Golden Age Showcase: All Negro Comics #1

So this show just came out on Netflix.

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I freaking love it.  The actors are awesome, the soundtrack is phenomenal, and while it’s probably the least “comic booky” of all the shows Marvel puts out, it is a fantastic homage to the 1970’s blaxploitation films that the comic took influence from.

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Luke Cage was a product of the 1970’s, a time when American black culture was really coming into its own, and comic books responded with a whole bunch of new and interesting black characters, including Luke Cage himself.

Luke Cage, Hero for Hire #1 (1972)

Black Lightning #1 (1977)

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While black people and culture would come into its own in the late 60’s and early 70’s, black people were actually part of comic book culture from its very beginning.

In a lot of the Golden Age Comics I’ve read over the course of this blog I’ve come across a lot of black characters.  The downside is that the overwhelming majority of these characters were not exactly culturally sensitive.

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However, that didn’t stop black people from looking at the racism and stereotypes prevalent in the early days of the comic book industry and trying to do something about it.

It a time when it was still illegal for a black man to use the same restroom as a white man.

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there were black people who took a look at comic books, this new form of mass entertainment that was capturing the hearts and minds of millions, and said,

“we deserve our own comic books and we’re going to make them ourselves.”

Today we’re going to look at the first comic book created by black people, for black people.

Comic Book Cover For All-Negro Comics #1

Origin

Despite what you might think by looking at the cover, this comic has a hell of a pedigree behind it.

The idea for the comic came from a man named Orrin C. Evans.

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Mr. Evens was a reporter from Philadelphia.  Not only was he a reporter, he worked for a paper called the Philadelphia Record

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and was the first black reporter to work for a mainstream newspaper.

When the Record went out of business in 1947 he teamed up with several of his former co workers from the newspaper and published All Negro Comics #1 in 1947.

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Evans was a member of the NAACP and a strong advocate for racial equality and it shows in the very first page of the comic, where he explains that the comic was created to educate people about the contributions and accomplishments of black people in America, celebrate those achievements, and “to give American Negroes a reflection of their natural spirit of adventure and a finer appreciation of their African heritage”.

 Comic Book Cover For All-Negro Comics #1

This was a comic written by black people, drawn by black people, for black people and the stories and artwork are pretty darn good.

It was a 52 page anthology comic that had a bit of everything.  Besides the introductory letter there were prose stories along with a collection of diverse stories from crime mysteries and comedies.  There were even some PSA’s and “crime doesn’t pay” advertisements.

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Some of the more notable characters were figures like Ace Harlem, a detective who managed to chase down and capture a pair of thieves who held up a barbecue restaurant and killed its owner.

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the man was intelligent, observant, and capable of dishing out a beating when he needed too.

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Another story was a single page comedy featuring a character named “Lil’Eggie” who suffered at the hands of his over bearing wife.

Comic Book Cover For All-Negro Comics #1

and then there’s my personal favorite: “Lion Man”

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Lion Man was an American college educated man who was sent to Africa at the behest of the United Nations in an attempt to safeguard a large natural deposit of uranium in order to prevent evil men from seizing it to make a bomb.

Comic Book Cover For All-Negro Comics #1

He had a sidekick named Bubba, who was often more trouble than he was worth.

Comic Book Cover For All-Negro Comics #1

He tried to be helpful.  After Lion Man stopped the evil Dr. Sangro from seizing the mountain,

Comic Book Cover For All-Negro Comics #1

Bubba tries to help by using a machine gun to attack the assailants.

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the plot is foiled, but Dr. Sangro survives to fight another day.

What I really like about this comic is how it portrays the traditional “African savage” with a lot more respect than other comics from the time.  Granted, Lion Man is American and Bubba does fall into a lot of the tropes that belong to annoying, mildly racist sidekicks, but when all is said and done it is probably the fairest and most reasonable portrayal of black men in Africa in the 1940’s.

The comic had good writing, good artwork, and a heartfelt message behind it.  It was a great representation of what black people could do for comics and deserves a place in the history books as the first comic of its kind.

So what happened?

While there were plans for an All Negro Comics #2 but the title was doomed from the start.

For starters the comic was only distributed to segregated African American communities

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which meant that the audience for the comic was sadly limited.

Second, the price for the comic was 15 cents during time when every other comic was selling for 10 cents.

And finally, good ol’ fashioned racism reared its ugly head when everyone from the people selling the newsprint the comic was printed on to the distributors who put the comic on newsstands refused to do business with Evens and his business partners.

All Negro Comics would only last a single issue, even though we don’t know how many comics were sold it’s safe to say it didn’t sell very well.  However, I like to think that this comic represented an important moment in comic book history and the history of race in America.

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For the first time, a group of black people looked at an industry that was overwhelmingly created by and for white children and said “No, we can create comic books and stories that deserve to be told too” and they did.

There’s no way of telling what the impact of All Negro Comics had on the black community at the time, but it’s important to recognize and acknowledge it as a foundation for black people in comics.

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Comparing the two greatest father figures in comics

Happy post Father’s Day Monday everyone!

For our international readers, Father’s Day is an American holiday where we celebrate the role and achievements fathers play in all our lives.

Some would say it’s a chance to give dads the recognition they deserve after Mother’s Day (Mother’s Day was a federally recognized holiday before Father’s Day) and some would say that it’s a cynical attempt for the card companies and power tool companies to sell more stuff.

Whatever you believe in it’s important to recognize that fathers have a huge impact on our personal lives and world view and comic books are a medium that is filled with fatherly influence.

Now, being a dad in a comic book can be rather difficult.  It’s even more difficult when you realize that in mainstream American comic books fathers either wind up dead or have to go through hell for their children.

But whether we like it or not, comic book dads fulfill an important role in comic book story telling: they help the main character become the person he/she needs to be in order to become a superhero, and what’s really interesting is that more often than not there are many different ways fathers can teach their biological/surrogate offspring to become a hero.

So today we are going to look at two of the greatest father figures in comic book history: Pa Kent and Uncle Ben.

Pa Kent

Within the Superman mythology Ma Kent is usually the one that’s portrayed as the principal caretaker of Clark considering that Pa Kent winds up dead in quite a few variations of the story.

With that being said, while Ma Kent is usually the one who gets to be the principal caretaker and moral compass for her adopted son, Pa Kent has the honor of being the wise old man that the world’s most powerful being looks up to.

The Kent family has been by Superman’s side since the very beginning.

What I find most impressive is just how capable these two are.  In fact, if it wasn’t for this guy

I’d say they were the most capable parents in all of comics.

They are kind, dedicated, and somehow they took the strongest being on Earth and not only managed to keep his existence a secret for a very long time, but they managed to install a moral compass on kid who was practically immune to all forms of punishment.  After all, a spanking seems kind of pointless when you have a son who can deflect bullets.

The results speak for themselves and Superman grew up to become one of the most selfless beings on the entire planet instead of the ruler and dictator that so many would expect from a being who possesses such power.

One of the things I like about the Kents is how they’ve managed to go through so much and still remain the kindly couple they are today.  They have no trouble hosting aliens who actually look like aliens,

to helping their son learn how to fly.

By the way, the page above is from a series called Superman: American Alien by Max Landis.  It is an amazing series and I cannot recommend it enough.

Whether it’s dealing with the emotional loss of Jonathan Kent

or dealing with yet another alien invasion that decides to take place on their front doorstep.

The Kents have remained one of the most steadfast and loyal families in all of comics.

Uncle Ben

You know him or more specifically you know his line.

Say it, say it now.

There used to be a famous saying in the comic book industry: “Nobody dies in comics except Jason Todd, Bucky Barnes, and Uncle Ben”.

Then 2005 happened.

and it just became “Nobody dies in comics except Uncle Ben.”

Uncle Ben has taken a more relaxed attitude towards instilling heroic ideals in his children.  Granted, it’s mostly because he’s been dead all this time but the results speak for themselves.

In the brief time we get to see Uncle Ben alive in the comics he comes off as a kind, caring, and compassionate person who only wants the best for his adopted son.  In fact, he’s so nice and so good that after he dies Peter is wracked with so much guilt that he decides to dedicate the rest of his life to being one of the most helpful and dedicated superheroes in the Marvel Universe.

Which is saying something considering the amount of pain and suffering Peter has gone through over the years.

So which father figure is better?  Honestly I don’t think it matters.  Both men provide their adopted sons with the necessary moral guidelines that are needed for being a superhero and both are great father figures.

While Father’s Day may be over it is important to recognize the roll that fathers have in our lives and even though we may not live in a comic book universe, they can help all of us become superheroes.

Golden Age showcase: Suicide Squad

Today we’re going to take a break from the actual Golden Age of Comics and talk about one of the greatest comic book teams in history, one so famous that their getting their own movie which is coming out this week!

I have very high hopes for this movie.  I like the cast, I like the director, I even like the comic book company that created them and I can’t think of a better way of sharing my excitement than by talking about the comic book series that inspired the movie.

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The Suicide Squad works like this.  Any DC villain in government custody can be recruited into the squad, led by a highly capable government official named Amanda Waller.

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Each squad is sent on missions that are deemed too dangerous or nearly impossible for ordinary people to complete, which makes a team of super villains perfect because in the even that they fail the government can deny any involvement.  In order to ensure compliance each team member is given an explosive collar (in some versions it’s a batch of explosive nanites in the bloodstream) that can be detonated if they step out of line, killing them in the process.

Here’s the thing, the original Suicide Squad wasn’t made up of hardened criminals with superpowers, it was actually a 1959 comic book about ordinary soldiers taking on seemingly impossible tasks, which meant that for the longest time The Suicide Squad looked less like this

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and more like this.

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Origin and Career

The first use of the name Suicide Squad appeared in 1959’s The Brave and the Bold #25.  However, this was not the first team to use that name in the DC timeline.  That honor belongs to the Suicide Squadron that first appeared in 1963’s Star Spangled War Stories.

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This Suicide Squadron was made up of a ragtag group of soldiers who the government considered to be expendable enough to be sent to a mysterious island to fight dinosaurs.  This iteration of the team is important because they were led by a man named Rick Flagg,

a highly capable military officer who would lead the squad to victory and would help by becoming and established part of the Suicide Squad mythos.  After WW2 ended the Suicide Squad was reformed into Task Force X under President Truman to be the government’s response to an increasingly large number of supervillains and spies.  They were eventually disbanded when Rick Flagg sacrificed himself to stop a device called the War Wheel.

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The next group to adopt the name Suicide Squad (although this was the first team to use that name) was a group of four individuals who appeared in 1959’s The Brave and the Bold #25.

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Once again the group was led by a man named Rick Flagg, although in this case it was Rick Flagg Jr. the son of the original Rick Flagg.

The group was assembled under the operational name “Task Force X” and adopted the name “Suicide Squad” because each of the members of the team had experienced a horrible tragedy that had affected them so badly they had lost their will to live and didn’t care if they died on a mission or not.  They were the commander and leader Rick Flagg, medic Karin Grace, physicist Hugh Evans, and nuclear scientist Jess Bright.

Their adventures were pretty strange.  Just like the original Squadron, this team did a lot of fighting against dinosaurs.

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and they were often placed in very perilous situations with little to no back up or support.

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However, the title wasn’t selling very well and every member of the team was either killed or wounded during their final mission fighting a Yeti in Cambodia.

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Hugh Evans died after falling down a ditch, Jess Bright was captured by the Soviets and turned traitor, Karin and Rick survived but went their separate ways.  The Squad was disbanded and the title was shut down.

So what happened?

Well, the 1980’s happened.  In 1985 DC Comics launched the Crisis on Infinite Earths story line that essentially erased all the previously existing history and continuity of the DC universe and started from ground zero.

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This universe wide reboot led to comic book creator John Ostrander,

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to take the Suicide Squad title and revamp it considerably.  The end result was Suicide Squad that we know and love today.

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The differences between the new and old versions were quite remarkable.  Instead of volunteering for these dangerous missions by choice many members of the Suicide Squad were forced into service under the rule of Amanda Waller, although the team was still led in the field by Rick Flagg Jr.

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Instead of dealing with fantastic threats like dinosaurs this version dealt with classified government black ops missions that had a high mortality rate (this played into the political culture of the 1980’s but we’ll get into that later) and most importantly: there was a revolving cast where any member could be killed at any time.

The current version of the Suicide Squad is one of the most interesting and exciting ideas in comic books today.  However, it is important to remember that if it wasn’t for a heroic band of misfit soldiers and four random people ready to die for the mission, we wouldn’t have this title today.