Superhero fantasy and everyday reality converge in ‘Black’
Required Reading is DoomRocket’s love chest, opened twice monthly to champion a book we just can’t seem to get enough of. This week Arpad recommends the trade paperback of ‘Black’, available now from Black Mask Studios.
By Arpad Okay. Black is stirring. It’s thought provoking, complex, important. And it’s fun. In a world like ours, where people of color (and only people of color) have impossible, supernatural powers, Black captures the urgency of an exaggerated racial divide, but it never loses sight of being a superhero book. There’s excitement and style and a plethora of quips. It fuses comedy and tragedy, it’s flexible, it shoots for the stars and nails it all. Black is a jaw-dropper.
Kareem’s story has two sides that any modern comic book reader and American citizen is all too familiar with. One is a teenager who discovers he has amazing powers of strength, speed, and intellect. The other is an innocent victim of police brutality because of the color of his skin. When Kareem is wrongfully shot to death and then comes back a few minutes later, he finds he has fallen into a fully-formed, secret world of black superheroes. Bleeding edge science and abilities that beggar belief. Mythos and culture. Yet Kareem’s powers are something new, something greater. A catalyst for the story of Black.
Black is lighthearted and dead serious in equal turn. Kareem’s murder is never the subject of ridicule, but you can’t repress the spirit, the joy de vivre of those who fight against death. The wry humor of the oppressed is an ever-present kick against the pricks. The authenticity of dialog and personality of Black’s heroes is casual, and it feels real. The racism is real: the police, rednecks, corporate suits and awful people, the full-stop bigots. The sexism is real, in the system and in the culture. The gun nut fervor is real, too real. The book’s onomatopoeia of gunfire lets you count every shot squeezed off. It’s off-putting to be able to count every bullet, as it should be.
And yet, superheroes. A defense league for people of color versus Caucasian oppressors? Black is far more complex than that. In this world, as in ours, white folks were supervillains long before black people donned capes and masks. Upping the ante from government conspiracies and corporate suppression to the white murder and madness in these pages is not much of a leap. It’s not a leap at all. The suppression of black power is the backbone of both Americas. Institutionalized racism, wittingly and otherwise, by its citizens. Between people who can deflect bullets, and the prejudice, obstacles, and power dynamics that people with no powers whatsoever are forced to contend with everyday, Black strikes a masterful balance.
You would think Black goes Watchmen with all this seriousness, but instead it goes Wildstorm. The character design is top-notch. Black features over a dozen different heroes, each with their own power set. The costumes have great range, from stylish street wear to Hector Garrido action fare, to peak 90s X-Book iconic looks (sans pouches). It pulls from every corner of comics publishing and ties it all together with afro-centric themes. This book is too cool. The story gets increasingly more fantastic as the book rounds out, and the finale flies way over the top.
But Black is a work that knows how important it is. “People of color got powers” is fun, but Black aims for more. “Black” and “white” are roles, a power dynamic that’s confronted here. Race is an identity as much as it is genes. Power perverts the cause, any cause, and a zealot’s vision can be blindness. The solution to a rigged conflict is to be more than either side. Kareem, the catalyst, lies outside the system. He represents the paradigm shift we need to read. Black, a truly unique book, is edu-tainment at its finest.
Black Mask Studios/$19.99
Written by Kwanza Osajyefo and Tim Smith 3.
Art by Jamal Igle.
Inks by Robin Riggs.
Colors by Derwin Roberson.
Letters by David Sharpe.