Comic Talk: Black Lightning: Year One- Jen Van Meter & Cully Hamner

I knew nothing about Black Lightning before DC released an animation short featuring Black Lightning's daughters needing to go to school, and he's fighting something but needs to get home to get his girls off to school. I saw it and thought "DC's trying to develop a black hero? Fantastic!" and wanted to know more about him. 

I don't remember why I chose this book. I like the Year One concept because it introduces new readers to a world without the weight of decades of back story, and villains that stretch forever and bog everything down. They're usually a one off, contained narrative, you know stories will continue but you don't need to know anything to be able to enjoy what you're reading. They do the job, they tread familiar ground for established fans but are easy for new potential fans to get into. 

But what I like. I like that as a hero Black Lightning has a family. So many heroes are alone with so little to live for or a real thing to fight and protect. Superman focuses on Lois and the Daily Planet. Spider-man on Aunt May, Gwen or MJ, and the Daily Bugle. Batman is on his own and maybe Robin sometimes? Iron Man fights for Pepper, but so many heroes are single bachelors, or dating or married without families to care about.

 At his core, Jefferson Pierce is a family man. He has a loving mother, wife and daughter, a hard but caring sister, her kind of deadbeat husband. There are people who know who he is, what he's doing and they care just as much as he does. They understand he has a power that can be put to so much good and in this book they do as much as they can to help him and to not end up as targets of the wrath of the 100. 

I like that he's written not as a stereotype. He's a solid family man (currently, I guess a divorce happens after the second daughter is born, but he retains custody later on), educated an educator, and a successful athlete. He speaks proper English and not some insulting lesser English. He was and athlete and pushed himself because he knew no other way to deal with the electrical build up in his body. It's not explained in this book where his powers come from, according to wikipedia, in Year One he's a metahuman and he just does. In other continuities he has a device that creates the electrical energy. (I do judge a little because he's a black dude with electricity powers (were they just used as a way/excuse to 'light' dark skin in  shadows in comics?---nah)).  He proves himself to be a valuable and good person as a positive local role model as he, as Jefferson Pierce, works to fix the Metropolis Southside after it was attacked by The 100, a gang that had a crazy magic-villain leader. 

He comes into town as a positive role model, he's working to improve the lives of these people, partially because of person guilt of 'abandoning' the town but also because he wants better for his students than their high school prostitution or gang lifestyle. He wants to prove to them that they're worth the effort and the energy and that they can do something good with their lives.  

I like that when Clark Kent shows up to figure out who Black Lightning, and later one to help, that the book doesn't become about him showing up to save the day or being super integral to everything. The old-world magic in the 100 is too toxic for his kyrptonian body and his powers are diminished, so the book is really about improving a community from the inside. I like how the bigger story is an overarching positive way to fixing something broken, not just by bringing in new resources but working to strengthen it from inside and giving people the hope and belief that they can live better lives.

I did get a little lost while reading the book. Every issue in the 6 issue mini that make up the book is narrated by a different character, his wife, a clean cop he knows, Pierce himself and Clark Kent all lend their opinions and observations of the situation. Those get confusing because they're one overarching idea for the 22 pages of the issues, but the panels are interspersed with the current dialogue. As I was reading I just stumbled over the dialogue versus the 'voice over' because both were important, but they're both being read so I'd read from one VO sentence into a dialogue sentence and would just get turned around.  I don't know if it was me or the comic being a little ambition with having that much go on. I don't read heroes that often, but I can't think of too many modern comics that have that type of 'this is how I saw the situation' type of thing going on. It's better than older comics where there's a giant caption box explaining the art in the panel.

On Cully's Art.  

I was originally not into it. It might just have been the thing of settling into a design because art evolves every time you pick up a pencil. It shifts, improves, changes. Maybe I just got used to the style for the book. I love the designs of everyone. I love how Black Lightnings costume functions and how simple it is. His true Hero costume may be kevlar and other armor but it's a tee shirt, leather jacket, jeans and stylized fold-down boots. The bottom half of the costume feels very early comics and is on the skin -tight side, but the idea of the costume is good. It's realistic clothing, and I like that the mask is connected to a wig so his identity is really concealed. I also like how it's presented to him. He starts out running around in a hoodie and jeans. When he admits his nightlife to his family they present him with his new Hero Armor. They're in on it, they're supportive, it's great.

As a black comics reader, even though I might not identify with many presentation of black characters in media, I did like seeing a world populated with different types of black people. Each was a character, each had ones and desires. It may be the 'bad' side of town, or the 'black' side of town, but the motivations that many characters had for what they were doing were apparently, the negative roads the kids were heading down were a product of the only things they saw. But design wise, there's more than one type of black person, in hair style, in fashion style.  

It's just such a good book. Give it a read, I was excited to pick it up every time I had the chance. It touched on a not often explored part of the DCU, and it shows that Dc can be not horrible to black characters. It shows a world realistically populated with important male and female characters who do good for the story. I think that both Jen and Cully did wonderful jobs and I'd love to read more of their interpretation of this character. I'd also love to see more of the DC animations done of Black Lightning, I hope he gets his own show, it's be boss. The black DC characters I know of who are have been in cartoons are Cyborg (I only know him from Teen Titans), Static Shock, but Black Lightning as a DCAU show could be another positive black hero, but also an adult and not just another child doing things. 

Black Actors and the Academy Awards

Incomplete, but i don't feel the passion i generally need to really finish this and I'm not in the place I need to be for it to have the energy it deserves. i lost that while writing and I hoped it would return, it never did. I feel I made some good arguments and mentioned some valid points on American culture and society with entertainment media, I just never wrapped up either that i thought the problem was or how to fix it. A real writer wouldn't post this. Thank the god I don't believe in ii'm not a real writer and I can post whatever the fuck I want on my website. 

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I unashamedly and unapologetically love  much of what JF Sargent writes, I tend to agree with his opinions and I enjoy how he discusses race and gender issues in media and pop culture. I appreciate that someone is talking about this and it's not just the social justice posters on tumblr, it's not written from rage and hate, these articles are written from a point of view of 'this is what's going on and we as a society need to acknowledge and change this'. That said, I was right there when I read a recent Film School Rejects  article on the Academy Awards having issues with slavery and awarding black actors for their performances in these types of period pieces. 

I think there is a deeper underlying issue to address in conjunction to his statements on how rare black actors are awarded for their performances as slaves, I think we need to look at the types of roles that black actors are nominated and awarded for to begin with. I'll be honest, I'm using wikipedia for this information, I haven't seen many of these movies but I do believe that there have been respectable actors and performances that have been overlooked because of unacknowledged racism in the judging of these films and their performances. I have been critical of the parts that black actors have in movies, they're often terrible stereotypes that do nothing to improve the public opinion and status of black people in this country. 

Sidney Poitier, one of the greatest black actors from film history who worked in a hateful system and did the best he could to present a respectable black man in every part. He has been criticized for being 'castrated' and never really having a sexuality in his films. He happened to be black and that was the basis for many of the problems in his movies where he still delivered fantastic performances. He played educated men in many films, delivered fantastic performances and ended up winning one award fro his performance in Lilies of the Field in 1963 as an unpaid worker for some nuns and it's religious. His only other Oscar was an honorary life time achievement award. 

The next black man to with an Oscar was Denzel Washington for Training Day in 2001 in  a part that I sometimes consider questionable given his character was a crazy drug addict.  

There have been 4 black actors to win the Academy for best male actor, and Denzel is up again, I never saw Flight so I can't compare his nomination to Foxx's for Django, but this is another character of ill rebuke. Most of the best actor nominations have been for negative portrayals of black people, I feel this says a lot of the parts presented to black actors in American movies that they're so often nominated for being successful negative characters.

Looking at black women for best actress in a leading role Halle Barry is the only one to win, for Monster's Ball, a dark dramatic performance. The other performances that black women have been nominated for vary in the respectability of the characters but still seems to run dark and with negative depictions of black characters. 

There are 4 wins as best supporting actor. 5 for best supporting actress, one win for short documentary, 2 for original score, 5 for original song, 4 for sound mixing split between two men, one for best original screen play then a few special awards. 

The low number of wins and in conjunction low number of nominations stem from different causes and unconscious racism cannot be the only cause of this. Looking at how black culture considers the arts and types of arts that are acceptable for their children and what they encourage is someone that needs to be taken into consideration. But looking at the nominations, 16 for best male lead and 15 for best female lead since 1959 when the first black actors were first nominated in pitiful. How often were black performances looked over because they were by black actors? How often was the race of the character important to the narrative? It feels wrong to nominated and award black actors so often for performances where the crux of the narrative is on them being a black person. 

I'm not arguing or discounting what Sargent presents and his argument in how uncomfortable the Academy is with slavery but I'm also looking at the types of roles that black actors so often are presented with and how they reflect on so larger a part of American culture. The same considerations and criticism can be discussed with the television portrayal of black characters.

I'm Bad at Being Whatever I Am

Every now and again I'm reminded of how bad I am at a) being me and b) being a black person. I don't know where the fault in that second part lies but it is a truth in  my life.  

I grew up in the suburbs, mostly around white people. I'm not 'hood', I don't want to be. I don't want to be whatever the black stereotype is. I don't know if I want to have the black experience, whatever that is. Is it institutionalized racism? Is it being shot at and speaking poor English? Is it being Christian and super religious? I don't know, I just know that when I'm around a lot of black people I get really uncomfortable. I know it's my fault and not them.  

As I'm writing this there's an event going on at the coffee shop I frequent called Weapons of Mass Construction which I've been ignoring. It's so far been a gathering of black people, spoken word poetry, an a Capella quintet and it's currently someone playing bongos or and some cymbals and such. I get anxious in group settings to begin with, I'm not apart of this group, I don't know any of these people, there are far too many for me to want to try. I'd be awkward and I'd focus on how I'm not like them.  

I know I have a superiority complex, I don't know how to rectify myself with that other than acknowledging that I have one. Hell, a few years ago I was insulted when someone asked if I was from Hampton, a historically black city in Virginia. I guess compared to Norfolk it's well educated but I'm from Fairfax County, better educated. I speak proper English, I have the capacity to utilize a broad vocabulary when expressing myself and blah blah blah.  

I'm never more aware of how rarely I'm around black people than when I'm around a bunch of black people I don't know. I do well enough with my family, they know what to expect out of me, I know how to present myself around them but I don't know how to deal with urban or rural black people. I'm not country, I'm not urban, I'm from a city of readers who like stupid sci-fi things, I listen to rock and I guess I'd generally be considered 'white' but I'm not white. To people who don't know me but would see me walking down the street, when I don't look like a man (I need to write out those instances here...they're fun and anxiety inducing), I don't know how often I look like someone from a bad neighborhood or poor education.  

I generally don't notice or think of these things until I'm presented with a lot of what I'm not. I have the intelligence to hold my own around white people and not feel negatively judged but I sometimes feel if I were to act that way around black people I'd be judged for acting like something I'm not even if it is what I am. I'm making negative assumptions now, I'm no better than people on the street, but I don't know where I stand usually. If I ever see a black person like me on TV I'm the friend to the white person. When it's a black show it's some weird type of black person I don't relate to. I don't relate to Tyler Perry, I also never really related to Moesha when it was on in the 90s, I don't have black friends like that or live in a black community. I'm a black person in white communities and I need to learn how to be a black person around black people. I need to work at not making uneducated judgements about black people and accept how they act without acting like I'm better than them or thinking it, because it's probably not true. Everyone has their issues and the things that fuck with them, no matter the color of their skin, I just don't know how to do it because I don't spend time around black people that often. 

I don't know what type of person I want to be but I think to figure that out I have to deal with and accept the type of black person I am. Hell, I never acknowledge that I'm Dominican either. 

What I do know is I'm someone who draws, I'm someone who likes men, I'm someone who like reading, I'm someone dealing with anxiety problems, I'm someone who reads, I'm someone who has graduated college, I'm someone who happens to have brown skin, I'm someone who's over weight, I'm someone who has glasses, I'm someone who needs to understand who they are so they can become a better version of that.

Dear Blank

Dear Hollywood (Television and Movies)

Give me a black person who speaks like a normal fucking human fucking being. Give me black people who aren't there as the magical black person, who doesn't do voodoo and doesn't speak English like they're from a fucking island. Give me black people who aren't from the 'hood' who don't speak like they're uneducated and don't have a real vocabulary. Give me black people who aren't characterized by the non-american aspects of their nationality. Give me black people who look and speak like normal black people. Maybe give them a bit of Africa and cultural pride. Maybe give them distant family members who were poorly educated and don't speak English right. Maybe give them a weave, afro or short cropped hair (if they're female) or dreads. 

Just stop making all black people either mystics, god fearing baptists, creole speaking witch doctors, illiterate, illegal gun having, illegal drug crazed, sexual beasts or well hung med. 

Just take all of the characteristics of a white dude and cast someone with more melanin. Want to know why Troy isn't the most annoying black dude even though he's not the smartest person in the study group? Outside of having been a football jock and therefore falling into that stereotype, he's a a developed and rounded individual. And Shirley, could have just been Christian sweetness and vengeance but she has other attributes that could be applied to any other race. Are they perfect and do they completely break out of racially constructed bounds? No. But what they are does not include being a laundry list of hokey stereotypes of accent and tomfoolery.

Hell, look at John Luther from Luther. He's not great because he can be a big scary black man, he's great because he's a fucking genius who thinks differently to solve cases and happens to be black which is virtually never mentioned as a derogatory for his character. 

Black characters can be written and understood without painting them black with bright pink lips and the whitest of white eyes and teeth. Black character can be people without being tinted with the hate and misunderstanding of the past. Black characters can be written as having aspirations and being successful and you don't have to be black to write them well. 

I'm ready to see black people coming from the suburb who didn't have problems in school, were well liked and well educated and have high hopes. We have fantastic people like Neil DeGrasse Tyson who show that black people are that smart, have the drive and potential to do the things that change the world for the better and our media needs to reflect that more often. So a homogeneous mixed race group of friends who don't fall into historically hurtful stereotypes, mix up people's strengths and flaws. Have a lead who's not a 'perfect' white dude and work to reflect more of the real America. Not the weirs country, southern conservative version of America where everyone's xenophobic, but an America that's growing and working on it's problems with Others. We need to work to a world where it's not an 'us' and 'them' mentality, just an 'us' and we understand that everyone's the same no matter what their skin color, sexuality, orientation, gender, occupation is. People desire to love, succeed, many reproduce, leave a legacy and enjoy our blip of existence as starstuff. 

In thinking about it that way, it's wholly possible to write characters of different races as being strong capable individuals without falling on old, unintelligent habits that work to only hurt.