Book Review: SUPER BLACK and the cultural imprint of black superheroes

I picked up Super Black: American Pop CUlture and Black Superheroes by Adilifu Nama on Audible recently, and really enjoyed the information and lessons Nama presented.

Nama’s central theme is that black superheroes are more than tokenism brought to the comics page, which is how they are often talked about or analyzed. Instead, Nama explores how black superheroes have engaged in or even shaped the narrative of race and racial identity in American culture.

I was immediately impressed with Nama’s academic approach to this effort. He spends the first chapter laying out his thesis, his methodology, and refuting the arguments of previous analyses. He also is shy in criticisms of specific comics or stories for their over-reliance on stereotypes and insincere storytelling. It is not difficult to tell that he is a fan of comics, and he even mentions the effect that comics had on him as a boy, but he also wants to provide a considered analysis, and he does.

Nama looks at each of the most prominent black superheroes, as well as a few who made a particular mark on the discussion of racial issues.

He takes this a step further by examining other genres of media to discuss how black superheroes, at their best, have presented an encouraging image of Afro-Futurism, and often led the way in bringing those themes to the sci-fi and fantasy genres.

Even for someone without a deep knowledge of comics lore or history, this book is an engaging review of the most prominent Black superheroes and their depictions over the decades. Analyses of Black Panther, John Stewart’s Green Lantern, Power Man / Luke Cage, Black Lightning, Brother Voodoo, the Falcon, and Storm jumped out to me. Nama also discusses a run of Hal Jordan’s Green Lantern and the Green Arrow, which managed to touch on social justice issues in America in the 70s, not long before John Stewart debuted as the Green Lantern.

Nama then spends some time examining the superhero status that Barack Obama attained in the American psyche in the run-up to his election in 2008.

I really enjoyed this book and will definitely be looking for some of the comic arcs that Nama discusses to better understand these stories.

Looking Forward

Super Black was originally published in 2011, when the Marvel Cinematic Universe was just getting started — really before “MCU” became a widely understood pop culture term. I am curious how Nama would examine the growing on-screen prevalence of black superheroes since then.

Black Panther became one of the MCU’s most iconic characters almost overnight when that movie debuted in 2018. Before that, both Don Cheadle and Anthony Mackie had supporting character roles in various films, as War Machine and the Falcon, respectively.

And now Marvel presents us with The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, a limited series that earnestly shines a light on racial injustice in America and wrestles with the notion of a man being both black and Captain America in 21st-century America.

I think it’s easy to be cynical about a huge corporation owned by an even huger corporation trying to convince viewers that they care about social justice, but the fact is that Black Panther (and it’s upcoming sequel) and The Falcon and the Winter Soldier are stories about black superheroes with strong themes of Afro-Futurism (especially in Black Panther) told by black directors and writers. That’s not nothing, at least in my view.

I’d still like to hear what Nama thinks about those stories of significant black superhero figures though.

Steve D

Book Review: THOR: GOD OF THUNDER, VOLUMES 1 and 2

With Thor: Love and Thunder due to hit theaters (or streaming services?) in 2022, I felt compelled to follow the comic arc that inspired this particular film, as well as Taika Waititi’s previous installment in this MCU franchise, Thor: Ragnarok.

I first looked to the early 2010s Thor comics, The Mighty Thor, in which Jane Foster takes up the mantle hammer of the God of Thunder. After doing a bit more research, though, I realized that Jason Aaron, the writer of The Mighty Thor, also wrote the Thor comics leading up to Jane Foster’s transformation.

Thor: God of Thunder, Volume 1: The God Butcher, book review, comics

So I decided to read Aaron’s entire run. That’s where Thor: God of Thunder comes in. Volume 1 of this series, The God Butcher, is a bit of an introduction to Thor, as well as to Gorr the God Butcher, who is to be the villain in Love and Thunder.

I found this to be a really exciting narrative with interesting jumps between past, present, and future Thor as he battles the God Butcher across the millennia.

We see the brash young God of Thunder, not yet worthy to wield Mjolnir, juxtaposed with Thor the Avenger, who bears the weight of centuries of responsibility on his shoulders, against Thor the King of Asgard, a grizzled aging god. I really enjoyed how closely this character evolution is mimicked by the MCU films.

The second volume of this series, Godbomb, continues the story of Thor(s) fighting Gorr the God Butcher across time, a thrilling and surprisingly uplifting ending to the God Butcher saga. I’m usually not into time travel plots, but seeing the three Thors battle together was pretty awesome.

I’m glad I read these two volumes together, because volume 2 is a direct sequel to volume 1. Across both volumes, the artwork is vivid and dynamic. I found myself flipping back and forth to catch details in the illustrations I may have missed on first reading.

Following on this time-jumping quest, I’m looking forward to seeing where Thor the Avenger, the proper Thor of this arc, goes next. This being my first read of any Thor comic, I don’t really know what to expect. I’m just pleased to see that Aaron has contributed more than a dozen volumes of comics to Thor’s lore in recent years. They should keep me occupied until Love and Thunder comes out.

Steve D