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.


Timeless icons.

Batman 1972I know comics and I broke up a while ago, but I must state that Francesco Francavilla’s pet project modeled after works appearing under DC’s Elseworlds imprint is money on the table for DC. Three sets of 64-page one-shots starring the trinity. Each character gets a different decade: Superman against the backdrop of the gluttonous, Cold-War-fueled ’80s; Batman in the crime-ridden, wayward ’70s; Wonder Woman fighting for our rights in the mid ’60s. Superstar artists all the way. When it’s all done, bind that sucker up in a huge hardcover crammed with all sorts of pin-ups of the trinity in different time periods. Then? Do it all over again with a different set of artists: Superman in the early atomic age (’50s); Wonder Woman taking on Nazis during WW II (’40s); Batman trying to keep Gotham from sinking during the Great Depression (’30s).

Money on the table.

I want to take a moment to expand upon what I mean by that phrase. Every product containing Batman is profitable. Fans of the character will purchase even subpar work containing an appearance by the Dark Knight. However, the work I described in the preceding paragraph, if marketed correctly, would have a great deal of longevity as a trade and would easily interest fans outside the standard direct market. What I described is a coffee table book crammed to the brim with trendy, superstar artists, featuring America’s favorite modern myths and leaning heavily on the country’s most beloved form of entertainment—nostalgia.


Wonderful. Terrific. Fine.

With the introduction of Helena Wayne and Karen Starr as Huntress and Power Girl, DC Entertainment has given fans what they have clamored for in a way that some readers are still a bit unsure about. However, the world’s finest are here, with a gender and sex change to keep things fresh and new.

Of course, I was always a bit irked by the original incarnation. An assembly of the “world’s finest” without the inclusion of Wonder Woman feels incomplete and exclusionary. Wonder Woman has always been both there but not there, her gender often keeping her separate and regarded as an afterthought by many male readers. And that’s sad. It’s not a dynamic duo—that would be Batman and Robin—it’s a trinity. And I always get a little ping of delight when the comics reflect that.

I think what is most interesting about the arrival of Huntress and Power Girl is the possibility that not only does it provide a warped reflection of the world’s finest that most fans are used to, it also provides a warped reflection of DC’s most well-known and lopsided triangle due to Karen’s connection with Mr. Terrific.

Like Diana, Mr. Terrific is both there and not there. His connection to Earth Two is merely tangential—as is Diana’s connection to the world that Clark and Bruce were raised in. An attempt has been made to place him in a romantic relationship with Karen—as Diana has often been foisted on Bruce or Clark. And hilariously, that romance has been largely ignored as fans rush to embrace the romantic subtext between Helena and Karen—subtext that is also evident between Bruce and Clark and has long been cherished by fans.

And of course, there is the elephant in the room. As Diana’s gender makes her seem of lesser importance due to the casual sexism of some readers, Mr. Terrific’s race will likely result in the same due to the casual racism found amongst comics fans. I will be amused to see if the excuses match up.


BHM: What can brown do for you?

I’ll make this one short and sweet. Originality is not achieved through color. Applying a pallet swap to someone else’s story does not qualify as a “new spin.” It’s a cheap trick, a shortcut to reach a previously untapped resource—minority audiences.

It’s not uncommon to want to pay homage to the stories that precede us, to revisit the myths that we will hand down to our children and grandchildren. An alien falls to earth. A vigilante haunts the streets. A patriot fights for justice. We repeat these stories like ballads in old watering holes, each incarnation shifting slightly to fit our culture and our desires.

But how that slight shift matters! And that shift must be more than just a variation in shade. Point blank? If you make the decision to create a black character pastiche, you best make that decision mean something. It should alter the nature of the work. We don’t need a black Superman. We have Superman. To make audiences sit up and take notice, to truly examine the theme of the alien beneath the lens of race?

You establish an Icon.


LOLCATS.

I was all set to ruthlessly mock DC over the latest brouhaha involving Superman #712. However, that would be too easy and would not get to the heart of the problem—that something is seriously wrong with DC’s public relations division. Either this branch is staffed by individuals who are at a complete loss when it comes to interacting with any individual who is not a white Christian heterosexual male from a suburban and fairly homogeneous community, or this division is staffed with individuals so toothless that they refuse to discuss possible public relations disasters with the creative division well before they have a chance to occur. Of course, there is the possibility that members of DC’s public relations division have no interest in actually doing their jobs properly, for that would mean having to maintain close contact with the creative and editorial divisions in order to keep tabs on output. A boring and thankless job? Yes, but it is a job. It is what one is hired to do!

A good PR man would have seen trouble on the horizon as soon as he was informed that the original story had been pulled. He would have approached an editor about it. And if he couldn’t change the editor’s mind? He sure as hell would have had something better than kittens and a Kanye shrug to present to the press and any irate fans circling.

Someday, someone at DC is bound to notice that they are continually cutting checks for people who have continually failed to get the job done, right? Right?


The image.

Justice LeagueWell, everyone else is talking about it! I might as well throw my two cents in.

Aquaman: Isn’t he dreamy? Kudos for going the pretty boy route. Is Aquaman next up to get the CW treatment? I could totally see this Aquaman standing out in the rain casting lovelorn looks at some chick from a dysfunctional home near the docks. This is your heart throb, DC. Your Jax Teller. Your Thor. I want to see some epic angst-ridden romance with this dude. And then farm it all out to television and wait for the Tumblrs to start tumbling. Late 20s on this one. Noble. Brooding. Suffering in silence.

Flash: Get rid of that chin guard! So ’90s. Just stick with the classic look! And I hope that’s Wally. I don’t give a damn about Barry. Let Barry be a blissfully happy family man in his 50s. And Bart can get kicked to the future. And I know this is going to make some people mad, but I don’t want Flash married with kids either. Knock him down to his mid 20s. We don’t need a million characters with speed powers running around. Give Barry some kids and let him be a mentor to Wally. One Flash. That’s it. It’s a title that gets handed down through the family. And why does he look so serious? Flash should be fun!

Cyborg: No. No, no, no. Again, so ’90s! Technology is getting smaller and sleeker by the day. What is this? The good thing is that Cyborg’s costume should be constantly updating; you can get away with quickly changing this design. I understand that Cyborg needs to be the “big guy” on the team to keep him in line with what people remember from the Teen Titans cartoon. Fine. He can be big. The costume should be sleek. Something akin to the Engineer from The Authority. Remember Adam Warren’s take on Cyborg from his Titans one-shot? I want to see Cyborg doing crazy stuff like that too. As for the man inside the weapon? I’d like to see him look like a regular guy when off-duty. White suits. Low haircut (Google Reggie Bush or 50 Cent). Glowing eyes to let people know that something’s not quite right with this dude. Early 30s. Can be a bit abrupt or cold. There’s a danger of him getting lost in the machine.

Green Lantern: Honestly? I just don’t care. It’s fine, I guess. Mid thirties. Established. And boring—just like he’s always been.

Superman: Why so young? You need to bump his age up to early thirties. He’s the Cap of the DC universe! Plus, nobody feels like sitting through this dude’s origin again. Real talk? I’m not a long-term DC fan, so I could care less if you make him single again. But long-term fans will care. A lot. You’d better have Lois in there somewhere as a viable, likeable love interest. Learn from Marvel’s mistake on that one, baby. And don’t chain him to the paper either. Or to Metropolis. Print is dead and globalization is here to stay. Make him an investigative journalist. A younger, wilder Anderson Cooper. A Superman story should be able to take place anywhere at any time. Never mind. Just let Morrison do whatever the hell he feels like. Fans will buy it on his name alone. And there a 99.9 percent chance it will be amazing.

Batman: Mid thirties. Established. Old money. Long money. Honestly, I’d go back to basics. One Batman. Anyone else running around with a Batman symbol on is doing it without his approval or training. I’d make Cassandra Cain his Robin. He’d use her for minor jobs where he felt the risk involved was very low. She’d keep pushing for more. I like the design! But it’s fairly impossible to screw up Batman. No matter how insane the design or story, it always seems to work.

Wonder Woman: Sigh. Either use the classic design or go with the final one from the pilot! And please cut it out with the man-hating Amazons! Look, I’ll make this easy for you. Female Thor. Showed up in the late 1800s as Lady Liberty, but was so disgusted with “Man’s World” that she returned home. Popped up again in the ’20s and ’70s. Rumored to have vanished in the late ’70s to give birth to a child in secret. She doesn’t like when people bring up that rumor.

Uh, that’s it! We can sift through the other rumors later—especially any pertaining to the WS characters. You know I’ll be on those soon.


Prince of Gotham.

Y’know what’d be fun? If Amar’e repped Batman the same way that Shaq reps Superman. Then again, I don’t know how loyal the dude is to the Knicks. He may not want to have his brand tied to one city or team like that.

Still, it is a fun idea for photoshoots or promos.