The Marvel Rundown is once again looking at another milestone story from Marvel’s past. This week, amidst the past few weeks of widespread civil unrest over police brutality against black people in America, we’re looking at the 2003 series Truth: Red, White & Black. The series was recently made free to read digitally by Marvel, and we take a look at the role the story plays in the history of the Marvel Universe, and what it can tell readers about the black experience.
Read on for our review of this groundbreaking series in this week’s installment of The Marvel Rundown.
Truth: Red, White, & Black
(Originally published in Truth: Red, White, & Black #1-7)
Written by Robert Morales
Art and Color Art by Kyle Baker
Lettered by Wes Abbott
Covers by Kyle Baker
Reviewed by Joe Grunenwald
With Marvel putting a spotlight on marginalized voices by offering 100 digital comics by black creators for free, I took the advice of The Beat founder Heidi MacDonald and checked out a series I’d heard of but never read: Truth: Red, White, & Black. The seven-issue miniseries by Robert Morales, Kyle Baker, and Wes Abbott follows a battalion of black soldiers who undergo experiments in an attempt to recreate the super-soldier serum that previously turned Steve Rogers into Captain America.
The three focal characters of the series — Isaiah Bradley, Maurice Canfield, and Sgt. Lucas Evans — provide a look at the varying circumstances for blacks in different positions of society, and the physical and psychological transformations the three undergo as the series progresses are striking. These are characters who are viewed as sub-human, not only by the Nazis they’re fighting in the field but also by their white superior officers, and are treated as such. The experiments performed upon them, and their subsequent utilization as weapons for the military, slowly strip each of these men (and the others in their company) of their personalities, and even of their unique physical features as the series progresses.
Morales and Baker show the three characters struggle in numerous ways throughout the series. They watch their fellow soldiers die as a result of the experiments. They take on more dangerous missions without receiving any of the adulation — or even acknowledgement of their existence — that the white Steve Rogers gets for his exploits. Every day is a struggle for respect and recognition. When Bradley finds himself the last soldier left on a mission into a Nazi camp that was supposed to team the three soldiers with Rogers himself, Bradley’s white superiors are more than okay with sending him alone on an apparent suicide mission. It’s only when he borrows a spare Captain America uniform and wears it into the field that they have a problem with what he’s doing, ultimately court-martialing and convicting Bradley for stealing the suit. As soon as he tries to be equal to a white person — and he is more than an equal for Steve Rogers already at that point both in terms of physical ability and character — he’s made to pay for it.
Kyle Baker is an artist whose work I was primarily familiar with from the Plastic Man series he wrote and drew in the mid-‘00s, which was, to say the least, different in tone than this series was. After reading Truth, I need to go back and read more of his work. His storytelling is exceptional, particularly when it comes to his color work, which adds so much mood and emotion to the story. I worried initially that Baker’s cartoony style might detract in some way from what I imagined would be a pretty heavy story, and I’m glad to say my fears were for naught.
And make no mistake: this is a heavy story. But it’s also a necessary one, adding powerful depth and nuance to the early days of one of Marvel’s cornerstone superheroes. The role Steve Rogers plays in this series, particularly his presence in its final issues, can serve as a model for white audiences of how to take in the stories of people other than themselves. The ability to listen is one you don’t need a super-soldier serum to possess.
Next week, another look at a classic tale from the House of Ideas!