March 23, 2010

Indians in FIRST WAVE #1

Bought the first issue of FIRST WAVE, the new DC Comics series that features pulp heroes in a shared universe. The players include Doc Savage, the Spirit, Batman...and Rima the Jungle Girl.

The story included three pages of Amazon Indians, with some European bad guys interrogating a captive chief. Rima appeared on the last of these pages as a spectator in a canoe.

I can't say there was anything terribly wrong with these scenes. The Indians looked a little scary--hooded eyes and bones through noses--but nothing too stereotypical.

Of course, the meta-message doesn't look promising. Indians as lackeys of white men. No Indians with individual personalities. Rima the "white Indian" as the only jungle dweller who matters.

And why stop there? FIRST WAVE #1 has no female or minority characters who matter. Just the usual roundup of white Anglo-Saxon Protestants. No doubt the original pulp stories were white-male fantasies, but does an Obama-era comic have to emulate them?

Since these are new versions of the characters with no connection to the old versions, why couldn't DC update their heritage? Batman could be Latino, the Spirit could be Asian, and Doc Savage's team could include women and blacks. And Rima could be a genuine black-haired Native. Not only wouldn't this harm the storytelling, but it would make it more interesting.

Anyway, Rags Morales's artwork was nice, but Brian Azzarello's script was only average. At $3.99 a shot, I plan to skip this series, and you should too.

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


Micah Wright said...

Those aren't "new" versions of those characters, they are the exact same characters, just recently licensed and combined together for the first time. No way that any of the copyright holders would allow some lowly comic book writer to reinterpret those characters when all they really want to sell them as-is to Hollywood. This entire First Wave miniseries is really just a transparent attempt by Conde Nast to revivify Doc Savage's dead body and set him on the right path for the upcoming Hollywood film.

Furthermore, if I were writing that comic, I wouldn't spend a single second of my time "re-imagining" those old pulp heroes as hip, modern, ethnically diverse characters, because all you'd be doing is creating added value for the huge corporation who own Rima or The Shadow or Doc Savage or Batman. Seriously, if you have an idea for an updated version of Doc Savage, just come out with your own version... Conde Nast will not give you a share of the millions they earn when your black female version of The Shadow sells a million copies and Hollywood comes calling.

Believe me, I know whereof I speak:

Rob said...

I understand that these decisions happen at the management level, not at the "lowly comic book writer" level. The whole decision to combine the properties and launch the line happened at the management level. So let's not waste time talking about the writer's wishes or options.

In DC's present continuity, Batman raised Dick Grayson to manhood, had his back broken by Bane, sired a son Damian, and was "killed" by Darkseid. I'm guessing FIRST WAVE Batman hasn't experienced any of these things.

Present-day Batman was born around 1980. There's no way the "exact same" character also was born around 1910. In short, try again.

I believe DC's Spirit series is set in the present, with people using computers and the Internet. So this Spirit isn't the "exact same" character as that Spirit. Again, try again.

The Spirit movie has come and gone, and I don't think there'll be another one. DC has experimented with Batman before--e.g., in Elseworlds and Batman R.I.P. The Eisner estate (or whoever) may be just as willing to experiment with the Spirit.

I'm pretty sure Rima the Jungle Girl is in the public domain, so the copyright holder isn't an issue there. There's little or no excuse not to reimagine her.

Really, about your only argument is maintaining the purity of the Doc Savage characters for an upcoming movie. Okay, let's leave Doc alone but change the other characters. Agreed?

Incidentally, I'm not talking about making them hip or modern. They can be as square as Amazing Man, Flying Fox, and Tsunami were in Roy Thomas's comics. Or as square as Isaiah Bradley, the black Captain America, was in Marvel's TRUTH mini-series.

But if you think minorities didn't exist in the 1930s and 1940s, you're sadly mistaken. That's my point: that comics such as FIRST WAVE obscure America's multicultural history. You can view this history through lily-white glasses, but I'm not going to.

Micah Wright said...

You're missing my point (by a lot). You protest that the book has no minority characters who matter (though, I'd debate the entire meaning of Doc Savage's "bronze" skin with you at some point -- he's always clearly been of mixed race, even if saying it outright in 1937 was verboten), and you state that these are new versions of the characters with no connection to the old versions and suggest updates to their race & gender. I was AGREEING with you, but pointing out the facts of life when it comes to licensed characters -- you're not really allowed to update them.

Moreover, these ARE the same characters with very palpable connections to the old versions. In fact, they ARE the "old versions." That's not Batman of today's Batman, it's Azzarello's version of 1939 Batman hanging out with 1939 Doc Savage, 1939 Crimson Avenger, and the 1939 Spirit (or whatever year) point being this series takes place in THAT era, NOT in current day. It's DC's attempt at a "League of Extraordinary Gentlemen" set in the 1930's/40's, and as such they're not going to venture too far from the characters as they were in the 30's/40's or there wouldn't be much of a point to mixing them together in the first place. That's rather the point of the book.

I'm sure Azzarello will address minority issues in the era in this book. If he doesn't, it'll be a major failure and won't live up to the multicultural heritage of previous DC updates of old pulp characters, such as Howard Chaykin's The Shadow or Andrew Helfer & Kyle Baker's The Avenger (which had a bracing and heartbreaking b-story about The Avenger's 2 African-American aides and how they get shafted when he joins the FBI). He's a good writer who has shown a very multicultural approach to his comics in the past, and personally I don't think he'll miss the opportunity to comment on this country's racism in the 30's & 40's. Maybe I'll turn out wrong, in which case I'll freely admit it.

Lastly THIS paragraph: "But if you think minorities didn't exist in the 1930s and 1940s, you're sadly mistaken. That's my point: that comics such as FIRST WAVE obscure America's multicultural history. You can view this history through lily-white glasses, but I'm not going to." is vitriolic in it's attack on me, it assumes an awful lot about my views and positions, and is pretty insulting for no reason... I didn't articulate any of those points and I didn't attack you.

I -DON'T- believe minorities didn't exist in the 30's and 40's, and I don't view history through lily-white glasses. I'm a registered member of the Muskogee Creek tribe, so it would be pretty odd of me to do either. I used to write comics for DC/Wildstorm, and I think people would be hard-pressed to complain about the number of ethnically and sexually diverse characters in my books.

John said...

A really good point by Micah that was overlooked was this idea that, instead of doing a black, female version of The Shadow and calling them The Shadow, why not make a new, fresh black female heroine that can truly stand as their own character, rather than being derivative of the white male version that will always be viewed as the "real" one anyway?

Now admittedly, I'm not overly familiar with "First Wave", but based on what I have read it seems somewhat like "DC: The New Frontier". That comic explored the birth of the Silver Age by placing DC's roster of heroes in the 1950s. Darwyn Cooke very effectively explored ideas such as the Civil Rights movement, the paranoia of McCarthyism, and the space race, but he was able to do so largely because he kept those classic heroes as they were. Instead of making arbitrary changes to their race and gender, he kept them largely in the form they took when they first appeared, and as such he was able to make comment on what exactly these characters were meant to embody and represent when they were first devised by their creators. As such, the story became a much more focused commentary on that era, both in comics and in history as a whole.

On another note, is this aformentioned "Doc Savage" film still being written/directed by Shane "Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang" Black? If so, it's going to be five shades of awesome.

Rob said...

Sorry if I misunderstood your position, Micah. But the comics are set in the present, not in 1939. For more on the subject, see Minorities in the First Wave Universe.