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The Patron Saint of Superheroes

Chris Gavaler Explores the Multiverse of Comics, Pop Culture, and Politics

Tag Archives: Nicieza

Last week I began this two-part post on the Black superhero Rage and his use in an Avengers story responding to the beating of Rodney King in 1991. The first issue begins with a newscaster’s captioned voiceover: “The videotape of what has been dubbed ‘The Carmello Clubbing’ has been burned into the collective mind of New Yorkers — — and their opinions of the matter are as incendiary as the act itself!”

A man (later identified with the Polish last name Kryzewski) declares: “Punks like that deserve what they get! All them types do! City’s become a sewer since all your types showed up!”

Rage leaps down from a rooftop and challenges Kryzewski and his group—all given identical yellow hair by colorist Christie Scheele. After the group disperses, Rage speaks into the news camera:

“Cops got a lot to answer for. The ‘hood’s scared. Trust goes out the window, you know. We want to feel like the police are protecting us, not clubbing us down in the street.”

Later in the Avengers training room, Falcon explains to Rage: “The Avengers, as a concept, aren’t about dealing with problems of this kind.”

When Rage complains, “You don’t remember what it’s like to be a suspect just cause of the color of your skin!” Captain America responds: “I don’t think that’s very fair, son.”

Falcon: “Things aren’t always so black and white — –no pun intended — — age and experience have given me patience and tolerance.”

After Rage storms out, Captain America asks Falcon: “He has so much anger in him – where does it come from?”

“Same place as it all does, Steve – from what’s inside and what’s outside …”

Elsewhere, another Black superhero, Dwayne Taylor, AKA Night Thrasher (introduced December 1989, one month before Rage) trains with his Black father figure, Chord, echoing the Falcon’s attitude:

“Is there really that much I can do about it, Chord? […] I mean, how do I know who’s right and who’s wrong?”

Meanwhile Kryzewski, with the help of an unknown benefactor, re-forms the Sons of the Serpent, a “Radical hate group,” last seen in The Defenders #25 (July 1975). The retconned Kryzewski was arrested then for: “Aggravated assault. Inciting to riot. Attempted man-slaughter. Illegal possession of firearms,” but apparently wasn’t convicted given the fourteen years between publication dates—which would mean Rage was born the year the Sons of the Serpent attempted to start a genocidal civil war against Black Americans. Given the ambiguous nature of time within the Marvel universe though, the coincidence probably doesn’t reflect an in-world fact.

When the Sons of the Serpent incite a riot by challenging protestors outside a Brooklyn police district (“The time has come t’ eat the insects which are burrowing under the White skin of America!”), Night Thrasher’s team, the New Warriors, divide the two sides, with the Black female Silhouette chastising a Black man for throwing a bottle at the Sons:

“Now why don’t you calm down before you make matters worse?”

Soon Night Thrasher is responding with near homicidal force (“Because of my skin color they want to kill me!”), but only because the Sons’ secret benefactor is revealed to be Hate Monger—not the human Adolf Hitler clone from elsewhere in the Marvel universe but a new and apparently supernatural entity psychically intensifying and feeding from displays of hatred. (Nicieza also scripts him singing the Rolling Stones songs “Sympathy for the Devil” and “Shattered.”)

As the scene spills into Avengers #342 (December 1991), the Avengers arrive, making matters worse. Captain American eventually chastises the New Warriors:

“This is a matter best left to the police and community leaders!”

As far as the Rodney King character, even Rage’s grandmother agrees: “maybe the police were wrong for what happened to him, but how does fighting them solve the problem?”

When the four Avengers find the Sons’ headquarters and effortlessly defeat them, Captain America declares: “They weren’t very skilled, but better to stop it here and now before their hate group could grow.”

Falcon adds: “Kind of a shame to think that there are people out there who would agree with these clowns!”

But then Hate Monger returns, followed by Rage and the New Warriors, who Hate Monger incites into new passion before draining their energy. Only Rage struggles to keep fighting:

“You’re the reason my friend was clubbed down in the street. You’re the reason me and my people have been put down all our lives!”

Captain America: “Rage—stop! You’re giving him exactly what he wants! […] Stopping the Hate Monger won’t stop that madness, son! It has to start inside each of us. It has to start inside of you.”

In the page gutter between consecutive panels, Rage changes his mind: “You’re right … … There’re better ways to fight people like the Serpents .. than giving them exactly what they want …”

Hate Monger is disappointed, but promises to return when Rage’s resolve fades.

Captain America: “Rage—what you did—letting go of your hatred—it took a lot of courage.”

However, having learned that Rage is only fourteen, Captain America explains he can’t remain on the team. Rage is content with the decision: “maybe I won’t need to be Rage anymore – ‘cause there’ll be nothing to rage about!”

Nicieza’s allegorical script offers several messages. Here are the first few that come to mind:

  • avoid violence,
  • trust the police and others in authority,
  • don’t judge police officers videotaped beating a darker skinned man,
  • racists are small in number and ineffectual if ignored,
  • all racial animosity is equivalent,
  • national racial problems can only be addressed at the individual level.

Most of these opinions are expressed by a White man wearing an American flag, but I find the use of Falcon (included exclusively because he is Black), other Black superheroes (the equivocating Night Thrasher and scolding Silhouette), Rage’s grandmother (a trope of Black wisdom), and (the reformed and immediately retired) Rage more unsettling. As Nicieza’s newscaster said: “opinions of the matter are as incendiary as the act itself!”

But I’m most unsettled by a less direct message conveyed in the final color art.

The second issue’s one-page admonitory epilogue features a crowd of Black citizens gathered in an unnamed City Hall listening to a charismatic Black speaker:

“We can’t allow ourselves to be oppressed any longer! For centuries we have been placed in a position of inferiority and called a minority. They must feel the whip as we have! They must swing from the hangman’s noose as we have! Segregation equals degradation. We won’t be degraded anymore! There’s so much to be angry about, isn’t there? Yes, there is! A lot to fight against, isn’t there? Yes, there is! A lot to hate … isn’t there?”

The final panel reveals the speaker to be Hate Monger—now with Black features. For the previous issue, Scheele had given the character White skin, but for #342 colorist Tob Tokar instead uses an inhuman shade of yellow distinct from the skin color of White characters. On the cover, Hate Monger’s skin is a more overtly non-human grayish blue. Tokar’s revision of Scheele’s initial choice also evokes Scheele’s avoidance of White-signifying skin color for the White police officers beating the Rodney King character in the opening splash page.

It seems Hate is more at home in Black skin than in White.

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