THE COLOR BARRIER: Does "Fair Play" Really Matter?


Last week, I visited one of the top comic book stores in New York City, and purchased a comic book produced by DC Comics.

The last DC comic I bought was "Batman" #11, the climax of the Court of Owls arc -- but that's another story over a pint of Guinness.

This time, I purchased "The New 52: Future's End" #3, so I could be fully informed about this little thing right here.

Mister Terrific, a Black male superhero and one of the smartest human beings in the world, portrayed with a tattoo on his back that says "Fair Play."

The cover image, and some of the panels shown in the story, have caused a little bit of a stir in social media, suggesting that DC Comics has "thugged out" Mister Terrific, that a Black hero with a closer identification to Neil deGrasse Tyson has been turned into someone with a closer aesthetic identification to Tupac Shakur, or the last guy to walk out of Caesar's shop from VH1's "Black Ink Crew."

I had to investigate further, so I pushed an Image comic into the following week's bundle so I could give DC Comics my $2.99 and investigate further.

Mister Terrific appears in only 4 out of 20 pages in the story. In the course of that scene, we see Mister Terrific with his uncharacteristic hip-hop/prison culture aesthetic getting his Ozymandias on and watching video surveillance footage archives of a future Batman infiltrating one of his complexes. After receiving some insights from a faithful ally who calls him "T," Mister Terrific finishes his workout and walks out into the world, dressed in an almost all-white outfit that makes him look like a New Age prophet with a Deepak Chopra steelo, flanked by guards, greeted by fans and worshippers.

Sporting a black T on his chest, presumably meant to emulate the iconography of the Christian Cross, "T" walks toward his limo, signing autographs while talking about the global brand he's created, "Terrifitech," and how it's going to change the face of the globe for the better.

So in four pages, DC Comics has turned Mister Terrific, one of the most intelligent men in the world, into a Messianic mogul baller shot-caller.

Now, this one's too easy. I could say so many things, but you already know what I'm thinking and I know you're thinking, "I know what Joe Illidge is thinking," so let's save the telepathic energy, because you know what this is. Don't you?

SOS on a DD.

Waiter -- check, please. Thank you, my good man. The salmon was excellent. Here's your 20% gratuity.

I mean, is this really remarkable?


You know what is remarkable?

Some weeks back, the nominees for this year's Eisner Award were announced. An award that we know to be the comic book industry's equivalent of an Oscar, offered up to the best of the best for being brilliant among their competition in quality and distinctiveness.

This year, at least three of the Eisner nominees -- were Black men.

Additionally, the three of them were nominated for working on an independent comic series by a relatively new publisher, with the lead characters being two Black men.

The series "Watson and Holmes," published by New Paradigm Studios, is an updated version of the classic characters created by Arthur Conan Doyle. In this version, Doctor Jon Watson is a medical intern and war veteran, Holmes is a mysterious stranger-type who investigates crimes and sometimes offers consultation to the New York City Police Department, and their base of operations is Harlem, New York.

Karl Bollers is the main series writer, the one who established the tone and narrative style of the book. Brandon Easton and N. Steven Harris are the writer/artist duo who worked on the sixth issue of the series.

"Watson and Holmes" was nominated for an Eisner award for Best New Series, with recognition of the creative team and publisher, and issue 6 by Misters Easton and Harris was nominated for Best Single Issue.

One of the cornerstones of the series is social commentary, handled in a way that is not beaten over the reader's head, but woven into the fabric of the story in the same way that our lives are governed by matters of finance, politics, gender, and ethnicity.

Think about how many comic books and graphic novels are published in a year, and all of the creators involved with the weaving of those stories, and the chances of being nominated for an Eisner seem almost remote.

But this year, "Watson and Holmes," its creators, and publisher, have beaten the odds.

Whether they "win" or "lose," the accomplishment is historic and significant.

Another remarkable example is the upcoming "Storm" series from Marvel Comics. Now sure, the line of people wondering why it's taken the publisher so long to give the Kenyan X-Woman her own title is long, and with shows like "Scandal" proving the marketable potential of mainstream product with a Black female lead, the timing seems like more than a coincidence.

What's noteworthy to me is that the writer of the "Storm" series is Greg Pak, a man of Korean descent. Marvel Comics hired a Person of Color to write a series about a Character of Color.

To my knowledge, that hasn't happened since "Django Unchained" producer Reginald Hudlin wrote "Black Panther" some years back.

Things are changing, under our noses and in our faces. Whether or not at a satisfactory or proper speed is debatable, but it's happening, and we must take note of it.

If we fixate on every slight against people of color, by way of business practices or characterizations of characters of color, we'll suffer from whiplash, turning our heads left and right every minute.

The focus must be on those successful works of high quality by people of color, to recognize, draw inspiration from, emulate, and support.

Before I give any more time to "The New 52: Future's End's" portrayal of Mister Terrific, I'll admire the work of Brian Stelfreeze on BOOM! Studios' "Day Men."

I'll put aside money in anticipation of Top Cow's upcoming miniseries "Genius," written by Marc Bernardin and Adam Freeman, and illustrated by Afua Richardson.

I'll take a look at Titan Comics' upcoming "Alien Legion: Uncivil War" illustrated by Larry Stroman.

At the end of the day, talented people of color creating high-quality works with characters of color, especially for the independent publishers, know the truth.

You can't go up against Iron Man and Batman armed with a pea shooter.

And before I forget, in a few weeks -- COLOR BARRIER 2: THE MISSION

Hope to see you there.

Neil Gaiman, Mark Buckingham and More Join Marvel Comics #1000

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