Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Give me a Nazi hero, dammit

Finally, the paper on black male superheroes is over. Once again, I've proven what a bastard I am in comparison to other students. Unlike my classmates, who by and large will be busy the night before the paper is due finding subtly HUMUNGOUS fonts and testing whether or not the professor will notice that their paper is triple-spaced, not only did I decrease the font, but I formatted it single-spaced in order to get under the maximum seven pages. Here's to hoping my professor admires my hard work rather than resenting the comparative thick paper she has to read.

I settled on the title "Badass Heroes: Black Men in Superhero Comics." Basically, my thesis was that black superheroes represent a safe harbor to fans and creators for ultraviolence and hypersexuality. In other words, you can't have Spider-Man or Superman assfuck a retired superheroine because they need to remain the moral beacons they've always been. Apparently, however, there is a demand among fandon for retired-heroine-assfucking, so someone needs to do it. Since Luke Cage is black, and is therefore already regarded as being ultraviolent and hypersexual, no problem. Just another day at work for the HERO FOR HIRE!

One thing I wanted to mention but just didn't have time to was the MAX series. Well, I did mention U.S. War Machine and Cage, but I didn't mention the relative absence of black superheroes in mainstream Marvel vs. the number of ultraviolent black superheroes in the MAX books. One minute, Black Panther is the only non-white hero to be found, and suddenly MAX comes out, promises to be grittier and dirtier, and subsequently Blade, War Machine, Cage, and Supreme Power's Nighthawk get center stage (on a sidenote, I never read enough X-books to despise Chuck Austen's work: I read the first three issues of U.S. War Machine in preparation for this paper and my mind changed pretty fucking fast).

Supreme Power was something I definitely wanted to talk about a lot more. I did mention Nighthawk as an example of how black heroes tend to be more violent, and I also mentioned the Blur as an example of how black heroes tend to be less altruistic (remember, he only reveals his powers to the world when he's spurred to action by a pair of booking agents). But what I really wanted to talk about was the idea of Nighthawk as a bigoted superhero.

I think the idea of an overtly bigoted superhero has promise, and it's something that hasn't been explored a lot (outside of Watchmen). Racial supremacists can be quite extreme people obviously, and the idea that it's perfectly acceptable to wear funny clothes and beat up criminals can only be defined as, likewise, an extremist view. The idea of a bigot and a crimefighter finding a home in one body is not only feasible, not only inevitable, but pretty fucking likely.

What bothers me is that in a society where whites are the dominant group, where most racial prejudice and its ill and sometimes violent effects are perpetrated by whites upon racial minorities, and in a medium--superhero comics--where most of the leading characters are white men, we choose to look at the idea of bigotry...

...in a black man.

On one hand, I understand why it's done that way. Nighthawk, the bigot, is black because we wouldn't tolerate a white bigot superhero (at least not an overtly bigoted one), because our thin PC values tell us we shouldn't feel sympathetic for such a character, and if we did feel sympathy for the character, that would mean there was a problem with us.

Newsflash: there IS a problem with us.

I don't like admitting what I'm about to admit, but here it goes.

For anyone who's managed to catch the film American History X, you know the genius of the film. You probably don't admit it, as I'm about to (not because I'm any more courageous than you, but because I'm an argumentative asshole and I want to prove my point). It has nothing to do with the non-shock of the ultimate fate of Ed Norton's younger brother. You knew it was going to happen as soon as I did. It isn't because of any self-righteous message found in the story, and it isn't because you find it in any way revealing about the skinhead subculture.

The genius of the film lies in one brief scene. Ed Norton's character and his skinhead compatriots place a bet with a group of young black men at a basketball court. One game. The skinheads win, the black guys leave the court for good. The black guys win, the skinheads abandon it. The skinheads eventually win. They jump up and down, give a big group hug, and the whole thing is accompanied with some "yay we won" type music stuff.

And when you see it, if you're white, you cheer for them.

I did.

I cheered because I've been programmed to think that blacks have conspired to (paraphrasing the words of Bill Nunn's character in Canadian Bacon) "slowly take over every single sport." Blacks are dribbling as soon as they pop free of the womb, or so we're led to believe. So, cheering for the skinheads doesn't feel that bad. It feels like they're giving us back some of our manhood. It feels like they're winning one for the home team. God help me, it feels like they're breaking down racial barriers instead of building them.

That's what makes the film so disturbing, that and the times you listen to Ed Norton's eloquently hateful tirades and find yourself nodding. It isn't the jail rape or the murder or anything else that turns your stomach when you watch it: it's the fact that they're just showing you a fucking mirror, whether or not you want to admit it. It's not as simple as "he's racist, but I'm not." It's just not that fucking simple. It's not that--forgive me--black and white. We're all a bunch of racist bastards because that's who we've been programmed to be. Of course YOU are too much of an INDIVIDUAL to succumb to society's programming, but the rest of us just have to suffer it like the stupid sheep we are.

Of course if you believe that, and you have no problem with the only overtly bigoted superhero of note being a black man, and you have no problem with James Rhodes telling Nick Fury in U.S. War Machine that he failed to MURDER a criminal because he was a black man, while you would similarly reject such portrayals of white superheroes, then your programming is pretty fucking naked, because it means the only racial bias you are willing to accept exists is that which can be found in minorities.

So, give me a fucking nazi hero so I can see what I am, so it can turn my stomach, and I can do something to change it. Don't give me more black superheroes with "Badass Motherfucker" wallets. There are currently only two black male superheroes--Firestorm and Black Panther--with their own titles at DC and Marvel, and really thank God for that. Take all the Blades and Bishops and Nighthawks and Deathloks and Spawns and flush them down the toilet. Or, better yet, make them white, and make the traditional supermen black, and give the white fans of comicdom something in the mirror worth looking at.

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