My Marvel(ess) Black History

The topic of diversity has long been a tricky subject in comic books. The ability to authentically represent a race, culture or identity is difficult. And even once you have created a respected depiction, future writers have the task of never losing sight of how important that character is to those who identify with them.

Having read comics for a good portion of my life I have had the benefit of watching characters who I can identify with created and rise to prominence. Of course along with that comes the eventual disappointment with what I have read written in terms of plots for these characters.

In this edition of SixofOne I find myself with an opportunity. As this month of February comes to a close, and as the celebration of Black History Month ends, I would like to take at a look at a few instances where I felt African/African American/Black characters were treated less stellar than their Marvel counterparts.

6 – Not So Little Bill

In no way should his rank represent his role. As a early representation of African American’s in comics, Bill Foster stands tall. Debuting as Dr. Bill Foster in Avengers # 32 in 1966 his assistance was instrumental in reversing the “Pym Particle” effects on Hank Pym who at the time was stuck in his Giant Man height of 10ft. When he acquired the power to grow in size he took on the Black Goliath a few years later. He would go on to assist teams including the Champions, the Defenders and the West Coast Avengers. He also created close friendships most notably among Thor. Dr. Foster would go on to lose access to his abilities, unfortunately this was temporary.

I say unfortunately because had Bill Foster’s powers not returned he would not have found himself involved in Marvel’s Civil War. Joining the ranks of Captain America’s anti-registration it was during a battle against the Stark led pro-registration that Bill now known as Goliath suffered a mortal blow. A lightning strike. No not from his one time ally, but from a Stark created clone of Thor named Ragnorak. And though the subsequent fallout would see the real Odinson show Stark his disapproval the damage was done. One of our first destroyed by a fake.

5 – Armed Forces

I am choosing to group the next two entries into one. One reason is that it was the reaction of some fans, and not actions of the actual company, that is the cause of my frustration with both these individuals. The conversations (or lack thereof) that took place surrounding these events made me take notice of a disparity in how they were viewed in terms of the comic history they are part of. I also can’t help but see a terrific What If series, teaming two military men, costumed crusaders of color dealing with their place in their country. Iron Man and Captain America’s most trusted allies respectively. It is these two heroes and events that dealt with them that is the catalyst for this conversation.

Falcon, Sam Wilson would first appear alongside Captain America in Captain America # 117. With his winged harness and avian ally Redwing, this hero was a symbol of America just as much as his friend. For a black man that at times can mean filling a racial quota as Falcon had the priveledge of doing during his time with the Avengers. Never allowing this to dirty his wings, Falcon continued to soar and that led to the opportunity for fans to turn sour.

In it’s 2014 run, taking place during the Marvel NOW initiative, Captain America battles a villian named Iron Nail. The result of the battle was the serum in Steve’s body, the source of his strength and regenerative abilities, was neutralized. Unable to perform his functions as expected, the long time hero decided to hand over his shield. The masses wanted it to be his oldest ally…Bucky. Of course going by the name the Winter Soldier now, this hero had only recently been freed of mind control. Was this really the best choice? No, as I indicated this was a part of a initiative so someone different than the previous would be introduced. Of course initiative or not the only logical choice would be not he who he knew longest but he who served with him best. Marvel appointed Sam Wilson the new Captain America…it was so monumental this required him to abandon his Falcon name.

It was interesting to witness Sam struggle with racism both in print and in real life. Not only did the storyline see him deal with an America that didn’t want this black Captain America, comic fans were less than pleased. There was only one Cap in their eyes. It didn’t matter that Steve’s time had come to a close, the Old Boy’s Club wasn’t accepting new members. Rogers would go on to reclaim his abilities and name and Sam would return to his and that is what truly bothers me. This speaks to a storyline and social problem of great severity. If we aren’t willing to change story the narrative will just remain the same.

Meanwhile, James Rhodes armor always seemed second fiddle to Tony’s. I mean it really always felt like War Machine was the standard and Iron Man was the deluxe model. Of course Rhodes hasn’t always been driving the “jalopy”. Taking over as Iron Man several times, initially due to Tony’s alcoholism back in Iron Man # 173. Whether it was acting as Stark’s secret bodyguard or once his identity was revealed, Rhodes has never ceased to uphold his values and represent what the world expected from it’s Ironed Avenger. Don’t let my complaints or comparisons to the original armor deceive you the War Machine armor is powerful. Not to mention having the War Machine proves James is truly trusted by Tony. The War Machine armor being one of a handful of machines that are allowed to bear the Stark design. Why is that important?

In the coming year(s) fans of Marvel will become acquainted with something called the Armor Wars, through a series on Disney+. If this series comes close to the comic events you will see how seriously people take having Stark armor. The comic event Armor Wars sees Tony on a one man mission to remove any pieces of stolen Stark armor technology which he believed were being used for illicit purposes given they were stolen by Justin Hammer. The resulting vigilante mission saw Stark attack adversaries such as The Beetle and even allies like the Guardsmen staff of the Vault. Okay so you’re probably still asking why is this important?

You can question Tony’s motivation for the first Civil War, but when the vision of the Inhuman Ulysses results in the death of James Rhodes he was ready for war. Around that time another hero too decided to wage war. Nick Fury would recruit the “hero” named Punisher in 2017s Punisher #218. To assist him in dealing with ex S.H.I.E.L.D. agents for him, Fury gave Punisher the location of the deceased Rhodes War Machine armor. After finishing that mission Castle “holds” onto the armor for a while to seek vengeance on HYDRA for his actions and choices during the SECRET EMPIRE event. It is only once a resurrected Rhodes intervenes that Castle’s mission ends and the armor is returned.

4 – If You Can’t Join ‘Em…Become ‘Em

Dwayne Taylor could remind you of another hero you might have heard of. A young man who witnessed the death of his parents. Their death left him with control of his family’s company and fortune, the Taylor Foundation. Left in the care of a trusted friend of his family, he would go on to don a suit to ensure no one ever suffered the loss he had. While hinted at at times, Dwayne Taylor has no powers…just a suit and skills. Combine these facts with his training and leading a group of teens it would be hard to not cast Night Thrasher a copycat to another individual and why should you. Given that this individual is in another company, Dwayne Taylor stands out as a 90s revisualization to that iconic character. Seems only a POW! WAM! away from his own show.

Using his fortune, rivaling the likes of Stark, this young man researched and sought out specific individuals suitable for his cause. Proving smarter than the famous Reed Richards, he was able to revive the dormant powers of Nova (though his technique was less than appreciated by Richard Rider). He would lead a team that faced major threats like Terrax and the Sphinx. They even went toe to toe against their mutant counterpart’s, X-Force, who were lead by a more seasoned soldier.

So what happened? Learning of the manipulations that led to his parents death and thus the New Warriors creation during the Folding Circle arc led to one of many instances where Dwayne would leave the team he formed. His erratic presence was not helped by his secrets. Like that other shadow suited savior Dwayne acted at times on his own agenda and accord. These actions resulted in Namorita and Justice being viewed as primary leaders of the New Warriors alienating the founder of the team. Dwayne Taylor would leave permanently to focus on his business. Eventually the New Warriors disbanded as well. The End.

Like Bill Foster from entry # 6, I wish Dwayne had stayed away. Oddly enough it was an event involving Dwayne Taylor that would ultimately lead to the death of Bill Foster. In the opening pages of 2006s Civil War # 1 the Night Thrasher led New Warriors are filming a segment for their reality television series. Among the teams members this time are newer heroes like Microbe, seasoned New Warriors like Speedball. Even former leader Namorita was there…but Dwayne was back in control. When the teams attempt to apprehend the villain, Nitro, results in their deaths along with those of 600 children in the Connecticut town of Stamford guess who was blamed. A bunch of kids led by one pulling some stunt for ratings got a bunch of kids killed. Funny to me, a bunch of kids blasted off in a rocket…luckily they got powers. A bunch of teens took on a much more powerful mutant at Cape Canaveral…thankfully they stopped the nukes. Just didn’t work out this time I guess. Prop for props sake.

3 – Only the Good Die Young

If the number one entry is my absolute favorite African American Marvel character it is only because his appearance proceeded this guy. Talk about showing up and showing off. Making his first appearance during the X Men Phalanx Covenant in the fall of 1994, Everett Thomas didn’t appear to need much training. Synch-ing up with the approaching Banshee and Sabertooth this young man faced off with a threat too many black youth have experienced. Police with agendas. Of course some of these were the invading Phalanx but it didn’t seem to matter which “enemy” he was dealing with he was ready for it.

Joining the ranks of X-Men member Jubliee, Everett would go on to be a member of the Massechusets Academy. Generation X was the next New Mutants. Going back to basics this book was about showing a new diverse cast of teens trying to navigate in a world that has hated and feared them. Part of my dismay with Synch was despite his seemingly superior powerset and initial confidence, he played it too safe. Refusing to take up the leadership mantle he seemed so meant for, Generation X would instead see individuals like Chamber, Monet and Husk act as the voices of authority on the team. This would change once under financial strains headmistress Emma Frost accepts assistance from her sister Adrienne. The hatred between these sisters ran so deeply that Adrienne took measures to destroy the school beginning with admitting humans. As mutant/human relations boiled over at the school, another instance of Adrienne’s machinations, a riot breaks out. Discovering a bomb placed at the school young Mr. Thomas again proves he is ready. Shielding his fellow schoolmates from the blast, he wasn’t close enough to synch with the nigh invulnerable M. Another young mutant gone too soon. Not the first…so that isn’t where my complaint actually forms.

Anyone who has recently read X-Men comics has seen the resurrection of just about every mutant. The Hickman era finally gave me what I had long waited for the Generation X alum. His character died in Generation X # 70 in December 2000. We witness Everett during the celebration at the culmination of House of X # 6 in 2019. Almost 20 years. Wanna list of X-Men characters who have died and been resurrected in that time…Professor X, Magneto, Cyclops, Marvel Girl, Angel, Wolverine, Banshee, Colossus to name a few. His fellow Generation X member Jubilee was turned and subsequently cured of vampirism. And yet it took almost two decades to bring back the prodigy before Prodigy’s time (another young black mutant mistreated for being too powerful). Guess he didn’t offer them enough “Hope”.

2 – After Further Review

Though Ms. Rambeau may hold the title of being the most powerful African American hero in the MCU, I’m certain a front is forming. Now that the rights have reverted back to Marvel/Disney from Fox, everyone’s favorite Wind Witch will hopefully blow onto the screen soon. Making her appearance in Giant Size X-Men # 1 as part of the rescue team, the goddess Storm was truly a force of nature. Out of touch by her culture she was one of the easiest X-Men for the rest to connect with. For Jean it was having another female. Ororro was as capable as Cyclops and as tough as Logan. She took Kitty under her wing, becoming a mother figure for the young mutant…not the only occasion in which this occurred. This trait saw her intervene when the mutant Forge, operating as an agent of the U.S. government, attempted to capture Rogue for her actions while operating with the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants. Storm’s actions saved the young mutants powers from Forge disruptor, resulting in the goddess losing her connection to the weather.

Undeterred Storm adjusted her attitude and costume. Donning a uniform and look that depicted her change in powers and personality, this punk Storm proved how she survived the streets of Cairo. So when the time came for the soon to be father Cyclops to go start his family, with wife Madelyne Pryor Storm decided to force his hand in relinquishing leadership of the X-Men. A classic battle in the pages of Uncanny X-Men # 201 sees the agile and cunning Ororro outmaneuver Cyclops in a Danger Room duel. Removing his visor, Storm offers Cyclops two options relinquish leadership or face your fear and open your eyes without a visor.

This wouldn’t be the only W for a depowered ‘Ro. She would go on to defeat the likes of Callisto for leadership of the Morlocks and the combined forces of Stonewall, Super Sabre and the Crimson Commando. Storm is proven to be powerful, powers or not. So what could be my problem with Storm and her story?

You ever watch one of those stories where a character is mislead to believe they did something they really didn’t do. This gives them confidence to go and do more great stuff. Then there comes that one moment when the truth is revealed and the hero has decide what that means for everything that stemmed from that deception.

In the pages of the Inferno Event, Storm suffered that very situation. Learning her life a lie, all to manipulate the Summer’s DNA, Madelyne opted not to be a pawn but a queen. Taking the moniker Goblin Queen she sought to help N’astirh bring a hell to earth. Taking on the combined forces of X-Factor and the X-Men she attempted to dismantle them anyway possible. This included bruising ego’s. In X-Factor # 38 she lets the detail slip that it was her psychic wish that sought to have Cyclops leave the X-Men for his family that facilitated Storm’s victory. She couldn’t have done it on her own.

1 – His Name is Bishop. Remember It.

This is the guy I was referring to during my talk about Synch. If you haven’t sensed it during this article I have a limited relationship with most of the characters in this article. This doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate them or their place in the legacy of Marvel. Nor does it mean that my comic archives don’t have several issues featuring these individuals. I suppose I identified with the mutant problem…a world that fears and hates them. So most of the comics I collected were X-Men comics, during the mid 80s through the 90s it was hard not to be a fan of that franchise. While Giant Issue # 1, yes that one I just mentioned, and other X-Men comics like the New Mutants introduced a ethnically diverse cast of mutants, a black male was missing.

That all changed when issue # 282 of Uncanny X-Men hit stands. In the issue prior to Bishop’s arrival the X-Men had come under attack after accepting an invitation from the, at the time White Queen, Emma Frost. It was however not Emma but a group of Upstarts attacking various members of the Hellfire Club. One such recruit of this tournament was a mutant named Fitzroy. Fitzroy was a criminal in his time, about 80 years in the future. During that issue we learn Fitzroy used his ability to open a portal and escape to the past. In issue # 282 he attempts to jail/time break several other mutants.

Issue # 282 shows that 80 years in the future the X-Men don’t exist. Instead their ideals are upheld by a group known as the X.S.E, the Xavier Security Enforcers. This force was responsible for upholding the rights of mutants and humans by policing their own…sound familiar? As the leader of the Omega Squad, Lucas Bishop and his team were performing their duties attempting an apprehension when they discovered a recording. Jean Grey, in what was believed to be the last recording of the X-Men alive, detailing how they died that fateful day. They had been betrayed by one of their own. Speaking of days…I remember younger me thinking as I read that issue the day had finally come. I won’t spoil that last page but trust me Fitzroy knew he f’d up.

But he didn’t act quite like an X-Men, I mean nothing like Logan or Rogue or Remy. Nor did he have reason to. He represented their legacy without the benefit of their lethargy. In his time dangerous mutants, criminals were captured and if necessary exterminated for whatever good may remain for other mutants. His mandate was clear when he jumped through a one way portal his colleagues Malcolm and Randall. Losing them to these criminals left Bishop alone and trapped, hunted by enemies and would be allies. After securing the last inmate he was offered the opportunity to turn his gaze from hunting Fitzroy by none other than the Professor Charles Xavier, the man whose mantle he carried. Dream come true.

Still Bishop would remain burdened. He knew what dreams were to come and they were the stuff of nightmares. Haunted by the video of Jean’s last moments Bishop would come to experience what his timeline knew as the last days of the X-Men himself. Witnessing him participating in his own history I assumed once the threat of Onslaught was ended Bishop’s future was averted. With one escapee remaining, the pages of the limited series Bishop The Last X-Man would see the culmination of Bishop’s journey with death of Trevor Fitzroy aka the Chronomancer.

I didn’t really talk about any heroes powers during this article but I feel Bishop’s have to be mentioned. At one time his only stated limit was being able to absorb a projectile. This means he can’t catch/absorb a bullet (or missile, football). Basically anything that can pierce his skin or physically contact him could harm or kill him. However, any other energy power directed at him, well he can absorb. This is illustrated perfectly during the Fatal Attractions storyline. Magneto has returned to Earth with a message for mutants. Leave for a new home on Avalon or face the Legacy Virus. He chose to do this during the funeral of Ilyana Rasputin who had died of the disease. His offer rebuffed, Erik chose to show his power over the assembled X-Men teams. Wave after wave of electromagnetic energy held Magnus foes at bay…and gave Bishop the power he needed to turn the tide. Had Colossus not intervene and betrayed his fellow X-Men the threat of Magneto too might have ended that day.

Bishop would see his appearances in the main X-Men books decline as years went by. Instead he operated maintaining peace in areas such as Mutant Town in the District X series or as an officer of O.N.E. after the events of Decimation and the resulting decrease to the mutant population.

This is where we can start to disagree. Some would say that Bishop held out on his teammates. He knew about M-Day. He knew about Hope, the mutant messiah. He planned to kill this infant at birth but instead he severely injured Professor Xavier. He then proceeds to hunt her through the future in the pages of Cable. But, if Bishop is wrong then…

Would knowing of M-Day have prevented it from occurring anymore than knowing of the threat to the team prevented Onslaught?

Did Bishop’s actions in some way result in Hope’s connection to the Phoenix force?

Did Bishop cause Avengers vs X-Men?

I mention the Avengers vs X-Men crossover because for me that was the beginnings of an ending for the X-Men. The various X-Men divided into factions by divisive ideologies. The Terrigen Mist cloud from the Inhumans would begin to kill what mutants still remained. The death of the first X-Men, Scott Summers. Dreams End.

But was any of this Bishop’s fault.

I have read a Marvel series detailing the exploits of another time traveler. One who came back to stop a threat. This threat too bought him into conflict with the X-Men like Bishop. At one point he was accused of attempting an assassination on Xavier, and other prominent individuals; some he actually did kill. And while it took years to find out he was “the prodigal” it always seemed he was grandfathered in. I am speaking of course of the mutant named Cable.

And yet for every adventure I read about this mutant, he always has to make another jump. This mission has led Cable to face off against one time friends and make questionable alliances. Just one more mission and he will have fixed everything. Sam never made it home in Quantum Leap, I doubt Cable will ever make it right.

But the mutant officer known as Bishop is labeled the betrayer by some. After Cable’s death he is written apologizing to Hope for his earlier actions.

But you all wanna kill baby Thanos.

Bishop had no intention of meeting the X-Men. However, faced with the opportunity he attempted to intervene on their behalf. Despite not being completely accurate his future knowledge was proven credible. His every action has been to his prior profession which is the protection and prosperity of mutants.

Bottom Line:

Bishop Was Right

And Still…

While I have tried to limit my conversation to these few instances, these should not be seen as the only ones. I could have spoken on how Black Panther has only recently received recognition, being written with the realization of his abilities and accomplishments. I could have spoken how we are watching the love story of a witch and droid…how their love seems to be timeless. Why then was the marriage of Storm and T’Challa so easy to dissolve despite their bond being created in their youths.

The tales that have been told are telling.

This is just a small window into some of my time and experience with my chosen comic book publisher. There are several out there, major publishers and indie, Kickstarter’s, etc. I invite everyone to look into and find one that they identify with. I have been a fan of Marvel for years and while I have collected and read other comics….I’ve chosen to make them mine.

It’s just been less than Marvelous for some of us.

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