So really, I could more or less just global search and replace a few key terms on my post about Lady Thor in order to give you my thoughts on Black Captain America, and for the most part, it would actually be pretty accurate. But there are a few other thoughts I have on it complicate this even more.
So if you read the news this morning and saw “Captain America is Black now” and your first thought was “Wow, I bet Mav thinks that’s really fucking stupid.” then congratulations, you win the prize for “knows how to pay attention 2014!”
One: I guess the optimistic way of looking at this is supposed to be “wow, a female Thor and an African-American Cap! Marvel really is serious about this whole diversity thing! good for them!” And umm… yeah sure… that’s great and very optimistic of you person who either hasn’t read a comic book in the last fifty years or so, or at least clearly wasn’t paying very much attention. Because, as I pointed out in the Thor post, this isn’t going to stick. Marvel replaces Captain America LITERALLY all the time. Most recently they did it in 2007 (which again, I alluded to in the Thor article). That time it lasted all the way until August of 2011, which coincidentally was a month after the Captain America: The First Avenger premiered. And if by some miracle Marvel doesn’t want to reverse this after Avengers 2 premieres on May 1, 2015, you can be damn sure they’ll want to do it by the time Captain America 3 comes out on May 6, 2016. They schedule these things for a reason.
Two: This actually underscores my point from before about it not really being a commitment to diversity so much as Diversity™. If this were being done organically over time, as the replacement of Hal Jordan (the Green Lantern) with John Stewart in DC Comics in the 70s or the replacement of Tony Stark (Iron Man) with Jim Rhodes in the 80s (both of which have since been reversed, by the way) then I’d actually be a lot more optimistic. But instead this is Marvel in the space of 36 hours, announcing these changes to their characters on two different non-comics related, but far more popular media outlets (The View and The Colbert Report). They’re even rebranding with a catchy phrase: “Avengers NOW!” They might as well have well said “Marvel: Not just white guys anymore!” of course then they’d have to follow it up with “at least for now.”
Making these announcements back to back, like this, in mainstream media is basically like saying “look, at us! We’re awesome! We’re diverse and shit! Love us! Give us money!” Again, like before. I certainly hope good stories come out of this. I always hope for that. But you get that by work, not by “slapping some black and some tits on it” and calling it a day.
Three: This one really pertains to Black Cap more than Lady Thor (or at least as far as we know, since we don’t know who Lady Thor is under the mask yet). I said in the Thor article that if you wanted a strong female character then invent one rather than just repurposing a male character. Well, the stickler here, and what really really really bugs me, and what I find extremely racially offensive about Black Cap is that they ALREADY FUCKING HAD A STRONG BLACK CHARACTER. His name was Falcon. In his very good and extremely informative history of Black comic book heroes, Super Black, (which should be required reading for anyone who is into comics as literature or culture, particularly as it relates to minorities) Adilifu Nama relates a story from his childhood that is almost exactly like mine. He talks about going out to buy Mego action figures as boy and trying to decide which two he wanted… Falcon and someone else. Why definitely Falcon? “He was a black man that could fly.”1
And that was kind of the point. Falcon wasn’t really a sidekick. He was Cap’s partner. Unlike Robin to Batman or even Bucky to Cap, Falcon didn’t have some watered down version of Cap’s powers. He was his own man. They were equals. Falcon could do stuff that Captain America couldn’t. And that’s been fine since his introduction in 1969. Nama devotes a whole chapter of his book to Falcon and his relevance not only as a comic book character, but as a cultural icon for young black men, particularly those of us who grew up in the 70s or 80s. But now, in 2014, after Falcon gets to “graduate” to being Captain America. This isn’t inspiring. It means “by the way, for the last 45 years, you weren’t really that important. Now you can be important by taking over for the white guy, because your identity really wasn’t that important in the first place.”
That does not show diversity. If anything, they’ve watered down the product and made it less diverse, by reducing a character with 45 years of individual autonomy to the level of backup quarterback. Basically, there MUST be a Captain America, but there doesn’t HAVE to be a Falcon, so don’t worry, once the real Captain America comes back, you can totally go back to your second-rate identity. It will be waiting for you… no one else wants it.
Much like I said with Thor, I’m not opposed to Marvel diversifying their line. I pointed to some of their more successful female characters in that article and in this one I have to mention that Marvel does have successful black characters, notably Falcon himself (at least up until now), Storm (again, since she was also mentioned in the Thor article), Black Panther, Misty Knight, and War Machine/Iron Patriot (the black Iron Man). And most importantly of all, right now, there is Luke Cage, who while invented as blaxploitation character in 1972, has been one of the most prominent characters in the Avengers, and Marvel’s line in general for the last decade or so. And when they decided to make Cage a first string character they didn’t have a press release or go on a media blitz. Brian Michael Bendis simply started writing about him all the time and it caught on. Bendis takes a lot of flack from comic fans, some deserved, some not, but THAT is commitment to diversity.
Even inside of the Captain America mythos, there is room for African-American characters. It’s not currently in print (and HOVA-dammit, it should be) but Truth: Red, White and Black is one of the best Captain America stories ever written. The premise is that when they were working on the Super Soldier Serum (the formula that gives Captain America his powers) in the 1940s they decided that it was too dangerous to test on white soldiers, so they injected it into 300 black men, because basically… well, no one cares about the darkies. 299 of them die. One, Isaiah Bradley survives and is therefore chronologically “the first Captain America.” His grandson, Eli, under the name Patriot is a member of the Young Avengers. Though he isn’t being used currently (he last appeared in 2010).
If you really wanted a black superhero, you certainly could give any of these characters a book, there’s currently only one for Iron Patriot, though several black characters (especially Storm and Luke Cage) feature prominently in the X-men and Avengers team books, and Misty Knight leads the Defenders. They could have just given Falcon his own book and if it had been good, maybe people would have read it. Much like I said with Thor, if Marvel really wanted to show diversity, then the solution is to write good stories featuring characters of diverse races, genders, religions, etc. Sticking a predefined costume and name out there is stunt booking. It’s not showing me a commitment to diverse characters. It’s asking me to care about a character just because s/he is female/black. They aren’t selling us a story with diversity. They’re not even attempting to market towards our diversity. And they’re certainly not showing their diversity. They’re asking us to prove our diversity. It’s insulting. And doing it twice in two days is not just doubly so, but exponentially so. My blackness is not for sale… well, and if it is, it certainly isn’t that cheap.
1. Adilifu Nama. Super Black: American Pop Culture and Black Superheroes (Kindle Location 29). Kindle Edition.