May 25, 2009

Assistants do American Eagle

MARVEL ASSISTANT-SIZED SPECTACULAR #1, a comic that came out a couple of months ago, features what may be the first American Eagle story since his 2008 revamp.

As you may recall, I wrote about American Eagle's resurrection in a series of postings:

American Eagle Triumphant
American Eagle Reborn
Background on American Eagle

Now here's the story on the comic. The hype:

Plot SummaryRejects, benchwarmers, lovable losers, and might-be Avengers…assemble! In the beloved tradition of Assistant Editors’ Month, we the staffers are sick and tired of our bosses telling nothing but Wolverine stories, Spider-Man stories, Captain America stories…and we’re taking matters into our own oddball hands! Little guys can be heroes, too…and when this motley crew of misfits gets their shot--in stories featuring Elsa Bloodstone, American Eagle, D-Man, the daughter of Galactus, Mini Marvel cake-eating Hawkeye, Candidate Luke Cage, and more--it could be the start of something big! Don’t miss this two-issue anthology of also-rans who might--just MIGHT--ascend to the A-list! (Fingers crossed. Really we’re just hoping this doesn’t get us fired.)The reality behind the hype:

Marvel Assistant-Sized Spectacular #1[T]he days of turning almost the entire Marvel line over to the assistant editors are well and truly behind us. Instead, they’ve been given a two-issue miniseries to play with.

Except they haven’t actually done that--the bulk of this series appear to be reprints of original stories from Marvel’s Digital Comics Online service. There’s a wacky framing sequence set in the Marvel bullpen that’s packed with in-jokes and self-referential moments, more fitting of the assistant editors’ tradition, but the tone of the actual stories collected doesn’t quite mesh with that.

That’s not to say they haven’t tried--characters like D-Man and American Eagle aren’t high up anyone’s list of credible characters, but rather than go for laughs, the stories themselves play things dead straight, and that causes a harmful rift between reader expectations, and the credibility afforded the book’s super-heroes.
And the pitch for the American Eagle story:

When Assistants AttackAmerican Eagle

Written by Jason Aaron with art by Richard Isanove.

"When the fancy-pants superheroes descend into his country, American Eagle teaches them a thing or two about real justice," declares Lauren Sankovitch.

"Besides being able to take down notorious baddies like Bullseye without breaking a sweat, the Eagle's had a veritable parade of some of the most horrid and offensive costumes in comicdom. Luckily, the costume does not make the man."
Yes, the writer is Jason Aaron of SCALPED fame. I gather he's becoming the go-to guy for writing comics about Natives. If Marvel can't hire an actual Native--which it could--I guess he's a decent alternative. Fortunately, this story isn't nearly as stereotypical as some of his previous efforts.

Rob's review

This story is actually a trifle: a nine-page story that could've been done in six or seven pages. But at least it's a good trifle, not a bad one.

The premise is simple. A villain named Cottonmouth flees a crime scene with a little girl as a hostage. American Eagle follows them across the Navajo rez.

Why is it good? For once Aaron writes a Native hero who doesn't punch, slash, or kill his way to victory. Rather, American Eagle enlists the girl to deliver a well-aimed kick and quickly subdues the villain.

Not only is this a welcome change, but it seems consistent with American Eagle's revised character. This hero doesn't do the usual macho posturing; he's all about getting the job done with no fuss or muss.

Even better, the story ends with American Eagle forcing Cottonmouth to make amends for his crime. This is a traditional value you almost never see in Native-themed fiction. Kudos to Aaron for the idea.

A few quibbles

The story claims the federal agents can't follow Cottonmouth onto the rez because it's sovereign territory. In the case of a felony such as kidnapping, yes, I think they could. But I'm not sure about that and it doesn't harm the story.

Richard Isanove's version of the rez consists of bright red, orange, and yellow backgrounds with no detail. The splash page below gives you the idea. The message is that the region is a wasteland of sun, heat, and sand, not a network of towns and roads nestled in a range of desert and mountain ecosystems.

American Eagle is dressed in his motorcycle leathers but doesn't wear his spiffy new helmet. It makes sense that he wouldn't wear it on his home ground, but it reduces his "cool" factor by about 50%.

P.S. I think American Eagle had only one costume before the revamp, not a "veritable parade." It would've been a good costume for a Plains hero named Super-Chief, but it was badly stereotypical for this Navajo hero.

For more on the subject, see Comic Books Featuring Indians.


Stephen said...

" If Marvel can't hire an actual Native--which it could--I guess he's a decent alternative."

Who cares as long the comic's good? Aaron's a real talent unlike that (native) hack who did that awful tribal force comic. While I agree with you about the importance of casting Indians to play Indians it doesn't really matter when it comes to fiction.

Stephen said...

Also it's worth pointing out that Scalped isn't quite so stereotypical anymore, the casino isn't portrayed as corrupt (a card counter is simply told to leave in one ish), red crow isn't pure evil anymore, the rez isn't portrayed as a hell holes anymore etc.

Rob said...

This story was good in a trifling sort of way. Nobody except me gave it more than a few seconds of thought.

No one is saying that any Native writer is better than any non-Native writer. I've written Native comics myself, and I feel I'm better than most writers--whether they're Native or not.

But Native creators bring an extra touch of authenticity to everything they do. That includes comic books and other forms of fiction.

A Native writer might've included some Navajo words or images to make this story seem more real. That's what I would've done if I'd written it.

dmarks said...

Rob's last statement: "A Native writer might've included some Navajo words or images to make this story seem more real. That's what I [i.e. a non-Native] would've done if I'd written it."

Doesn't this negate the case that it would have been better had an actual Native written it?

Rob said...

All other things being equal, a Native writer is more likely to add authenticity than a non-Native writer. That's all I meant.