June 06, 2015

Same-old, same-old Red Wolf

The "all-new, all-different" Red Wolf struck me as problematical since he was still a half-naked savage. Someone else noticed the problem and wrote a good commentary on it:

Not So New, Not So Different: On Red Wolf and Indigenous Representation in the New Marvel

By James LeaskIf the first thing I’d learned about this news was, “Marvel’s bringing back Red Wolf in an important way,” I’d have been thrilled. That’s exactly what I want. There’s a problem, though: that’s not how I first learned about it. I saw the promo image first. And in the promo image, Red Wolf is dressed like the most problematic stereotype you have ever seen of an aboriginal person. He’s holding a bow and arrow. He’s wearing buckskin breeches. He’s wearing a loincloth on top of the buckskin breeches. He has a bone necklace and a warpaint. He’s not wearing a shirt. The only thing missing from the Injun Stereotype Bingo Card is a feather in his hair. It’s hard to make this more suspect-looking.

If it isn't obvious why this is problematical, Leask explains it:The representation was iffy enough in the context of 1872. It’s easy to defend the antiquated dress by saying, hey, it’s the 19th century, so olde-tyme-y dress is appropriate. There are a couple of problems with that.

First, it takes the dangerous position that in the late 19th century, aboriginal people pretty much only dressed in breeches, loincloths and a startling lack of upper body wear. Of course, this isn’t true; not only did aboriginal people wear a wide variety of clothes, including, yes, shirts and coats (I’d like to see present-day Red Wolf William Talltrees brave his home Montana winters without it), but since contact with European settlers, many aboriginal people had begun dressing in European-style dress, a number that only increased as the two (to oversimplify it) groups co-existed, intermingled, and came together to form the distinct aboriginal people, the M├ętis.
You don't have to be an expert on Native history to get the point. Think of the famous images of leaders such as Sitting Bull and Geronimo from that era. They're usually wearing full outfits, shirts and pants, made of buckskin or cotton. Half-naked Indians, or Indians wearing warpaint, become increasingly rare. Why? Because as Leask says, Indians were intermingling with Anglos and adopting their customs. Going around half-naked was impractical and out of fashion.

Leask's conclusion:Of course, this is just a promotional image. We don’t know how Red Wolf will be included in All New, All Different Marvel or, for that matter, how he’ll be included in Secret Wars: 1872. We don’t know what books he’ll be in, who the creative team will be, or who he will be.

My point is, this could end up being something smart and progressive, potentially even from an aboriginal creator. This could be exactly what I asked for.

But it doesn’t look like it. This is just a promotional image, but it’s the image that Marvel decided to sell their diversity with. It’s the image they decided to present of an aboriginal person in 2015. It’s an Injun.

Axel Alonso is right, that image of Red Wolf “resembles the Marvel Universe that 60 years of readers have come to love.” The problem is, that’s not necessarily a good thing.
The main difference between Red Wolf's old and new costumes is whether he wears a physical wolf headpiece or has a wolf headpiece painted on. That's not much of a difference. And since warpaint usually has a symbolic message--one this design is obviously faking--I'd say the old Red Wolf is slightly better.

Yes, the old Red Wolf was problematical as well. But that costume was designed in 1970 or thereabouts. After 45 years, can't Marvel come up with up with something better?

Even the notorious Tonto wore full buckskins in the 1950s. So 65 years later, we've literally made no progress in our portrayals of fictional Indians. Wow.

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