Thursday, March 09, 2006

Saving Patriot Bradley

Have you ever felt the weight of being the black kid in class? It’s not what we would call a “good feeling”. When I was in college, I had all the same pressures that other students had of never ending school work that bordered on oppressive, holding down a job that should have paid me over ten thousand more than I was getting, and just trying to find my place in society. And, oh yeah, being the sole representative of the black race. That kinda shit can weigh on you.

I mean, its college, right? That means any class that begins before 6:15 p.m. is going to have at least 20% of its students stroll through late. Yet, if I was part of the late crew, I’d get that look. You know which one I’m talking about: the I-guess-CP-time-really-exists look. So, those first 2 years of school I worked my ass off. I never missed an assignment, I’d hurdle over the crippled in order to get to class on time. I figured that my classmates and professors were going to use me as the barometer of all things black whether I agreed with it or not, so I was going to paint a good picture…even if it was in graff style.

Black characters in comics have the same issues. If we’re talking superhero comics, then they’re mainly relegated to background and supporting characters (aka someone for the villain to kill in an anniversary issue). A few pop up here and there, but more often then not, the end result leaves something to be desired.

Let’s look at the first black superhero to have his own title. His name was Lucas Cage, but he was hailed as some sort of Power Man. Now every hero has his or her own hook. That hook usually occurs in the form of their powers. Now Spider-Man can do anything a spider can. Cage…had steel hard skin. Scratch that possibility. Well, how about characterization? He really wasn’t that much different than anything found in the average Harlem theater around that time. No, Mr. Cage’s gimmick was that he’s a hero that wasn’t above charging people in order to help them. >sigh< I never saw Captain America checking green cards before he saved anyone’s ass.

It didn’t get much better for good Black heroes. Storm, while immensely powerful, seemed to get into situations that would reduce her mind to that of a frightened little girl every three issues. Plus there’s the whole blue eyes and flowing white hair thing. T’challa, the Black Panther, has usually been the standard for well-done Black heroes. He did have that first appearance, where he whooped the collected asses of the Fantastic Four. Of course there’s really no where to go but down from there. When he started headlining Jungle Action, it seemed like every cover had him beaten and his clothes ripped up. Daredevil, a blind man, can fight thirty-seven ninja ghosts, and still not get a scratch on his costume.

I think there are times when Black readers expect so much out of Black superheroes, because we know how rare they are to come by in these books. Every fault and misstep gets magnetized since they’re the black kid in class. There’s no balance. It’s even gotten to the point where there’s a stigma that black comics don’t sell? Why, because they handful that have actually had their own series eventually get cancelled. Shit, Hardware and Icon were published three times as long as most comics in the last few years.

Even though I fully understand the expectations that are placed on black heroes, when it comes to the Patriot, I think fandom (and some creator’s) reactions to him have been extreme. The Patriot, who fronted as if he got a super-soldier powered blood transfusion, was revealed to have been using a mutant growth hormone in order to give himself super powers. Suddenly, everyone from message board users to Joe Quesada have called him a “junkie”. Even with all the pressures a Black hero representation has on him, the reaction still doesn’t make sense to me.

It’s okay for Luke Cage to have a participated in an experiment in which an injection enhances his strength and durability. Nobody bats an eye when Captain America can easily be seen as the poster boy for long lasting steroid usage. There’s a hell of a lot of heroes, in all colors that have had chemicals give them their powers. Shit, I don’t even remember Patriot even being portrayed as addicted to the serum. I guess the junkie label seems too harsh to me. I mean honestly, let’s say he was addicted to using powers to be a hero (for free!), is that really so bad? Whatever helps him cope, right? After all, he’s part of the next generation that will have to carry the weight of the race on his back.


invisiblist said...

I was gonna comment.........but I haven't read the book. This being the second time Patriot has been addressed on here, I think I should probably get around to reading Young Avengers very soon.

Kwasi said...

interesting you should mention Jungle Action.

I still have mixed feelings about that book. On one hand McGregor wrote a great character and the book was light years ahead of a lot of what is written about black people in comics even today.

On the other hand..... T'challa's suit did seem to be made of toilet paper which made absolutely no sense for someone who had access to greater technology than even Reed Richards.

One of the things I loved about the Priest books was how he had fixed that

neo said...

I also need to read the book too but just reading through I get the feeling he comes off as a poor man's excuse for a Capt. America?

Brother Afron said...

Y'all should definitely pick up the book (whenever the hell it comes out). I would say its the illest Marvel book out at the moment, but I haven't been reading that much Marvel anyway. Eitherway, its definitely up there.

Patriot isn't really like Captain America at all. Matter of fact it seems he doesn't even like him. The whole dressing like Bucky thing is because he respects the legacy of his grandfather, the black Captain America.

Justin Rennolds said...

Powerful post.

I think I'll be trying some YA, is there a trade?

djshalope said...

the black kid in class analogy was a terrific way to articulate the reason why the mishandling of the few high profile black superheroes in mainstream comics seems so criminal sometimes. i have never picked up young avengers, but i was already under the impression that patriot was a junkie. good article. and not to be too fanboy picky, but luke cage has never gone by lucas cage. his birth name is carl lucas, but he chose the name luke cage himself when he started his hero career. he's never used lucas as a first name in anything i've ever seen.

neo said...

Ahh! Thanks afron..