Kinetic Social Context: A Review of "White Scripts and Black Supermen"

About a year ago, a university professor teaching a course focused on historiography presented a documentary about the history of the portrayal of black characters in comics. The documentary White Scripts and Black Supermen is ostensibly about identity and the portrayal of black masculinity in the American comic book. The filmmaker aspires beyond this and seeks to do more than present a mere history of black superheroes in the medium of comic books. The focus is rather, an analysis of the process of creation. Mythology is a term often associated with ancient times and the age-old stories of heroes and gods told in antiquity, but they exist today and permeate our culture. Our gods wear gaudy costumes and provide escapist fare while simultaneously cementing our ideologies.

One of the first and most interesting points of the documentary was a notion of Shaft vs. Sidney Poitier in the characterization of black males in comic books. Both categories though possessing positive aspects are stereotypes and overall, have a limiting effect. As formidable as Shaft is, he is still a caricature of an angry black man and is confined to the urban sphere. Likewise, while in many ways the Sidney Poitier archetype is commendable, it portrays an inner strength and dignity that is a direct symbiotic function of an inherently white construction and yields too much; or as one commentator eloquently states, portrays, "dignity in the service of the existing white supremacist state."

Overall the film's narrative of creation myths is about creating a fictional character that fits the reality and perception of someone else. This often leads to putting undue emphasis on stereotypes. The overall process is reflected in the title of this documentary about the "white scripts" that originally defined "black supermen."

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"You Try Doing It"

I've noticed an interesting trend in debates regarding comic creators. Usually, a person will dislike a "creator." i.e. I really don't like so and so's writing, or Blankety Blank is an overrated artist. Sometimes, the disliker is just being belligerent and looking for confrontations, but on a few occasions someone brings up a good point. The debate will go on, and eventually someone will say, "You try doing what they do!" That's one of the most bogus arguments defending someone's merit. The mere fact that someone is doing a job that isn't easy doesn't mean they become immune to criticism from those who can't do said job. For example, let's say I go to a doctor, and he/she misdiagnoses me or botches an operation. I am going to be pissed. And if someone said, "Hey, you try going to medical school and figuring out what makes people sick." I'd probably want to hit them. So yeah, writing and art are both challenging, but they signed up for it, and it's their job to be the best they can be (like the old Army commercials).

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When I first discovered the Sex Pistols they captured my imagination. A raw energetic sound that simultaneously is tight and unpretentious. On the drums, Paul Cook, puffing away on a cigarette barely batting an eyelash as he pounds through some of the most blistering tracks in rock history. Steve Jones, looking like a rockabilly goofball slamming chord after chord. Sid, sadly more myth than man, pale, bare chested, barely conscious. And Johnny Rotten nee John Lydon prowling around on stage like a violent aggressive deranged hunchback of Notre Punk.

I spent age 13-16, thereabouts. Wishing I was Johnny Rotten. I hadn't even discovered the brilliance of PiL yet. I just slouched about snarling and attempting to get the gall to put a safety pin through my ear. His music spoke to me, resoun
ded with all the anger and articulately intelligent dissatisfaction I felt for everything/everyone. And now, years later. I'm not as angry, but my ears still prick up when I hear his roar. They treat him as a caricature and a prickly footnote in the annals of rock history, but for me he will always be more. A villain, perhaps? But always an inspiration.
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Curse of the Revamp?

This article details the changes DC has planned for Captain Marvel (now apparently) AKA Shazam. What do my fellow Batson fans think?

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The Enigmatic Neal Adams

"I would work with Neal again . . . except I would have to take an awful lot of Valium."

-Harlan Ellison

Neal Adams. The name strikes a chord, from his legendary work with Batman, Deadman, Green Arrow, and Superman, to his breathtaking X-men and Zero Patrol issues and generally speaking, just about everything the man has illustrated.

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I first encountered Neal Adams at a New York City signing that was in promotion of Batman: Odyssey #1 which had just been released. I took the bus over to the metropolis to catch a glimpse of this icon. His was a name I'd heard uttered in reverent whispers since youth. I brought my copy to Mr. Adams, (a son of his was also there) he shook my hand and was one of the warmest people I've ever had the pleasure to meet. He was friendly and very enthusiastic, in fact, when my camera batteries died before I got to take the picture, he graciously insisted I run to a store to get the batteries and come back to the front of the line to have my picture taken with him. What helped, was probably having the issue personalized, so he knew that I wasn't just flipping this comic, it was something I would treasure for life. I also purchased a sketch book he was selling which had gorgeous work. If you haven't seen his non-superhero material, you're missing out.

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The second time, I saw Neal Adams was NYC Comic Con 2010. The encounter was less awe inspiring. Adams had his own booth. And he was charging a pretty penny for his signature, and considerably more for artwork. I have no problem with Neal Adams charging a lot for his work. But, what shocked me was that he was charging 25 dollars for fans to take their picture with him. Not an autograph, the mere chance to be seen with him! I found it to be crassly commercial and it left a distinctly bad taste in my mouth. That said, I still love his artwork and think that he is a genuinely nice guy, but these encounters left me puzzled about the man. If you're like me and like a bit of insight into some of the influential A-list creators, than you'll love Harlan Ellison's reflections on working with Neal Adams in this interview, from which the introductory quote was taken:

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If I Had to Re-Launch 52 DC Books

  1. Action Comics
  2. Detective Comics
  3. Superman
  4. Batman
  5. Adventure Comics
  6. All-Star Comics (as a an anthology of Golden Age and Noir tales)
  7. Amethyst
  8. Justice League of America
  9. The Flash
  10. Brave and the Bold (team up, not animated show)
  11. DC Comics Presents
  12. Aquaman
  13. Warlord
  14. The Atom
  15. Hawkman
  16. Black Lightning
  17. Blackhawk
  18. Catwoman
  19. Challengers of the Unknown
  20. The Creeper
  21. DC One Million
  22. Teen Titans
  23. Demon
  24. New Gods
  25. Justice Society of America
  26. Elseworlds
  27. Faces of Evil
  28. Firestorm
  29. Green Arrow
  30. Green Lantern
  31. Hawkman
  32. Guy Gardner
  33. House of Mystery
  34. Huntress
  35. Kamandi
  36. Legion of Super-Heroes
  37. Metal Men
  38. Mystery in Space
  39. Omega Men
  40. Batwing
  41. Plastic Man
  42. Shazam
  43. Power Girl
  44. Richard Dragon
  45. Showcase
  46. Steel
  47. T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents
  48. The Wanderers
  49. Wonder Woman
  50. Weird War Tales
  51. Zatanna
  52. Angel and the Ape

The Sick Leviathans

The comic book industry is in trouble. The superhero industry is not. Sales have been dropping consistently and at times drastically. The movies have been steadily streaming netting their share of box office green. The characters themselves are marketable with heavy hitters like Spider-man, Batman, Superman, and Wolverine being seen everywhere despite the rise or fall of their books' sales. Part of the problem is the treatment of the creative talents. During the Golden Age, the publishers were numerous and creators slaved for movie studio style companies whose products were more popular than ever. The 50's brought drought and by the time Smilin' Stan and his contemporaries injected fresh blood into the medium circa '59-'61,  an industry frightened of dying let their talents run with outlandish characters and even more outlandish ideas that had surprising staying power and became some of the most beloved properties. Yet, by the 90's, the cycle had come full circle and once again the artists and writers were being crushed under the boot heel of the company. That's when Image started their minor revolution. Unfortunately, I feel (giving them the benefit of the doubt) the creators who began as passionate seekers of justice became media moguls too. That's kinda why I listen when Alan Moore speaks. He's dealt first hand with a lot of the shady business dealings. Remember when Jim Lee gave him his own imprint and promised he'd never deal with DC? Remember when not too long after he sold that imprint to DC? Business is rarely conducted with honor. Money is considered to be more important than art and human interests. So when big corporate giants like DC and Marvel (via their respective owners of course), talk about dwindling sales, I don't care. They themselves have spent years living by the credo, survival of the fittest. Even going back to the golden age, when DC beat out Fawcett through, not creative superiority, but legal technicalities. I say if they go completely digital, good luck, because the online/digital world is like the wild wild west, and piracy combined with the unrestricted competition will eat them alive. If they choose instead to continue down this path of mega events and callous, pointless deaths, then let the industry die. Let it go extinct the way a concept seen as too bold or dangerous would in the Darwinian fight the sick leviathans have created. The time has come the walrus said, to talk of better things, of paper ships and sealing wax, of cabbages and kings. 


25 Songs of Reflection

I’ve been reflecting a lot lately. A lot has happened and my days have really turned into wild hallucinations. I may or may not be in love. It’s all just fucked up really. All phases of life need a soundtrack, even if it’s occasional silence. So, I decided to cull twenty-five songs to help me think my way through the days ahead. Here’s my list…

1. Wild Horses by The Rolling Stones

2. I Call Your Name by The Beatles

3. Nocturne #2 in E Flat by Frederic Chopin

4. Would You? by Emma Wallace

5. Sister Morphine by The Rolling Stones

6. Brain Damage/ Eclipse by Pink Floyd

7. Alfred by Andrew Hill

8. Hey Jude by The Beatles

9. Weeping by Throbbing Gristle

10. Concerto in Due Cori in A Major by Antonio Vivaldi

11. Exit Music (For a Film) by Radiohead

12. I’m Set Free by The Velvet Underground

13. Look at Your Game, Girl by Charles Manson

14. End of the Night by The Doors

15. Chez Le Photograph du Motel by Miles Davis

16. I’m Knee Deep in Daisies by Whispering Jack Davis

17. 5 AM by The Millennium

18. Expecting to Fly by Buffalo Springfield

19. I Saw the Light by Hank Williams

20. Crazy by Patsy Cline

21. Good Old Fashioned Lover Boy by Queen

22. Bela Lugosi’s Dead by Bauhaus

23. Life on Mars? by David Bowie

24. 7th Symphony, 2nd Movement by Ludwig van Beethoven

25. Hitler as Kalki by Current 93

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