‘Too Many Black Superheroes’ – Michael Davis, From The Edge


MOTU_nMichael Davis is an artist, writer, mentor, and entertainment executive. He writes,

Mark Waid ripped me off. But before I get to that…

I owe a great many of you a heartfelt “thank you.”

The well wishes and support I’ve received from Bleeding Cool readers with regard to my Milestone 2.0 article humbled me. I would seem and be ungrateful if I did not acknowledge how wonderful and needed your support was.

What most miss in my work — because seemingly it’s cloaked in sarcasm — is my brutal honesty about my life, warts and all. I assure you most of my musings are true. I bring that up so hopefully the following hits home. Of the immense support I’ve gotten in the last 3 plus weeks, none has meant more than what I’ve received from Bleeding Cool readers.

Again, thank you from the bottom of my not-as-broken-as-it-was-3-weeks-ago heart.

Rest assured, I also heard loud and clear the kind of subject and type of exposition you’d like to see more of. I can’t promise I’m always going to hit those marks or say I’m even going to try — its just not how I work. That said, the last two articles were an evolution in my work that I intend to pursue. To that end, I think this week’s offering fits in the same vein as the previous two.

Now, about Mark Waid…

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In 2001 I sent Karen Berger, at the time editor-in-chief at Vertigo, a proposal for a graphic novel called Miracle Town. The story was about a black super-powered being showing up in Mississippi in 1932, or to put it another way, it was Strange Fruit almost 15 years ago. Along with the pitch were 8 pages of detailed pen and inked art. Karen passed, saying it was “all right, nothing special.”

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Now, Mark Waid and J.G Jones, two white boys (said with love), show up with the same idea and it becomes the talk of the industry. Three weeks earlier Milestone 2.0 was the talk of the industry. Before that, Miles Morales, Black Superman, Black Avengers, Female Thor, Muslim Ms. Marvel, Black Human Torch, Black Captain America, yada, yada, whatever.

Now the big publishing guns are on this diversity thing, but for how long? Think it’s going to last? It won’t. It won’t because it’s a trend, a ploy. It’s a stunt. This, my friend, is nothing but business.

Superman will stay Black just about as long as he stayed dead.

BLACK REIGN BC

Last year Mike Gold took a project of mine to an established and well-known publisher. Keith Giffen called this project one of the greatest ideas he’d ever heard. Now called Black Reign, it started life almost 20 years ago as The Underground at DC Comics. In asked Dwayne McDuffie to write it he changed the title to Glory Scroll. That lasted for a bit, but DC gave us the run around, so I took it to Dark Horse, where it became The Underground again.

Mike Richardson’s involvement and keen insight challenged me to rethink the story. I did and it became an entirely new story. That story with that title are still at Dark Horse, no longer a superhero story. When I pitched it to Marvel it was called Black Power.

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I sent “Black Power” to Marvel and never heard back. That’s not a slight, Axel is up to his ass in projects and I’m simply not one to hound people. I’m never in any hurry with a pitch although I pitch so seldom. Because I spend a great deal of time coming up with concepts while servicing my existing projects. I let things take the time they take. If green lit today, I couldn’t get to it for at least a year or more.

As you can see this project has been around and has had a home at three major publishers, DC, Dark Horse and my imprint Level Next. Level Next is a co-venture with Karen Hunter and Simon & Schuster. I later decided the first project from Level Next shouldn’t be a graphic novel but a mainstream novel.

So, enter Mike Gold. Mike and I happen to talk the day I made the decision to save Black Reign for a later Level Next release. Mike pitched the original superhero story and for a second the project was called The Movement.

Black Reign BC!

After Mike Gold pitched it for a brief moment it was to be the Milestone 2.0 foundation universe. That’s no longer happening — if it is, Lucy got some ‘splaining to do. What, pray tell, happened when Gold pitched this “incredible” (Giffen’s words, not mine) idea, rife with Black superheroes’ and filled with diversity?

He was told, “Hollywood will never buy this. Too many Black superheroes.” The only reason I’m not outing the publisher is the risk some people will find what he said racist. He wasn’t being racist; he was just saying what everyone is thinking.

Which is bullshit,. Two words, Hancock, Blade, Spawn, Yeah, that’s three words but I went to public school and math is not my thing.

“Too many Black Superheroes.”

So much for diversity, way, way back in 2014.

In 2015 there’s a debate raging whether or not Mark and J.G. Jones should even be doing this kind of story. Some say no, because white guys can’t tell a Black superhero comic book story. What do I think? Of course they should — Mark’s a fantastic writer and Mr. Jones is a badass artist.

The very real fact about Black superheroes is white guys have always told the Black superhero story, and unless a white boy does, it doesn’t count, or doesn’t count as much. For my money, Mark Waid can tell any story he wants — in my book, he’s that good.

Yes, a Black writer adds certain legitimacy to a Black story. That’s not to say white writers can’t write a good Black story, of course they can. The example I hear most often about white guys in working in Black areas is Eminem.

Eminem is one of the greatest rappers ever. To some he is the greatest. To dismiss him because he’s white is injudicious at best, stupid as shit at worse. To dismiss Mark because he’s white is just as silly. Few writers are on his level in comics and that’s just the truth.

On, the other hand, Eminem doesn’t rap about being Black.

Regardless of your feeling towards who should write what, the debate shouldn’t be whether or not Mark or any other writer is capable of telling that story.

No, the debate should be why is diversity not a topic until the white boys say it is?

Google any combination featuring the keywords Black and Superhero — with very few exceptions, the vast (as in massive) majority were created by white creators. When there were no creators of color, I will be the first to tell just how good it felt to see The Black Panther, Luke Cage, and The Falcon. Shit, as a kid all I cared about was seeing Black characters in my beloved comics.

Then the battle was just to see people of color in comics, as characters and creators.

Now, African Americans as well as Latino, Asian and other ethnic groups are represented in both.

The representation is small, but it’s there.

What’s not there is the acceptance of these characters and creators as A-listers. When DC or Marvel creates a Black superhero it’s embracing diversity, so when David Walker writes for DC’s Cyborg, that’s really diversity because David Walker is a hotshot, talented Black writer.

David is among many writers and artists of color who have been bringing diversity to comics for many, many years. He was a hotshot talented writer well before he was writing for DC. He was also Black before working at DC, in case anyone asks.

DC and Marvel will exploit diversity as the current fashion until such time it decides not to. Then, back in the closet it will go to make way for next season’s hot designer and trendy look.

Nothing wrong with that.

It’s my hope this current wave becomes so huge that Marvel and DC stay in it. Failing that, when they get out remember Marvel and DC don’t all of a sudden bring diversity to comics, this I know.

I also know diversity in comics was here before this and will be here after they leave. All you have to do is Google, independent black comic books, and you can do that right now.

Comics are a business, and right now diversity is good for business. Conversely, for creators of color, diversity is not the current fashion or latest look. As much as the media would have you believe it, Marvel and DC are not the end all and be all of diversity.

How can they be? They’re not diverse enough.

About Rich Johnston

Chief writer and founder of Bleeding Cool. Father of two. Comic book clairvoyant. Political cartoonist.

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