Tag Archives: Ultimate Comics Spider-man

On Trayvon Martin, and Geeking For Justice

A reimagining of Trayvon Martin and Spider-man by Curt Franklin & Chris Haley in their webcomic at Let’sBeFriendsAgain.com

These past few days since the verdict in the George Zimmerman trial was announced, I’ve watched and “liked” the incredibly insightful essays and thoughts from friends and public intellectuals and writers around the web. I marvel at how intelligent and thoughtful my friends are, how quickly they can turn outrage and sadness into action and eloquence. Meanwhile, my own social media outposts have been relatively silent. I worried at first that my friend circles would be confused by my silence, especially considering I’m a writer and I work in social justice. And so to indicate that I was aware, pissed off, and just taking time to process it all. I made the silence official, notifying my friends that I was taking a Day of Silence for Trayvon Martin.

As much as I believe it is necessary to take a moment to mourn at such a time, I also decided on this route because I needed time to understand what exactly I felt and why, and, more importantly, what my role should be in the fight against such injustices. I also decided to keep Geek Outsider silent over the past few days, and this had less to do with my processing the unfortunate news and everything to do with the fact that I couldn’t shake the feeling that it would be in poor taste to write punchy blurbs about comic books and video games when such an important moment was sweeping across state lines and news sites. It felt like it’d be almost impertinent to geek out over Neverwinter when nationwide people were crying and crying out, fed up with the deaths of Black men.

So I turned off my console, temporarily pulled the shutters down on Geek Outsider, and retreated into the books of my favorite radical thinkers of generations past… where I quickly learned that silencing Geek Outsider was a mistake.

In revisiting these great thinkers what I found there was passion and talent. They espoused different ideas and different solutions, even countering each other, but what they all had in common was passion and talent. Audre Lorde was a talented poet passionate about women’s rights and giving voice to queer women and women of color in the feminist movement.  James Baldwin was a talented novelist who passionately crafted stories about the experiences of Black men. Jean-Michel Basquiat broke down racist social structures and systems of power with his passion for paint. Tupac Shakur’s talent at the mic brought the “everyday struggle” of the marginalized to the ears of mainstream America.

These revolutionary intellectuals weren’t by definition activists or lawyers or politicians. They were people who had talents in arenas not necessarily respectable and often not considered impactful or meaningful work.  But by immersing themselves in their crafts, these talents became deft tools in their fights against injustice. So how do our lowly geeky pursuits fit in with such a distinguished crowd? How could owning every single issue of Dazzler (ya, I really do) help in fighting injustice?

Well… despite the opinions of some, it’s art, and all art is immensely impactful. It allows us to have experiences wildly different from our own, and it changes minds. And we geeks are addicted to some of the most immersive forms of art out there. Not to mention, if there’s one thing that makes a geek a geek, it’s obsessiveness. So, imagine what outrage over issues like these could do in the hands of geeks.

So much of the Trayvon Martin tragedy was about perception. George Zimmerman perceived Trayvon Martin as a threat, which is why this whole thing went down in the first place. Then the cops perceived Trayvon Martin as a thug and obviously decided that meant he had to have caused trouble and deserved his fate, so Zimmerman wasn’t arrested. The media and the defense put Martin on trial searching for ways to make others perceive Martin as a drug-addled gangster instead of a 17-year-old son and brother and the unarmed victim of murder.

The perception of young Black men in America as thugs and threats is ingrained in our society, infecting individual minds and fueling this war on Black boys that has killed and violated so many of them over the decades. This perception is what needs to be rooted out, and that doesn’t necessarily happen with protests or legal amendments. That happens with experience.

Geeks aren’t off the hook when news like this hits and we’re not left out either. What geeks can do is geek out. Create if you’re a creator, or support if you’re a collector, or demand if you’re a consumer.  We have to demand and support the creation of works that offer a look at the experiences of others. If it’s true that geeklandia is made up of a bunch of white dudes, then let’s get some valiant superheroes of color into the comics, let’s get some courageous lone soldiers of color into the games, let’s get dynamic leaders of color into science fiction.

Go out and buy Ultimate Comics Spider-man and root for Miles Morales, or hit up Kickstarter and support indie games with characters of color, or get your book club to read some Samuel Delany. If you need help finding these things, that’s what places like Geek Outisder are for.

Until we start seeing in art and fiction representations of Black men and women in all their wonderful complexities and diversity, the rotting roots of this “thug” perception will continue to infect our society. Let the lawyers advocate and the politicians lobby for change, but we can make demands too. We can demand to see more diversity in the genres we adore, and we can create representations that change minds, and we can put our money where our racial bias is and dare to support heroes of color.

Comics and games might be considered low-brow or even silly by others, but just look at all the geeks out there and just how into it we all are (by definition really). That’s a lot of minds to change, and a lot of passionate (or obsessive, whatever) readers, writers, illustrators, consumers, gamers… and they’ve got friends and family too.

Just look at what Dwayne McDuffie achieved with Milestone Comics, or Octavia Butler with her novels. There are revolutionary thinkers and creators in geekdom too. I’m ashamed that I felt that there was no place for my geeky voice at this moment of national sadness, because to believe so wouldn’t that mean the opposite was also true? That there’s no place for stories and experiences like this in the “geeky” art forms?  Obviously, not true.

This is what we love, what we grok, what we geek out on, so this is where we can best support the fight.  Though, let’s go to the protests too, ya? trayvon


Kid Superheroes of Color! Nova & Spider-man Leading the Way to Diverse Heroes for All Ages

If you know Brian Michael Bendis‘ work, then you know he’s been huge in helping making comics more diverse. He gave us a super cool and hardcore real women in Jinx and Jessica Jones, he made Luke Cage a major player in the New Avengers before hooking him up in an interracial relationship with Jessica Jones, and he even started his own creater-owned comic Takio with sister superheroines one of whom was adopted and of Asian-descent.

But his biggest win for heroic diversity in comics was when he killed Spider-man and made him a mixed Black and Puerto Rican kid, Miles Morales!

It was a insanely dope move on his part, and bold as hell.  And as far as I know, Ultimate Comics Spider-man isn’t going anywhere. That said, Miles Morales is an alternate universe Spider-man. Alternate universes have been used to make changes in race and sexual orientation for several superheroes at this point, like Earth 2‘s gay Green Lantern and Filipino Captain Steel.  And though Spider-man is a big win, the majority of heroes of color or LGBT heroes are part of teams or relegated to the sidelines, like Reptil and White Tiger (who’ll soon be joining the new Mighty Avengers) in the recently cancelled Avengers Academy, and Hulkling and Wiccan in Young Avengers.

The tide is definitely changing and it seems to be most prevalent with the kids.

And Miles Morales isn’t the only kid hero of color with his own comic. In 2011, Jeph Loeb and Ed McGuinness introduced half-Latino Sam Alexander as the son of the superhero Nova…

Keep reading at Unleash The Fanboy!

Brian Michael Bendis Loves Mixed Babies!

Finally, A Legit Cloak and Dagger Romance!


Okay, so maybe not everyone was as excited as I was to see C-list Marvel superheroes Cloak and Dagger on the cover of last week’s Ultimate Comics Spider-Man #24, but, no matter where your geek love lies, if you don’t know this super duo, you should totally check them out.

Last week writer Brian Michael Bendis gave the heroes a new back story in the Ultimate Comics universe, but this duo has been fighting crime and superfoes since the 80’s. Their original history is interesting… in that slightly-problematic-but-whatever kind of way.

The original story has Tyrone (Ty) Johnson, a poor Black kid from South Boston meeting up with Tandy Bowen, a rich runaway from Ohio, on the mean streets of New York, where he considers stealing her purse before sweet little Tandy offers him money. When someone else actually does steal her purse, Tyrone retrieves it for her. Homeless and kind-hearted, the two take a liking to each other.

Naive Tandy just can’t stay out of trouble, however, and ends up taking shelter with a notorious drug dealer. Ty tags along to help her out and both end up injected with some crazy drug mix that gives them superpowers.  Ty becomes Cloak, the embodiment of darkness, able to manipulate darkness and access and navigate the Darkforce dimension and teleport through it.

Tandy, on the other hand, becomes Dagger, the embodiment of light, able to generate and manipulate life-force energy and use it to attack and also heal.  She also uses her power to “feed” Cloak, who, is perpetually hungry for light/life-force energy, but Cloak isn’t the only one who benefits from this. Dagger has to emit a certain amount of the life-force energy over time or else it builds up and she gets sick and loses control of her powers .

So you see why these two make quite the pair…

Hopefully, you also see a wee bit of problematicness with the whole story. Poor black guy turns into a life-force munching black hole,  rich white girl turns into light and life energy that she feeds to the black dude.  Yea…

BUT they also have one of the tightest-knit relationships in comics, and yet they never explored romance… Tyrone is into it, but Tandy never requites.  Now, I’m not saying you can’t have a super-close symbiotic relationship without it getting romantic, but we’re talking comics here.  So many less plausible match-ups have graced the panels.

And in the Ultimate Comics universe where the new Spider-man is a Puerto Rican and African American mixed baby, it’s super awesome to see another interracial couple! Comics are no stranger to interracial couples – Misty Knight & Iron Fist, Luke Cage & Jessica Jones to name a couple – but, to me the Cloak  and Dagger match-up is something of  a correction.

Rather than a narrative that can’t help but recall the U.S.’s awkward racial history of the (literally & metaphorically) dark black man lusting after the pure white woman who wants no part of it, this Tyrone and Tandy reflect an America that’s increasingly mixing it up without the slightest thought. You can see these major differences even just in the imagery. Older Cloak and Dagger images often show Cloak looming ominously or possessively over Dagger, whereas Bendis’Cloak and Dagger cover has the couple side-by-side.

Bendis’ alternate history Cloak and Dagger meet up not as racial stereotypes —  a poor homeless thief and a naive rich runaway — but rather as student class presidents of their high schools. And they fall for each other right away, nary a hesitation over race or class, just straight up love.

The universe that Bendis is writing in Ultimate Comics Spider-man is just so awesome. So colorful, so modern, and a hell of a lot more interesting because of it.

I love this duo and I love seeing them in love.  Can’t wait to see where their story goes. Brian Michael Bendis, you rock.

The State of Black Heroes in Science Fiction 2013

Malcolm X: A Graphic Biography by Andrew Helfer & Randy DuBurke

Black leadership in the U.S. has sometimes seemed to be a notion stranger than fiction. That Black leaders like Frederick Douglass and W.E.B DuBois could arise in the midst of intense subjugation is truly incredible. And the legacy has continued on through the civil rights movement and today. In fact, today is the birthday of Malcolm X, one of the most influential Black leaders in history. Yet though there are many real-world examples of Black leaders to choose from, science fiction, one of the most imaginative and visionary genres of art continues to struggle to imagine Black characters into lead roles.  On Malcolm X’s birthday and in this golden moment of immense geekery with a huge line-up of sci-fi and superhero movies and tv shows, what better time to take a look at the state of Black leadership in science fiction?

Of the more than 25 major superhero and sci-fi movies coming out this year, only one, After Earthstarring Will and Jaden Smith, features a Black character in a leading role. A handful of others, including Star Trek:Into Darkness, Iron Man 3, and the forthcoming Ender’s Game, feature major Black characters in their casts.

Black characters in science fiction and comics tend to be relegated to side-kicks or token roles (that is, if they’re not immediately killed off first… (*spoilers ahead) RIP random Black guy in last week’s episode of DefianceBlack guy in the first 10 minutes of Star Trek: Into Darkness, Luke Cage and Black Panther in Age of Ultron). It remains a rarity to see a Black character in a leading role in science fiction or superhero stories.

There are, of course, exceptions spread out over the decades: Abar, The First Black Superman (1977), Steel (1997), Spawn (1997), Blade (1998-2004), and Hancock (2008) are all examples of films with a leading Black hero. Granted, several of them were pretty bad…

In comics Batwing and Miles Morales in Ultimate Comics Spider-man are pretty lonely as two of very few Black characters leading their own major comics. Black Panther and Nick Fury however are at least in leadership roles in the Avengers story lines.

Batwing #10

The small screen today, however, has a lot more to offer. In sci-fi television right now Revolution’s Captain Tom Neville is one of the only Black sci-fi characters in a leadership role. The show also features the mysterious Grace Beaumont in a recurring role. And Merlin was so bold as to cast Black actress Angel Coulby as leading lady Gwynevere  (to much of the usual internet rage and backlash).

Defiance’s Tommy LasalleFalling Skies’s Anthony, Teen Wolf’s Boyd, and The Walking Dead’s Michonne are regularly recurring Black characters in science fiction tv; however, each of them plays a sort of “hired hand” or “body gaurd” role. Game of Thrones recently introduced Grey Wormthe elected commander of the emancipated Unsullied army, who has had few lines and little screen time thus far, and he is quite literally a hired hand. Missandeia translator for Danaerys, was also recently introduced. Though far from being a leader, she does get a bit of screen time. The now deceased Xaro Xhoan Daxos, a leader of Qarth was the only other Black character to be given substantial screen time in the show.

Angel Coulby as Gwen
Angel Coulby as Gwen

Characters like True Blood’s Tara ThorntonVampire Diaries‘s Bonnie Bennett, and  Grimm’s Hank Griffin are all cast in the role of best friend to the main protagonists. Hank Griffin more specifically is the protagonist Nick Burkhardt’s partner in the Portland police force

And there are some exciting new shows with Black leads to look forward to…

Sleepy Hollow, premiering this fall on Fox, is truly unique among sci-fi shows, casting Black actress Nicole Beharie in the leading role of Abbie Archer, a police officer and lead investigator on the supernatural case rocking her town. The show also features Black actor Orlando Jones as Lieutenant Frank Williams. The trailer seems to indicate that Jones and Beharie’s characters are the main characters along with Ichabod Crane himself.

While the idea of a modernized time-travelling headless horseman is a tad ridiculous, it’s such a rare sight to see a Black woman leading a sci-fi series that we’re crossing our fingers pretty hard that it will be good.  . J.J. Abrams’ Almost Humanhowever, looks pretty dope. And the leading character’s robot partner, Dorian is played by Black actor Michael Ealy.

And ABC’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D trailer shows an unnamed Black superhero.  It’s been confirmed that he is not Luke Cage

Science fiction is often a genre that looks ahead, that beats society to the punch, projecting fantastical futures, predicting technologies that will define our future, or showing us the possible outcomes of our current destructive behaviors. While there have been small victories in the inclusion of recurring characters of color in many tv shows, comics, and novels, it is hardly beyond the imagination of such a visionary genre as science fiction to create worlds where characters of color (because this conversation obviously extends beyond Black and white) are the main protagonists of a story, or perhaps *gasp* multiple characters of color are the leads!  Of course, we have sci-fi writers who are placing characters of color at the center of their stories, like Samuel Delany, Nnedi Okorafor and Nalo Hopkinson and more. But unfortunately such stories are often considered “for Black people” rather than for general enjoyment, and so they remain outside the mainstream, never making it to movie adaptations or major network TV series… or even simply into the hands of a wide and diverse readership.

But how do we go about fixing that?  Is this gradual route – slowly introducing more and more characters of color in increasingly leading roles – the right way to go? Is it working? What else might work?

*This is hardly an exhaustive account of all of the Black characters in comics and sci-fi, though we did attempt to capture the major players. Please feel free to add more in the comments! We look at a few current comics with major characters of color here.