The Black Avengers

17 Sep

By Darryl Ayo

Mighty Avengers, no. 1
Al Ewing, Greg Land, Jay Leisten, Frank D’Armata, Cory Petit.
Marvel Worldwide, INC.
September, 2013

“Land.”

It is desperately important that we talk about artist Greg Land and his work on this comic. It is of prime importance that we sit down and hammer out our Greg Land Feelings. I’ll go first: Land kind of gets it right in Mighty Avengers number 1.

Of course, there are quite a few things that Land gets wrong in the comic. There are instances of tangents which are overlapping or intersecting forms which visually obscure and confuse both clarity of action and perception of depth.

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Next, I would say that Spectrum, Monica Rambeau, looks kind of ridiculous. Her face looks essentially like the face of a stock photograph woman, having been applied on top of a body. Rambeau’s expressions don’t feel like they entirely match the story. Rather, the character’s expressions look like the stock photography images that you would see if you were to internet-search “woman smiling” or “woman concentrating.” The character’s body language is actually ridiculous at times.

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That said, Greg Land’s work in the fight sequences generally feels strong, solid. Land is aided tremendously by Jay Leisten, the inker of this comic. Leisten gives Mighty Avengers a firmness, a solidity that allows this comic to visually look consistent with other comic books in the Marvel line such as All-New X-Men by Stuart Immonen and Wade Von Grawbadger. The similarity between Land & Leisten and Immonen and Von Grawbadger is in the cars. The way these two very different teams portray cars, car chases and the complex hardness and smoothness of automobiles feels like a clue to Marvel Comics’ style guide. These are Marvel Cars.

Greg Land’s decision to tilt the panel orientation for the comic’s fight scenes was a simple but effective way for him to force some optical dynamism into his usually poised, straight-backed compositional style. Simple. Effective. We all have weaknesses and the trick is often to steer into those faults and try to find a loophole that works.

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“Avengers.”

I’ve heard people complain that there are too many “Avengers” titles on the market. Problem is, people have proven time and again that they will not buy comic books which aren’t titled “Avengers.” So other comics get repackaged as “Avengers.” The Illuminati became “New Avengers.” Murder World became “Avengers Arena.” Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. becomes “Secret Avengers.” In this case, we literally have the Heroes For Hire being packaged as “Mighty Avengers.” They’re called “Heroes For Hire” throughout the book until the last page where Luke Cage decides that they are the de facto “Avengers.” It’s a clever way to have it both ways. All of Marvel Comics’ Avengers comics are conceptually different. Many of them are rooted in titles that do not sell in today’s Avengers-brand world. I accept this compromise, I would rather read Heroes For Hire disguised as “Avengers” than a comic that is literally about the same characters saving the universe in the same way as all the other comics. Stealth diversity.

“Diversity.”

This comic book “Mighty Avengers” is essentially “the black Avengers,” because most superhero comics feature mainly white characters and this one features not one, not two but several black characters. Mighty Avengers also features white characters but it is a huge leap into a vision of reality that comic book fiction has traditionally ignored: black people do things also.

Stories matter, fiction matters. Representation in stories helps to shape a culture and society’s view of people and peoples. Blacks have traditionally been excluded from mainstream cultural representation unless in subordinate and subservient roles–and even then, as members of an indistinguished mass of background figures. Society has been trained by culture to perceive black people as background data; set dressing, noise. Only intervening in real people’s lives to offer assistance or to present an obstacle/threat. Black characters often have no internal lives and if they do, their internal lives are exceptional in their vagueness and vacuousness. There is little thought or imagination expended on black characters and as such, society internalizes this shallowness and non-black people in real life tend to assume that blacks have shallow/hollow lives.

They look at us like we’re automatons.

Mighty Avengers is important simply in its existence because it shows black characters doing things. By extension, it works to override society’s perception of black people as non-active, non-entities. In most mainstream stories, black characters’ highest functioning capacity is as mild stimulus for non-black characters. Creatures on the sidelines. Possessed of more depth than animals by a slim margin. In this Mighty Avengers comic, black characters have ideas.

Spectrum has ambitions, Luke Cage has problems, Power Man has frustration. Besides having varying temperaments, the black characters in Mighty Avengers look different. Power Man is an all-out superhero, Cage essentially has no special uniform, Spectrum has gone from being a plainclothes superhero with no codename to adopting a full superhero getup. These are characters, not brown-hued robots. The way they look means something about them.

“Diversity, II.”

Additionally, the black characters do something else important: they interact easily with non-black characters. I don’t mean that the characters get along. Luke Cage and Power Man clearly clash with Spider-Man and White Tiger. What I mean is that their stories are intertwined and (for lack of a clearer term) integrated with the stories of non-black characters. This is particularly interesting because it raises a binary issue of how black characters might appear in fiction. On one hand, there is the idea of black autonomy, wherein black characters have minimal interactions with white and non-black characters to better focus on black stories. On the other hand, there is the idea of showing black characters as part of a diverse world with other characters of other backgrounds.

In some ways, insisting that black characters must be shown interacting with non-black characters is an insult after decades of insisting that white characters don’t need to interact with anybody else at all. The desire to look upon the page and see black characters acting completely independent of a white world is strong in the black community. Some people derisively call refer to this as creating a “ghetto” for black stories. I see it as creating a home for black stories.

To the opposite point, it seems important to show a general audience of people who still fear blacks and regard persons of African descent as threatening, that black people can and do routinely interact with whites and other non-blacks.

These two story types are equally valid but they underscore an important cultural point: there is more than one “Black Story” and multiple versions of “The Black Experience” are urgently required both for the black communities and for the non-black communities.

Representing a useful breadth of black experience is more than one story can handle. Which is as it should be. Mighty Avengers is a good start but the objective of “increasing diversity” must ultimately result in a multitude of different stories and ideas and focuses and themes.

3 Responses to “The Black Avengers”

  1. Costa September 17, 2013 at 9:19 am #

    I actually quite like Land’s art in these pages. Character-wise, still stiff, but the softness of his lines that usually makes his work so bad is gone, replaced with some good solid linework, and the page/panel layout helps convey action quite well, which is something he’s been pretty bad at before.

    Good to see improvement like that. I agree that the panel tilt, something you see a lot in Eastern comics/manga to add a layer of movement to a page, helps a lot.

  2. Leandro Moreira Duarte September 17, 2013 at 10:35 am #

    Great points.

    Specifically about the “Land” part, it is great to finally see someone talking about the strong parts of his work on this issue. I just can’t stand people focusing exclusively on the bad parts and completely dismissing the comic because of them.

    Yeah, I hate his often awkward faces and poses as much as the next guy, but many of the pages of this book were imbued with a certain energetic dynamism that is not so often found in the material being published today.

    I also really like the coloring by Frank D’Armata, which helped make the art look visually striking and lively.

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  1. Kibbles ‘n’ Bits 9/23/13: Everyone everywhere — The Beat - September 23, 2013

    […] The Black Avengers | […]

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