The Luke Cage wrap-up.

Okay, so I’m talking about Luke Cage, just not here! I was lucky enough to be part of a roundtable involving three folks who I admire greatly: Evan Narcisse, David Brothers, and Jamie Broadnax. You can take a look at our thoughts on the series over at io9. And of course, my thoughts on the rest of Marvel’s Netflix output can be found below.

And that’s all she wrote, folks!


Power fantasies.

I’ve been thinking of power fantasies a great deal lately—about how they are shaped and formed along different lines. Race. Gender. Socioeconomic status.

Superman is of course the prototype. The first hero. Created in a society that was—is—deeply racist and patriarchal, he is a visual representation of those who are in power. He is male. He is white. And vitally, he is an immigrant. An alien. And that status was aspirational to the first- and second-generation white Americans for whom assimilation and acceptance were a key part of becoming American. A real American. The ones for whom status is not conditional upon subservient performances for white and Christian countrymen.

Superman’s physical and mental might are off the charts, for where does one set limits for a group of children who were well aware that they would inherit the power structures that lead the world? That subjugate others? You must set those limits in the stars.

Luke Cage’s are set in the streets. That is not an insult. It is a statement to show the changes that are made to our heroes in order to tailor them to the group that is being targeted. In Luke Cage’s case? It is African-American men. In a country where blackness is demonized and hunted by officers and representatives of the very same systems that purport to protect all Americans, to be unbreakable is a fantasy that provides blissful relief. Impenetrability is merely one of multiple assets in Superman’s arsenal. For Luke Cage, it is the lynchpin of his existence. Kal-El’s parents gave their lives to send their son to a new world that welcomed him with open arms once it discovered the wonders of which he was capable—a classic tale of immigrant success. Luke went from Harlem to the hell of “the system” and back again. Hardened by his struggles, he was not only able to rebuild, but thrive. That is not an immigrant’s success story. It is the journey of the persecuted innocent. It is the story of the slave—families extinguished due to treachery and avarice, members shipped down river and tortured, rebuilding as best one can once the worst of the horror is over. Knowing that there are more troubles to come, but that one is stronger now. United with others. Invincible.

But race is not all that shapes us, moves us—or hinders our movement.

I think often of Wonder Woman and of another power fantasy more clearly marked for white women in our modern era—the Whedon-helmed Kitty Pryde. Where Superman and Luke Cage are impenetrable, Wonder Woman and Kitty are untouchable save for when they—and only they—desire to be touched. Diana achieves this by retreating to a utopia where there are no men. Kitty remains within a patriarchal society, but her intangibility prevents others from physically dominating her. She is able to come and go as she pleases, to observe violence as a disaffected bystander or conscientious objector depending on mood. Both Kitty and Diana are given respected positions within the power structures they have decided to be a part of (Justice League, X-Men)—Kitty’s position is the more notable one given her rise from a subordinate child to a leader that is often deferred to. Through hard work and studious behavior she is able to ascend. It is interesting to note that Kitty and Diana do not dismantle the patriarchal societies they move within, simply achieve positions of power within them due to their exceptional achievements. And both stress diplomacy over domination. After all, why take the building down if you can simply smash the glass ceiling instead? Those stairways are useful.

For Kitty, for Luke, for Diana (but not for Kal-El) the fantasy is to no longer be a victim of violence—violence that is enacted upon them solely because of who they are inherently as people. Black men. White women. Kitty has the option to retreat. Luke has the option to fight. Diana is afforded the opportunity to do both. I would argue that Diana’s duality stems from her status as an LGBT power fantasy in addition to being one for women, but I could be wrong. (I would love for someone with more knowledge than I possess to examine that possibility!)

As a dark-skinned black woman, I have searched for a character that embraces my triality—one whose fantastic powers are a vehicle to escape the unique agony enacted upon my mind and body according to the circumstances of my birth. I’m still looking. And what I’ve discovered is that I am not looking for power within a character, but instead I am searching for a character to be treated a particular way. And for my search to be so fruitless is demoralizing and, quite frankly, makes me want to abandon the medium of comics and the superheroic genre altogether.

“If you have a work and I see the same tired trope of the dark-skinned girl being the no-nonsense butch one, the aggressor in all things, the stoic one who doesn’t need a man, the romanceless den mother? I’m done. It’s insulting and weak.”Cheryl Lynn Eaton

My power fantasy is to be loved and appreciated. And in fantasy worlds where walls are punched through like tissue paper and the skies are no limitation that must seem ludicrous. And it is. And yet black women who look like me are not easily afforded something so basic in the art we consume. Our love and acceptance are conditional—tied into shade and age and “grade” of hair. How many characters have I cherished only to wince when skin is lightened with increased popularity or lovers are written out of a character’s history (or must be doggedly pursued)? Too many. Love at first sight in art is rarely an option for women like me. Instead we are told that we must work for men to look past the sight of us. What must it be like to be loved without need for convincing and cajoling? To be someone’s first and only choice? As-is. Unconditionally. Lois Lane.

It must be nice.

I appreciate Storm’s leadership, Misty Knight’s determination, Vixen’s raw power, and Amanda Waller’s intelligence. But I see dark-skinned black women making amazing things out of nothing on a daily basis—in real life. And I see them do it tirelessly without appreciation and acknowledgement. Without kindness. I see their works and images outright stolen from them and cherished in presentations that aren’t theirs. So yes, while it is so important to find relief, even in a fleeting fantasy, from violence, showing me I can punch monsters from the sky doesn’t mean as much when (1) my community has already shown me what I am capable of and (2) I must beg someone to cheer for me when I touch back down to Earth.

I am known, often with much frustration and eye-rolling from those who aren’t black—to those in power—to stress the importance of having black women writing in the mainstream. And it is for selfish reasons. Not for my own advancement, but because I trust black women implicitly. I trust them to understand what should be so basic, but countless writers who are not black women have failed to grasp. Over and over and over—a haystack of unintentional insults. We know we are capable. We know we are strong. Loved? Well, the world could do a much better job of showing it.

This blog is ten years old. A decade. And I have been writing about society, various artistic mediums, and science fiction and fantasy for much longer than that. And I feel as though I have spent every minute of those ten long years shouting into the void only to see minimal changes and my own needs go unfulfilled. To encounter disdain and harassment. I am exhausted. I am…done. But not in anger. Frankly? My soul is just tired.


Me and Mrs. (Jessica) Jones.

The Marvel-Netflix series of shows has been a success both financially and creatively. Daredevil and Jessica Jones have not only remained faithful to the core attributes of its lead characters but have also stretched the notion of what the masses expect from a superheroic tale. Both works are darker than other fare from Marvel—clearly indicating comic heroes aren’t for kids anymore—utilizing quirky examinations of adult themes rather than juvenile titillation to make said statement.

Jessica JonesJessica Jones in particular has connected with an adult white female audience—a group woefully underserved where action projects are concerned (though inroads have been made with projects like Mad Max: Fury Road). However, where both Daredevil and Jessica Jones take great pains to examine the role of the white vigilante (or in a broader capacity, whiteness in urban society) and how it has morphed since the glory days of Batman, depictions of people of color suffer greatly for it.

It is both frustrating and exciting to watch. Jessica Jones dives headfirst into the topic of consent and its requirement for a true and healthy relationship. Jessica’s abuse by the hands of Kilgrave, and Patricia Walker’s dysfunctional romance with Will Simpson highlight the patriarchal need to dominate and diminish the role of women. However, unlike a by-the-numbers Lifetime movie, a tale of empowerment is woven using elements of science fiction as connecting threads. Kilgrave’s mind-control abilities push his tormenting above and beyond that of the average anonymous social-media bully, causing not only mental anguish for his victims but physical pain as well. Simpson, a rogue cop fueled by pharmaceuticals, attempts to control the movements of the women in his life via superhuman abilities. The character is perhaps even more frightening than Kilgrave in that Simpson shows that an abuser can wear a mask of kindness and can easily be a man one has been willingly intimate with.

Jessica’s physical strength saves the day, but not without the assistance of two very important things: smart women working in tandem and a higher socioeconomic status than others. Trish’s and Jeri’s money and notoriety provide access that would be otherwise impossible to obtain—from a favor from a morgue attendant to classified corporate documents to a speedy and medically sound abortion.

Luke Cage and EmmaIt is here where Jessica Jones shines and also falters. The familial bonds between Jessica and Trish as well as the snide working repartee between Jessica and Jeri are a delight to see. The show glorifies both sisterhood and women who are exceptional at their jobs. Women are shown in leadership positions in entertainment, in medicine, in law, and in criminal justice; the capability of said women is not questioned by the show—only by male characters who are rebuffed for doing so. Women do not need men to take care of them in Jessica Jones, but they are willing to exploit the white-supremacist society those men have built to aid them in their goals. Male characters of color suffer to serve Jessica; female characters of color are utilized to move the story along (and provide the show’s fleeting glimpse of lingerie-clad female objectification), but they are given little to no characterization or voice. Jessica Jones’ sisterhood welcomes members of only one type.

The treatment of Luke Cage is perhaps the most egregious given the character’s history as a Blaxploitation-era figure of empowerment. That history is gone in Jessica Jones—the character becoming a tabula rasa to aid in Jessica’s story. Luke’s cultural ties have been severed. No longer situated in Harlem, he runs a bar in Jessica’s integrated neighborhood. His past as a private investigator—one more skilled than Jessica herself—has also been taken from him. It is Jessica who shows him the ropes as a PI and compliments him for being a quick study. Luke Cage, a character with deep roots in northern African-American subcultures and an origin that highlights the racism of the prison industrial complex and the need for black people to work independently for their own justice, has been changed into a character wholly dependent on a white woman for instruction and closure in the case of his dead wife—a wife killed by the woman whose bed he routinely occupies as an emotional and physical salve. He is a private dick in the worst of all possible ways.

Malcolm Ducasse, a young black man twisted into a junkie spy by Kilgrave, does not fare much better. Jessica turns society’s irrational suspicion of black men against itself by using Malcolm’s presence as a distraction in order to steal items that will aid in her client’s release from prison. To reiterate, she offers Malcolm up to the system to free a young white woman from the same. Moreover, she extends Malcolm’s time in mental bondage to Kilgrave because it is advantageous to her. To Jessica’s credit she feels guilt regarding these actions, but what help is her guilt to a man railroaded into the system? Once Malcolm is freed from Kilgrave’s mental grip he does not return to his promising career, or to his family, but instead remains by Jessica’s side—fielding calls for her company and showing concern for her sobriety. And that is where we leave him, waiting for season two.

Would I recommend watching Jessica Jones or Daredevil? Yes, depending on the individual asking, for both works send different messages to two distinct groups. Unfortunately, as a black woman I am not in the group that is championed or empowered. I can hope for that to change with the addition of Luke Cage and Iron Fist to the Netflix slate, but I am still wary. And given Marvel’s history? I have reason to be.

Okay, you poor souls have suffered through enough Marvel thinkpieces for one day! Of that I’m certain. Next up? I play Daredevil’s advocate.


So what do I want?

Last comics post, y’all. DC and Marvel do not pay my rent and I really don’t care about the health of either company when neither is making all that much (or any) effort to entertain me or others like me. Now, that could be due to clueless marketing reps rather than complete indifference. (And if so, what are they collecting checks for?) Just in case? Here goes.

I want a Power Man webcomic called “Black and Yellow” running over at Nah Right for a few weeks. I want Luke Cage to have a bomb-ass logo to put on t-shirts and jackets. Same goes for Anya. I want Power Girl (drawn and written by Amanda Conner) to give Esquire‘s Funny Joke from a Beautiful Woman for one month. I want Cassandra Cain as Batgirl. I want a Daughters of the Dragon ongoing starring Misty, Colleen, Felicia, and Angela. I want the female Young Avengers tackling an advice column in Seventeen magazine. I want a quirky photoshoot starring Power Girl in Glamour magazine. I want Norah Winters gone. I want a giant one-shot of stories about Marvel characters set to classic rap songs. I want an adorable animated Cho giving tech reviews one day on AOTS. I want a new Young Justice comic starring Static, Blue Beetle, and Batgirl. I want Marvel-inspired exclusives from Nike. I want John to get the same face time as Guy and Kyle. I want minority characters as more than window dressing. I want a Wonder Woman television show. I want at least two of the Stepford Supers to change their hair color and style. I want consistent promotion given to minority characters over a prolonged period of time. Stop recycling your heroes of color and yanking them from the spotlight after a short time so no one hero (Cyborg, Static, Batgirl, Blue Beetle, Solstice, Aqualad) ever gets a foothold. I want diversity and good comics. And cartoons. And video games. And gear.

Make it happen—now. Or don’t. I don’t have time to waste waiting. Other companies (comics, animation, video games, etc.) are already circling.