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Thursday, January 30, 2020 

The earliest attempt at a black superhero

The Washington Post's written about the history of an early black superhero creation from the Golden Age, late 1940s called Lion Man, which unfortunately didn't get far due to the racist atmosphere that was sadly common at the time. They first say the following about Stan Lee:
But Stan Lee, who created Black Panther, did not invent the black superhero, and the amnesia surrounding who really did, decades earlier, is part of a larger pattern of black inventors going unappreciated. Black Panther — as vital as he has been to comics, the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the legions of fans who had waited so long to see a black superhero top the box office — was predated by nearly two decades by the now-forgotten Lion Man. Had this cat-crusader been allowed to thrive, the role of black heroes in media might have evolved very differently — and we might have a far richer and more inclusive array of identities reflected in popular culture today.

Lee created countless beloved heroes for Marvel Comics, but the legacy surrounding how he handled black characters is more complex than most realize. In his early work, he created an offensive black character named Whitewash Jones in 1941 as part of the series the Young Allies. Whitewash spoke in a stereotypical drawl and is introduced as a skilled harmonica player before adding: “Yeah man! I is also good on de watermelon!”

Lee was still a teenager and new to writing comics in 1941, and the Young Allies was one of his earliest efforts. Whitewash Jones faced no backlash at the time because he was part of a larger trend in which black characters were portrayed almost exclusively as buffoons, including Buckwheat in the Our Gang short films, Amos ‘n’ Andy on the radio, and black film stars such as Stepin Fetchit and Mantan Moreland. Comics readers were assumed to be white readers, with little thought given to authentic representations of people of color (or the market share they made up). Black readers were accustomed to seeing stereotypical depictions of black characters in comics.
On this, let me note that, while the character design was in most unfortunately questionable taste, not unlike Ebony White in the Golden Age Spirit comics drawn by Will Eisner, the upside is that such characters as Whitewash Jones were usually depicted as good guys, and beyond the design, weren't denigrated based on their racial background. And describing WJ as an offensive character honestly isn't logical - he should be described as an offensively written/characterized/illustrated character. But I guess it figures such a pretentious paper's writers couldn't figure that out. And Lee did make an effort later to improve his approach to race, as his 60s efforts prove. Let's go on to the part about the guy who'd created Lion Man:
But in July 1947, journalist Orrin C. Evans published the first — and only — issue of a comic book aimed exclusively at black readers, made solely by black creators and featuring only black characters — All-Negro Comics No. 1. Evans, who as a journalist regularly covered NAACP and National Urban League conventions, sought to actively counter the racial distortions seen in other comics. He wanted to offer stories born out of experience and civic engagement rather than thoughtless stereotypes, and to give black readers heroic characters that other media industries were unwilling to provide.

Evans hoped that All-Negro Comics might allow marginalized voices and experiences to be heard. He wanted the series to elevate black creators, too, such as E.C. Stoner, who drew a story in 1937 for the first issue of Detective Comics, the now-famous series that soon introduced Batman in its pages.

Lion Man, a cat-themed superhero, debuted as protector of the world’s largest uranium deposit in Africa’s Gold Coast (now Ghana). Channeling the rising Pan-Africanism movement, Evans hoped that Lion Man might give African American readers what he called “a finer appreciation of their African heritage” in the opening editorial of All-Negro Comics No. 1.

But Lion Man was forgotten soon after his 1947 debut because the entrenched racism in the comic book business denied Evans a chance to continue the series. Evans was planning a second installment, which he advertised in the first issue’s final pages. But many distributors and newsstands refused to sell All-Negro Comics once they saw it, making it hard to find outside Evans’s hometown of Philadelphia. He couldn’t secure a printer willing to do a second issue or even anyone willing to sell him the paper to print it on. The systemic racism of the comics industry and its printing and distribution channels killed the chance for another issue, so Evans returned to his newspaper career. Readers had to wait until the mid-1960s for the further adventures of a black superhero.
And back at that time, the issue of anti-black racism was a very valid one. Today, the pendulum's swung in nearly the opposite direction, when there's POC discriminating against whites, or denigrating them in their very own writings, basically declaring all whites the same, and all invalid with no chance to prove they can improve and redeem themselves for past mistakes (there's even women/potential feminists making false accusations of sexual misconduct, which harms actual victims). Marvel's particularly suffered from this in mainstream, if you take David Walker's conduct as an example. An early example of Marvel's degeneration into this sort of mess was 2003's The Truth: Red, White & Black, which sought to depict Captain America's super-soldier project as built on exploiting blacks as guinea pigs in the experiments, and all the while drained any seriousness by relying on stereotypical artwork - the very kind of atrocities the social justice movement of today is supposedly against. It was a true show of disrespect for Black Panther's co-creator Jack Kirby, and here, after all the good he tried to do along with Lee, that's how Joe Quesada and Bill Jemas thanked him. What that proves is racism was still prevalent during the 2000s, and the MSM, determined to sugarcoat a product denigrating to America, wouldn't admit it was simultaneously offensive to blacks, and a disturbing example of 2 sides of the same coin.

The article also notes another character Lee created in the Silver Age prior to T'Challa:
That’s when Lee created Black Panther, to widespread success. When Lee launched his new line of Marvel superheroes in 1961 with “The Fantastic Four,” he sought to make his stories reflect the world around him more directly than other comics publishers were doing, and that included inserting a modicum of racial diversity into his books. A first step came in adding a black soldier named Gabriel Jones to the pages of Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos in 1963. An early issue of that series even tackled racial bigotry, demonstrating that Lee was becoming more attuned to the need to reflect societal change in the wake of the civil rights movement. Since Lee had more clout with his distributors than Evans ever did, a character like Black Panther was finally a possibility for mass audiences by the time of his 1966 debut.
That's another plus in Lee's efforts to take improved approaches to race relations, one which, ironically, he's not likely to get thanked for by the so-called social justice advocates. But then, the article continues to say:
By building a legacy around how a white creator like Lee made great advances in portraying black culture in popular media, we disguise the racism that permeated the comics industry for so many decades and that prevented creators such as Evans from finding success in the same markets as Lee and other white publishers. Superman has often been read as a parable about the experiences of Jewish immigrants, but black creators were denied the chance to tell similar stories. As Coogler’s film proved, heroes whom marginalized audiences can look up to with pride — and whom white audiences can also embrace — are a vital starting point for dialogues about racial and cultural identity.
Is this some kind of attempt to diminish Lee's achievements? Of course he was hardly the first person to ever deal with racial issues, but that he paved roads has to count for something. What matters is whether anybody's forgetting and not researching the early pioneers who tried to work on all this, and were tragically shut out by the racism that permeated the 40s. Something that began to change for the better by the time Lee got around to introducing T'Challa to the world. I think the following tells where this journalist's coming from:
More than 70 years before films such as “Black Panther” and “Captain Marvel” inspired debates among fans, journalists and Internet trolls alike about what it means for nonwhite and non-male bodies to don superhero costumes, Lion Man stood as a powerful example of how superheroes can be embodied by a wider range of cultural identities.
So, what's this? Obscuring the merit-based issues surrounding the Captain Marvel movie, and possibly even the BP movie? And of course, no mention of men who did watch the Wonder Woman movie, for example, and accepted a lady fighter, and along with a sizable number of women in the audience, made the film a billion bucks at the box office. Not to mention younger girls wearing WW party costumes proves many parents have no issue with the famous bustier either. There's also valid arguments raised that the BP movie got as far as it did based on identity politics, which obscures whether the writing and acting are good or not. Yet this is how far the industry's fallen, and one day, it's bound to collapse because of all these phony artists who aren't as smart as they think they are.

I think it's great the paper's pointing to a notable moment in publication history regarding an early example of a black protagonist whose creator wanted to set a better example than most were at the time. But it's a shame this article still adheres to the political correctness we've long expected to see from the Wash. Post, and it's never likely to change.

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"the upside is that such characters as Whitewash Jones were usually depicted as good guys, and beyond the design, weren't denigrated based on their racial background."

Even apart from the design, characters like Whitewash were caricaturized as, for example, being afraid of ghosts and loving watermelon, playing to racial stereotypes. The good news is that there was backlash from black readers, and Whitewash became a lot less caricatured by the final issues of the Young Allies book, while characters like Captain Marvel's valet Steamboat were dropped entirely. Ebony White was hustled off stage for a while due to reader backlash, but was brought back later on.

It took Lee a lot of courage to release Black Panther. The Panther's costume covered his skin from head to toe, so a distributor just looking at the covers would never know he was African; there was a real fear about what Southern distributors would do with the book.

It misses the point to say things like "There's also valid arguments raised that the BP movie got as far as it did based on identity politics, which obscures whether the writing and acting are good or not." Theme, ideas, substance, connecting with the viewers by treating subjects that matter, are as much a part of making a good movie as the skill with which it is written and acted; a well-written movie about a boring subject that viewers cannot connect with is not much of a movie.

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  • From Jerusalem, Israel
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