Sunday for a discussion on Marvel’s Black Panther-starring Doomwar and a survey of DC’s just concluded Brightest Day.

Let’s look at some Marvel superheroes for a moment.

The Black Panther! The king of advanced, high-technology African kingdom of Wakanda, he was a long-time member of The Avengers, and also served on Fantastic Four and Defenders. In addition to being one of the first black comic book superheroes and having headlined five volumes of his own comic book series, he’s known outside of comics for his appearances in several different cartoon series, and a live-action film has been in some form of development for almost a decade.

Storm! The weather-powered mutant who has always been one of The X-Men’s most powerful fighters and skilled leaders, who has served as a member of the Fantastic Four, been worshiped as a goddess and been on an out-of-continuity version of The Avengers. She’s perhaps the most well-known Marvel heroine, certainly the one who’s not based on a pre-existing male hero, and has appeared as a cast member in every X-Men cartoon and in the three X-Men live action films.

War Machine! The U.S. military soldier who briefly replaced Tony Stark as Iron Man, earned his own Iron Man-like suit and served on two different incarnations of the Avengers, not to mention other teams like the Secret Defenders, Force Works, Secret Avengers, The Crew and several U.S. agencies. He was prominently featured in the blockbuster Iron Man 2, and has appeared in several Iron Man cartoons.

Blade! The half-vampire, vampire-hunter has become the archenemy of one of Marvel’s greatest villains, carried a few short-lived volumes of his own comic and, while never an Avenger, he worked with MI:13 and with several monster and monster-hunting groups, like the Nightstalkers and Midnight Sons. He was the star of a 1998 film starring Wesley Snipes, a surprisingly profitable hit which ushered in the modern era of Marvel movies. It was followed by two sequels (So far, Spider-Man’s the only Marvel solo hero to have that many films) and a short-lived television series.

The Falcon! Captain America’s long-time partner and ally, is the Marvel’s first African-American superhero (T’Challa’s African) and was a member of the Avengers. He’s only appeared in a few cartoons at this point.

Luke “Power Man” Cage! The bullet-proof, super-strong “hero for hire” who focused on street crime has long since become one of the most rock-steady elements of the Avengers, starring (and sometimes leading) the “New Avengers” team for the course of two volumes of the title. He’s supported a few solo miniseries, and while he’s yet to appear in a film, like Black Panther, a Cage film has long been under discussion.

Goliath! The scientist Dr. Bill Foster shared a power with Avenger Giant-Man, and alternately went by the names Black Goliath and Giant Man. He’s worked with the Defenders and The Champions, and was unfortunately murdered by Iron Man and Mr. Fantastic after siding with Captain America in the superhero “civil war” (not that anyone seems to hold that against Tony and Reed). Dead never means dead though, not even for D-Listers; Foster was replaced by his nephew as the new Goliath, although he could come back and pretty much any time.

Dr. Voodoo! Offensive stereotype/blaxploitation-style magic-wielding superhero Brother Voodoo had his profile raised quite high when he assumed the role of Earth’s Sorcerer Supreme from Dr. Strange, hanging out with the New Avengers and getting his own quickly-canceled series, although he currently seems to be temporarily dead.

Do any of you believe for a minute that any of the above can’t be members of Marvel’s A-list super-team the Avengers, or serve on a line-up together as their own Avengers team? And remember, Avengers teams are no longer limited to one or two. At the moment, Marvel has four ongoing titles with the name “Avengers” in the title, and a sort of unofficial Avengers team staffed by villains and a swamp monster under Luke Cage’s leadership in the Thunderbolts team. Also, there’s the Young Avengers, who occasionally show up in Young Avengers-branded limited series.

As far as I can tell, these are the Avengers at the moment...

The Avengers: Spider-Man, Wolverine, Hawkeye, Iron Man, Thor, Captain America James Barnes, Spider-Woman, Captain Britain, Marvel Boy and The Red Hulk.

The New Avengers: Spider-Man, Wolverine, Hawkeye, Luke Cage, Mockingbird, Ms. Marvel, Iron Fist, The Thing, Jessica Jones and Doctor Strange

The Secret Avengers: Captain Steve Rogers, Beast, War Machine, Valkyrie, Moon Knight, Nova, Black Widow, Ant-Man Eric O’Grady and Agent 13.

Avengers Academy: Heroes-in-training Finesse, Hazmat, Mettle, Reptil, Striker and Veil, and mentors Hank Pym, Quicksilver, Justice, Jocasta, Tigra and Speedball.

I’m not sure if we should count the Young Avengers, as they’re mostly confined to miniseries with long absences in-between, but what the hell: Hawkeye Kate Bishop, Hulkling, Patriot, Speed, Stature Wiccan and vision.

As you can see, there are a lot of Avengers team active in the Marvel Universe at the moment, and a lot of books being published by Marvel branded with the word “Avengers.” Depending on how familiar you are with some of those characters, you may also note that a lot of them either don’t seem like traditional Avengers material (loner Spider-Man, killing machine Wolverine, the FF’s Thing, Max import Jessica Jones) or at the demonstrate the bar to be accepted into the Avengers doesn’t mean what it used to in the pre-Disassembled days, when there were only one or two Avengers teams.

You may also notice that there’s little to no reason why many of those characters are more deserving of Avengers enrollment than any of the heroes I mentioned at the top, either within the fictive rules of the Marvel Universe or from the sales-oriented perspective of the real-world, in which higher-profile characters are more sought after than characters who might “feel” like Avengers (i.e. Spidey, Wolvie, Red Hulk, etc)

You may also notice a great deal of artificiality and contrivance in the creation of those teams, the and that organizational principles of the first two teams—the adjective-less and New Avengers teams—is mostly just “whatever characters writer Brian Michael Bendis most likes to write.”

Those eight characters I mentioned at the top of the post are all black superheroes. Some have been Avengers before, at least two of them are Avengers right now. But none of them will all be Avengers at the same time, or on the same team, because an all-black Avengers team would be too contrived. Do note that the current Avengers Avengers team is all-white (The Red Hulk is a white dude when he’s not red), New Avengers has one black guy to nine white, Secret Avengers has one black guy to eight white folks and all of the former Avengers serving as teachers at the Avengers Academy are white.

Marvel has a lot more black superheroes than the ones I mentioned at top. I was just picking the highest profile ones, the ones that seem most like members of Marvel’s A-list and B-list characters, among both the characters within the Marvel Universe and among us real people look at the Marvel Universe from the outside. (Goliath and Doctor Voodoo probably don’t belong, but I included them because their backgrounds and appearances seem like the sort that would be useful to an all-black Avengers team).

If Marvel were ever to have an all-black Avengers team, they also have a pool including Captain Marvel/Photon/Pulsar Monica Rambeau, Josiah X, Misty Knight, Captain America Isaiah Bradley, The Blue Marvel, Cloak, Patriot, Dethlok Michael Collins, Triathalon/3-D Man, and someone somewhere probably still likes Bishop, who probably has a higher Q-rating outside of the comic shop than the likes of Mockingbird or Marvelwoman. (And then there’s the likes of Rocket Racer, Night Thrasher, Prowl and Rage and probably a whole bunch of lame-o mutants and X-folks, but none of them are as popular as Bishop).

Marvel won’t have an all-black Avengers team though, despite having some pitches for it and despite the fact that Reginald Hudlin laid the groundwork for one in the portion of his Black Panther run collected in Black Panther: Bad Mutha, in which T’Challa teams up with Luke Cage, The Falcon, Brother Voodoo, Blade, Monica Rambeau and Shang-Chi. Right before his wedding to Storm, which was attended by most of the above, as well as Goliath.

They were all pretty much hanging out together already; all they needed was a big threat of some kind in which they banded together to defeat a menace to big for any one of them to defeat alone, someone to say, “Hey, we worked well together,” someone else to say, “Yeah, it was a good thing we were all here at the same time. You know, I think that’s how the Avengers got started,” and someone else to say “Hey, T’Challa, Storm—why don’t you guys start a team and we’ll all join and we’ll be safe from Brian Michael Bendis, Mark Millar and ‘The Architects’ for a few years?”

And hell, what do you know, a mostly black Avengers team has begun, and it was no more contrived than every other Avengers team or line-up in the history of Avengers comics.

Now, there might have been a very good reason why that apparently pitched “Black Avengers” never got off the ground.

Maybe Hudlin’s idea was too controversial, and he wanted Kanye West to join the team, and their first mission was going to be to go beat up then-President George Bush for not caring enough about black people and then taking down Night Thrasher for embarrassing them all (Hudlin did have some of these heroes helping victims of Katrina, and cast a thinly-veiled Condoleeza Rice as a villain in his first story arc).

Maybe it was called Da Nu Avenjuzz and Marvel was so horrified by that name they never read the actual pitch*.

Maybe it was something a lot more simple, like the fact that Brian Michael Bendis didn’t want to share his pretend boyfriend Luke Cage with anyone, or that plans were already set in motion for having two warring Avengers teams in the wake of Civil War (Bendis’ Mighty and New iterations of the team), and a third one would have screwed things up too much (Hudlin’s run was nearing its end right around the time that Civil War was leading into a cycle of events and status quos including “The Initiative,” Secret Invasion, “Dark Reign” and Siege, and Hudlin just wasn’t one of the architects.

Who knows. In the original interview, Brevoort did say that some of the pitches for Avengers books went ahead and saw publication anyway, even if Marvel didn’t want to call them Avengers books. For example, Agents of Atlas was apparently pitched as Secret Avengers, and Annihilators as Cosmic Avengers. I do have to wonder why a “Black Avengers” team with a different name never saw print then.

I fear it’s because publishers think comic books with black leads don’t sell which is troubling in a whole bunch of ways. But even if Marvel’s The Crew didn’t sell all that well, I don’t see how that’s a reason to give up trying books with more than one or two folks of color in the cast. After all, the last attempt at an Exiles book was almost immediately canceled, and it’s not like Marvel decided not to print any more books starring mutants. Heroes For Hire got cancelled after just 15 issues in 2007, and relaunched again in 2011. Alpha Flight is getting its fifth chance at an ongoing, just a few years after Omega Flight ended after just five issues.

The bad news, at this point, is that even if the idea of a Black Avengers gets talked and talked and talked about online now, and Marvel decides there’s enough buzz to give something like that a shot, they’d have to start over from scratch—the months that Hudlin put into laying the groundwork for such a book are now so far back in Marvel continuity, that many of those characters are in very different places.


Speaking of all-black, A-list superhero teams, as I was thinking of Marvel’s wealth of Avengers-worthy black characters, I naturally thought of the Avengers’ DC counterpart team, the Justice League, and realized an all-black JLA would probably be too artificial and contrived for most anyone to successfully suspend their disbelief enough to enjoy—mainly because the JLA and the DCU doesn’t have the depth of great black superhero characters that Marvel does.

To my knowledge, the only black folks to ever be members of the Justice League have been Vixen, Bloodwynd (Sorta? Maybe?) Amazing Man II (currently deceased), Steel, Green Lantern John Stewart, Black Lighting and Cyborg (the latter of whom for only a handful of issues apiece). Bronze Tiger did a few missions for the Justice League Task Force, if that counts as JLA membership.

With the exception of GL and, maybe Cyborg and Steel, that’s not exactly a collection of household names in our universe, nor the cream of the crop in the DC Universe.

There are, of course, other black heroes in the DCU who would be Justice League material, including Icon and Hardware (who the late Dwayne McDuffie seemed to be prepping for inclusion on the team before his run on JLoA suddenly ended, The Power Company’s Skyrocket and, um…maybe Bumblebee? (If Wasp can be an Avenger, Bumblebee can be a Leaguer, right?) Or Mister Miracle II, if he still exists after Final Crisis?

Most of DC’s other black superheroes seem to either be already ensconced with other teams (Mr. Terrific, Jakeem Thunder), so young they’re better candidates for Teen Titans (Static, Aqualad II, Empress, Hero, Kid Impala, Joto, Rocket) or are too lame** for the League (Herald/Vox, Amazing Man III, Crimson Avenger II, Josiah Power, Freight Train, Onyx, Black Lightning’s kids Thunder and Lightning, the currently dead Pantha, the currently dead Freedom Beast and the-also-currently-dead-I-think Orpheus…Dr. Mid-Nite II, the original Tempest and Technocrat are also all dead now too, huh?)

I think it would be possible to put together a League-level super-team in the DCU of, say, Green Lantern, Icon, Steel, Vixen, Black Lightning, Cyborg and let’s go ahead and say Bumblee because she’s a woman, but the publisher would have to jump through a lot more hoops to get that group, or any group, of heroes of color on to a team of any kind, especially if it’s the Justice League, which remains defined by it’s Big Seven line-up of all white folks (Vixen didn’t come along for decades, remember, ad Black Lightning and John Stewart were just occasional allies like Metamorpho or Atom Strange, not actual members).

At least, they'd have to jump through a lot of hoops right now. That Ed Benes-drawn image above is apparently an unused cover from McDuffie's run on JLoA. As you can see, it features four black dudes, one black lady and a Japanse woman, making it the least white Justice League line-up of all time. That never was a League line-up though. Hardware and Icon never officially joined, but they seemed poised to. What would have been cool about that line-up is that it was actually put together almost completely organically,as during the storyline in which McDuffie introduced the Milestone characters like Icon and Milestone, DC started yanking away the characters that Brad Meltzer had stocked his League line-up with, so one by one the team McDuffie inherited was stripped of its Superman (exiled from Earth), Batman (dead), Wonder Woman (Eh, who can keep up?), Hal Jordan (doing space stuff with Geoff Johns, when not being all neo-con and torturey with Green Arrow), Black Canary (crying about Cry For Justice), Hawkgirl (killed in Final Crisis, un-killed off-panel so as to be re-killed in the then-upcoming Blackest Night) and Red Arrow (quit due to Hawkgirl break-up, about to go batshit insane when the yet-to-conclude Cry saw conclusion).

While I know some (dumb) people complained about the dwindling number of white heroes on McDuffie's League, accusing him and/or DC of essentially playing affirmative action with the superhero team, the obvious reality was that McDuffie's line-up was being chosen for him by various editorial staffs taking various characters away. The JLA was almost almost all black because those were the only characters McDuffie was being left with to write.

Those were pretty special circumstances, though, and it would take a while to get the real, official Justice League in that place again, although now even fewer folks would embrace it, since the League has been in a weird state for a while now, and the Big Seven iteration is due for a return. (Also, DC will be insane not to put Hal Jordan back in the League ASAP, given that movie coming out soon, so I wouldn't expect to see even the black Green Lantern on the League for a while).

It would be much simpler to launch a sub-League of some kind, like back when DC had three different Justice Leagues in the mid-nineties, but even then it would be difficult, as few of DC's black heroes know each other as well as a group of Marvel's black heroes do. That is, not only did Hudlin marry the most prominent male and female superheroes in the Marvel Universe, making them a set, he also established Black Panther as a Captain America-like inspirational figure that many of the universe's most prominent black heroes look up to.

DC doesn't have a Black Panther or Storm, and thus don't have any black characters with that sort of gravity to pull other black heroes to their side.


Would an all-black Avengers, or all-black Justice Leaguer, or all-black team of either Marvel or DC superheroes be kinda dumb? Or at least as dumb as an all-white Avengers or all-white Justice League would be in the 21st century?

The black Avengers team Hudlin was paving the way for did have the Chinese Shang-Chi in the mix, after all, and the mostly-black JLA that McDuffie was being whittled down to had Japanese Dr. Light posing alongside the others.

It's all just hypothetical at this point, anyway. I don't see an all-black or mostly-black version of either team on the immediate horizon, unless all this chatter goes on long enough and from enough different sources that Brevoort looks at some of those proposals and decides to give one a greenlight, perhaps without the name "Avengers" attached to allay his (misplaced, in my opinion) concerns of brand dilution.

*Other terrible titles that might kill an all-black Avengers book all by themselves?The Nubian Avengers and The West Side Avengers.

**I’m defining "lame" here not only as the opposite of cool, but also as either lacking any sort of super-power or super-skill to make them more than an extra Batman type, lacking a superhero name and/or lacking a superhero costume.


Nicholas Ahlhelm said...

I actually feel bad for Marvel in this, but honestly it's mostly Brevoort putting his foot in his mouth. This topic is pretty much a lose-lose.

A "Black Avengers" suffers from one big problem: it smacks of comic segregation, especially if their "token" non-white member is an Asian. With that in mind, it's probably best not to do it, but by talking about it like this, he's set himself up to look like a tool.

Eyz said...

I'm not a big fan of the concept of having either an all-black Avengers team as well as an all-white Avengers team. Can't we just keep 'em mixed like usual?
It just sounds silly and just like a marketing tool..I mean storywise why would they separate from each others just based on skin color?? I doesn't make sense from a powers/abilities pov.

Also, on an almost unrelated subject, I miss the "Mighty Avengers" which was composed of the likes of Hank Pym/Wasp, US Agent, Jocasta, Hercules, etc..

Aki Alaraatikka said...

I don`t think that having an all black superhero-team would be bad. In fact, I`ve thought a couple of times that when I (with a 0.1 % chance and hope)will be a drawer and idea-smith*, I could suggest this same kind of thing to a good writer. But I wouldn`t want it to be called Black avengers. Or any kind of avengers.

So, Spidey is in two avengers teams, Future Foundation, working as a superbrained scientist, having
a personal social life and being a solo hero. Wow, how does he have the time for all that!? well, I guess that he`s just got alot of experience over the years.

*a someone who has ideas.

Caleb said...

I actually feel bad for Marvel in this, but honestly it's mostly Brevoort putting his foot in his mouth. This topic is pretty much a lose-lose.

Oh I totally agree that Brevoort pretty much created a contentious issue for himself, walked into it, and then kept saying worse and worse things. He could very easily have just not brought it up, or brought it up and left it at, "there wasn't any story to it besides let's just throw all the black characters together" without getting into the rest of it.

Can't we just keep 'em mixed like usual? It just sounds silly and just like a marketing tool..I mean storywise why would they separate from each others just based on skin color??

Yes, it does sound silly...unless they come up with a good reason. An Icon-lead JLA woulda been pretty organic (as organic as anything in that book has been thus far, really), and I think Marvel could very easily done a Black Avengers in an organic way following Hudlin's stories, with the Panther extending an invitation to heroes who refused to register in the wake of Civil War to find sanctuary in Wakanda (Cage, Falcon and Monica Rambeau were all against registration).

Of course, Marvel had plans for Storm and Panther to join and lead the FF post-Civil War, which woulda scuttled that.

Also, on an almost unrelated subject, I miss the "Mighty Avengers" which was composed of the likes of Hank Pym/Wasp, US Agent, Jocasta, Hercules, etc..

That's another book I've been intending to catch in trade...some of those guys ended up in Avengers Academy, didn't they?

But I wouldn`t want it to be called Black avengers. Or any kind of avengers.

I like "Panther Pack," in part because it sounds stupid.