Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Superb Ace

Icon Volume 1: A Hero's Welcome: written by Dwayne McDuffie; illustrated by Mark Bright and Mike Gustovich ( 1993; collected 2008): Milestone Comics tried to break up the unholy whiteness of mainstream superhero comic books in the early 1990's with several comics with multi-racial, multi-ethnic casts. Icon was really the flagship title, a self-conscious riff on Superman's origin.

Dwayne McDuffie and Mark Bright give us the sole survivor of an alien space-liner, his life-pod crashing to Earth in the 1830's. The biotech of the alien lifepod is so advanced that it can reconfigure its occupant to look like the dominant species of a planet in the event that the planet is uncivilized and rescue perhaps far off. But in this case, the reconfiguration makes the alien an African-American slave in the pre-Civil-War American South.

However,  the alien is also mostly immortal, so he endures slavery and a lot of other things. Time passes. He becomes rich. Periodically faking his own death and then returning as his own "son," by 1993 the alien now known as Augustus Freeman IV is an extremely conservative Republican, verging on libertarian. There's a reason Clarence Thomas was a fan, though he seemed to take the wrong lessons from the book.

But then a robbery of "Freeman's"  house gone awry introduces him to an independent firebrand, 15-year-old Raquel Ervin. In thwarting the robbery, Freeman reveals that he can fly and possesses great strength. Raquel asks him why he doesn't try to help people, with his powers, with his money. So he takes the name Icon and we're off!

The American racial politics that weave throughout Icon's stories are as fresh and vital today as they were in the Rodney King era. The title of the volume is itself ironic -- icon's first appearance as a seemingly African-American superhero draws a volley of gunfire from the mostly white police, not gratitude. But he and Raquel, now outfitted with alien tech that allows her to be Icon's super-powered sidekick, perservere. They also grow as characters, and grow on you. McDuffie was a fine writer even early in his career, and these superhero stories function as entertainment with a defineable viewpoint on the world. One of the great superhero sagas. Highly recommended.

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