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The Patron Saint of Superheroes

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

Tag Archives: Sons of the Serpent

Since 1966, Marvel has published over a dozen stories featuring the KKK-based supervillain organization Sons of the Serpent. The double-length one-off Captain Marvel #1 (February 1994) stands apart as the first and only created by Black authors: writers Dwayne McDuffie and Dwight D. Coye, and penciler M. D. Bright.

McDuffie worked at Marvel as an assistant editor in the 80s, becoming a “touchstone” for race issues. (He had to explain to executive editor and Captain America writer Mark Gruenwald that “buck” was a racist slur, resulting in the new Black hero Bucky introduced in Captain America #334 (August 1987) being redesigned as Battlestar in #341.)

Bright began penciling at Marvel for the four-issue mini-series Falcon (November 1983-February 1984), and when McDuffie transitioned to writer, he partnered with Bright for Captain Marvel Giant-Sized Special (November 1989).

When roger Stern and John Romita, Jr. introduced the Monica Rambeau Captain Marvel in Amazing Spider-Man Annual #16 (August 1982), Romita based her afro on 70s blaxploitation film actress Pam Greer’s hair, which Bright altered to shoulder-length cornrows.

After working freelance at Marvel and DC, McDuffie co-founded and edited the Black-owned Milestone Comics, which launched its first four titles in 1993, including Icon, which McDuffie wrote and Bright penciled. The two continued their partnership for the 1994 Captain Marvel issue, though McDuffie is credited only for plot, and Dwight D. Coye for script. Coye had worked as a letterer at Marvel and was also scripting Meteor Man, a short-lived series featuring the Black superhero created by comic actor Robert Townsend for the 1993 film of the same name.

Though the story was developed specifically for Captain Marvel (likely for Marvel to retain rights to the name), the character seems secondary to the multicultural message, which the Black hero and the White supremacist villains serve. The cover features the phrase “Free Your Mind” equal in size to the title logo, and the Marvel Comics corner banner includes a no-hate symbol in the rectangular space typically reserved for a title character’s image. For his series Icon and Deathlok, McDuffie alluded repeatedly to W. E. B. DuBois, and the Captain Marvel story “Speaking Without Concern” takes its title from poet Audre Lorde’s splash-page epigraph:

“I speak without concern for the accusations, that I am […] too much myself […] through my lips come the voices of the ghosts of our ancestors […].”

McDuffie expands the target of White supremacy to encompass Asians for the first time. Coye gives the two college students fleeing the Sons of the Serpent on the opening page full names, Philip Pyun and Fie Kwan Lau, and brackets their speech with an asterisked footnote: “Translated from the Cantonese.” The Sons call them “Jap parasites” and a “Nip,” though they explain, “We’re Chinese, not Japanese!”

Though the Sons consider Captain Marvel an “inferior,” they do not target her or other Black characters, reasoning that Asians “hurt Black folks, too, buying up the country, taking all the university spaces away from average students.” After the two Sons are revealed to be students, Captain Marvel laments: “It’s hard to believe this kind of ignorance exists on a college campus.”

Another student mentions that the “Afro-American Studies building was blown up recently by a group of skinheads,” a reference to Web of Spider-Man #56-57 story (November-December 1989), in which penciler Alex Saviuk depicted the skinheads wearing identical gray business suits, white shirts, and black ties, while burning a twelve-foot cross on campus, an atypically explicit allusion to the KKK. (Coye’s use of the adverb “recently” to describe a five-year-old event is likely not ironic but an indication of the ambiguously condensed nature of time in Marvel’s story-world.)

McDuffie and Coye are responding to a broad national racial context, especially regarding college campuses. Though “only 9.6 percent of all full-time freshmen in 1990 were black” (Phillips 1994), a 1990 New York Times article reports that “racial discord has risen with the percentage of minority students,” citing “two firebombings and the spray-painting of racist graffiti on a wall of a black-student center” at Wesleyan (Rierden). Several colleges had faced accusations of unfairly limiting Asian enrollments during the 80s, with Berkeley publicly apologizing and Brown acknowledging the role of unconscious bias (Takagi 578). Black students at Brown also faced racist graffiti, “Niggers go home,” painted outside their dorms (“The State of History”). Charles Lawrence lists similar incidents at over a dozen other schools, including: “Racist leaflets in dorms … White Supremacists distribute flyers … Bomb threats … Shot fired … “(431-3).

Coye condenses nation-wide events into a single day at Marvel’s Empire State University: “Last night there were about a dozen RM attacks, including an explosion in the Women’s Studies department – several beatings of leaders in the Asian, Black and Jewish communities,” plus “hundreds” of Sons of the Serpent rally flyers: “Wake Up White People! Fight for your rights!”

Early 1990s racial debate extended well beyond campuses. Dana Takagi observes how neoconservatives used the issue of enrollment to shift national conversation “from one about discrimination against Asian Americans (1983-1986) to one about diversity in the University (1987-88), to, most recently, one about how affirmative action programs systematically disadvantage highly qualified Asian American students (1989-90)” in order to oppose affirmative action generally (579). The 1978 Supreme Court decision U. of California v. Bakke established that, while race could be considered as part of admissions decisions, racial quotas violated the Fourteenth Amendment. In the 1989 decision City of Richmond vs. Croson, which invalidated a requirement that 30% of construction subcontracts go to minority-owned businesses, Justice O’Connor wrote in the majority opinion: “The dream of a Nation of equal citizens in a society where race is irrelevant to personal opportunity and achievement would be lost in a mosaic of shifting preferences based on inherently unmeasurable claims of past wrongs.” President Bush cited “the destructive force of quotas” after vetoing the Civil Rights Act of 1991, which would have strengthened the anti-discrimination employment measures of the 1964 Act. In 1992, William L. Taylor and Susan M. Liss concluded: “Affirmative action is under siege in the 1990s. The courts are no longer a friendly forum for deprived and powerless citizens who in the past were often able to find redress when it was denied in the more political arenas” (35).

Coye lampoons anti-quota rhetoric with the Sons member’s accusation that Asian students are “taking all the university spaces away from average students,” since the anti-Asian policies achieved the opposite. Coye also frames the national debate in pro-American terms. While his narrator calls Sons of the Serpent “one of the most dangerous hate groups in recent history,” Coye’s Captain America calls them a “terrorist group who would deny others their fair share of the American dream” and is unable to imagine a “larger offense.”

McDuffie and Coye present a potential riot between students and Sons of the Serpent as the most serious threat, when Captain Marvel thinks: “This is a really sticky situation. Anything could spark a riot!” She also later scolds a Black student for organizing a counter-demonstration: “Ray, this is irresponsible and potentially dangerous for everyone!”

However, Ray tells the Sons leader: “I didn’t come here to fight — — none of us did […] We’ve all got our different agendas – and God knows we all have problems with each other now and again. But today we agree –the biggest problem is you.” When the leader calls a White student a “turncoat” and “one of them,” the student declares, “I’m one of me,” triggering all of the other Sons to unmask and disband.

The non-violent tactic appears to be effective for two reasons: a White male student supports it, and, rather than unifying around shared multi-cultural principles, the message champions individual self-interest. McDuffie and Coye’s script emphasizes paradoxically unifying “problems” between racial groups, accepting limited racial conflict as an acceptable alternative to violent extremism. Though the Sons attempted to commit multiple murders, Ray declares on the final page: “Hate consumes the hater and the hated equally.”

McDuffie and Coye also reprise the Sons of the Serpent unmasking trope by retconning Gerry Conway’s swastika-tattooed “Eddie the Cross” from Web of Spider-Man #56-57 (November-December 1989) into Eddie Cross, son of Rabbi Chaim Cross. The former skinhead leader is now the Sons of the Serpent leader, but with a secret Jewish identity. Coye scripts the rabbi father’s explanation: “I’m afraid that it is all my fault that Eddie turned out this way — — my pride in our heritage made Eddie feel like an outcast — — it is what made him hate himself and led to him becoming a skinhead.”

Captain Marvel disagrees, quoting the Audre Lorde epigraph and identifying the poet as an “African-American lesbian,” while insisting “the sentiment speaks to every American – no one should have to be ashamed of their culture.” Eddie’s father pleads to Eddie: “Let your hate go,” but it is Coye’s additional element, “Love yourself,” that transforms him from a blob-like monster literally consuming himself and others.

Captain Marvel offers Eddie a parting handshake, which he refuses.

It is one of Monica Rambeau’s final gestures as Captain Marvel. Marvel renamed her character Photon in 1996, after assigning the name “Captain Marvel” to a new character in 1995.

Bright draws her flying off in the final panel, thinking: “We’ve all got work to do …,” but it is unclear what that work would be for her, Ray, or the two nearly murdered Chinese students from the opening page. Though the genre requirement of lethal threats contradicts the thinly veiled reference to real-world circumstances, the authors emphasize Marvel’s message of political moderation consistent across decades.

[Other Sons of the Serpent episodes: 1966, 1970, 1975, 1991, 2008.]

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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:

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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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I wasn’t expecting this topic to be timely. When I started drafting this post last year, it was one in a continuing sequence about Marvel’s KKK-based supervillain group Sons of the Serpent introduced in 1966. Marvel resurrected them 25 years later to allegorize their political views about the 1991 beating of Rodney King. I can’t think about the King now without thinking about the disturbingly similar video of Tyree Nichols released last week.

It’s 32 years later, and I hope Marvel doesn’t resurrect the Sons of the Serpent again. The simplistic moral universe of mainstream superhero comics is not ideal for trying to address the complexities of police brutality in the continuing aftermath of Jim Crow. Marvel’s use of their their Black superhero Rage in 1991 is evidence of that.

Larry Hama and Paul Ryan created Rage in Avengers #326 (November 1990). The character was at least in part a critique of the Avengers, and so Marvel generally, lacking Black superheroes. Two issues later, he asks Captain America: “Why don’t you have any righteous African Americans in this outfit?”

“What about Black Panther and Falcon?”

“Panther went back to mother Africa. The man is millionaire royalty. He’s got entree into country clubs that wouldn’t let you past the parking lost. Falcon was around only because the Feds required you to meet equal opportunity standards… Now that you don’t have any minority Avengers, you start building a fancy mansion in the middle of a ritzy, lilly-white neighborhood!”

Hama’s dialogue doesn’t reference the 1982 Monica Rambeau Captain Marvel or the 1983 James Rhodes Iron Man, both former Avengers, but the fault is still relevant. Unfortunately, so is Ryan’s costume design, which reiterates the 70s trend of exposing more skin for Black male superheroes than for White male ones. Also, because Rage is actually a thirteen-year-old boy transformed, his character literalizes what Eve L. Ewing (education scholar and later writer of Ironheart) identifies as “the adultification of Black children” (Ewing 2021).

After Hama’s Captain America voices a color-blindness defense, “First off, nobody just walks in and gets to be an Avenger, no matter if they’re white, black, yellow, or green, for that matter!,” and then stops the other Avengers because there’s “been a terrible misunderstanding! Rage wasn’t attacking me, he was trying to make a point … … in fact a very valid point about perceptions!,” Rage is voted a “reserve substitute” “probationary Avenger” in the next issue. Falcon and Monica Rambeau are voted substitutes too, placing no Black heroes on the primary team–oddly reinforcing Rage’s original complaint.

Despite his probationary substitute status, Rage appears on eight more covers, including Avengers #342 (November 1991), his last as a team member. The two-issue story arc is memorable for other reasons.

On March 3, 1991, four LAPD officers beat motorist Rodney King with metal batons over fifty times while arresting him for felony evasion. Bystander George Holliday’s videotape of the beating was aired on CNN two days later and then on network news the next evening. A grand jury indicted the officers a week later. The trail was set for June, but a Court of Appeals granted a change of venue and reassigned the case to a new judge due to evidence of the initial judge’s bias (he secretly communicated to prosecutors: “Don’t panic. You can trust me.”).

Avengers #341 is cover-dated November 1991 and so would have been published in late September. Production times vary, but estimating a four-month norm, Fabian Nicieza scripted the story in May, well after news of the beating had broken but before the appeals court ruling.

Though Hama and Ryan had created Rage almost two years earlier, Nicieza’s use of the character and the reprisal of the White supremacist supervillains the Sons of the Serpent are a response to Rodney King. So is the unexplained reappearance of Falcon as a primary Avenger, making two of the five members Black. With the addition of Night Thrasher of the New Warriors, the #342 cover features three Black characters and two recognizably White ones.

I assume editor Ralph Macchio and editor-in-chief Tom DeFalco were involved in these decisions, especially since Nicieza, who was writing The New Warriors at the time, is credited as “guest writer,” with the previous writer, Bob Harras, returning after the two-issue arc. Falcon and Rage are replaced afterwards too, resulting in an all-White Avengers roster.

Penciller Steve Epting’s #341 splash page evokes the King video, with King’s fictional counterpart, Carmello Martinez, drawn on his knees surrounded by four police officers with raised batons. Inker Tom Palmer and colorist Christie Scheele contribute significantly to the image, rendering the majority of the White officers’ faces in a black that nominally denotes shadows cast by their police caps but connotes a metaphorical darkness. More than half of one face is so opaquely black it partly subverts the illusion of three-dimensionality. The officers’ legs are rendered the same, further challenging the naturalism of the overall image with the shapes of undifferentiated flatness. Where the White officers’ skin is exposed, the color is the white of the underlying page. In contrast, the face and figure of King’s shirtless counterpart is shaped by black contour lines and minimal crosshatching, with no black areas except for portions of his hair. His skin is a combination of brown and page-white.

Nicieza’s and Epting’s Black female newscaster narrates: “This was the scene two days ago as videotaped by an alert bystander.”

The Rage Wikipedia page identifies the superhero’s alter ego as “Elvin Daryl Haliday,” adding “sometimes misspelled ‘Holliday.’” I’m trying to track down where and when those “sometimes” occur, but I have to wonder whether the misspelling is an intentional allusion to George Holliday, the bystander who recorded King.

In the Marvel universe, Elvin (AKA Rage) and Carmello (AKA Rodney King) are best friends.

(More next week.)

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This is the unintended third part of my two-part post on the KKK-like Sons of the Serpents’ second Marvel appearance in The Avengers #73-4 (February-March 1970). As discussed, the story arc features two political TV celebrities, one white, one Black, secretly masterminding their “racist act” to manipulate the American public and gain powers for themselves.

Although artist Frank Giacoia’s Dan Dunn is not necessarily a portrait of William F. Buckley, Jr., the character seems to be his fictional counterpart.

Buckley’s PBS show Firing Line began airing weekly debates in 1966, at first with Buckley and his guest at distant podiums, but later in swivel chairs with feet sometimes touching. “Buckley designed the program to convert viewers to the conservative cause,” writes Heather Hendershot, and his “intention was to debunk the principles of Black Power,” since “to him, it represented the very worst of left-wing radicalism” (2014).

Buckley conceived the show after debating “The American Dream is at the expense of the American Negro” with James Baldwin in Cambridge in 1965. Though Black guests on Firing Line were an exception, Buckley debated “Where Does the Civil-Rights Movement Go Now?” with James Farmer in 1966, “The Ghetto” with Kenneth Clark in 1967, and in 1968, “Was the Civil-Rights Crusade a Mistake?” with Godfrey Cambridge, “The Black Panthers” with Eldridge Cleaver, “The Republic of New Africa” with Milton Henry, and “The Negro Movement” with Muhammed Ali.

Roy Thomas places the events of The Avengers #73-4 after the July 20, 1969 moon landing (“as the biggest audience since the moon landing hears an exchange of even more importance to the home of the brave!”), and the February cover-date suggests that scripting began in fall of 1969. Though C. Eric Lincoln appeared on Firing Line in June to debate “Afro-American Studies” and John James Conyers in October to debate “Race and Conservatism,” neither the sociologist nor the congressman seem to be a counterpart to Marvel’s Montague Hale. Of Buckley’s guest list, Hale bears a close resemblance to Cleaver, though Hale has a tie, not an open collar. The resemblance is overt in #74 where Hale’s beard is most clearly a goatee.

Sal Buscema also took over from Giacio that issue and so presumably imitated Hale’s original design, while also sharpening the resemblance to Cleaver. Giacio sometimes drew what appears to be a full beard.

Still, it seems Buckley was the primary target of Marvel’s critique, balanced by a far more fictional Black foil. Hale is the host of “Black World,” a show with no real-world counterpart. According to Hendershot, “Black Power leaders were covered by TV news as crazed radicals,” and ironically “Firing Line provided an uncensored window into the movement that was difficult to find elsewhere on TV” (2014). Marvel’s critique then is not that Buckley was using media to promote his own conservative causes, but that he was doing so by providing a forum for “equally controversial” disagreement.

Buckley rarely invited guests back (Barry Goldwater appeared in 1966 and again in 1969), and never for three consecutive episodes as Dunn does with Hale. That’s because Marvel refigures their Buckley stand-in as a “late night host.”

The format was growing increasingly popular. In 1968 and 1969, the 11:30-1:00 time slot featured Johnny Carson on NBC and Joey Bishop on ABC, soon joined by Merv Griffin on CBS, that network’s first entry in the genre. Giacoia and Buscema do not draw Dan Dunn behind talk show host’s desk, but the small round table and its array of papers, ashtrays, and water glasses is only a slight variation and also a closer approximation to the Firing Line set. Thomas’s narrator explains that Dunn works for a “rival network,” and “Thus it was inevitable that the two giants would meet, as millions of insomniac Americans watched…!”

No real-world late shows reached the top fifty Nielsen rating slots in 1969, and the top show attracted an estimated 15 million viewers, compared to the 53 million who watched the moon landing. Hyperboles aside, Marvel seems alarmed by the increasing media reach of TV, and imagined an amalgam of Firing Line, late night shows, and record-breaking viewership as a potential threat to U.S. society. Instead of creating a new supervillain to personify that threat, Lee and Thomas revived Lee’s obscure KKK stand-in that had gone unused for four years. Thomas also revived Lee’s original unmasking plot twist in order to satirize both Buckley and his Black Power guests, most specifically Black Panther Eldridge Cleaver. Lee was also uncomfortable with the character Black Panther sharing a name with the organization and wanted to portray his Black Panther opposing an actual Black Panther Party leader.

Lee would later attempt to divide the superhero from the political group further by renaming him “Black Leopard” in Fantastic Four #119 (February 1972) with Roy Thomas scripting a politically moderate explanation: “I neither condemn nor condone those who have taken up the name — but T’Challa is a law unto himself!”

The change was brief. When the character received his first series beginning in Jungle Action #10 (July 1974), he remained Black Panther.

Captain America #126 (June 1970), published three months after The Avengers #73-4, also offers a thematic epilogue to the Buckley-Cleavage story.

Stan Lee, with pencillers Gene Colan and John Romita (and Frank Giacoia now inking), brings Falcon back for a single issue after a six-month absence.  Captain America returns to Harlem to find that Falcon is wanted for murder, but he knows the allegations must be false: “He dedicated his life to fighting for justice … to helping his people … to helping anybody who was oppressed!”

Falcon soon explains that he’s been framed by a gang called the Diamond Heads: “They’re like a black version of the Klan! All they preach is hate whitey! They’re dangerous fanatics! They don’t care who suffers … or who gets hurt! They can set our progress back a hundred years!” Lee’s words are especially memorable because he scripts them in the talk bubble Colan draws above Falcon while he is changing into Captain America’s costume to elude the police.

Reversing the Sons of the Serpent plot twist, the heroes reveal the leader, Diamond Head, to be a White gangster: “The worse it got … the sooner we could take over!”

Captain America laments: “Your Diamond-Head hoods didn’t even know – they were being used!”

After Captain America calls him “amigo,” Falcon concludes the issue: “Your skin may be a different color … but there’s no man alive I’m prouder to call … brother!”

That’s the kind of ending Lee wanted on Firing Line, but that Buckley would never provide.

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