Tag Archives: comic books

Why America needs Marvel superhero Kamala Khan now more than ever

Katie M. Logan, Virginia Commonwealth University

During the first few weeks of the Trump administration, we’ve seen increased pressure on Muslim and immigrant communities in the United States.

In the face of these threats, which Marvel superhero might be best equipped to defend the people, ideals and institutions under attack? Some comic fans and critics are pointing to Kamala Khan, the new Ms. Marvel.

Khan, the brainchild of comic writer G. Willow Wilson and editor Sana Amanat, is a revamp of the classic Ms. Marvel character (originally named Carol Danvers and created in 1968). First introduced in early 2014, Khan is a Muslim, Pakistani-American teenager who fights crime in Jersey City and occasionally teams up with the Avengers.

Since Donald Trump’s inauguration, fans have created images of Khan tearing up a photo of the president, punching him (evoking a famous 1941 cover of Captain America punching Hitler) and grieving in her room. But the new Ms. Marvel’s significance extends beyond symbolism.

In Kamala Khan, Wilson and Amanat have created a superhero whose patriotism and contributions to Jersey City emerge because of her Muslim heritage, not despite it. She challenges the assumptions many Americans have about Muslims and is a radical departure from how the media tend to depict Muslim-Americans. She shows how Muslim-Americans and immigrants are not forces that threaten communities – as some would argue – but are people who can strengthen and preserve them.

Superhero-in-training

After inhaling a mysterious gas, Kamala Khan discovers she can stretch, enlarge, shrink and otherwise manipulate her body. Like many superheroes, she chooses to keep her identity a secret. She selects the Ms. Marvel moniker in homage to the first Ms. Marvel, Carol Danvers, who has since given up the name in favor of becoming Captain Marvel. Khan cites her family’s safety and her desire to lead a normal life, while also fearing that “the NSA will wiretap our mosque or something.”

As she wrestles with her newfound powers, her parents grow concerned about broken curfews and send her to the local imam for counseling. Rather than reinforcing her parents’ curfew or prying the truth from Khan, though, Sheikh Abdullah says, “I am asking you for something more difficult. If you insist on pursuing this thing you will not tell me about, do it with the qualities benefiting an upright young woman: courage, strength, honesty, compassion and self-respect.”

Her experience at the mosque becomes an important step on her journey to superheroism. Sheikh Abdullah contributes to her education, as does Wolverine. Islam is not a restrictive force in her story. Instead, the religion models for Khan many of the traits she needs in order to become an effective superhero. When her mother learns the truth about why her daughter is sneaking out, she “thank[s] God for having raised a righteous child.”

The comics paint an accurate portrait of Jersey City. Her brother Aamir is a committed Salafi (a conservative and sometimes controversial branch of Sunni Islam) and member of his university’s Muslim Student Association. Her best friend and occasional love interest, Bruno, works at a corner store and comes from Italian roots. The city’s diversity helps Kamala as she learns to be a more effective superhero. But it also rescues her from being a stand-in for all Muslim-American or Jersey City experiences.

Fighting a ‘war on terror culture’

Kamala’s brown skin and costume – self-fashioned from an old burkini – point to Marvel Comics’ desire to diversify its roster of superheroes (as well as writers and artists). As creator Sana Amanat explained on “Late Night With Seth Meyers” last month, representation is a powerful thing, especially in comics. It matters when readers who feel marginalized can see people like themselves performing heroic acts.

As one of 3.3 million Muslim-Americans, Khan flips the script on what Moustafa Bayoumi, author of “This Muslim American Life,” calls a “war on terror culture” that sees Muslim-Americans “not as complex human being[s] but only as purveyor[s] of possible future violence.”

Bayoumi’s book echoes other studies that detail the heightened suspicion and racial profiling Muslim-Americans have faced since 9/11, whether it’s in the workplace or interactions with the police. Each time there’s been a high-profile terrorist attack, these experiences, coupled with hate crimes and speech, intensify. Political rhetoric – like Donald Trump’s proposal to have a Muslim registry or his lie that thousands of Muslims cheered from Jersey City rooftops after the Twin Towers fell – only fans the flames.

Scholars of media psychology see this suspicion fostered, in part, by negative representations of Muslims in both news media outlets and popular culture, where they are depicted as bloodthirsty terrorists or slavish informants to a non-Muslim hero.

These stereotypes are so entrenched that a single positive Muslim character cannot counteract their effects. In fact, some point to the dangers of “balanced” representations, arguing that confronting stereotypes with wholly positive images only enforces a simplistic division between “good” and “bad” Muslims.

Unbreakable

Kamala Khan, however, signals an important development in cultural representations of Muslim-Americans. It’s not just because she is a powerful superhero instead of a terrorist. It’s because she is, at the same time, a clumsy teenager who makes a mountain of mistakes while trying to balance her abilities, school, friends and family. And it’s because Wilson surrounds Kamala with a diverse assortment of characters who demonstrate the array of heroic (and not-so-heroic) actions people can take.

For example, in one of Ms. Marvel’s most powerful narrative arcs, a planet attacks New York, leading to destruction eerily reminiscent of 9/11. Kamala works to protect Jersey City while realizing that her world has changed – and will change – irrevocably.

Carol Danvers appears to fill Kamala in on the gravity of the situation, telling her, “The fate of the world is out of your hands. It always was. But your fate – what you decide to do right now – is still up to you … Today is the day you stand up.” Kamala connects the talk with Sheikh Abdullah’s lectures about the value of one’s deeds, once again linking her superhero and religious training to rise to the occasion. In both cases, the lectures teach Kamala to take a stand to protect her community.

Arriving at the high school gym now serving as a safe haven for Jersey City residents, Kamala realizes her friends and classmates have been inspired by her heroism. They safely transport their neighbors to the gym while outfitting the space with water, food, dance parties and even a “non-denominational, non-judgmental prayer area.” The community response prompts Kamala to realize that “even if things are profoundly not okay, at least we’re not okay together. And even if we don’t always get along, we’re still connected by something you can’t break. Something there isn’t even a word for. Something … beautiful.”

The ConversationKamala Khan is precisely the hero America needs today, but not because of a bat sign in the sky or any single definitive image. She is, above all, committed to the idea that every member of her faith, her generation, and her city has value and that their lives should be respected and protected. She demonstrates that the most heroic action is to face even the most despair-inducing challenges of the world head on while standing up for – and empowering – every vulnerable neighbor, classmate or stranger. She shows us how diverse representation can transform into action and organization that connect whole communities “by something you can’t break.”

Katie M. Logan, Assistant Professor of Focused Inquiry, Virginia Commonwealth University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Racially Insensitive Casting: Henry Zaga (Reportedly) as Sunspot in “X-Men: New Mutants”

(left) Sunspot, (right) Henry Zaga (side-by-side from Latinx Geeks)

Another day, another whitewashing controversy in Hollywood, the land that never learns its lesson. This time, erasure controversy surrounds the newest in the X-Men film franchise, X-Men: New Mutants.

According to Comicbook.com via Entertainment Weekly, Brazilian actor Henry Zaga has been reportedly been cast as Sunspot (aka Roberto da Costa), a mutant who absorbs the sun’s energy and uses it to increase his own physical abilities as well as to blast enemies and fly. Zaga, who is best known from Teen Wolf and more recently 13 Reasons Why, might be Brazilian like Sunspot, but he’s not Afro-Brazilian. Enter the controversy.

In a Medium post written by Latinx Geeks, the online community explains why racial identity is so important for a character like Sunspot. His Afro-Latinx identity is a central part of his storyline, including the moment when he discovers his powers.

“Sunspot’s powers first manifested during a soccer game where a rival team member hurled racial insults at him calling Roberto a ‘halfbreed,'” they write.  “This was due to the fact that Roberto’s father, Emmanuel da Costa, is Afro-Brazilian and his mother, Nina da Costa, is a white Brazilian.”

“…Henry Zaga, a white Brazilian actor, being cast to play Roberto da Costa is whitewashing pure and simple,” they wrote. “Sunspot’s Afro-Brazilian identity is directly tied to his very origin and the manifestation of his mutant powers. To deny his race is to deny who he is as a mutant, superhero, and as a person; the son of a black man and a white woman.”

Zaga’s casting speaks to the continued ignorance in Hollywood when it comes to casting characters to correctly reflect their ethnicity and background. Just because Zaga is Brazilian doesn’t mean he’s the correct choice for a role such as Sunspot.

Hollywood tends to either miscast characters completely (such as Scarlett Johansson in Ghost in the Shell) or it takes the “good enough” casting method, such as many of the roles in Memoirs of a Geisha, in which Chinese actresses were playing Japanese roles, or having actors who make a living off of being racially ambiguous play everything from Mexican to Native American. The latter seems to be happening with Zaga and Sunspot. The idea is that Zaga’s Brazilian, so that’s “good enough” for him to play Sunspot. Not accurate.

This is not even taking into account the type of privilege Zaga has as a white actor and, as Hollywood would classify him, an “white ethnic” actor. As a white actor, Zaga could audition for–and land– as many leading roles as he wants. As a “white ethnic” actor, he can take not only traditionally white roles, but also those that call for non-white roles as well, such as Sunspot. Another example of this is Zach McGowan, a white actor who, because of his slightly darker “surfer boy” look, has been cast to play native Hawaiian historical figure Ben Kanahele in Ni’ihau.

Once again, fans of beloved characters are waiting on Hollywood to give them accuracy when bringing characters from the page to the screen. Sadly, it seems like Sunspot is yet another casualty of whitewashing.

Universal Fan Con: A Safe Space For ALL of Us

Jamie Broadnax

(originally posted at Black Girl Nerds)

The Black Geeks and Black Girl Nerds have partnered to host Universal Fan Con (UFC), with the mission of taking on the lack of representation in the geek community. The convention is set to take place in Baltimore, MD on April 27, 2018, at the Baltimore Convention Center and focusing on gaming, anime, TV shows, and Movies.  “We are excited to present the very first large scale multi-fandom convention dedicated to inclusion,”  announced the official Twitter of Universal Fan Con.

The core team bringing the con together consists of The Black Geeks, a multimedia company that serves as a source for “edgy and probing original commentary” on sci-fi, fantasy, and other entertainment coverage, and Black Girl Nerds, an online community promoting nerdiness among Black women & people of color. After many years of attending conventions, Robert Butler – CEO of The Black Geeks, and Black Girl Nerds creator, Jamie Broadnax, noticed a lack of diversity in the world of Cons.

“UFC hopes to fill the void of Diversity and give fans the chance to see the geek community through a diverse set of eyes,” said Butler.  UFC aims to be a 24-hour convention; meaning that all day and night there will be a panel or event running. “We felt that the only way to ensure that as many groups as possible were represented, we have to keep it going, ” said Butler.

The UFC team is currently spending hours developing and planning innovative ideas to implement at the upcoming fan conference. One idea being explored includes using geofencing technologies that could lead to shorter waits in line and a seamless check-in process. “The team and I are always looking for ways to incorporate technology into UFC. We want to employ new technology that will make long lines a thing of the past,” said Butler.

Butler, also a disabled Marine vet, hopes to incorporate more tools for geeks with disabilities. UFC expects attendees from every walk of life to leave feeling represented. “It’s incredibly important to the Black Geeks and Black Girl Nerds that everyone, and I mean everyone, feels as though they have a place at this Con,” said Butler.

“We’re redefining what diversity is, and hope you will join us in 2018,” Broadnax expressed.

With over 900 Twitter followers, the buzz around UFC has already begun to explode on Twitter. Many users have shown their support for the convention via the social media site. “This is going to be amazing. I can feel it in my bones,” said one UFC Twitter follower.

In less than 24 hours of the initial Kickstarter launch, UFC raised $2,500 from 55 backers. “Honestly, we did not expect to gain popularity so fast,” said Broadnax. The UFC team hopes to raise $25,000 to assist with some of the costs associated with making UFC the best experience ever for the fans. The UFC Kickstarter offers a variety of levels so that any backer can earn benefits for supporting the convention.

To help support UFC’s Kickstarter visit http://kck.st/2hM163Y.  And for more information about UFC, follow @UniversalFanCon on Twitter.

About The Black Geeks

The Black Geeks are a community of people who share a love for geek culture, be it tech, movies, video games, or comics. Our members engage in lively debates and substantive discourse rooted in the fan experience. The Black Geeks provide a space for independent content and in-depth discussion that highlights the good, while simultaneously providing constructive critiques and potential solutions for the bad. For us, nothing is off limits. That means debating the finer points of the MCU one minute and engaging in presidential politics the next.

Our mission is to push boundaries, redefine stereotypes, and move diversity to the frontlines. The Black Geeks are a representation of Geek culture rarely heard from or seen in pop-culture. Our opinions and views are important, and we’re challenging the status quo to engage us and make our voices part of the larger discussion. Geek is a dish best served with many ingredients.

At The Black Geeks we celebrate the unique experiences of people of color, but please don’t let the name fool you, our content is for everyone! So if you’re a geek, and you love everything from comics and movies, to politics and science, we have a place for you at our table, and if you’re feeling both geeky and expressive, we would love to hear from you. There’s always a place for someone like you on our team.

Feel free to write a review, add a comment, create a blog post, share something you like, or just enjoy reading the thoughts of our members and contributors. Whatever you choose, just remember to have fun, share your love of the genre with those who love it too, and let your geek flag fly proudly!

About Black Girl Nerds

Black Girl Nerds is a place for women of color with various eccentricities to express themselves freely and embrace who they are.  This is not a site exclusively for Black women.  It’s for ALL women who are just as nerdy as we are and the men who love and appreciate us.  I named this site Black Girl Nerds because the concept of Black women as geeky-dorky beings is somewhat of an anomaly.  It’s against the order of things in the “Black Girl” world.  We represent a wide array of diverse women who embrace all cultures and refuse to conform to the status quo.

This community does not have an exclusionary purpose.  The term “Black Girl Nerd” is not intended to be derogatory nor is it racially biased.  It is a term of endearment to all women like me who have been attached to a stigma that is not an accurate representation of my personality or my idiosyncratic behaviors.

This is a website for every nerdy girl that can finally come out of the closet and tell the world that they are PROUD to be who they are—no matter what anyone says, does, or thinks.  This is a place where you can truly be yourself and not be judged by others.  This site welcomes girls of all races, but it was called Black Girl Nerds because it is a term that is so unique and extraordinary, that even Google couldn’t find a crawl for the phrase and its imprint in the world of cyberspace.  The mission is to put an end to that and know that many Black Girl Nerds exist on this planet.

This community encourages other bloggers, web creators, and the like to create niche sites such as this one to spread to the world that being a nerd is a lovely thing.  In fact, being a nerd is a gift and should be highly revered.  It is not often that you will find an unsuccessful nerd.  Therefore be nice to your fellow nerds—you never know, you may be working for them one day.

For more information go to http://universalfancon.com or follow us on Facebook www.facebook.com/UniversalFanCon or @UniversalFanCon on Twitter and Instagram.

Redefining “Archie”: Jughead’s Evolution as a Counterculture Icon

The second in a series of articles for: 2

Back in the late ’00s, I wrote a ton on Jughead, my favorite Archie Comics character. The main reason I identify with him so much is because he’s the “weird” one; to quote one of the many Poirot episodes out there, Jughead’s of the world, but he’s not in the world. In other words, he can see the strings behind everything going on in his environment, yet doesn’t desire to become a part of it, nor can his friends ever truly understand his lack of desire to lose himself in the day-to-day minutae of life. Whereas Archie, Betty, and Veronica are constantly embroiled in pettiness, Jughead is usually the one with the subtle, existential view on things.

The main body of the article I’m presenting now is one of those early Jughead articles. It’s focusing on Jughead as Riverdale’s representative of American counterculture, both through his personality and, in particularly, through his clothing and hair styles. Even though all of the characters go through changes over the years, Jughead is the only character who became repurposed by Archie Comics as a window into America’s constantly evolving counterculture. Whereas Archie is “America’s Favorite Teenager,” Jughead is “America’s Favorite Outcast.”


Whether he knew it or not, John L. Goldwater, publisher and editor of Archie Comics, was a genius to have created such an influential character like Forsythe Pendleton Jones III, or, as we know him, Jughead. Actually, I think he was a bit ahead of his time. To many (and probably to Goldwater), Jughead is quirky-someone who follows the beat of their own drummer, in the cliché sense. But Jughead’s off-center personality and nonconformist aesthetic has been reflected in the decades after his first appearance in 1941.

Some background on the creation of Jughead, first. Goldwater was quoted as saying that his high-school friend, named Archie, was part of the inspiration for the character Archie. In turn, Goldwater himself was the inspiration for Jughead. “I felt like Jughead to him,” he said about their days at the New York Teachers’ Training School. “I was a very loyal friend.” It would seem that Goldwater brought a lot more to Jughead’s personality than just his loyalty; Goldwater was an orphan who hitchhiked westward during the Depression, finding work. This rough lifestyle Goldwater led in his earlier years was sure to have supplied Jughead with his loner, self-sufficient, and non-conformist sensibilities and a personality more unique than the other Archie characters.

Jughead in the 1950s-early 70s: Beatnik

Through most of the ‘40s, Jughead was the standard slacker who provided the snappiest comebacks in stories-lines that usually weren’t reserved for characters like Archie and Betty. But in 1947, the Beat Generation-a free-form, alternative lifestyle that rejected the conformist “square” culture and focused on different ways to realizing spirituality-bubbled up from the subculture dregs and this started seeping into mainstream throughout the 1950s. Once the Beat culture caught on, however, and college students started dressing in stereotypical berets and black leggings, the term “beatnik” arose, and this version of the Beat Generation is the one most Americans associate with the 1960s.

With Goldwater’s work with the Comics’ Code, I doubt he would’ve wanted people to view Jughead as a person with Beat sensibilities, but the laid-back, drifter personality he has, coupled with his rejection of his parents’ standards and goals for him (much to his father’s aggravation), Jughead has lends itself to those sensibilities easily. Incidentally, his love of jazz music and jazz drumming also fits eerily well into the Beat aesthetic. (I don’t think this part of his personality was made up during the time when beatniks were the rage, however.) During this time, Jughead’s clothes were either a lot more streamlined than those of other characters (fitting in with the Beat aesthetic), or there’d be something off-kilter that would differentiate him from the dress styles of the other characters:

In the late 1960s to mid-1970s, Jughead’s clothes became a little more psychedelic, again representing the Beat-and now hippie-countercultures of the ‘60s and ‘70s.

(Incidentally, in two different covers, he’s wearing the same psychedelic shirt.)

 

Jughead in the 1980s-1990s: Skate punk

When the Jughead comic book reached 1990, there was a huge schism between the old Jughead and the new, revamped, skate punk Jughead. And boy was it drastic. So drastic, in fact, that the powers-that-be quickly changed Jughead back to his old look. But I believe their thought process to change Jughead to fit more with the times were along two lines-first, the street-skateboarding lifestyle was everywhere during the late 1980s and early 1990s, and if it’s the hottest new thing, why not cash in on it? Secondly, Jughead’s personality was all about being the exception to the rule and the counter to the mundane that Archie represented; it would seem natural that he would take up a skateboard and start skating. I don’t know if he would shave his head, as shown in the examples below, but he definitely might take up skateboarding.

Also, one of the characteristics of the punk lifestyle (the original punk lifestyle, not just skate punk) is the D.I.Y. ethic-to make, grow, or find everything you need yourself. Even though Jughead would have to satisfy his Pop Tate-made hamburger cravings every now and again, the do-it-yourself idea seems like it would be something Jughead would take part in, at least for a little while. Being honest, even though the beginning of the ’90s saw the most radical change in Jughead ever, the covers were the most creative and innovative I’ve ever seen. I wish they made covers like these again, sans-Jughead weird haircut.


So how does Jughead represent counterculture today? In fact, what is today’s counterculture? I’ll analyze that in my next article. But for now, what do think about Jughead’s role in representing America’s counterculture? Discuss in the comments section!

 

 

Exclusive Interview: Dan Parent (“Die Kitty Die!”)

Archie Comics fans are well acquainted with their favorite artists, such as Dan Parent and Fernando Ruiz, and if you’ve been astute fan, you might have heard about the pair’s upcoming comic book project, Die, Kitty, Dieand the project’s Kickstarter campaign. The campaign’s original $25,000 goal has not only been met, but has nearly reached double the amount originally set, with many heavyweights in the comic book industry joining in to provide special covers and pin-ups.

I’ve been a fan of Parent’s for years, and after having met him at the 2013 Miami Book Fair International, I became an even bigger fan. I’ve interviewed him before in the past, but I was excited and honored when he reached out to me to tell me about Die Kitty Die!. Check out the interview with Parent below, in which we discuss Die Kitty Die!, the Kickstarter campaign, and what fans can expect from this bewitching new series, as well as an exclusive update on that elusive Kevin Keller relaunch. The Die Kitty Die! Kickstarter campaign ends this Friday, Dec. 18, so if you’d like to contribute (click the link above), you’ve still got time!

How did you and Fernando Ruiz come up with Die Kitty Die!?

Fernando and I came up with idea for Die Kitty Die! on a plane trip to Dallas Comic Con last year. We started sketching and writing , and before you knew it, we had a story!

The Kickstarter has been uber successful. How do you feel about the success?

We are thrilled about the success of the Kickstarter. The most satisfying thing is that our fans have supported us and are looking forward to the project.

This project has a lot of popular comic book artists involved; who are some of the artists involved?

We are really lucky to have some great talent on board. Gisele Lagace is our friend, mega talent, and also a great business person. She has not only helped us set up our Kickstarter, but has contributed art to the series. Next is Jason Bone, another friend who is not only a great inker but a great artist too! Phil Jimenez and Glen Hanson are also 2 well known talents who are going to contribute to the book. And then we have superstar artist Darwyn Cooke, who is doing the cover to the trade. I’m his biggest fan, and have been lucky enough to become his friend over the years. When he agreed to do the cover, we were over the moon!

This project also has strong ties to pin-up art, specifically Dan DeCarlo (which makes sense, since both you and Ruiz are Archie artists). What about pin-up art appeals to you?

We love pin up art, as well as fashion pages . And Dan DeCarlo is a huge inspiration to all of us. So if you see signs of dan DeCarlo in our work, that’s a good thing!

What can fans of yours expect from Die Kitty Die?

Fans can expect Die Kitty Die to be a fun mix of romance, adventure, horror and comedy. It’s an homage to the comic book industry , but we also think it fills in a gap that is missing in comics right now. And that is classic comics told with a modern twist, that focus on two important things: Good story and good art!

On an unrelated note: Kevin Keller’s comic is supposed to be relaunching (at last check). What can fans expect from the relaunch?

There is supposed to be new Kevin Keller book, but that has been delayed. I’m hoping to get the ball rolling in that again in 2016!

Die Kitty Die! artwork by Dan Parent (Facebook)