Saturday, August 11, 2007

Tall, Dark, And Evil: "Black Adam" #1

Wildcat: "...but yer forgettin' most of Europe and Japan looked like Godzilla just got through dancing the jitterbug across it after we handed the Krauts and Nips their asses in April and August of '45..."

Mr. Terrific: "The Germans and the Japanese, Ted?"

"Black Adam" #1, aside from a pretty two-page introductory spread at the beginning that would have been put to better use as an ugly one-page Marvel "text recap," is a pretty good comic. Sales at the major metropolitan comic store I frequent were brisk, and I predict that at least the #1 (both covers) will sell out.

Peter Tomasi's writing is strong and unflinching; his portrayal of Black Adam savage, cynical, and relentless.

Doug Mahnke is a solid penciller with a virtuoso illustrative style tempered with what can only be described as eye-popping madness. In my opinion he's never really got his due respect with the fas, but "Black Adam" serves as a portfolio of the heights his work can soar.

I just have one quibble with "Black Adam," and to address it I must go back to the quotes at the beginning of this post.

Because we are at war, PC-ness regarding Arab & Arab-American people is the last great frontier. As a society, we publicaly pay a lot of lip-service to it (political figures having photo-ops with Muslim leaders, etc.) but in pop-culture especially we kinda fall flat.

But hasn't it always been this way?

Black Adam, for all his elusiveness and grand villainy, is cast in the mold of this fellow:

And also of this fellow:

He is the wily and ruthless Eastern villain. He slits the throats of UN workers (sure, later on they find out they weren't really from the UN -- but that's what he thought initially when he killed them), he has mindless suicidal Arabic minions who worship him, he eats people...

The cast of Middle-Eastern "extras" and incidental characters in this story are, with the exception of an older gentleman with his little son, murderous, primitive, and possessing almost a hive-mind. This is made all the more uncomfortable by Mahnke's renderings, especially of faces, which are so haunting and disarmingly realistic.

The argument can be made that this is only reflecting the grim reality of the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan. It should be underlined, however, that the U.S. helped created those smoking streets; a point explored (metaphorically, at any rate) to great effect in "World War Hulk."

What we have in "Black Adam" is the stark contrast between the JSA members in their colorful circus-outfits strolling through the village of Hanjar and a mob of angry citizens hanging a brutally beaten man from a tree. Yes, a villager accuses the JSA of being a "blight" on their country. But the mob is still the Germans, still the Japanese. We never get so close to them to really know them any more than a mob.

The only character of ostensible Middle-Eastern descent we get to know in "Black Adam" is Black Adam. He is styled in the grand Fu Manchu/Dracula/Kabai Singh manner, a throwback to a genre of adventure story that personified the nation's military adversaries as over-the-top ethnic abstractions.

When I worked at DC we received a "suggestion" (read: directive) from on high to include more positive depictions of Middle Eastern characters in our books. For the JLA, that meant some sort of military dude that worked with the team; we couldn't quite get a superhero out of it, but hoped that this strong, heroic character would suffice.

For all I know, this first issue of "Black Adam" is just setting up some background and the rest of the series will be a fantasy slugfest between Adam & the JSA with a bit of "eternal romance" elements thrown in w/Isis. The book may never revisit the gritty storylines concerning his "countrymen" again. But if it does...maybe throw in a Middle-Eastern counter-balance to Adam or something. Or something. Or is that a "PC" mandate again?


  1. I think... sometimes we read a bit too much into stories. Truth be told I didn't read Black Adam #1 (I might've been a little more inclined to do so if not for that horrendous cover. Do you think that would've been approved when you were working there, Val?), so I don't know a lot of the context of the situations we saw. Maybe they should've had a more positive Arab portrayal to counterbalance the extreme ones seen in it. The problem I have is that some of that stuff does and has happened (UN workers being killed, people being lynched [usually women for having the audacity to do such wicked things as driving cars or getting raped]).

    And I fear that when we do read too much into things we sometimes miss the point. In the case of Black Adam, I wouldn't call him a larger than life figure really, because sometimes those figures do exist (Saddam Hussein, Osama Bin Laden). Sure, they're not Fu Manchu, beard-stroking stereotypes, but they're still charismatic leader-types and so was Black Adam. The only difference being that Black Adam actually DID care about his people and tried to make their lives better. As such, it's only natural that he still has supporters considering all the good that he did.

  2. Valerie, I read Occasional Superheroine daily and I respect your work. However, I think you're wrong regarding the issue of PC when it comes to Middle Easterners. In case anyone's forgotten three thousand of our fellow Americans were slaughtered on 9/11 and many more subsequent to that. Some of our fellow citizens such as Nick Berg have been decapitated and the video put online. PC will kill us because it doesn't allow us to name our enemy. I'm not saying that every Muslim is a terrorist but thus far every terrorist has been a Muslim. We're at war with an enemy who is using our own culture against us and with whom there is no possibility of compromise or negotiation. Having said all of that I still think you're an excellent writer and I wish you the best in all things Valerie.

  3. "I'm not saying that every Muslim is a terrorist but thus far every terrorist has been a Muslim."

    Ah yes, who can forget that pillar of the Islamic faith, Timothy McVeigh? Such a shame that his dark skin and radical Muslim beliefs didn't tip off the authorites earlier.

    And I'm afraid that yes, you are painting the entire Muslim faith with the same brush. Luckily, the actions of Islamic extremists don't speak for the entire Muslim faith, much in the same way your cretinous line of thinking that you and your sort of backwards hatemongerers doesn't speak for all Americans. And despite our yellow-bellied desires to be "PC", we have named our enemy - they are the radicals that would blow up buildings to prove their point or smear an entire culture with their hatred and fear over a situation that they're far too lazy to bother trying to understand.

  4. I was specifically discussing Islamic terrorists. Bringing up Timothy McVeigh doesn't invalidate the fact that our enemy is Islamic does it? Mr.McVeigh was a terrorist and was punished accordingly. I am not condemning all Muslims for terrorism but there has been, in my opinion, an apalling silence on the part of Muslims on the issue of Islamic terrorists. Calling our enemy Islamic terrorists is no more an example of hatemongering than was
    calling Hitler a German Nazi. It's a fact nothing more. I don't speak for all Americans nor do I pretend to or even hope to. I speak only for myself. Calling me a backwards hatemonger and my arguments cretinous does this whole dialogue a tremendous diservice. I respect your opinions Chris, but I do reserve the right to disagree and posit my own.

  5. Look again at the sentence I quoted:

    "I'm not saying that every Muslim is a terrorist but thus far every terrorist has been a Muslim."

    If you were indeed "specifically talking about Islamic terrorists, there are two things worth pointing out - 1), your post said that "every terrorist has been a Muslim", implying every person who has ever committed an act with the intent of spreading terror is of the Muslim faith, and 2), what else would Islamic terrorists be if not Muslim? I'm afraid I don't buy your attempts at backing out of the statement at all.

    "I am not condemning all Muslims for terrorism..."

    Again, please reread your post from earlier and tell me how you're doing anything but. According to you, there should be no positive portrayal of Muslims in fiction because of the events of 9/11. What are you doing if not painting all Muslims as the sort of people capable of such an attack?

    "Calling our enemy Islamic terrorists is no more an example of hatemongering than was
    calling Hitler a German Nazi."

    Except that's not at all what you were doing, or what I called you on. According to your earlier post, "Middle Easteners" aren't deserving of a balanced portrayal, because " three thousand of our fellow Americans were slaughtered on 9/11 and many more subsequent to that", which is apparently the fault of the entire religion and/or region. You then went on to say "PC will kill us because it doesn't allow us to name our enemy", followed by the wonderful quote that started all of this. What you are doing isn't "calling Hitler a German Nazi", its calling all Germans Nazis. If you can't see that, then I think "backwards" is maybe the nicest way possible to describe the logic behind your post.

    And feel free to disagree and posit all you like, so long as you don't expect to talk shit and not be called on it.

  6. I stand by my original post no matter how vehemently you, or anyone, may disagree with me. There was no attempt to back out of what I said. We're at war with people who want to kill us. Their animating philosophy is Islam. You can argue as to whether or not it's the "correct" interpretation of their religion but the war on terror is being waged against terrorists who are Muslims. I'm not saying that every single act of terrorism ever commited in human history has been by Muslims. Even a cursory glance at history shows that terror has been a weapon wielded by diverse hands. However, I have no interest in being PC when it comes to our enemies or any other topic. PC is a tool for dominating language and thought. It obscures the truth. I did say that not every Muslim is a terrorist which should tell you that I don't think they are all potential jihadists. I never said nor implied that their should never be positive Middle Eastern or Muslim characters in any media. You're reacting to what you think I wrote instead of what I said. Hitler was a German Nazi, Osama Bin Laden is an Arabic Muslim. These are facts,not indictments of Germans or Arabs. It's commendable that you rise to the defense of the potentially stereotyped but you apparently have no tolerance for a viewpoint that differs from your own. This is a common rhetorical fallacy among people who think of themselves as open minded. And thank you for your kind permission to continue opining on this fascinating topic. In the spirit of open mindedness you may have the last word on this topic.

  7. "And thank you for your kind permission to continue opining on this fascinating topic. In the spirit of open mindedness you may have the last word on this topic."

    How kind. I think I've said everything I need to, actually, except to note that in the future you need to either clarify your statements the first time (though honestly, how one can ignore or try to defend the break in logic of the "I'm not saying that every Muslim is a terrorist but thus far every terrorist has been a Muslim" statement is honestly beyond me) or perhaps come to terms with your actual beliefs. That your last post spends much of its time attempting to explain away or deny feelings that have clearly been there since your first is rather telling, and seems to point at greater issues beyond not saying what you actually meant the first time.

    With all that out of the way - Yeah, Black Adam #1 was rather good, tokenism aside. Anybody know when the next one's out?

  8. i'm not going to beat you up over the portrayal of muslims and all that. i'd like to bring more light on that girlwonder auction. i doubt they'd make much but i will be contributing some things to them. i think its just a really good thing and i'd like to support it how i personally can. really anyone who hasn't checked it all out really should.

    now i need to get pieces together that i'm willing to part with. or maybe i'll create things specificly for them.

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  11. "Calling our enemy Islamic terrorists is no more an example of hatemongering than was
    calling Hitler a German Nazi."

    "Hitler was a German Nazi[.]"

    Hitler was Austrian, actually.

    "I never said nor implied that their should never be positive Middle Eastern or Muslim characters in any media."

    Then why did your first post consist almost entirely of taking O.S. to task for even considering being "PC" towards Middle Easterners, e.g., taking steps to have positive portrayals of Middle Eastern characters as a counter-balance to the villains? The exact quote was, "I think you're wrong regarding the issue of PC when it comes to Middle Easterners." How else should we be interpreting your words?

  12. I see that I have to explain something to all and sundry: PC no matter in what context it's used in is, in my opinion, a very dangerous thing. When you limit language you limit ideas that are transmitted by language. And while the underlying intent may be to protect the sensibilities of an aggrieved(or allegedly aggrieved)group it does the whole idea of honest, and sometimes uncomfortable, dialogue a diservice. I don't believe that any group should be portrayed in a PC manner. Am I a racist or a xenophobe for pointing out that Islamic terrorists are almost entirely Arabic and/or Middle Easterners? Am I a racist if I say that OJ Simpson is a Black Man who seems to have gotten away with murdering his wife? These are facts.

    I notice that my arguments have not been refuted but my character has been assassinated. I've been called names but my arguments still stand unchallenged. Are we not at war with Islamic terrorists? Is our increasingly PC culture weakening our national resolve in the face of our enemy? Why is it that Muslims demand that we change our rules to suit them but they in turn make no effort to adapt to our culture? Now, I'm sure that these questions will bring forth a stream of invective on my head. But aren't they worth asking? I think they are. In my opinion the American people seem to have forgotten that we're at war. We've allowed ourselves to be anesthetized by Brangelina, Paris Hilton and all of the other sound and fury that signifies nothing. It seemed that for one moment we were unified as Americans but now we're fractured. Our enemy on the other hand suffers from no such divisions.

  13. "Am I a racist or a xenophobe for pointing out that Islamic terrorists are almost entirely Arabic and/or Middle Easterners? Am I a racist if I say that OJ Simpson is a Black Man who seems to have gotten away with murdering his wife? These are facts."

    They are certainly facts, but one has to wonder why you would go out of your way to point out their ethnicities. Does the color of their skin matter that much to you? If not, why point it out?

    If September 11th had ended up being the work of a homegrown terrorist group from, say, the "Christian Identity" movement (Google the term if you've never heard of it), would you be lambasting people for trying to use "political correctness" as related to the portrayal of white Christians in the media?

  14. I'm coming to back up Tony here. In reply to at least two here who turned to character assassination, if you don't think Islam is part of the problem, I suggest you take a look at the following from the Quran:

    "Fight against those who believe not in Allah, nor in the Last Day, nor forbid that which has been forbidden by Allah and His Messenger (Muhammad) and those who acknowledge not the religion of truth (i.e. Islam) among people of the Scripture (=Jews and Christians) until they pay the Jizyah with willing submission, and feel themselves subdued" (Koran, Sura 9, verse 29)


    "Therefore, when ye meet the Unbelievers (in fight), smite at their necks" (Koran, 47:4)

    And you might want to consider the following too:

    “Forbidden to you are ... married women, except those whom you own as slaves” (Sura 4:23-24)

    And I suggest you take a look at the following from FaithFreedom as well, assuming you really are against misogyny. Do you consider Muhammed's rape of Ayesha condonable, regardless of what religion he adhered to? You tell me. Be advised though, that I'm actually rather hoping you'll react as negatively, just to show what a cruel world we live in.

    IMO, no religion that advocates the kind of violence and slavery that the Religion of Peace does should be portrayed favorably. Arabs, yes, but Islam, no. I don't suppose perhaps, if it matters, there could be intro'd a few Arab supporting cast members of a Christian background for a change?* Seems to me that some people think that Arab = Muslim. Not so. There is a difference between race and religion.

    Oh, and by the way, still not sure what you think of Islam, but, are you aware of the Constitution's Religion Clause?

    "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."

    It would seem as though quite a few people ignore that the Constitution even has a clause protecting free speech on religion, something that was drafted in order to protect US citizens from religious harrassment, and go miles out of their way to antagonize someone else's right to criticize religion. That's certainly more evident though in England, if you saw just how they're caving to PC-madness and even going so far as to omit Winston Churchill from their educational curriculum.

    One more thing: if you're really against critcism of Islam, why would you want to use an accusation like "xenophobe" if it's religion that's being attacked and not race? Does the word "anti-religious" even exist in your vocabulary? If you cannot say that you think the person's argument you dislike is anti-religious, you have made a farce out of yourselves.

    * How about one who's a nod to Brigitte Gabriel? Surely she wouldn't make an excellent inspiration? Plus, she's hot!

  15. Okay, this is a weird comment thread.

    Valerie, I may have misread it, but the guys who had their throats slit when Black Adam and his posse slipped into the temple were U.N. They thought the guys who showed up after they finished grave-robbing with guns blazing were also U.N., until they got a look at them.

    I really liked the Middle Eastern/Muslim guy you mentioned who worked with the Justice League Elite and whose name I now forget because it wasn't a superhero nam.

    And I also liked The Jannisarry from the JLA "Planet DC" annual, but I think I was the only one, since she's never had another cameo since.

    Re: all this relgious political stuff, I think it's safe to say that regardless of his country of origin (originally Egypt, later "Khandaq") Black Adam isn't Muslim, but a non-practicing "pagan." (He doesn't worship the Egyptian gods, but he believes they're real...because he knows their real. Because they give him his powers).

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  17. Sirocco, from Kurt Busiek's "Superman" run, has the potential to be a positive Middle Eastern character.

    Avi, I'm sure we could go back and forth with violent and/or misogynist quotes from various religious texts. Muhammed raping Ayesha is certainly a bad thing. King David impregnating Bathsheba and then ordering Uriah to be abandoned on the battlefield after he refused to sleep with her and hide his infidelity was bad, too. But it all ended up OK after God, instead of punishing either of the two people responsible for Uriah's death, ended up killing the child to teach them a lesson. (This is all in the Book of Samuel).

    I guess we can all agree that fundamentalists of any stripe that resort to using violence to get their point across are abhorrent in the extreme; whether it be a radical Muslim who blows himself up in a crowded marketplace or flies a plane into a building, or a radical Christian who blows up a government building or shoots up a Planned Parenthood clinic.

  18. The color of Mr. Simpson's skin or the ethinicity of Islamic terrorists isn't the issue for me. But they are undeniable facts so why not mention them? The truth is often uncomfortable and sometimes painful but it can't be avoided.

    I'm aware of the Christian Identity movement. However I'm not aware of White Christians being afforded the PC treatment. White Christians are almost uniformly portrayed as this monolithic hive mind that exists on a diet of hate, racism,misogyny and homophobia. Incidentally, I'm not White, I'm an American of Latino descent. I suppose that as a "minority" I'm supposed to view myself as a victimized member of an aggrieved group that has been excluded from the power structure of our country. I don't see that at all and I don't believe in PC portrayals of any group. In fact I don't think there should even be any celebrations of ethnic pride unless White people have one too. Or is it wrong for Whites to be proud of their heritage? Is it too un PC to say "I'm proud to be White"? This is the trap of PC. It's perfectly acceptable to bash Whites, especially those troublesome Europeans that gave us our culture, but minorities have to be treated "differently". We have to be portrayed in a "positive" light. I don't want "positive" I want real. With warts and all. Every ethnic group has spawned it's demons and it's saints so let's dispense with the racial hair splitting and get to the meat of the matter. We're at war with an enemy with whom there is not the slightest chance of compromise nor peaceful coexistence. An enemy who would uhesitatingly slaughter us all while thinking himself our moral better. Frankly it would make no difference to me if the enemy was Arabic, Latin or Swedish. It just so happens to be Arabic so let's call it as we see it instead of trying to recast it into something it isn't.

    Avi, I appreciate your defense of me. I was feeling a bit outnumbered.

  19. You're welcome, Tony.

  20. Tony, I'm also giving you my support and your last post was very well done, IMHO. ^^ Albeit I will say that I don't think white Christians have been played exactly as a hive mind, but rather they tend to have a more "real" appearance as lots of diverse characters than some others (some assholes, some great people, some all right people, some kind of dickish but not too bad).

    *Snickers at the thought of Swedish terrorists*

  21. Cripes, I leave a post alone for one weekend and...

    Hey, I appreciate the debate this post brought on. A few bits and pieces:

    While Black Adam is not Muslim, he is a character of Middle-Eastern extraction that 1) has other Middle-Easterners fanatically worshipping him to the point of murder and suicide; 2) is situated in a conflict in fictional Mid-East countries that is clearly an analogue for what is going on in the region right now; 3) is being pursued across the landscape by ostensibly "American" forces (the JSA) and is notable for using locals to hide him (a la Bin Laden, Hussein, etc.).

    Studying various religions and modes of spiritual thought is a passion of mine. I do this not out of trying to divine which religion is "the best," but out of a respect for all of them.

    As a woman, if I chose to discount an entire religion based on a few details that would be offensive to my gender then I would be left with Scientology and the Cult of Bob.

    So I keep an open mind and try to appreciate each religion from the point-of-view of the practioners. I find that each religion has valuable things to contribute; has elements of beauty and wise advice to impart.

    Having said this, I acknowledge that to more fundamentalist sects, my approach is considered wrongwrongwrong.

    In a larger sense outside of the particular topic of religion, I feel that the way to stop bloodshed and the circle of violence is two-pronged:

    Certainly, in some conflicts there is going to be fighting, the use of arms and bombs and whatnot.

    But there is also much usefulness in maintaining dialogues with "The Other"; that one mass of humanity or another that has been designated as "adversary."

    While there are Iraqis and insurgents of other nationalities blowing things up all over the region, there are far more Iraqis who are trying to just live from-day-to-day and not see their families get blasted to atoms. As Americans, from our position of relative luxury and peace, we have the opportunity to try to empathize with those families, those persons, to see things briefly from their point of view; and we empathize not because we are "traitors" but because we are human.

    Of course, in a wartime situation, it might be more "helpful" to the cause to paint the countrymen of the nation we are at war with as barbaric, a hive-mind, uniformly dangerous & etc. This elminates dissention on the homefront regarding the need to maintain the battle, and lessens the emotional impact of such acts as wiping out whole cities with nukes and etc.

    I agree with George W. Bush that the conflict in the Mid-East is, to a large extent, one of winning over "hearts and minds." But no matter how many bullets and bombs we pump into such a conflict, I do not think we will get anywhere solid; we just create more violence.

    I think we must build bridges. I don't think we can "write off" a group of people based on the actions of a few of their crappier members. If I believed that I would be through with the comic book industry for good.

    That said, I reiterate my respect for the participants of this debate and thank them for taking the time to contribute. And, as Chris said, I do believe "Black Adam" #1 is a good comic. It is just a comic that brings up some questions.

  22. Well, I of course do not want to imply that I wish to condemn the Iraqi people as a whole for the actions of the insurgents. While I do support the efforts in Iraq, I do believe we approached the war from a poor marketing perspective.

    While we certainly had reason to believe that Saddam was developing WoMD (his refusal to abide by UN sanctions lasted at least a decade), but because of that the war was pitched to the world as an action of defense - stop them before they could use such weapons against us. I would've much preferred how they started doing it more recently - an effort to free the Iraqi citizens from an oppressive dictatorship. I believe strongly in military intervention for humanitarian purposes.

    Now, the problem we have is that we've pretty much freed the country, but what next? The Iraqi government is in (partial) power, but we remain in the area both as administrators and as a police force since there are still insurgents disrupting local affairs. The problem is that our military is the best at what they're trained to do: fight and destroy the enemy. They're not trained to act as an occupational force or something that tries to rebuild a nation. We need to bring in people who can be helpful in that regard and guard them in helping to rebuild the area and let the nation stand on its own without needing us to stop the insurgents. Essentially, our army is great at defeating the enemy, it's not trained to build a nation.

  23. This post is old, so I doubt that anyone will read this. However, I feel obliged to point out that "political correctness" was originally intended to ensure a balanced portrayal of non-mainstream (from an American perspective) ethnic groups. So, if you take the O.J. example, it's cool to have characters who are black sports stars who kill their white ex-wives, but it's not to say that all black people (or all black athletes) do so.

    It's one thing to say that terrorism exists in the Arab community. It's quite another to say that terrorism is all that defines it.

    The laziness in the current portrayal of Black Adam, imo, is most obviously illustrated by the fact that he is neither muslim nor middle eastern. Yet, he appears to be a stereotypical arab/muslim fanatic leader in this mini.