I’ve been thinking about the themes that’ve recurred throughout this month, specifically that of the “neighborhood heroes” from last week and the similar-and-stereotypical background and themes a lot of the characters have. In a way, today’s featured hero is a summation of these themes. He represents every black hero, yet his story is not about race, but about all of mankind. He’s also one of my favorite new characters of the last few years.
59. Manhattan Guardian
(Every picture’s probably going to be clickable.)
“We’re telling stories about human dignity, Jake!”
Those words, spoken by Ed Stargard, the Baby Brain, in Manhattan Guardian #2, pretty much sums up everything we’ve been looking at. “Stories of how human being make culture and meaning for ourselves, even down there in the garbage.”
Manhattan Guardian was part of the Seven Soldiers non-event, written by God of All Comics Grant Morrison and drawn by one of my favorite current artists, Cameron Stewart. The character and story of this Guardian, Jake Jordan, was very Marvel-y. Jake accidentally takes a tragic action in his life as a police officer, causing him to quit his job and fall into a depression. His father-in-law inspires him to try out to be the spokeshero for the Manhattan Guardian, a newspaper written by the people, for the people. He does so, but, of course, further tragedy occurs, leading Jake to discover what it means to be a hero. The regular G-Mozz DCU madness occurs as Jake gets caught up in a world of subway pirates, robots gone mad, bizarre kid gangs, golem guards, and faeries from the future. If Jake makes it as a hero, can he make it as a man and iron things out with his wife, Carla?
Guardian is about the highs and lows of being a hero. It really does follow the Marvel Spider-Man method: as the Guardian’s life gets better, Jake’s life gets worse. He’s got to find a way to balance his super-career and his normal life. Jake goes through hell and comes out a better hero and a better man.
“Baby, it’s not about the job or the money, it’s about being in the right place at the right time to do the right thing. And knowing you’re gonna do it even if you don’t want to. Something real bad’s come up and there’s only me downtown. But sit tight: I’m coming to get you.” (Jake in Guardian #4)
Human dignity. That’s all it is. That’s what these “neighborhood black heroes” are about: finding the measure of oneself, the measure of a man. Going through hells, literally or personally, to find out what makes a hero. Being there for the people you care about, saving your community, even if it’s just one soul at a time. Whether it means taking weapons off the streets, teaching a class full of kids, cradling a lost soul, becoming a one-man A-Team, taking flight, or kicking a pirate in the face:
Jake loses everything worth any meaning to him, but he recovers it by the end. He saves his wife and himself, and he saves the people of Manhattan. Guardian, Steel, Falcon, Cage, Black Lightning, Static, Black Panther (sorta), hey, even Black Goliath, War Machine, Rocket Racer, Brother Voodoo, and Mr. freakin’ T are about finding the inner worth of oneself and projecting it in a hero persona to save and elevate the people of the community. But, look, the same could be said of Batman or Spider-Man or Superman or most any superhero.
Yeah, the black heroes get labelled as “neighborhood champions” and “heroes of the people/community” and “streetwise men of action” and all that, sure. That particular “subgenre” has been foisted upon them. There’s no reason for them to be labelled such and not nerdy white Peter Parker, though. All superheroes are champions of their community and heroes of the people. Dammit, they should be! The black characters don’t have to hide from this, but they don’t have to dwell in it, either. All the heroes we’ve looked at this month have brilliant concepts and limitless potential; I want this potential to be fulfilled! That’s all. Race can, and naturally will become a part of their stories, but it’s not what they’re all about. The stories are about what makes them human, what makes them heroes, what they do with the knowledge thereof, and how they make the world a better place.
Manhattan Guardian was a great mini-series and a great story of one man’s journey– one hero’s journey, to be Campbellian– but I don’t want it to be the end of the road. Let’s see a Manhattan Guardian ongoing!
No way, man, you be quiet. The people need to know you’re a reason to love comics, and that your story is a terrific examination of the meaning of a hero. Let’s just hope your story isn’t over, and that many adventures will be forthcoming.