Your friendly neighborhood Anansi.

I recently polished off Neil Gaiman’s American Gods and Anansi Boys—and enjoyed both immensely. As a humorous side note, I’ve also come to find myself troubled by spiders. Each day since finishing the last page of Anansi Boys, I have encountered one of the eight-legged fiends. I am sure each experience has been as unpleasant for the arachnid as it has been for me. The first encounter was too intimate to share and, frankly, too hilarious not to. Dropping my shorts at my feet to take a shower, I noticed an odd skittering back and forth beneath folds of cloth. I screamed and leapt across the width of the bathroom. (Don’t bother marveling at my athleticism. It’s a tiny bathroom.) Sure enough, a medium-sized brown spider darted out from the terry cloth and high-tailed it for the radiator. I was horrified. The occasional spider in the bathroom isn’t a catastrophe—but what if he had been carried from my bed? Needless to say, I ceded the bathroom to the arthropod and sheets were immediately stripped. Thankfully, no bites. Having endured a spider bite right on the small of my back, I can accurately state that they are (1) painful as hell and (2) do not bless one with Spidey sense. Or even common sense.

The second spider came a day later, hovering in the middle of the hallway at work, diligently spinning a web as if a check would be collected upon its completion. Huge. Black. Dare I say it? Muscular. He looked at me. I looked at him. Coolly, he pulled himself up to the ceiling and settled in the crevice of a light fixture. We both decided to pretend the moment never happened.

By day three it had come to be an expected annoyance. Nestled in a notch in my bathroom door frame was a tiny, almost translucent spider. Too small to cause fear and too remote to reach, I allowed him his rent-free existence.

Annoyance morphed to anger on day four when a thin, tan spider dropped down right before my face, and arrogantly plopped down on my computer screen. By this time, I had taken their appearances as some sort of sign. I roughly nudged him with a piece of paper, hoping he would hop on so I could carry him to the hallway. He refused. While I warned him not to make me kill him, he was slain by a coworker. Oh, well. I had given him options. If I’m being sent a sign from a higher power, I’d prefer one of the non-arachnid variety. In the meantime, let’s talk books, shall we?

American Gods is fantastic, though emotionally draining. I love the casual, easy way Gaiman builds worlds and Gaiman’s ability to play with various shades of gray—both in terms of color and in terms of varying degrees of good and evil. I found myself charmed and repelled by both black hats and white. Sympathies were extended to chief villains; heroes were occasionally off-putting. However, I think that my favorite aspect of the book is its ability to pull American readers away from America, forcing us to look at this bizarre and glorious circus we call a country from an outsider’s perspective. The title’s lead character, Shadow Moon, receives his first metaphorical death early on in the novel, as he is stripped of both the life he knew as well as the life he expected. His circumstances making him a blank slate and his grief leaving him completely numb, he is able to view the country’s quirks and rituals sans preconceived notions, something no American is able to do. Shadow simply accepts this country—the hate, the adoration, the violence, the customs—for what it is, refusing to edit what he sees to create the America that “should be.” It makes for an America that is chaotic and horrible, disjointed and extraordinary.

I followed Shadow as he recovered from a devastating loss; at the same time, I dealt with a personal loss of my own. Like grieving, it made the reading of American Gods a difficult, but essential experience. However, Anansi Boys is light-hearted and cathartic—a return to joy after a great deal of pain. Set in the springtime, both literal and metaphorical, of the world established in American Gods, Anansi Boys presents a world that is comfortable and familiar. Though Fat Charlie and Spider are beset by consistent bumbling, as a reader I never felt out of step with the world presented. With American Gods I had to relearn. Nothing could be taken at face value. The visible world was an egg shell and one false step could pull the main character and the reader down into a quagmire of yolk—a world beyond the world. The world of Anansi Boys is solid, comfortable. Perhaps it is because, unlike Shadow, the lead character is such a known figure. A black, hyphen-American with a pink collar job, struggling to make ends meet and saddled with a legion of older relatives who seem ancient and magical and completely ridiculous? It is as familiar as the reflection in the mirror—a foundation in which one can be sure.

However, just because it is familiar does not mean that it is mundane. There are stories and there are songs; some of them are true and some of them are not. In our world, a world without magic, we simply accept that and continue to enjoy the tales told. For Fat Charlie, this is not the case. Fat Charlie’s world is magical, and that means all of his songs are true. Everything is as it seems. A man can be a spider and a god, and still be a man—just as we’ve been told by our fairytales and folksongs. All Charlie must do is accept this—and keep singing. And yet, that is not as easy as it sounds. But that’s what makes the tale all the more fun.


Supremely prophetic visions.

A month ago, if one had asked me if I would be interested in reading a handful of comics concerning a hypercompetent white man who saves the world through his sheer strength and determination, the withering gaze that would have served as my response could have silenced the most effusive of fanboys. And yet here we are to discuss Prophet and Supreme, and how much I’ve enjoyed both.

Prophet

When I discovered that Brandon Graham would be taking the reins of Rob Liefeld’s Prophet series, my initial feelings were bittersweet. I was pleased that a creator I had always admired was being recognized for his incredible talent, however, I felt said talent was wasted on a character clearly unworthy of it. I was adamant that, similar to other titles such as Batgirl, placing a creator I adored on a book featuring a character I despised would only result in increased resentment for the character in question. More importantly, it would most certainly not result in a sale.

Brandon Graham proved me wrong. Brandon Graham gave me Conan in space.

Truth be told, I don’t have a penchant for tales of Alpha males—men who have assumed a position of dominance in their community. Even the most congenial of characters, such as Superman, leaves me cold. They are fine, even charming, when they appear in a panel or two, but an entire comic focused on their activities? I am simply not the audience for it. However, there are paths around my wall of indifference. The path Graham chose was to rip John Prophet once again from his community, this time placing him in an arena where his dominance is far from assured. A former Alpha male completely off balance in a new world? It is a concept that envelops me completely, drawing me in deeper the weirder the world gets and the harder the antagonists become.

And Graham likes it extra hard and really weird. The sanitized sci-fi scapes that the majority of us are used to are of no use to Graham. Instead, he draws his influences from myriad places, pooling them into a world that becomes dirtier and more off-putting due to the severe juxtaposition—a landfill full of different dreams of our futures. Bubblegum bodysuits, giant mechs, organic cargo trains that run on excrement, primitive hunters—all share the same terrain. Of course, Roy and Dalrymple deserve credit as well for the skill they exhibit in folding Graham’s conflicting visions into a world one can visually navigate. However, the road is a bumpy one, all the better to keep things interesting. John’s opponents and occasional compatriot are as perplexing as the land they hail from. Each character is a puzzle in appearance as well as deed, preventing the reader from simply assuming a passive role in his entertainment. As John represents the last of humanity, his fate becomes our concern, forcing us to question the motives of all who stand in his path. The tactic works. I care about John Prophet. See if you do too.

Supreme

The world presented in Supreme, once helmed—as recently as last month—by the talented Alan Moore and now in the hands of creator Erik Larsen, is one that is soothingly common to any individual familiar with the superhero genre. It is our world, albeit one that has been tweaked slightly to accommodate for men who can fly and women who shoot beams of energy from their eyes. We have been a part of this world for over half a century, and have adored every minute of it. However, like a grain of sand in an oyster, Larsen has injected an irritating element into this escapist’s world that many find comfort in. Surprisingly, it is the lead character himself.

Neither a benevolent god nor a humble everyman made good, Supreme is a belligerent bully in the guise of a superhero, one who has made his debut as a perverse pastiche of the icon of excellence we all hold dear. And though there are many twisted depictions of Superman, very few of these depictions are presented as the lead protagonist. Generally, they are the adversaries of the characters we truly cherish.

What turns this grain of sand into a pearl is Larsen’s humor and his stubborn refusal to avoid themes many others have shied away from in an attempt to present the superhero as a serious subject. The superhero is delightful and extravagant and violent and ridiculous, and Larsen embraces every element of it, throwing him into our familiar world and enjoying the mayhem that ensues.

Armed with the power of a deity and the emotional maturity of a child, Supreme is a bull in a china shop, or perhaps deer in a bar. The wreckage he leaves in his wake is awesome and, like the clip above, quite frankly, hilarious. We have seen the physical destruction clearly with Larsen’s debut issue, beheadings and disemboweling occurring mere panels after the character’s reappearance. I am curious as to when we will bear witness to chaos of the emotional variety. The world of the superhero has changed as our world has changed, and often caresses, cajoling, and compromises are required where pulling and punching once sufficed. For twenty years this character has been isolated, and now he has been dropped into a world he can physically dominate but is emotionally unable to navigate—a situation ripe for comeuppance. And who doesn’t want to see the bully get what’s coming to him?


BHM: Hairs to you.

Straight, curly, relaxed, or natural—it really shouldn’t matter how you wear your hair. And yet it does. Simply put, when one particular type of hair (kinky, or tightly coiled) is repeatedly demonized in the media, those who alter their appearance to mask that type are going to be scrutinized. Does she hate herself? Is she trying to pass as something that she is not?

For those happy and well-adjusted black women who have long since come to terms with negative media portrayals and still choose to wear relaxers or press their hair, these questions are infuriating. Can’t one simply desire a different look? After all, it is rare to encounter a white woman who has lightened her hair subsequently accused of despising her ethnic background. It’s just hair. I still press my hair occasionally, and any poor soul who had the audacity to question me about it would need at least a full day of mental recuperation from the verbal assault that would ensue.

Over in Marvel’s Wolverine and the X-Men, resident ingénue Idie Okonkwo has changed her hairstyle from a large, black afro to an equally cute straight, brown pixie cut. Normally, for a well-adjusted black teen who loved herself, such a change would not draw any attention. Nor should it. However, Idie is not normal. She is broken and emotionally scarred. She has been shown to loathe her mutancy, an aspect of herself that is demonized in the media and in the parochial area where she grew up. If she has been shown to listen wholeheartedly when the world tells her she is a “monster,” would she not listen to the world telling her she is “ugly” as well? It is not farfetched that she would internalize negative comments regarding kinky hair. In addition, her change in appearance occurred on the heels of her receiving her first doll from Wolverine, who quite heartbreakingly and unknowingly merely reinforced traditional notions of what is “normal” and emphasized how “different” Idie is physically. It would have made for a fabulous scene—had it been later touched upon by Wolverine or other characters within the franchise.

It hasn’t been—and it is extremely frustrating to me to see a writer leave what could be such meaty content on the table. That no other character is willing to address what is a glaring problem with this child in regards to her mutancy and her appearance is difficult to accept. These are missing scenes from Idie’s life, and Marvel has chosen to dance around these lost stories in the gutters, while I want nothing more than to read them.

I hope these avenues are being ignored simply because the writer wants to tackle different topics and not because the writer is wary of handling themes involving race and gender. No subject should be off-limits to a writer simply because of the circumstances of his or her birth. And race and gender? Those are human topics that involve us all.

How interesting would it be if Quire took it upon himself to “fix” Idie—only to encounter an Idie as militant and arrogant as he? And should he be reprimanded by Wolverine? Well, at least someone cared enough about Idie to do something. It would make for a powerful, and humorous, set of scenes. And it would also allow for Idie’s mental growth, acceptance, and adoration of herself, from her straight pixie cut to the strands of her X gene.

Here’s to black love for 2012’s Black Future Month—not just for each other, but for ourselves.