ByDante Maddox, writer at Creators.co

I've been a comic book dude for quite some time. My favorite guy is Peter Parker, followed by Guy Gardner, Steve Rogers, Dick Grayson and Eric Masterson in no particular order. They are all white dudes and I just don't really care. Since the moment I caught up with their adventures my only concern has been what was going to happen next.

So, the Black experience in comic book fandom tends to be the general experience of comic book fans. Meaning the behavior towards me was the same in EVERY comic book shop I've EVER been to. Comic book nerds tend to be cool like that in my perspective. Like any public place you deal in varying degrees of shyness. One of the primary reasons is that even when they were being downright racist, comic books in the late silver and golden ages were excellent in exhibiting tolerance. Being racist while also expressing tolerance is the idea that Communist are bad, yet can be redeemed to our American values on an individual level. That basic principle is re-occurring throughout every facet of the Marvel Universe, a sort of redemption story, where the offense is having differing ideals.

That, in my opinion, is where Marvel and DC get to hang their hats on being ultimately progressive. They perpetuated a subculture that was inherently accepting of any individual that wanted to join. Not to say that it's all 'cult-like' organization with matching sweater vests and signal watches, it still takes all kinds and I apologize far any a-hole you might meet. They tend to be everywhere. That progressive title managed to cover Marvel's valiant efforts to properly represent a more diverse representation of American life. I would never accuse Marvel Comics of being racist for the sake of being racist. However, when one makes a valiant attempt and fails on a topic such as this, the results end up looking pretty bad.

Like Luke Cage.

They, bless their hearts, created a Black character based on Blaxploitation heroes.

Luke Cage hit the scene in 1972, in a book called Luke Cage, Hero for Hire. Which actually sounds kinda Republican when I think about it. I was born in 1978, it took a while to get reading down, and I couldn’t just start right away. The book was canceled in 1986. That’s one year after CRISIS, and Batman The Dark Knight Returns. When Ben Affleck’s inspiration was slowly beating criminals up, Luke Cage was dressed like a super pimp and only helping cats that had enough bread. Now, to be fair, I doubt money was actually that much of a factor ever but, if that’s the case then why tack it on the cover? Marvel was trying to integrate what they thought was cool at the time, and what was cool at the time was Blaxploitation movies.

They, bless their hearts, created a Black character based on Blaxploitation heroes.

This. This is a bad idea.
This. This is a bad idea.

We’re good right? We see how that could be a bad idea? No? Understand that the cover for a kids comic book with a black character literally depicted a stabbing outside of a strip club. I'll wait, look close.

I was born in 78, Luke Cage had hit issue #50 that year, by the time comic books became a ‘thing’ for me Luke Cage was already some douche who dressed like a jack-ass. That’s like 87 at best, and Luke Cage was only slightly less lame than The Falcon, because at least Cage had cool powers.

That is the Black Experience as a comic book READER. When you’re a young Black kid in the late 80’s, the socially aware comic book shop owner might hesitate to hand you a copy of Muscle Bound Afro Super Pimp and his hetero-life-mate Tom Cruise from the Last Samurai.

Just let that go if you need to.

Marvel knew they fumbled a well-intentioned character, and essentially shelved him.

Until 1992.

Suddenly Luke Cage aka Power Man… was back on the scene. Burning his old costume on the cover of the first issue. He had a 90’s fade, 0/1 high and tight. Dark blue/grey football uniform style costume.

And he talked like Flava f****n Flav.

This guy. Not a Superhero.
This guy. Not a Superhero.

F**K!

I was a freshman in high school in 1992, I just finished Infinity Gauntlet. I’m living through the transition of MacFarlane (Spawn) to Erik Larson (Savage Dragon) to Mark Bagley (Ultimate Spider-Man) in Amazing Spider-Man. Eric Masterson is still Thor, still alive. Chris Claremont had JUST finished the masterpiece that Bryan Singer refuses to read and will therefore see destroyed.

EXACTLY! I don't think he gets it...
EXACTLY! I don't think he gets it...

Comic books are about to get super great, except of course…

Luke Cage is still a damn jack-ass. No one would care because he wasn’t ever that cool, your average reader of any race or gender didn’t see an overwhelming amount of Rudy Ray Moore movies. We were going to get Night Thrasher soon anyway. Marvel never gets credit for being smart and giving us a Black Nightwing, naturally I am a fan of that decision. Personally I was out the moment he and Punisher teamed up for a three part series that featured Frank Castle running around disguised as a Black dude.

This happened. In 1992.
This happened. In 1992.

I was just done.

Despite, or maybe because they just inspired Robert Downey Jr.'s future role in Tropic Thunder, Marvel would be done with Cage for another 10 years or so. Sure, Luke hung around but he just sort existed more like an extra in the wide shots more than anything else. In 2002 however, Brian Azzarello and Richard V. Corben took Luke Cage and partied like it was 1975.

The Marvel MAX series is considered an imprint, meaning it’s not necessarily in step with the regular continuity. However it introduced Luke Cage to an audience with a clean slate. Azzarello just did him right. It was great, but also only the beginning. Marvel could have simply left Cage there, technically speaking it would have been more than enough for the Netflix series to draw from. Marvel had stood pat, they would not have properly addressed the problem. It was another Brian that stepped in and finished the job.

For years various skilled writers made it abundantly clear that they liked Black people just fine but didn’t really know any. The ones they saw on TV had shown to be unreliable portrayals.

The Falcon. Jesus.

Batman would add heat to this brand...!
Batman would add heat to this brand...!

It wasn’t until Brian Michael Bendis re-invigorated the character with the introduction of Jessica Jones and in doing so established Luke Cage done right in the actual Marvel Universe. And he did it by making Luke Cage a noble, awesome dude that just happened to be Black.

You know, like a Black guy. Who exists around people who aren’t Black. Bendis proved that sometimes it’s not about the amount of effort that matters. But instead remembering the basic tenets of the mediums itself, those that enter the room are welcome. The tolerant world of superheroes should have no problem accepting a minority into their ranks, the fan community is tolerant based on that example. If Marvel or DC are guilty of anything, it’s not giving its fans enough credit.

Brian Michael Bendis, and Brian Azzarello have made great strides in changing our viewpoints and especially our expectations when it comes to race and diversity in comics, and deserve our gratitude. We see the positive effects of their work where ever we look these days and it doesn’t get much better than that.



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