The Black Avengers - Darryl Ayo
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.
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.
I enjoyed this discussion on black characters that Darryl presented. It is influenced specifically from The Mighty Avengers book, which I have no opinion on having not read it (that part’s interesting too) but this in an important discussion. How do black character influence and interact with the rest of the world, but also how are black characters seen by white creators and white characters.