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?