Sunday, August 25, 2013

Icons and Stereotypes

Icon: Mothership Connection: written by Dwayne McDuffie; illustrated by M.D. Bright, Mike Gustovich, and others (1994-95; collected 2010): This volume collects one lengthy storyline from the flagship book of the 1990's Milestone Comics line. Milestone Comics encompassed a far more multi-cultural, ethnically diverse superhero universe than the mainstream had ever seen before.

Icon was the African-American Superman figure of the line, an immortal alien trapped on Earth in the 1850's. His escape pod reconfigured his body to look like the first member of the dominant species it could scan. As the alien had crashed in the pre-Civil War South and was found by a slave, he'd soon learn first-hand about the problems of humanity.

Nearly 150 years later, the alien is a rich and successful lawyer who's been guilted into using his superheroes to help and inspire others by a 15-year-old girl who broke into his house. The girl is given alien technology by the alien so that she can fight crime beside them, and they become Icon and Rocket.

Here, Icon finds out he can go home again. And so he does, to be debriefed on what he's learned about life on Earth, and whether or not humanity should be allowed to continue, or be exterminated before it becomes more dangerous. So Rocket -- herself forced to take a superheroic leave of absence because of pregnancy -- recruits a new Icon, a 1970's blaxploitation African-American superhero previously encountered by Rocket and Icon named Buck Wild.

Late, much-lamented writer Dwayne McDuffie and main artist M.D. Bright turn Wild into a very specific (and hilarious) parody of the 1970's and early 1980's version of the Marvel superhero Luke Cage, Power Man.

But Buck Wild also becomes a vehicle of parody for a long list of often egregiously awful African-American superheroes from DC and Marvel: superheroes with comically ridiculous and incorrect 'street' speech patterns; superheroes who apparently absolutely positively had to have the adjective 'Black' at the start of their superhero names because otherwise one wouldn't know they were black; superheroes and supervillains with insultingly stereotypical African-American character traits and careers...well, the list goes on.

Through it all, though, Buck Wild is granted some form of relevance as an attempt at something, if not a particularly accomplished rendition of said thing. Though it's still a very good thing for Dakota City when Icon elects to return to Earth, though whether or not he'll stay is another question. Superior superhero stuff. Christmas! Highly recommended.

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