May 15, 2008

King Arthur in the American West

Another comic book does Indians wrong by portraying one of them as a mystic with magical powers but no culture or history.

Weekend reviews:  Radical Comics, Minima! and a book about Iraq

Caliber: First Canon of Justice No. 1 (of 5)
Written by Sam Sarkar, Art by Garrie Gastonny
Radical Comics, $1

Reviewed by Chris Mautner
I’m sure the creators felt the melding of the two mythos—the taming of the American West and the chivalric tales of knights in armor—was a sure hit, never mind the occasional awkward symbolism, like the fact that Excalibur here is some sort of magical six-shooter that fires lightning. Wow.

But if the Arthur myth is about making order out of chaos, it’s also about protecting the helpless—might for right and all that. Caliber slips up in a major way by making its protagonist the son of a white Union officer. What a convenient way to absolve the creators of any white guilt for massacring the entire Native American populace! Merlin, at least, is portrayed as an Indian, though what tribe I couldn’t possibly say; the comic is maddeningly vague.

Wouldn’t it be more sensible, nay, more interesting even, to have the entire cast be made up of Native Americans, say Comanche or Cherokee? Wouldn’t it be more intriguing to intersperse actual Native American mythology and history in the book, drawing parallels between their plight and the heroic drama Malory wrote about so long ago?

Eh, maybe not, but there’s certainly nothing in Caliber as it currently stands to warrant my interest.
Comment:  I'm not sure making the King Arthur figure a white Union soldier is a problem. As long as he isn't a member of the US Cavalry who fought against Indians.

But making the Indian magical and generic is a problem--a big one. The original Merlin came from a primitive race that predated Christian England, and so does this one.

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

1 comment:

dmarks said...

The melding of the West and King Arthur already happened in Stephen King's Dark Tower. I don't recall any Natives in it, but the hero was a sort of post-apocalyptic movie-western hero type with strong aspects of round-table style knighthood.