Author Topic: BLACK HOLE: WHY AREN'T THERE MORE BLACK SUPER HEROES? by David Walker  (Read 14162 times)

Offline Reginald Hudlin

  • Landlord
  • Honorary Wakandan
  • *****
  • Posts: 9884
    • View Profile

By David Walker
Special to MSN Movies

At the 2008 San Diego Comic-Con, a T-shirt was released with an image of then Sen. Barack Obama in a pose of superheroic proportions. The image, by renowned comic book artist Alex Ross, had Obama tearing off his shirt and revealing a large "O" emblazoned on the chest of a superhero costume underneath. Instantly recognizable as the iconic pose associated with Superman and his mild-mannered alter ego, Clark Kent, Ross' painting helped introduce a new superhero to the world of comics, Super Obama.

Meanwhile, elsewhere in the massive San Diego Convention Center, the annual "black panel" was taking place. A regular fixture among the workshops and panels at Comic-Con, it featured a lineup of creators, most of them black, discussing the current state of affairs in the comic industry as it related to both black creators and black characters. The conversation was pretty much the same one that had been taking place for years, with nothing of significance being said. There was, however, a bitter irony in the fact that, as Super Obama was making his way throughout the Convention Center and America was on the verge of electing its first black president, very little had changed in the world of comics as far as black superheroes were concerned.

Since being elected, Barack Obama has become a popular character in the world of comic books. An admitted comic book fan himself, Obama has made appearances in such titles as "Spider-Man," "Savage Dragon," "Youngblood," "Drafted" and even books like "Barack the Barbarian" and "President Evil" that feature him as the star. "Spider-Man" No. 583, featuring Obama on the cover, has become one of the best-selling comic books in recent years. But what does it say about an industry that can sell out books with the President of the United States on the cover, while at the same time has only one black superhero starring in his own monthly title? As it stands, there are more characters with green skin starring in their own books than there are those with brown skin.

The role of black characters in comics was defined back in 1934 when Lothar, the African "Prince of the Seven Nations" gave up his chance to be king of the jungle in order to play manservant to Mandrake the Magician. Very little changed during the following decades, until leading publishers Marvel and DC began introducing superheroes like Black Panther, Black Lightning and Black Goliath (notice a pattern?) in the late 1960s and 1970s. But any close scrutiny of black superheroes reveals that, for all the advances made during the '70s, most characters of color aren't much better off than Lothar, serving as sidekicks and supporting characters to create the illusion of a more racially diverse comic book universe.

The comic book industry in the United States is dominated by two publishers, Marvel and DC. Marvel was the first to introduce black superpowered heroes in 1966, with Black Panther, ruler of the fictional African nation of Wakanda, followed three years later by Falcon, who was introduced in the pages of "Captain America." Black Panther and Falcon helped set Marvel apart from DC in its use of black heroes, but by the mid-1970s both publishers had a small lineup of characters that had been primarily created to capitalize on the popularity of blaxploitation and kung fu movies of the day. Marvel had the X-Men's Storm, Black Goliath, Brother Voodoo, Blade, Misty Knight and Luke Cage, the most enduring, iconic and popular of Marvel's black superheroes (of course, when you're being compared with Brother Voodoo and Black Goliath, winning a popularity contest isn't difficult).

DC's list of notable black heroes was much shorter. The first black superhero at DC was John Stewart, who became part of the elite Green Lantern Corps in 1971, when creative team Denny O'Neil and Neal Adams were tackling such heady issues as racism. DC would not get around to creating another prominent black superhero for six more years. By the time DC introduced Black Lightning in his own book in 1977, Marvel's Falcon had partnered with Captain America, Black Panther had starred in "Jungle Action," Luke Cage was still going strong, and Black Goliath had already crashed and burned in his own title. Often confused with Black Vulcan, the token black member of the animated series "Super Friends," Black Lightning had the sad distinction of being the only superhero to wear a helmet that looked like an Afro.

Marvel and DC introduced a handful of black superheroes as little more than throwaways that would hopefully appeal to some cross-section of readers (preferably black readers who longed to see heroes that looked like them), and would create an illusion of diversity. The problem was, and continues to be, that the black characters at Marvel and DC were seldom more than tokens, and almost never taken seriously from either a creative or a business standpoint.

In 1998, the film "Blade," starring Wesley Snipes, transformed a third-tier Marvel character into a major film franchise and a television series. But in his comic incarnation, Blade the vampire slayer has continued to drift aimlessly, starring in a few limited-run series, and making guest appearances here and there. You would never know that the comic character was responsible for a film series that earned more than $400 million worldwide at the box office, because Marvel never bothered to take the character any more seriously than it had since he was introduced in 1973.

In 2001, when the animated series "Justice League" debuted, producer Bruce Timm decided to include John Stewart's Green Lantern on the team. Stewart's inclusion in the animated series catapulted him to a new level of popularity with fans, and he became the main Green Lantern for many. But Stewart's popularity on the show was never built upon in comics. While the character Harley Quinn, introduced in "Batman: The Animated Series," was given her own title, Stewart's comic adventures were still relegated to supporting roles.

Perhaps no black superhero best represents the lack of vision and overall apathy within the comic book industry than Static. Created in 1993, when DC partnered with Milestone Media to produce a landmark line of comics featuring primarily black heroes, "Static" was part of a roster that included "Icon," "Hardware," and "Blood Syndicate." Static would enjoy the greatest success of all the Milestone characters thanks to the animated television series, "Static Shock." But despite four popular seasons, the series itself has never been collected on DVD, there was never an on-going spin-off comic book series based on the show, and there were no action figures (except for a free giveaway from Subway). By comparison, DC's other animated shows based on Batman, Superman and Justice League have all been accompanied by massive merchandising campaigns. With only one season so far, "Batman: The Brave and the Bold" has spawned a spin-off comic series and a line of action figures that includes 10 different Batman figures.

Although the comic book industry exists to create fantastic tales and epic adventures, the publishers that drive the market don't take chances and seldom try anything new. More resources are spent thinking of new ways to tell the same old Spider-Man and Batman stories over and over again; because, as far as anyone is concerned, that's the formula that works. But when you take characters like Black Lightning or Black Goliath that never worked in the first place, and try to repeat the same formula, you'll continue to fail. And then when the fans don't embrace the black superheroes or the books they're in because it's a rehash of the same junk that didn't work in 1975, the publishers use that as a justification to not even bother developing heroes of color.

The truth is that there are great black superheroes out there; but they can be hard to find. "Brotherman," independently published by creators by Dawud Anyabwile and Guy Sims, first appeared in the early 1990s and only lasted 11 issues, but has built an incredible cult following over the past two decades. Infusing a hip-hop aesthetic into the world of comics, "Brotherman" possessed a raw authenticity that eluded black superheroes created by mainstream publishers, which is a main part of the reason the character has lived on. The same is true for Chocolate Thunder, the urban crime fighter created by brothers Jeremy, Robert and Maurice Love, who has become a cult figure in the world of comics. With only a handful of stories having been published, the Love brothers' epic "Chocolate Thunder" graphic novel, a mix of superheroics, blaxploitation and kung-fu action, has languished without a publisher for almost two years.

For an industry with a tremendous level of influence over pop culture and the world of entertainment, comic books are pathetically behind the times. At a time when Barack Obama is president of the United States, Will Smith is the top box office star worldwide, and the music charts are dominated by hip-hop and R&B, there is only one monthly comic book currently being published starring a black superhero (Black Panther). And while that is not some call to arms for the industry to start producing comics with black heroes, it is time for all comic publishers, not just Marvel and DC, to actually step into the 21st century.

What black superhero would you like to see on the big screen? Write us at heymsn@microsoft.com

David Walker is the editor and publisher of BadAzz MoFo.
 
 
 


Offline Battle

  • Honorary Wakandan
  • *****
  • Posts: 9163
  • M.A.X. Commander
    • View Profile
All MARVEL has to do to make real change in the number of Black super heroes written into thier books is hire its first Black editor-in-chief.

Offline FLEX HECTIC

  • Honorary Wakandan
  • *****
  • Posts: 1197
    • View Profile
    • FLEX HECTIC
Now how can I resist such a post and not give my 2 cents?


As much as I would love to see The Black Panther movie be made I know that it is only a gateway to better movies produced and distributed by us.

I don't believe we are at the junction where we have jumped into The Black Super Hero genre as we have with basketball where generations are literally raised on hoops so much so that the Jordan's and the Kobe's emerge after all the major tryouts for team leadership are completed. We need an abundance of black super heroes so that the best of the best rise to the top like cream and we have a better choices in our selections.

It would be nice if Marvel or DC made ethnic changes to their staff but it would me much nicer if we did most of this independtly so that we can do any and every story that we so please to do and grow rich enough off the merchandise and licensing to fund even better projects in the future.

God bless the child who has his own!

If we relied completely on the big 2 to do everything then eventually it will run its' course and return back to square one with the major white super heroes back in charge and most likely an ouster of black talent one way or another. You can only overshadow Spiderman and Wolverine for a moment before resentment takes its toll and creates a rift in the fanboy/fanbro continuity.

But if say Flex Hectic makes his own way as a popular character in movies, animation, toys, video games and comic books on his own merit and steam then there is no conflict of interest as my money is my money and yours is yours.

If my character outshines yours it will be on my own terms without some editor coming in to my office and telling me what to do with some big crossover he has planned for all of Marvel's elite.

I appreciate all the things that Marvel and DC have done for the comic book genre but I feel that this is our move to make otherwise it will lack the authenticity that early Hip Hop had when it first was an underground machine that went corporate and sold its' soul to the platinum gods.

There has to be a formula that makes being a Black super HOT and in style just like being a rap artist or basketballer!

If they could not get The Black Panther movie off the ground with Wesley Snipes long before his current controversy and get all emotional every time a black super hero does something really spectacular then how will they handle Flex Hectic splitting the whole universe into fractions... OOPS spoiler sorry!

At some point the black fanbro community will have to make the same move that manga and anime have and build a separate genre making us the envy of the industry. This will also improve outside negotiations with our new leveraged position.

All we need now is a backbone, determination and $$$$$$$$$$$$$$$!





Offline Reginald Hudlin

  • Landlord
  • Honorary Wakandan
  • *****
  • Posts: 9884
    • View Profile
I don't think the problem is editorial intent.  I know Marvel wants black super heroes to succeed.  I just think for them to win the whole business has to be designed, from distribution to marketing.  Comic books may not be the medium for it to happen in.

Offline Lion

  • HEF FOI
  • Honorary Wakandan
  • *****
  • Posts: 1275
  • Totally hatin'.
    • View Profile
So, would you say it has more to do with the format (movie, television, comics, etc.) and Black writers arriving "late" to the game (after the rules had already been set into motion)? Do you think the answer is possibly a brand new format altogether?

Offline Redjack

  • Honorary Wakandan
  • *****
  • Posts: 2008
  • i've never had a hero. i don't worship people.
    • View Profile
    • a dreamnasium
I don't think it's the medium. I think it's a lack of will at the top. As far as I know there only three (soon four) black writers working at Marvel and DC.

ALL four have big movie and TV credits.

Unlike their white counterparts who simply have to tell good stories to get their feet in the door.

And, sometimes, not even that.
Soon you will come to know. When the bullet hits the bone.

michaelintp

  • Guest
What are the demographics of comic book purchasers, and how have they changed over the past 50 years?  In terms of age and gender, the answer is obvious, but I'm not sure about race.  While one would expect black purchasers to be a minority, just as Jewish purchasers are a minority, in the past and the present, does the percentage represent the percentage in the American population, more, or less? 

Almost all of the major comic book characters today can be traced back to the 1960s and 1970s, when the characters were crafted to appeal to the majority of the readers -- adolescent white males -- who longed to identify with the characters, who imagined themselves infused with the same super powers, as they turned the pages of the 10 cent, 12 cent, 15 cent, comic book.

So ... The answer to the question posed is not such a mystery. The demographics undoubtedly have a lot to do with why most of the major heroes have historically been white males, just as why virtually all the female characters have huge breasts and revealing costumes.

... and why few are black ... or for that matter, overtly Jewish.

However, even from the standpoint of dollars and cents, now that comic books are, to a large extent, more a form or promotion for more profitable products (films, video games) and no longer the profit center for the industry, it may be time for management's thinking to broaden. (With the success of the Blade films and TV series being a good example why).  Also, more so than in the past, readers who belong to one ethnic group may be more inclined to identify with members of other ethnic groups (allowing the "ethnic" superhero to appeal to more than his or her small demographic in the marketplace).

All that said, I'm not holding my breath for a yarmulke-wearing super hero any time soon.  ;)

Offline Reginald Hudlin

  • Landlord
  • Honorary Wakandan
  • *****
  • Posts: 9884
    • View Profile
I don't think it's the medium. I think it's a lack of will at the top. As far as I know there only three (soon four) black writers working at Marvel and DC.

ALL four have big movie and TV credits.

Unlike their white counterparts who simply have to tell good stories to get their feet in the door.

And, sometimes, not even that.
Yes, it's tough for black writers to break into comics. 

But the fact that BLADE can't sell a comic after three successful films speaks to a bigger problem.

But they can't sell WONDER WOMAN comics either, and it's one of the best known characters in the world.  They make a ton off the licensing, but can't make a book to the folks who buy the t-shirt?

Or for that matter, SCOOBY DOO, BUGS BUNNY and MICKEY MOUSE comics should outsell every super hero. 

The companies have gotten very, very good at reach a very narrow niche.  And have lost any ability to reach any segment of the audience outside of that. 

There used to be love story comics, funny animal comics...but those audiences were lost generations ago and there is no obvious way to reconnect them to the comic book reading experience.

When I do a signing, no civilian knows where a comic book shop is.  Not a single non-comic book reader. 

Nor do they know the frequency of when comics come out.  They don't know that they come out every month, they don't know that a trade paper back is a collection of a story line, they don't know that they are on sell in "real" bookstores...sometimes. 

So, instead of trying to save the medium, put the enormous effort it would take to educate the public about that, and put it into digital comics, or some other format.  I don't know what the answer is, but we've got to be real about how steep the hill is to make comics a mainstream habit again.

michaelintp

  • Guest
You're right, Reginald.  Comics used to be a major way, and a fairly inexpensive way, for kids to exercise their imaginations. Now there are other, more active ways, for kids the do the same thing, such as video games and movies with incredible CGI effects. 

To a large extent, the comic book has gone the way of the horse and buggy. Except, to some limited extent as a form of promotion (which might not even be that great given the limited market) and for the development of storylines for film and video games.  Otherwise, to the broader population, comic books don't matter anymore.

Offline Vic Vega

  • Honorary Wakandan
  • *****
  • Posts: 4140
    • View Profile
I miss BadAzz Mofo. It was one of the better zine's I've come across.

The audience of color aren't at the Comic Book stores. The female audience aren't at the Comic Books stores either.

The big two are not set up for newsstand distro.

Even Marvel's new anthology books like MARVEL: YOUR UNIVERSE or MARVEL TRIPLE ACTION (both horrible titles) are pretty much afterthoughts just thrown out there with out much support to either sink or swim by themselves. They didn't even have the foresight to make these anthologies magazine-sized so they don't stand out on a magazine rack.  The covers are bland and uninteresting:

http://marvel.com/comics/onsale/lib/view2.htm?filename=/i/content/st/25947new_storyimage9911988_full.jpg
DC isn't even putting out Marvel's cursory effort.

Look at the circulation numbers. The big two can't even reach white male non-fanboys let alone people of color and females.

The only thing they can do is what they have been doing.

Market to that rapidly aging subset of fandom that they can still speak to.
« Last Edit: July 20, 2009, 07:51:31 am by Vic Vega »

Offline FLEX HECTIC

  • Honorary Wakandan
  • *****
  • Posts: 1197
    • View Profile
    • FLEX HECTIC
Re: BLACK HOLE: WHY AREN'T THERE MORE BLACK SUPER HEROES? by David Walker
« Reply #10 on: July 20, 2009, 08:00:28 am »
Reggie I see your point but if Marvel would do a lot more in promoting its black characters it would show and prove. The Black Panther t-shirt that you signed for me was the first I had ever seen of such a shirt and they did not even have it in xx large like I normaly wear.

If I were to search for Spiderman, Batman or the Superman merchandise I could choose any shopping mall at random and find keychains, lunch boxes and whatnot with their logos in places not comic book related. What I am saying is "Out of sight... out of mind!"

A Black Panther video game and maybe an animated movie much better than that Rise of The Black Panther Avengers DVD might help. If the production is not on par with the multiple Spiderman animated shows then good luck with that. I am sure that Marvel must be aware of this 3D age coming in and can upgrade their own software capabilities to match the direction that the industry is currently going in.

They should also consider a round table think tank like they did before they launched the Ironman movie and consult everybody and they momma on how to make it happen. Black creators and artists should be greenlit to do whatever needs to be done even if we argue til we are blue... or purple in the face.

I may want to win an NBA championship but if my effort is more like The Clippers over the years than The Lakers then the results will be obvious. All options must be on the table to move forward but if their is a hesitation on their part then the commitment will always be in question every time something else from Marvel hits it huge other than The Black Panther.

But Reggie your personal efforts are duly noted in my historical book!

Offline Redjack

  • Honorary Wakandan
  • *****
  • Posts: 2008
  • i've never had a hero. i don't worship people.
    • View Profile
    • a dreamnasium
Re: BLACK HOLE: WHY AREN'T THERE MORE BLACK SUPER HEROES? by David Walker
« Reply #11 on: July 20, 2009, 08:54:14 am »
I think digital is the way to go. All the indie publishers are way out in front on that. Todd showed me the first issue of our book on the iphone  and, even though the screen was small, I could see the potential for reading comics that way. ALL the publishers we talked to about PRODIGAL had detailed digital plans for the next year of publishing at least.

Amazon's KINDLE and Sony's e-reader allow for another means of getting the product out and, I think, making it a habit  not just for kids but for adults.

But none of it will matter for us if we have to get a job writing LOST before Marvel will consider us for a back-up Warriors Three story.
Soon you will come to know. When the bullet hits the bone.

Offline Battle

  • Honorary Wakandan
  • *****
  • Posts: 9163
  • M.A.X. Commander
    • View Profile
Re: BLACK HOLE: WHY AREN'T THERE MORE BLACK SUPER HEROES? by David Walker
« Reply #12 on: July 20, 2009, 09:01:15 am »
I don't think the problem is editorial intent.  


I don't know If I agree with this.

Perhaps a re-commission and a revision for today's standards of the Comics Code Authority is needed to look into how MARVEL and dc has been regulating itself not just by content but also it's unethical business practices in the market place.


I know Marvel wants black super heroes to succeed.  I just think for them to win the whole business has to be designed, from distribution to marketing.  Comic books may not be the medium for it to happen in.

Distributors work extremely close with the comic shop retailers so yes, I agree with the notion that the distribution of the books does determine which and where the titles wind up on the shelves. I have experienced scenarios where retailers give excuses to customers [read:me] that the distributors can halt the transportation of certain titles with no explanation at all.

Marketing?   In my opinion, these characters in the pages of MARVEL and dc are franchised. Franchises sell themselves so I think the marketing for the books is grossly exaggerated. Everyone knows who Superman and Spider-Man is.  

Things become quite obvious when this niche-market medium that was once made available to everyone on newstands, spinner-racks and magazine shelves are now limited  to specialist shops making reservations for books as if they were some snooty French restaurant in downtown Manhattan. That's why I prefer going into a larger all-purpose book store like, Barnes & Noble where there's  a section for anyone to peruse the comic book shelves casually and not feel 'excluded' the way the employee/fan inside specialist shops treat you.
« Last Edit: July 21, 2009, 08:35:57 am by Battle »

Offline FLEX HECTIC

  • Honorary Wakandan
  • *****
  • Posts: 1197
    • View Profile
    • FLEX HECTIC
Re: BLACK HOLE: WHY AREN'T THERE MORE BLACK SUPER HEROES? by David Walker
« Reply #13 on: July 20, 2009, 05:32:50 pm »
I think I may have the answer for this!


Drum roll please... dddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddd... TING!


REGINALD HUDLIN HOSTS BLACK COMIC BOOK CONVENTION IN LOS ANGELES!


Famed writer and director Reggie X will host the first annual Black Comics Convention in Los Angeles at The Universal Hilton. Joining him will be such talents as Halle Berry (Storm/Catwoman), Samuel Jackson (Nick Fury), Michael Jai White (Spawn), Kevin Grevioux (Underworld) Dwayne Mac Dee (Milestone) and various other writers, illustrators and creators in the industry.

LOCATION LOCATION LOCATION!


I admit that this would be one heck of a power move so it is best to have a name of someone that many of the top people in the industry will take serious enough to show up. Also being in LA will ensure that if there are last minute cancellations replacements are right up the street in La La Land. I run into celebs just grocery shopping out here so I will not hesitate to camp out on so and so's lawn to get them to attend. (Gets sleeping bag on standby with primary colored tent)

There was quite a turnout for Reggie's signing at The Golden Apple and many of the names in Hollywood frequent the same comic book shop that I do so promotion would be much easier than it is for ECBAC which is way over there in Philly.

As a director Reggie is used to telling great big EGOS what to do so he can get that rolodex out and call in some favors. Even those celebs who were not invitees would get noticed just browsing around the many booths because in Hollywood they all want to be seen/scene. Reggie has that Ivy League Obama vibe down pat so respect will not be hard to gain while Hero X can sport that Black Panther outfit to balance things out smoothly.

Having it near a major amusement park at a well known hotel will also give us a chance to sell outside of the black attendees with all them children that go to the park every year. Promotion inside the park can be done near that great big Hulk statue they have in front of their Marvel shop. Hero X dressed as Black Panther while being PAID handsomely for it would rock at that place. As a season pass holder to the park I can confirm that. And it is not bad a place to stay when you want to get your RIDE ON at The New Simpsons ride, Jurrassic Park water ride and The Mummy roller coaster as a short diversion. There is also a comic shop on Universal City Walk outside the park that rocks!

What we need is a chance to show that a good living can be made in black comic books or at least the licensing and merchandising so that more of our creative folk can travel too it for profitable reasons. We also need a show of faith for potential investors that we are to be taken seriously in this comic book controlled Hollywood. Way too much money has been lost before it even touches our hands due to our no shows in great product.

AND... we need to have healthy competitions with each other so that the choice selection of what is the best of the best can be fully tested before we get BODIED by Spiderman and them head to head when our glaring weaknesses show.

If our art work is not on the level of Jim Lee or some where in the rear view mirror then we need to practice our penciling and inking until we match up on the world scale.


OH... and I volunteer my Hectic services to keep the hating militant knuckle heads in line while Reggie is giving the opening speech over that 3 day weekend! (Gets Joe Pesci voice over on the ready and a couple of mixed martial artists on the payroll!)


So what do you think?

Offline Reginald Hudlin

  • Landlord
  • Honorary Wakandan
  • *****
  • Posts: 9884
    • View Profile
Re: BLACK HOLE: WHY AREN'T THERE MORE BLACK SUPER HEROES? by David Walker
« Reply #14 on: July 21, 2009, 09:55:58 am »
Here's another note about this whole "black books don't sell" thing....what was the number one stunt this year to get folks into comic stores?  The hardcore fan AND the civilian who doesn't read comics?  Cap dying?  Batman dying?

Nope.  Obama in comics.