"Black" #1 from BlackMask Studios –
"The Negro race, like all races, is going to be saved by its exceptional men." -W.E.B. DuBois
Officer Ellen Waters has just seen the unimaginable, and she is having a tough time processing it, let alone trying to explain it. She grew up in the Bedford-Stuyvesant (Bed-Stuy) borough of Brooklyn, NYC. She knows it inside and out, she knows the streets, she knows the people, and she also knows that things aren't always as they appear to be. She knows that sometimes the bad guys wear expensive suits, and the good guys wear loose-fitting jeans, tee-shirts, and hoodies. Unfortunately, some of the cops who patrol the area don't know this, they don't know the people, and some don't even care to. When a black teen, Kareem Jenkins, is mistakenly gunned down by police officers for a crime he didn't commit, Officer Waters' heart breaks for the loss of another innocent life on the streets; however, what Officer Waters thinks is the end of the story is only the beginning. When Kareem miraculously heals and escapes from police custody, performing feats the likes of which she has never seen, she is left befuddled, and drowning in questions. And Kareem? He is about to embark on a journey of self-discovery with others who have found him, others who are gifted like him. But what Kareem doesn't know is that there is a group that wishes to exploit him and others like him, a dangerous group of people who will not stop until they have either unlocked the secrets of Kareem's powers, or destroyed him, and all his kind. Kareem is young, gifted, and black...With a target painted on his back.
From the mind of writer, Kwanza Osajyefo, comes "Black" a poignant story, and one that is, sadly, extremely relevant for our times. This story comes spinning out of our country's current racial crisis, seemingly ripped from one of today's headlines, black teen, Kareem Jenkins, and two of his friends are brutally killed in a botched arrest attempt - all three are innocent and completely unarmed. Osajyefo uses this all-too-familiar tragedy as a catalyst for a superhero story for the current age, a journey from poverty and impotence to power, and the assumption of responsibility that bridges the gap between. As Kareem finds that there are others who are gifted like he is, and he takes on the task of finding and protecting them, Kareem's character echoes the ideas of great black activists and writers, ideas like those of W.E.B. DuBois in "The Souls of Black Folk." While Booker T. Washington argued for blacks to earn equality through hard work, and economic independence, DuBois disagreed and argued that equality should not be earned, but demanded through agitation and protest. One is able to clearly see a bit of the beginning of this argument in this book, along with something akin to a black nationalist sentiment of racial solidarity and self-determination. The fact that all the people who are gaining powers in this newly created universe happen to be a small part of the black population recalls to my mind the idea of "The Talented Tenth," the idea that exceptional black men, leaders of great ability, should be developed to reach their full potential to create social change. Still more, this comic reminds me of Marvel Comics' X-Men, created by Stan Lee and the Great Jack Kirby during the height of the Civil Rights Movement, in which the mutants, who just want to live peaceful lives, are oppressed, marginalized, feared, and hunted because they are different and because they are powerful. I suppose that this comparison isn't far off, as it has been confirmed that Lee and Kirby used civil rights leaders, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr., as the inspirations for Magneto and Professor X.
There is no doubt that "Black" is going to explore many social issues, many of which will challenge the reader, and make some very uncomfortable. I am looking forward to the journey. Also, I have to give BIG props to Jamal Igle for his stellar artwork here, all done in big sprawling panels that move the story along smoothly at a wonderful clip, and give it a very cinematic feel. I chose to buy this striking "Red Hoodie" variant cover done by Khary Randolph, which seems to be a nod to The Red Hoodie Foundation, which spun out a movement commemorating the fallen victims of racial or stereotypical profiling, most famously identified with the tragic story of Trayvon Martin. "Black" seems to be attempting to create an updated, more relevant X-Men for a new generation of comics reader, and so far, I am captivated; however, I realize that everyone will not be, and that is totally fine. Politics aside, "Black" serves up interesting characters feeling their way through a new, intriguing, and often painful world. This is the main reason that I enjoyed this book - bravo for "Black."
RATING: 10 out of 10. I cannot wait to see where this is going.
CAVEAT 1: This book covers themes, and has language that may not be suitable for young readers - especially the preview for the new series, "Tomorrow's Ashes" in the rear of the comic.
By the bye: If you would like to read a great analysis on the racial politics of X-Men, there is a great article in "Psychology Today" here.
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