Sunday, December 9, 2007

Defending "John Henry" in "New Frontier"

The write-up for Darwyn Cooke's DC: The New Frontier I had wrapped for future presentation on my Martian Manhunter blog ran into eight pages. It stands to reason I might be a tad burnt out, and the copy of the Absolute Edition I had was about due back at the library after a renewal or two. I like to keep good reference handy though, so I figured if I'd just scan a quality image or two of the new character Cooke had created for the series, a vigilante John Henry, and just copy someone else's biographical information off the 'net. Color me surprised when the character only got passing mentions on Wikipedia, so I started surfing for alternatives. Not only didn't that pan out, but I ran across a number of slight or asinine reviews of the mini-series, the least of which authored by Erick Stragand for> I quote:

"The only forced and awkward element of the series is "John Henry". A masked civil rights superhero, who caves in the skulls of idiotic Ku Klux Klan dolts with sledgehammers. He's not really essential to the overall story, and it seems he was tossed in just to make sure the civil rights movement of the 50's and 60's was touched upon. We see that he eventually inspires a young John Henry Irons....and, in turn, Shaquille O'Neal to star in the movie "Steel". The "John Henry" plot operates on its own and isn't essential to the big picture. Seems weird, when everything else becomes connected. It's like it was sandwiched in to meet the "Multicultural Requirement"." Like creator Darwyn Cooke, Stragand seems to have a problem with applying his punctuation after quotation marks, but unlike Cooke, Stragand is an ignorant slut. Allow me to elaborate...

1) Stragand answers his own criticism. Despite other backhanded references against "muliculturalism" on his blog, explaining that there were in fact heroic persons of color in existence with inn the confines of the DC Universe prior to Black Lightning really is reason enough for the inclusion of "John Henry," despite his protestations.

2) The entire story revolves around the consequences of oppression and the need for diversity. The government is suppressing super-heroes. The witch hunters are promoting the Red Scare. A peaceful alien visitor is hunted and captured, while an attempt is made to send weapons of mass destruction against his planet out of sheer paranoia. Politically, idiologically, spiritually and even physically, exceptional and common people are unable to realize their potentional because of fear and irrational hatred. Y'think maybe racism belongs in their somewhere? Especially in the whitewashed halls of DC Comics in the Silver Age?

3) Like Joe Friday and Superman, John Henry was an icon who's career John Jones follows in the development of his feelings toward Earth heroes and his presentation of himself. The murder of John Henry sent Jones into a spiral of despair which, combined with Flash's persecution and his increasing awareness of the hostility surrounding him, motivated the Martian's decision to finally leave Earth. It wasn't until Jones was presented with a new idol, King Faraday, that he regain the faith in humanity Henry's death had cost him.

4) John Henry also served as the forebear to the third heroic age, since most of the second generation youngsters we think of as part of that wave were either reworked Golden Age characters (Robin) or active participants in the Silver Age (Wonder Girl.) Only John Henry's heir, Steel, represents the ages that followed.

5) 31 pages spent on the Losers prelude. 11 page boxing match for Ted "Wildcat" Grant. 19 pages on a fairly run of the mill Flash tale. If anything, the 16 pages related to John Henry (5 of which were posthumous)could have used a bit more space.

6) Since I've already called attention to your lack of reading comprehension, I'd like to close by also assailing your taste. I found Cooke's threading of the sole new super-hero within the New Frontier tapestry to be executed with a sure hand. The character's design was dynamic but appropriate, mirroring Golden and Silver Age characters like the Black Hood and Hangman. While I respected his homage to prior works, one did get the feeling of been there-done that at times. That considered, the appearance of new concepts like John Henry and the Manhunter/Faraday friendship invigorated my reading of the material.

6.1) In other words, John Henry was Kool-Moo-Dee. Back off for' I draw back the pimp hand. I'll get around to posting that biography when I finish writing it. Stuff like this does tend to distract a body...


Damian44 said...

Thank you, your post has given me new hope for the future of comic books. Being a Black American age 44 year of age born the year Stan Lee created Spiderman, I have collected comics for a long time now and I had searched through out the 3 ages of Comic book History to find the smallest hint of a Black hero, which if any were of Big Lipped Baffoons the got in more trouble than doing any Heroic. These refefances did leave me filling spat upon.
However, with your post on John Henry, I can be assured that through out the comic book community {Readers & Writers} There will not be a neglect to the need for a cultural bilance when creating plots and stories.

Thank you again
Damian Thaddeus Hathcock

Diabolu Frank said...

I'm glad you enjoyed the post. I was just saying what should be plain obvious, but some folks are just hellbent to slight regardless. For a kid who grew up on Luke Cage comics, I'm filled with pride to think that this time next year, a black man just might be sworn in as president. In comics, there's still miles to go, but things are getting better.

I remember shaking Dwayne McDuffie's hand in San Diego at a Black Panther forum, years after Milestone had left the marketplace, and with much of his career in comics seemingly behind him. He was friendly, articulate, and passionate. Within a few months, "Static Shock" was a top rated cartoon. McDuffie followed with his acclaimed work on "Justice League," and now he's a hot writer in comics. It shouldn't have taken a quarter of that time to happen, but it is happening...


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