Home Culture Diversity Black Lives Matter Comics: The systemic racism of policing in comics

Black Lives Matter Comics: The systemic racism of policing in comics

Just a few examples of police brutality towards people of color in comics.

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For a lot of people, comics are something they read as a way to escape from the world around them. Comics have always been a refuge for me, but with everything that’s been happening in the world with regards to the systemic racism of this country’s police forces, trying to take shelter in comics has been rough.

While waiting for the news one night, I was watching a comedy that had a joke about comics and mansplaining. I rushed to social media to share the joke with people, but when I got there I ran straight into reality. Between the images and videos being shared and all of the sirens and helicopter flybys, I didn’t sleep well that night.

Marvel Comics always talks about its connection with readers as being because their heroes exist in ‘the world outside your window.’ Right now, though, I don’t have the words to truly capture and convey my feelings for what’s happening outside of my window.

I make no claims to be a hardcore journalist like the people out there risking their safety. Professionals (as of June 4th, Forbes reports over 300 press violations and counting) and everyday people on the street, armed only with their cameras, are being targeted by the police. What I can do is list how the comics community has been documenting and presenting the systemic racism of the police for years. 


Blood Syndicate (Milestone Media 1993) 
Writers: Dwayne McDuffie & Ivan Velez, Jr.
Artists: Trevor Von Eeden
Inker: Andrew Pepoy
Color Artist: Janet Jackson 
Letterer: Steve Dutro

 

 

 

Static (Milestone Media 1993) 
Writers: Dwayne McDuffie & Robert Washington III
Artists: John Paul Leon
Inker: Steve Mitchell
Color Artist: Noelle C. Giddings 
Letterer: Steve Haynie

In what was the genesis of key Milestone Media characters gaining their powers, the Police Department of Dakota orchestrated the use of an experimental radioactive dye to be used against the Gangs of Dakota, who were gathering for an ultimate gang battle known as the Big Bang. Having learned of the imminent event, the Dakota PD planned to tag the gang members like animals with this experimental gas. Things go wrong when another sinister organization uses this event to analyze/capture the unexpected effects on the gang members, cops and civilians that are killed and deformed. As a result, the cops cover it all up by killing as many survivors as possible, blowing up the bridge that connected Dakota to Paris Island (where the Big Bang took place), and blaming everything on the gangs and their violence.


Icon (Milestone Media 1993) 

Writers: Dwayne McDuffie 
Artists: M.D. Bright
Inker: Mike Gustovich
Color Artist: Rachelle Menashe, James Sherman and, Noelle C. Giddings
Letterer: Steve Dutro

On the flip side of the Milestone Universe, the first issue of Icon brings us along on our heroes’ first night out fighting crime — and becoming the “criminals.” When Icon and Rocket arrive to offer assistance to the police, they are immediately surrounded by cops in tactical gear and told to put their hands up. The following issue really gets into the police’s overzealous response to Icon and Rocket’s appearance. Taken at face value, the joke of the situation is comical, but the pain and hurt still packs a powerful punch after the laugh almost 30 years later. 


Nighthawk (Marvel Comics 2016) 

Writer: David F. Walker
Artist: Ramon Villalobos and Martin Morazzo
Color Artist: Tamra Bonvillain
Cover Artists: Denys Cowan and Bill Sienkiewicz

When this book first came out I tried like hell to get more eyes on it, as this book was talking about more than the typical superhero fare. Nighthawk is a gritty hard-hitting book set in Chicago on the heels of a cop’s trial for killing a black man in custody.

Nighthawk fights bad guys day and night on both sides, from the white supremacists who sell guns and drugs to the crooked cops who profit off of these transactions, all while working to fight against the gentrification and displacement of city residences. While this title had a very short run, you can get a copy of this trade. It’s an amazing dissection of the issues faced by an America that struggles with racism and how it disproportionately affects the Black community.


Black (Black Mask 2017) 

Writer: Kwanza Osajyefo
Co-creator/Designer: Tim Smith 3
Artist: Jamal Igle
Covers: Khary Randolph

Considered one of the top campaigns for Kickstarter, Black tells the story of a world where only Black people have superpowers. Our introduction into the story is through Kareem Jenkins, our hero, and proxy into this world, as he finds out that he’s one of them when he is gunned down by the police. Unlike most victims of police brutality, Kareem was able to come back to life and join a secret organization of superpowered Black revolutionaries. 

 


Destroyer (BOOM Comics 2017)

Writer: Victor LaValle
Artist: Dietrich Smith
Colorist: Joana Lafuente
Letterer: Jim Campbell

LaValle’s 2017 mini-series brought the Frankenstein Monster into the modern era of police brutality when Dr. Josephine Baker, a descendant of Victor Frankenstein, loses her only child to a police shooting. This tragedy pushes her to the point where she embraces her family lineage, and being a bona fide nanotech genius, she uses that intellect to repeat what Victor did and bring her son back to life.

An amazing spin on the Frankenstein Monster myth, this story is a heavy fantastical tale of rage and hope focused on a mother’s grief and anger at a world where having the wrong skin color is a crime. Unfortunately, this trade can’t be found everywhere in print but I’m sure it can be found online, and it’s well worth the search.  


I Am Alfonso Jones(Lee & Low Books 2017) 

Writer: Tony Medina
Illustrators: Stacey Robinson & John Jennings

This original graphic novel spotlights the death of an innocent young man at the hands of the police, and the impact that the titular character’s death has on the community.

In the category of great minds think alike, fellow Comics Beat contributor Ricardo Serrano Denis wrote a brief piece about this book last week.


If in any way you find yourself arguing with someone about the police and systemic racism, the importance of protesting, taking a knee, or Black Lives Matter in general, point them in the direction of these comics if the many videos already online aren’t enough. 

Odds are in the time it took you to read to this point George Floyd still had a few minutes of life left. We weren’t there to help him and all the others like him, but if you would like to contribute to the peaceful protests that are taking place around the world and help those on the frontlines, please make sure you’re registered to vote, you’ve answered your census and, if you have the means in these very hard economic times, check out and donate to one or more of these organizations, or any of the others around the country. 

Bail Funds by City/State

Minneapolis
Minnesota Freedom Fund 
Northstar Health Collective 
Reclaim The Block

New York City
LibertyFund.NYC 
Free Them All 2020

Philadelphia
Philadelphia Community Bail Fund

Atlanta
Actionnetwork.org

Boston
Massbailfund.Org

Brooklyn
Brooklynbailfund.Org

Charlotte
CharlotteUprising.com

Columbus
Columbus Freedom Fund

Denver
fundly.com/Colorado Freedom Fund

Detroit
DetroitJusticeCenter.Org

Houston
Restoring Justice – Houston

Los Angeles
Peoples City Freedom Fund

Louisville
Louisville Community Bail Fund

2 COMMENTS

  1. One of my favorite Dwayne Mc Duffie lines came from the confrontation that Icon and Rocket has with Dakota’s SHRED (their version of SWAT). Icon doesn’t want to antagonize the cops. But Rocket has a different response. When one cop tries manhandling her, she says “I may not be Martin Luther King…but I’m no Rodney King either”…and then punches out the cop.

  2. Here’s another view, courtesy of Stan Lee, from Tales of Suspense No. 97 (Jan. 1968):

    Captain America: “They’re underpaid — overworked — and unappreciated — Nobody calls them superheroes, or makes any fuss over them — ! And yet, it’s men like that — the thousands of unsung cops on the beat — who keep our streets from turning into jungles — And who make our cities safe — even for the unthinking cop-haters themselves!”

    If Stan were alive and writing comics today, expressing such a view would probably cost him his job. Better to go with the flow and depict all cops as evil racists, as today’s unthinking Americans do.

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