Skip to content

The Patron Saint of Superheroes

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

Tag Archives: rob tokar

As part of my wandering research into Marvel’s use of the white supremacist supervillains Sons of the Serpent, I posted a two-part discussion of a 1991 Avengers story warning against Black anger after the Rodney King beating.

As my comics analysis has grown increasingly color-oriented, this third of the intended two installments focuses on colorist Christie Steele — whose complete color code art for Avengers #341 I recently found at (Rob Tokar colored #342, but his color code art, like the vast majority of color code art, can only be inferred from the published comic.)

#341-2 features the fifth appearance of the Sons of the Serpent, what Stan Lee intended as a fictional counterpart of the KKK when he co-created them in 1966. In this iteration, the villains are led by Leonard Kryzewski, a minion retconned into the group’s 1975 appearance. Not surprisingly, Steele assigns Kryzewski White skin and yellow hair, implying northern European descent.

Steele assigns the same combination to a male figure in the next panel:

The sameness of penciller Steve Epting and inker Tom Palmer’s line art emphasizes the sameness of the White characters’ skin color. The first time I looked at the pairing, I briefly mistook the two to be the same figure — an unintentional recurrence effect that attention to other visual details eliminates.

After assigning most of Kryzewski’s group yellow hair and beige shirts, Steele gives other figures in the crowd the same combination, again visually blurring White people of opposing political stances. Since it defies probability that a dozen figures would all be wearing shirts of different design but identical color, the only naturalistic explanation is that the sameness is due to some quality of light.

Though Steele’s White people, whether White supremacists or not, visually combine, Steele attempts to differentiate non-Whites.

The newscaster has Black skin, labeled on Steel’s color code pages as Y4R3B2, meaning 75% yellow, 50% red, and 25% blue on off-white paper. Rage and Falcon receives the same codes throughout the issue too

But unlike the coloring of skin in previous decades, Steele provides some vacillation.

The first figure interviewed in the crowd of protestors appears to be Black, but Steele assigns the majority of his face Y3R3B2, creating a lighter brown that subtlety contrasts two Black faces in the background on either side. Steele also colors one side of his face a yellow that creates the naturalistic effect of a specific light source, presumably a late afternoon sun.

The next panel features three figures: a man with White skin in the center, a woman with White skin on the right, and a man with an ambiguous combination of brown and gray on the left.

Steele’s color codes art is ambiguous too. Some codes are written directly over colored areas, others are connected by arrows from the white margins, and some codes are missing — presumably with the assumption that the printer would interpret them from the colors themselves. Though her medium is identified as “colored pencils,” Steele may have worked with a brush, producing shapes of non-uniform color unlike the later printed art. In the case of the ambiguous figure, Steel’s original coloring appears more brown and therefor more naturalistic than in the published version.

The published version also recalls the taupe skin of Black characters used during earlier decades, including for Bill Foster introduced in the first Sons of the Serpent story in1966.

Where a 1966 colorist assigned the Sons of the Serpent’s first victim, Mr. Gonzales, White skin, Steele appears to designate the protester as Latino using the formerly Black-denoting taupe. The discordant color is more prominent in a riot scene near the end of the issue, with an apparently Latino man in a short-sleeve shirt throwing a rock; his taupe arm contrasts the Black figure in the background drawn directly below.

Where taupe designated Blackness in the 1960s, here the slightly evolved but still essentially limited color technology repurposed the color to designate an additional ethnic group.

Returning to the three figures in the earlier crowd panel, Epting pencils the third in a headscarf, presumably implying that she is Muslim. Though Epting could intend her closed eyes and gripped hands to suggest prayer, Nicieza instead scripts an unrelated defense of the police: “Maybe the police had a good reason? Who’s to say? Kids today …” Rather than assigning her Black or possibly Latina-associated taupe skin, Steele uses White skin, relying on the headscarf to differentiate her from the White man behind her.

The mixed-race superhero Silhouette poses a similar challenge. Nicieza and artist Mark Bagley introduced the character a year earlier in New Warriors #2 (August 1990), indicating that her father was Black and her mother Cambodian.

The six members of the New Warriors appear in a bottom banner on the cover of Avengers #341, with the Black character Night Thrasher’s brown skin juxtaposed with Silhouette’s taupe skin, revealing that taupe is not Latino per se, but a color generally designating an ethnicity outside a Black/White dichotomy.

When Silhouette appears for the first time in the interior art, Epting draws her stopping a Black man from throwing a bottle during a riot. Steele assigns her skin neither Black nor taupe, but a yellower brown not previously used (or identified in the color codes).

When Silhouette appears for the first time in the next issue, Tokar assigns her and Night Thrasher the same Black as Rage in the preceding panel.

But when she appears later in that issue, her taupe skin instead contrasts Rage.

The fluctuations, whether intentional or unintentional, could be understood as a reflection of the character existing outside of a clear racial division. They might also reflect the colorists’ attempts to use the highly limited technology more naturalistically, since actual skin colors fluctuate with changes in light.

For one page in #341, Steele assigns Falcon and Rage’s grandmother identical maroon skin in multiple indoor images.

In #342, an unnamed Black teenager vacillates between shades of brown in consecutive panels. Falcon even appears in one panel with inexplicably green-brown skin.

Even if all of the fluctuations are errors (by the color artists or by color-dividers later in the production process), the variations in skin color correlate with Marvel’s expanding depiction of racial and ethnics categories. They also reveal the inadequacy of 1991 printing technology to represent complex racial categories — and therefore to represent race generally.

Since color code art is pretty rare, I’ll conclude with Steele’s 22 pages:

Tags: , , , , ,

%d bloggers like this: