A bit of honesty and soul searching in this one. It’s also going to be a long walk.
Recently I’ve been trying to shine light on those who make racists post on social media. It’s one thing to post you don’t understand. However, I have seen people write that Black Lives Matter is “garbage”. I have seen people say if they lived in the same town they would run over protesters. I have seen Facebook groups post they are open to all people except “those people”. Every time I’ll post explanations, reasoning, scripture, science, anything I can think of to try to change minds. Or to let others who are also trying to shine light know that they are not alone.
Imagine my surprise when I’m doing this and stumble upon many racist remarks from someone I’ve known for 35 years. I think there must be something amiss here and I go to his personal page for more details. Only to find I’m unfriended and blocked. Again, I played toys and watched cartoons with this guy. Yet because I post against racism he found it best to cut me out instead of having a conversation about hate. How did I grow up believing one way and he another?
In search of an explanation I look back to what we enjoyed as children. A road I’ll most likely re-examine many times in the future. I know we played with Star Wars, watched He-Man and other cartoons. That’s kid stuff though. Is there anything from childhood that I know he didn’t outgrow? That’s when it came to me. Every time there was a new Marvel Cinematic Universe announcement for certain characters he would message me. Back when we were still friends. We would talk how excited we were. The possibilities of new stories. Then and within recent memory we were both huge fans of the West Coast Avengers.
Years ago we would look at the local comic shops and dirt stores for old comics. Old to us meaning a few years previous. We bought fresh copies off the spinner racks and dug through antique stores for back issues. Between us we started to have close to a complete run. Characters like Hawkeye, Vision, and Scarlet Witch in the movies. Teammates like Mockingbird on TV. And the promise of Moon Knight to come. The strong effort for representation is huge in the MCU. Eternals has a groundbreaking cast. Falcon, War Machine, Black Panther and more. I keep my fingers crossed for a Captain Marvel reveal. Miles freaking Morales. My son wants to dress up as Iron Man one moment and Black Panther the next. It’s all about being a hero.
So why do I feel that way and he feels so different? I looked at the West Coast Avengers and their deep roster of black members. And there’s one. Over 102 issues, a 4 issue limited series before, and a few annuals, there is one black member. James “Rhodey” Rhodes. Who, when he joined, everyone thought it was a white guy in the suit!
Tony Stark is usually Iron Man. However, there was a time when Rhodey was in the armor. When the West Coast Avengers debuted in a 4 issue limited series they recruited Iron Man. Thinking Stark was inside. Instead, Rhodes showed up. This was revealed by issue 3 out of 4. Yet, when the West Coast Avengers received their own ongoing series shortly after, Iron Man is there as a member – and Tony Stark is inside the armor once again. Rhodey rejoined the team as War Machine much later in issue 94. And that’s it. There are more robots/androids than black people in the entire run (Vision, original Human Torch, Machine Man).
From 1984 to 1994, the run of the series, there was one black member. The original Avengers series began in 1963. “It was a different time” is a too often used excuse, but let’s use it once more to talk about a comic book from the 1960’s. Black Panther was the first black member of the Avengers, in issue #52 in 1968. Falcon in #184 (1979), Monica Rambeau in #231 (1983), Rage in #329 (1991), and there are more later but I’m staying within the time frame of what we would have read as kids.
My other favorite team, the New Warriors, was introduced with Night Thrasher as the leader. In a much shorter amount of time than the Avengers he is joined by Silhouette, Rage, and Bandit. By issue 48. Not perfect, but a lot better. Even the X-Men, known for their inclusivity, have a long gap from the team debuting in 1963, to their first black member – Storm – in 1975, all the way to their second – Bishop – in 1992.
I wasn’t reading a lot of DC or other comics then. Wrestling certainly wasn’t putting iconic black heroes on weekly TV. Somehow a message of we’re all in this together and anyone can be a hero resonated with me but is absent from others so close to me. Of course there are things like the influence of friends, family, education, and so on. I’ve heard the same horrible things too. I’ve also been in a room when someone looks around first before telling a joke.
In the end it just makes me sad. A person would rather cling to their hate than to friendship. A scene which has happened and will continue to happen every day. Comics has a lot of work to still do. All of us do. In the meantime, if you just want to talk about how cool comics are and your favorite characters no matter what he/she/they look like I am here to listen.