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(Review) Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur #1-6

Reading 150When Marvel resumed their regular universe in the wake of Secret Wars last November, they released a really great line-up of diverse comics under the “All-New, All-Different Marvel” banner. I wrote a little about the titles I was most interested in here, and it’s taken me a little time to get to most of the titles. Still, they’re in my pull box and I’ve been steadily making my way through. So, how are they faring eight months later?

Not well, I have to say. Red Wolf, Howling Commandos of SHIELD, and Weirdworld have been cancelled already, and a lot of the other fledgeling comics aimed at diversifying their line-up in either character or tone have been consistently soft-sellers for your local comic shop. This doesn’t necessarily mean that the diversity initiative is a failure; with a more diverse readership comes way more diverse ways of reading, so while a lot of the audience for these books might not be heading to the LCS to pick them up they might be getting them somewhere else — digitally through the Marvel or Comixology app, or in graphic novel form through their local bookseller or on Amazon. Still, the Diamond sales figures reported from comic shops is essentially the Nielsen rating that comics titles live or die on, and the big two publishing houses still use that as a key figure of success.

So let me preface this review by saying that if you’re a comics fan who has been championing more diversity in superhero stories, it’s vitally important to offer feedback to the companies giving it to you in a way they understand. Visit your local comic shop, pre-order the title or buy it off the shelf. A lot of these businesses are locally owned and operated, and they can certainly use the patronage (and the proof that broadening the tent of the superhero story is bringing in new and diverse fans).

MG and DD

One of the titles I was most intrigued by is Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur, which wrapped up its first arc last month and released its first graphic novel collection. Amy Reeder and Brandon Montclare have been doing some great work here, establishing Lunella Lafayette as a next-generation Peter Parker who just so happens to have a supernatural dinosaur as a best friend. Lunella’s story is relatable and engrossing, even when the more ridiculous elements dominate the scenery. It’s grounded in street-level concerns, coming off a bit like Netflix’s Daredevil — a look at how the high-minded heroics of the Marvel universe affect the working stiffs who have to deal with the fallout.

Lunella, for example, is a ten-year-old super-genius whose parents simply can’t afford to send her to a school worthy of her intellect. Worse, her repeated applications to the prestigious Future Foundation are rejected. So she’s stuck at her local elementary school where she fights off crushing boredom and disconnection by working on a problem that’s complicated enough to engage her and personal enough to motivate her: finding a way to keep the Terrigen Mists making their way around the globe from turning her into an Inhuman. She knows she has these dormant genes locked up inside of her, and exposure to the Mists will activate them, turning her into a different person. Of course she doesn’t want that; she just wants to be a normal girl. So, she tries to hunt down a Kree artifact in the hopes that it will tell her how their experiments worked. Maybe if she gets an explanation, she can reverse-engineer a cure.

Meanwhile, both Devil Dinosaur and a tribe of early hominids called the Killer Folk are displaced through time after a fight; when Lunella finds the artifact that sent them into the modern day, she becomes the Killer Folk’s new target.

This is my first exposure to Devil Dinosaur, though I’ve seen his name pop up here and there in various Marvel cartoons and games. I suspect I’m not alone in this, especially if this particular comic book is meant to draw in readers who would have never gotten into the Marvel universe some other way. I’m intrigued by his back-story, even though I don’t think we’ll get much explanation of it here; the first arc is all about Lunella making sense of her world and the crazy things she gets caught up in and DD is very much a sidekick. But it feels like his fight against the Killer Folk reaches back across the eons, especially since the inciting incident involves a ritual that the Killer Folk perform a blood sacrifice and the dinosaur’s original companion — Moon Boy — is *also* an ancient hominid. What’s going on here? And how does it tie in with Lunella’s life beyond the Kree connection? Maybe that will be answered in future arcs.

MG and DD coverThis one, though, is a lot of fun. We’re introduced to Lunella, her family, her school, her neighborhood and problems through these intensely disruptive influences that reshape them quite a bit. We see Lunella’s fearlessness as she draws her strength in the face of adversity; how she gets that from a mother willing to do what it takes to protect and provide for her family; and how her work ethic comes from a father who sacrifices his time and attention to make ends meet, but still does his best to be present for a daughter he doesn’t really understand. Lunella, on some level, recognizes the good intentions of her parents even while she knows they can’t possibly get what she’s going through. That tension between love and isolation is well-drawn here; and it informs so many of her decisions. She puts up with the teasing from her classmates, the impatient hostility of her teachers, the dismissive ignorance of the world at large — not because she thinks she’s better than they are, but because she knows how her differences sets her apart from just about everyone. If her own family doesn’t understand her, how can she expect anyone else to?

I know that doesn’t sound like a lot of fun, but it is. Lunella is a great heroine because she doesn’t let this fundamental disconnection get her down. She still believes in the people around her, she still wants to be a part of the world. The first arc of Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur establishes that desire while also showing her that she can embrace the full oddity of who she is and how she relates to the world around her. Seeing that is a true joy and ultimately inspiring.

We don’t see black heroines who are smart, fearless and devoted to excellence all that often. Most of the time we see them as tough powerhouses who don’t take shit from anyone (see: Zoe Washburne, Amanda Waller, Miss America, etc.). And while that’s awesome, Lunella is in a class all by herself. She gets by on her brain, and her strength comes from her ability to stick through a tough problem until she finds a solution. She just doesn’t give up. That willpower is her birthright, and she’s applying it to the problems that we face in the 21st century. Ours is a complex, interconnected and quickly-changing world, and just when you think you’ve got things down the landscape shifts under your feet. Lunella is simultaneously firmly rooted in who she is and adaptable to whatever the world lays at her doorstep. She’s incredible.

The art from Amy Reeder and Natacha Bustos is a big part of this comic’s appeal. It’s bright and dynamic, capturing the lightness of childhood perfectly blended with the hard edges and long shadows of living in a big, dangerous city. They’re able to run the gamut of grounded scenes at the family dinner table, the primary-colored chaos of an elementary school classroom, the neon-and-shadow contrast of a city at night, and the traditional craziness of big superhero action without sacrificing their style; it’s consistent and balanced, simple but extraordinarily capable. This book isn’t only a pleasure to read, but so many of the panels are a joy to look at as well.

I really love this comic, and I think a lot of you out there will, too. And, as much as I hate to say this, it’s important that you find it. Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur debuted in November 2015 with nearly 39,000 copies sold; sales figures have since dipped into the 12K range — beneath Contest of Champions, Star-Lord and Hyperion. It’s not quite into “automatic cancellation” territory, but it’s close. The most recent issues of Weirdworld and Red Wolf have only pulled 9K and 7K copies, respectively; Marvel’s top ongoing comics generally pull around 75K copies.

I’m not going to pretend Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur will ever pull that many numbers, but it’s important for us to show Marvel that there’s room in their universe for heroes like Lunella Lafayette. Now that the first collection is out, go to your local comic shop and pick it up. If you like it, make it a point to grab individual issues every month. I know that the feedback model is bogus — digital and bookstore sales absolutely need to be given more weight — but let’s deal with things as they are. Now that Marvel has listened to us and given us diverse and compelling heroes, it’s up to us to show our appreciation with our wallets and words.

 
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Posted by on June 27, 2016 in Comic Books, Reading, Reviews

 

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(Review) Why Black People Don’t Time Travel

Reading 150Edana Peterson is a writer who works temporary jobs to make ends meet; during one of these jobs, she meets a white, blue-collar worker named Kevin Franklin and falls in love with him. Kevin rejects his racist family in order to marry Dana — not something that’s easy, but it was especially so back in 1976. As the newlyweds move into a small place together, Dana gets dizzy while having a conversation with her husband. The room begins to spin; her vision blurs. And suddenly, she’s in a river with a drowning child. She saves him, and in reward for her trouble she’s attacked by the boy’s mother and nearly shot by a white man wondering what she’s doing off of a plantation.

This is the first of a half-dozen incredible trips back in time and across the country for Dana, the protagonist of Octavia Butler’s seminal work Kindred. Over the course of the novel, she learns that she’s being pulled back through time to save a young man named Rufus Weylin, who turns out to be an ancestor living in slavery-era Maryland. However, Rufus’ calling her have massive and long-lasting effects on Dana and Kevin; the first-hand experience of American slavery leave deep and lasting scars on both of them that they struggle to deal with.

Kindred is essentially a fictionalized slavery narrative that does something vital — it recovers the true extent of the slave’s experience and contextualizes it for modern-day audiences. One of the greatest disservices that have been done to American history is the sanitization of this period. So many stories set during this period are “lightened” so that audiences don’t lose their stomach for the tale while still hopefully learning how difficult it was. But what that does is distance ourselves from the very thing we need to be connecting to — no matter how difficult it is, knowing exactly what happened to black Americans during slavery and who perpetrated these horrors is essential in understanding the social and psychological impact it had on the people and institutions of modern-day America.

Both Dana and Kevin see themselves as progressives of the time, but the forced confrontation of the reality of their history is still hard to take. Their experience gives them no choice but to re-examine the idea they had about slavery and the choices that people under that brutal regime had to make in order to survive. Kindred illustrates just how people could possibly come to accept the abuses they endured and why they did it; it gives shades to those “Uncle Tom” and “contented mammy” characters that were caricatured in stories like Gone With The Wind; and it restores agency to so many other people trapped in the huge social ecosystem of the Southern plantation. The slaves that Dana meets when she’s transported through time don’t belong to merely a few stereotypes; their rich inner lives shows us the vast array of responses to their enslavement and how those decisions came about.

Perhaps more than anything, Kindred makes me understand just how much black women in particular suffered under white patriarchal supremacy in the antebellum South and how much they continue to do so today. They were perceived as nothing but property by all of society, and were subject to the base desires and whims of their masters. When all of the world was arrayed against you, you had to think very carefully about how you rebelled; it wasn’t simply a matter of worrying about your own life, because you had to think about the lives of your children and family as well.

One of the most fascinating things about the novel is how the shared experience of Dana and Kevin affects their relationship. Even as they become separated across time and space, what they have to endure changes them. Kevin has to disabuse himself of several notions about the struggle of black Americans in both the slavery South and the more “enlightened” times of 1970’s Los Angeles. When he returns to his “world”, it’s clear that he can’t really absorb what happened and move forward. Combined with Dana’s trauma, the couple must struggle to build a life together as best they can. The novel ends on that difficult, unresolved, yet hopeful note.

I think that’s the ultimate lesson of Kindred; fully facing a difficult history will change you in ways that are irrevocable and possibly damaging, but ultimately necessary. We can no longer go on as a society thinking that we don’t have the scars we do. If we don’t pay attention to our collective wounds, they will continue to fester and grow infectious, poisoning the very life-blood of our society. This unwillingness to look at the legacy that was left for us by our ancestors results in the continued abuse against minorities of those in power; the persistent inability of our legal system to properly recognize how those abuses have been perpetrated, largely unbroken, to this day; and the unchecked, raw anger and resentment that so many of us black Americans feel for our brothers and sisters with different ideas, lives and stories as well as the broader society that we’re all struggling to integrate into.

Kindred teaches us that clear understanding of our history is difficult but also healing. We are not whole people; we’ve done and endured terrible things. Facing that teaches us to better grasp the decisions of others within that system, see how its consequences are still baked into our society and have more compassion and empathy for our ancestors and each other. Realizing the hell we were all in simply gives us better orientation to get ourselves out of it.

So, if you can, read Kindred. Precisely because it is difficult, and will change you.

 

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(Writing) Howdy, Br’er!

Myth 150This month for Fiction Friday, I’ll be giving the Br’er scenario another try. I’m not sure what people thought of the couple fragments I posted last month, but I wasn’t really happy with them — I think they came across far too “woe is me, poor special snowflake” and less “these are some things that folks like me have to deal with”. Not my best look, fam; sorry about that.

I’m writing a little about what I’d like to do with the idea here, not to prime you to read the upcoming bits of fiction in a certain way, but to hopefully solidify my intentions and use this as a guidepost to look back on at the end of the month when I want to know how I did with them. I know it’s important to let the work speak for itself, right? But this is the first tentative step to more involved and more ambitious stories, and this writing desk here is going to be my workshop for now.

I’m writing Br’ers as a way to dig into my experience as a black man on the fringes of black society. In a lot of ways, my folks can tell there’s something different about me just by looking — either it’s the clothes I wear, or the way I carry myself, or how I speak. There’s this impression that I give off almost immediately that codes me as “other”, and that feeling only deepens once I start talking.

At the same time, I am undeniably black and the rest of the world sees me that way. I’m lumped in with a community that has distanced me from itself by the dominant culture, and there’s not much I can do about that. I occupy this border between the world of black America and the wider one, maybe not by choice, but by simply being who I am. And here, my options are somewhat limited; no one thing is going to be wholly satisfying.

I could forsake the black community entirely and step out into the wider world in search of an adopted people. That’s what I’ve done for most of my life; in my senior year of high school I found Dungeons & Dragons, Changeling: the Dreaming and the furry fandom. I didn’t look back for 15 years. These are the people who understood me, who’ve accepted me as one of their own, whose excitement I’ve shared. I’ve been a geek for about 20 years now; it’s an enormous part of my identity.

But over the past couple of years I’ve felt a calling back “home”. Maybe it’s being in touch with my family again, learning about the first deaths that will signal many more for my older relatives, getting to talk to my nephews on the phone. Maybe it’s knowing that I had an aunt who was a lesbian and never reaching out to her; now she’s gone and it’s too late. Maybe it’s seeing this awful parade of abuse and death to our young black men and women and thinking that it could have been my sister’s children on the news, or even my sister. Either way, something within me told me it was time to reassume this part of my identity, and I’ve been working out how ever since.

Learning about the black geek community has been a wonderful thing for that. These are people who’ve grown up in ways that I recognize, who have experiences that I share, who love the same things I do. What they haven’t done is given up their racial and cultural identity the way I did; they’ve stayed on that border and made a settlement there. They’re influenced by both worlds — the black American culture that I’ve found so difficult to deal with and the bigger, whiter space of science-fiction and fantasy. Their space looks like nothing else, this fusion of a long, painful history combined with wild and unbridled imagination.

The concept of Br’er came to me as I was thinking about how to marry my furry identity with the larger world of black geekdom. I like the idea that someone waking up one day as markedly different forces them to the fringes anywhere they go; no matter where they are, chances are they’re the only one of their kind in the room. A new species borne out of the antagonistic relationship we have with our planet is an idea I couldn’t let go of. Br’ers, just by being who they are, remind us of the awful things we’ve done and force us to deal with that on some level.

I imagine that Br’ers were a sudden and immediate phenomenon. One day, one in twenty people — mostly in the most blighted urban areas — woke up to find themselves some weird combination of human and animal. Because the change seemed to be based on a type of environment, it disproportionately affected minorities and the poor. You know, the kind of people who tend to live in areas of urban blight. What these animal-human hybrids are called varies depending on the culture naming them; in black circles, they’re named Br’ers.

Those who’ve undergone the change feel like strangers in their own skin, even after the six months to a year has passed where our story picks up. They have to rediscover their own bodies, wrestle with strange and different appetites, move through a world that simply has no idea what to make of them. Because of the vastly different shape of their faces, they have no idea how to speak up. They’re voiceless, and any method of communication they can use as an alternative probably won’t really capture what is they’re feeling, what it is they want to say. It’s a frustrating and lonely existence, even if they know that they’re not alone, that there are other people out there like them.

Their families and neighbors are weirded out by them; this is something beyond their experience and they have no idea how to relate to them. The world at large might be more accepting, but there are trade-offs. Chances are they come from minority or low-income backgrounds, without a lot of social or political power; they’re kind of exotic, but kind of dangerous, objects of fascination more than living breathing people. Folks will stop them on the street and ask to touch their fur, or wonder how they manage to do things with their claws, or — only when they’re drunk or feeling REALLY comfortable — ask them if what they’ve heard about their sexual characteristics are true.

The world of the Br’er is one where there is almost no safe space; your neighborhood holds you at arm’s length, anything beyond that might be well-meaning but ignorant at best and downright abusive at worst, and there’s no guarantee even among your own kind that you’ll find kinship for a whole host of reasons. On top of that, it’s a long and arduous process to find peace about yourself and who you are. You may never truly fit in anywhere, and you have to be OK with that.

That’s the experience I want to capture here. It’ll take me a little while to get it right; I’m still a novice at writing fiction and working with subtext is something I’m going to have to learn. But it’s an idea I believe in, and I’ll keep trying to express it until I get it right.

So thanks in advance for being patient with me on this. Any feedback is welcome — even if it’s critical, even if you don’t believe in the idea in the first place. I want to hear from you. I know the first passes are going to be rough, but I sacrifice my ego to the altar of story. I will crash and burn publicly, because I want to forge myself.

 

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(Personal) Going Back to Go Forward

Myth 150My childhood was spent in a procession of hostile places. At home, I had a severe, distant mother and an alcoholic father to tend with; my sister got into trouble a lot and ran away from home several times, so there was always something terrible going on there. At school I was a poor, shy kid who had no social skills and a meek disposition. I got along with the teachers well enough, but that only made life worse with the students. At my church, I was a “spiritual orphan”, more a pity project for elders in the congregation than a colleague and certainly one of the least popular kids there. I spent most of my life growing up with few friends and a certainty that I didn’t fit in any of the places that surrounded me.

So, when I discovered the Internet and the furry community it was a lifeline for me. There was a whole community of people out there who shared my interests and mindset, no matter how strange it was. After I graduated high school, I worked two mall jobs and spent what little free time that gave me talking to people online. I would often get home after midnight, wake up at 6 or 7 AM and catch the bus to do it all again.

When I went to college, I accepted my sexuality. When I came out to my mother and she rejected me, I knew that was my last link to my community gone. I would absolutely be disfellowshipped from my congregation, and after that my mother would more than likely be encouraged not to speak to me. My sister and I weren’t close at that point, and I hadn’t developed a strong bond with anyone else in my family. I left home in the summer of 1999 and I haven’t been back since.

For a long time, it was hard to think of myself as a black man. I felt thoroughly rejected by my tribe and just as wholeheartedly accepted by a new one. I’d rather think of myself as a geek and a furry because that was the community I had jumped in with. And they’re still a huge part of my life — I love the furry fandom, and I love geeking out with other people who love science-fiction, urban/modern fantasy and post-apocalyptic stories. This is still my tribe, and I feel more comfortable here than I ever have anywhere else.

But over the past year or so, with my discovery of the black geek community online and my slow but steady connection with black geeks through Twitter and the blogosphere, it’s occurred to me that the black part of my identity is still there, will always be there, and continues to wield its influence over me. I’ll see social dynamics differently than most people, and my experiences of being marginalized in both the dominant culture and my little minority tribe will continue to have some bearing on the way I see the world. To deny that would be dishonest to myself, and I can’t do that any more.

I’ve been trying to absorb what that means for myself, but over the past year I’ve found myself making small and hesitant overtures back to at least the part of black culture that overlaps with the tribe I’ve chosen for myself since leaving home. And it’s been a wonderful experience; learning that our shared history and experience can be used to create wildly different stories that are just as vital and interesting and imaginative as a Euro-centric tale is nothing short of a revelation. I’ve been so intrigued by the idea of it, and it’s made me want to dig back into not only my own personal history, but the history of my people to better understand my place in the fringes of it.

So I’ve been dabbling in telling stories borne out of my experience and the way it’s shaped my understanding of the culture I came from. I’ve been seeking out the voices of other intelligent black people who’ve been making a place at the table for themselves within the broader SFF community. I’ve been slowly trying on my blackness, but I’ve had trouble feeling it, had trouble feeling connected to the place where I’ve come from.

That was until I saw The Wiz Live.

For those of you who don’t know, The Wiz is a musical re-imagining of The Wizard of Oz featuring an all-black cast. Most people know it as a somewhat campy 70s movie starring Diana Ross, Michael Jackson and Richard Pryor but it was a surprise hit on Broadway before that, winning seven Tony Awards in its first year (including Best Musical). I had never seen the 70s movie up until now, when NBC decided to put on a live staging of The Wiz as part of its nascent Thanksgiving tradition.

I won’t go into too much detail here, though I can spaz about The Wiz for a really long time. But the musical re-contextualizes everyone’s desires through issues that affect the black community at large in really interesting ways. Dorothy finds herself stuck in a place she doesn’t want to be, though it’s the only home she’s got and she can’t go back to the one she had; the Scarecrow can’t think of a way out of his situation, which is a losing game that he’s forced to play; the Tin Man loved the wrong woman, and now she’s stolen his heart and left him without the ability to feel anything; and the Lion struggles to muster the courage to deal with the very real difficulties he faces in life.

The performances were nothing short of amazing — for the most part. But what really hit home for me were the songs; numbers like “You Can’t Win” and “What I Would Do If I Could Feel” talk about the depression and bitterness that build up through a lifetime of feeling helpless, but “Be A Lion,” the brand-new “We Got It” and “Everybody Rejoice/Brand New Day” acknowledges the difficulty of the black struggle while also encouraging us to live the virtues that have gotten us this far — perseverance, fearlessness and compassion for the struggles of others. It’s a uniquely black American story, steeped in our culture and concerns. I’ve never seen a story quite like that before, told so excellently, with such care and such pride, on some a big stage. It was a revelation.

It was the first time I felt connected to the community I had come from, or felt like I had a strong sense of its values, its struggles, its worries. It was the first time I ever saw a story that made me feel like this was something specifically told for me and mine. Seeing all of these immensely talented black people stepping up to tell a story to the best of their considerable abilities was….it made me realize what I could be. And it connected me to where I came from.

So now I feel I have a better grasp of my background — not only of my personal history, but the social and emotional history of my people. I’m sure it wasn’t just The Wiz that did it — I’ve been digging around, learning more and pushing myself to interact more — but it felt like a piece of the puzzle that clicked into place and allowed me to see a much more complete picture than I ever have before.

I’m going into my background and the storytelling around it with much more excitement and confidence now. I have a stronger sense of who I am, and an even greater desire to connect to my culture and its history. The specific troubles I went through are shared by a lot of black geeks like me, who find it difficult to be truly who they are while being a part of a community that encourages sameness for its own protection. I want to go back and rejoin it, while at the same time embracing my individuality. There’s a place at that table for me, even if I have to make it myself. It’s something that black geeks are used to doing at this point, right?

The story that I’m writing to put up on the blog this week is my first attempt at writing a furry story from a black perspective. I’m excited to share it, while at the same time I realize it’s just the first step along a path. My understanding of my own history will continue to deepen and evolve, and hopefully my writing will reflect that over time. But for now, the first bit of that journey.

 

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A Black Geek’s Guide to All-New, All-Different Marvel

Reading 150I fell in with comic books through Marvel, and I’ll never forget it. I was vaguely aware of comics growing up — how could you not know about Superman, Batman, or Spider-Man — but the first time I heard about a story that made me think “I have to read this” was the Age of Apocalypse saga, where Charles Xavier’s insane son goes back in time to kill Magneto but mistakenly kills Professor X instead. For four glorious months, the entire line of X-Men books were replaced by a post-apocalyptic hell where Apocalypse has taken over the world and a desperate band of humans and defecting mutants are trying to stop him. I had never heard of a storyline as ambitious as that, and I don’t think there’s been a crossover Marvel has pulled off that well before or since.

Ever since then, I’ve jumped in and out of the comic stream. I left for a while, came back for Grant Morrisson’s New X-Men run, then left for a while and came back for Bendis’ All-New X-Men run, and now I’m lapsed again. I wish I hadn’t — Hickman’s Avengers work is currently wrapping up on the Secret Wars crossover, which has basically destroyed Marvel’s entire multiverse and replaced it with a patchwork world where Dr. Doom is God. This is the end-game of Hickman’s work across Fantastic Four, FF, Avengers, New Avengers and Avengers World; he’s been leading to this for years. It’s that kind of long-form storytelling I really appreciate and applaud, and I wish I had been reading the story in real-time.

This month, Marvel is releasing the comics that come after Secret Wars; we catch up with the multiverse eight months after the end of Doom’s Battleworld and the restoration of the multiverse. However, this is a chance for the company to pull a line-wide reset on every single title, so there’ll be an enormous wave of brand-new comics hitting the shelves over the next few months. So which comics are worth getting in your local shops every Wednesday? Which are fine getting digital? And which ones do you probably want to wait for the trade paperbacks on?

Marvel is doing a lot of really different stuff with this launch, featuring a great array of diverse books featuring African-American, Native American, Asian-American and women superheroes front and center. Captain America is still black; Thor is still a woman; the Avengers will feature those two as well as Ms. Marvel (a Pakistani Muslim), Ultimate Spider-Man (half-black, half-Latino Miles Morales) and Kid Nova, Sam Alexander. Of the seven folks on the main roster, only the original Iron Man Tony Stark still has his spot.

Diversity is given a serious run here, and I think it’s important to show Marvel we dig what they’re doing. It’s not enough that we show up on message boards and at Comic-Cons asking for it; when they’re giving us what we want, we should show up at the comic book shops too. Personally, I’ll buy the paper version of any title I think needs the support most; the titles that will probably be fine but I still want to read will get bought digitally; and the stuff that I’m curious about but not sold on will have to wait for the trade paperback. I only have so much money, after all, and a geek’s got to eat.

So here’s my pull list for All-New, All-Different Marvel. What’s yours? Let me know in the comments!

PAPER COPY, EVERY WEDNESDAY
Black Panther
Written by Ta-Nehisi Coates; Art by Brian Stelfreeze

I’ve only recently been turned on to Ta-Nehisi Coates this year, and already he’s become one of my favorite voices in all of black geekdom. So when I heard he was getting the keys to Black Panther, there was simply no way I could miss that. The first twelve-issue story arc will feature a revolution in Wakanda, and T’Challa trying to figure out how to deal with it. I cannot wait for this. This is going to be amazing.

Howling Commandos of SHIELD
Written by Frank Barbiere; Art by Bren Schoonover

A motley crew of monsters — including a robot version of Dum Dum Duggan, Warwolf (a gun-toting werewolf), Man-Thing (a gigantic swamp creature) and Hit-Monkey (a…deranged monkey?) — take out supernatural threats while struggling with their own monstrous natures. This book is too insane not to take up; I really dig the theme of trying to do good while being fundamentally apart from a society that will never accept you. This is one of the more bizarre concepts Marvel is throwing at the wall, and while I don’t expect it to last very long I really want to support it while it’s there.

Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur
Written by Amy Reeder and Brandon Montclaire; Art by Natacha Bustos

First of all, Devil Dinosaur in his own ongoing! Moon Girl is a pre-teen black girl named Lunella Lafayette who is also a dormant Inhuman; however, she doesn’t want superpowers. She wants to continue being the prodigy she is, so she’s looking for ways to prevent transformation. That desire to stay who you are, to hide the weirdness inside you, is a really compelling hook for me. Also, this is one of the few ongoing comics to be (co)written and drawn by women!

Totally Awesome Hulk
Written by Greg Pak; Art by Frank Cho

Amadeus Cho is the new Hulk! Gone is the brooding Bruce Banner; Cho wants to embrace being enormous and green. This comic hands the mantle of the Hulk to a Korean-American prodigy, featuring Greg Pak returning to the title he’s best known for, with Frank Cho pulling art duties; two Korean-Americans creating a superhero comic with a Korean-American protagonist! You can’t do better than that.

Red Wolf
Written by Nathan Edmonson; Art by Dalibor Talajic

This is the biggest question mark; this version of Red Wolf hails from one of the patchwork realities that made up Battleworld in Secret Wars, so Marvel won’t get into any issues with portraying a real Native American tribe, but…is that better? While they will have a Native American artist doing covers, it remains to be seen just how the character will be treated and what the book will look like. Still, just making the attempt is something, and I’m planning to see how it shakes out.
DIGITAL
Uncanny Inhumans
Written by Charles Soule; Art by Steve McNiven

The Inhumans are being set up as a mainstay of the Marvel Universe moving forward (whether we like it or not), and this will probably be the flagship title for them. I’ve heard nothing but great things about Charles Soule, and I’m curious about this little corner of the comic universe; with Agents of SHIELD setting up the Inhumans incredibly well in the cinematic universe, I’d like to read more about them. Mutant and original X-Man Beast is defecting to their crew, and where he goes I follow.

All-New X-Men
Written by Dennis Hopeless; Art by Mark Bagley

It is not a good time to be a mutant after Secret Wars. The Terrigen Mists, which have been released into the biosphere, have rendered them sick and sterile. The surviving mutants are warring with the Inhumans as they fight to keep their species alive. And the time-displaced original X-Men — Beast, Cyclops, Iceman and Angel — are still in this reality. Determined to lead by example, they’ve set out to be the superheroes they know they should be. I’m really curious about this take on the X-Men; it feels like a bit of a throwback but at the same time tackles the “nature vs. nurture” question in really interesting ways.

Spider-Man
Written by Brian Michael Bendis; Art by Sarah Pichelli

Miles Morales is probably one of the only people who’ve made it out of the Ultimate Universe, and that’s probably because he moves so many books; still, he’s a really compelling character and I cannot wait to see how he fits in with the main universe. Bendis made his bones on this title 20 years ago to usher in the Ultimate Universe, so he has an amazing handle on this character and where to take Morales next.

Ms. Marvel
Written by G. Willow Wilson; Art by Takeshi Miyazawa and Adrian Alphona

Kamala Khan has, in many ways, lead the charge of this all-new, all-different Marvel. Her introduction to the main universe was a surprise hit for the company, and she’s being placed in a position of prominence during this reconfiguration initiative. Not only is she one of the Avengers now, she’s also getting a brand-new volume of her massively successful solo comic; I cannot wait to see what G. Willow Wilson (one of the only Muslim writers working in comics that I know of) has in store for her after Secret Wars.

Guardians of the Galaxy
Written by Brian Michael Bendis; Art by Valerio Schitti

ROCKET RACCOON IS IN CHARGE! After Secret Wars, Star-Lord has left the Guardians to become the leader of the Spartax Empire, which means Rocket, Groot, Drax, and Venom have to find a way to make do on their own. They’re joined by an alternate-universe Kitty Pride as the new Star-Lord and the Thing finally fulfilling his potential as an astronaut. Bendis has actually been killing it on this title ever since he took it over, and I’m looking forward to seeing how the team comes together after all of these changes.
TRADE PAPERBACK
All-New, All-Different Avengers
Written by Mark Waid; Art by Mahmud Asrar and Andy Kubert

You have to hand it to Marvel; they aren’t kidding around with remaking their universe. This is a directive to shake things up from the top down: the Avengers are almost completely changed — Iron Man is the one guy who’s a member of the Big Three, joined by the new Captain America (Sam Wilson), the new Thor (Jane Foster), Vision, Ms. Marvel, Spider-Man (Miles Morales) and Nova (Sam Alexander). I’d be worried about the roster if it weren’t for Mark Waid, who excels at taking titles in great new directions that inject a sense of serious fun into them. This is the perfect team for his style.

Extraordinary X-Men
Written by Jeff Lemire; Art by Humberto Ramos

I’ve been a fan of Lemire ever since he broke onto the scene with the excellent, strange post-apocalyptic tale Sweet Tooth; the success of that book has propelled him onto DC’s main titles with a run on Green Arrow before Marvel’s snapped him up to shepherd the new flagship X-title. Storm is leading the mutant nation through another extinction crisis with Colossus, Magik, Nightcrawler, Forge, the present-day Iceman, the time-displaced Jean Grey and Old Man Logan. Marvel’s X-Men are always at their best when they’re put in the hands of great writers with distinct voices, so this is a great move.

Weirdworld
Written by Sam Humphries; Art by Mike del Mundo

I really should pick up the Secret Wars miniseries before picking up this title, but I find it so intriguing. Weirdworld is basically Marvel’s sword-and-sorcery universe, and they’re pulling it out of mothballs to give it a go. It’s so rare for one of the Big Two to go in this direction that I have to see what they do with it; I don’t think it’s going to last very long, but I want to throw my money at other projects I think are more important to support.

So that’s it: 13 titles that I plan on supporting once All-New, All-Different Marvel gets going, and there are plenty more that I would like to take a look at — the new Howard the Duck, The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, Rocket Raccoon and Groot, The Ultimates (featuring Black Panther, Captain Marvel, Spectrum, Ms. America and Blue Marvel), Power Man and Iron Fist, just to name a few. Simply put, it’s a VERY good time to be a Marvel fan.

 
 

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Have a Joyous Kwanzaa!

Myth 150Habari gani?

My estrangement from the black community happened really early. To be fair, I didn’t have a lot going for myself when I was a wee leveret; I was mousy and had strange interests, and my mother was an older woman who had adopted me and my sister even though she had her own problems. We didn’t have much money, we didn’t share the same religion that everyone else did, and I didn’t have the temperament that let me overcome any of that.

So I was teased a lot in school. I had a few friends, but even they were fickle in the singular way boys are. I tried to keep my head down and be a good kid for the most part. I was only really passionate about school and books — I read just about any science-fiction and fantasy stuff I could get my hands on. I loved The Wind in the Willows and The Chronicles of Narnia. I wanted to live in fairy tales, where you could actually live in the forests and wild animals were your neighbors. I wished I could be more graceful, playful, charismatic, less afraid.

Over the years, there would be a few chances to connect with various pockets of community — but at a price. In order to fit in at school, I would need to develop a swagger that didn’t come naturally. I wore suits to stand out from my peers; I gave myself nicknames and personality traits to see how they fit. In high school, I developed an offensively-stereotypical Australian character for writing advice columns in the school newspaper. None of it really fit. At church, I could sink in with a group of people if I filled my days with trying to evangelize the Word that I couldn’t bring myself to see as the truth; some of my brothers and sisters there liked more of the same things I did, but I couldn’t share my love of fantasy for fear of being labeled as a dallier with the demonic.

In my junior year of high school I discovered the furry fandom. When I graduated, I had plans to work a lot, save my money and go to a tiny liberal arts college in the south of Maryland to get a pre-veterinary degree. The tenuous bonds I had to the communities of my youth were completely severed there. I found acceptance in the theatre geeks and pagans on campus; there was only condemnation and “prayers for my soul” among the other black people. This fit with my previous experience; the only place I felt I could truly be myself, where I felt ultimately accepted, were with the sci-fi/fantasy geeks. As I’m sure you could imagine, almost all of them were white.

It’s been about 15 years since then, and I haven’t felt the need to double back towards the community I’ve always felt rejected by until now. This year has been something of a revelation for me about race. Through Ryan’s involvement with Clarion, I’ve learned that there’s an entire community full of people with one foot in the sci-fi/fantasy fandom that I love while keeping one foot steeped in the traditions and interests of our shared ancestry. Afro-futurism is an excitingly new concept to me, and a great chance to learn about narratives other than the ones I’ve been exposed to. For the first time, I can actually read stories written by people like me, about people like me, dealing with things that I can personally relate to. It’s a chance to construct our own stories, determine who we are, to respond and contrast to the things that are said about us in our own words. It’s a delicious idea.

I’ve also been exposed to more intense and varied forms of racism this year than I ever have been through my entire life. What’s happened in Ferguson, MO (and Ohio, and Nevada, and Florida, and New York…) and the reaction to it has opened my eyes about the many, many forms inequality can have in this world, and how people like me are still subjected to it. Even though I don’t feel like I’ve been a part of the black community for a long time, I couldn’t sit by any longer and watch this happening without saying something, without doing something. Speaking up about this exposed me to really surprising viewpoints, and showed me that even if I haven’t considered myself a member of the black community, I was going to be seen and treated like one.

This has forced me to confront my place — not only how I see myself, but how others see me and where I feel I should be right now. I think, after all this time, it’s time to reunite with my heritage and background. I can do so on my terms, and lend my own voice to the diaspora of the many African-Americans making their way through this deeply fragmented country.

So, this year, I plan to observe Kwanzaa. I know the reputation it has among the African-American community, and I definitely know it doesn’t fare much better outside of that. But I think it’s a great gateway towards reconnecting with my heritage, and I’m hoping that an honest examination of it will help to make it my own. I want this to be a legitimate celebration where honest discussion doesn’t necessarily mean that I take the holiday too seriously; there needs to be a sense of perspective and joy that weaves through the proceedings.

Today is the first day of Kwanzaa, which celebrates Unity (Umoja). I’m happy that I’ve come to a place in my life where I feel the need to reconnect with my roots, and I’m overjoyed to have found a small branch of my ancestral tree that shares my interests and priorities. At the same time, I feel well and truly planted in many communities already — this virtual one I’m speaking with now; the wonderful group of intelligent, hard-working writers and artists I’ve had the great fortune of knowing for over a decade; countless friends, guides and teachers who have shaped me into the man I am today, spread out across the country and the globe. Far from narrowing my focus towards one part of myself that’s been neglected for a while, I feel that this sense of unity has expanded my ability to consider all of myself, and the many varied relationships I have with the world around me.

So that’s my focus today. I’d like to open myself up to kinship with the people around me, to unite with my fellow black geeks and well — anyone else I come across. There’s always a way to feel connected to someone, even if you think you couldn’t be further apart.

 
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Posted by on December 26, 2014 in Politics, Pop Culture, Self-Reflection

 

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