Thursday, February 23, 2017

Black Superheroes: The Blue Marvel

Blue is the new black!
(Also, black is still black)
Name: Adam Brashear

First Appearance: Adam – Legend of the Blue Marvel (2008)

History: Adam Brashear was a naturally gifted man. A brilliant scientist, a college football star and a decorated soldier; his accomplishments somewhat unrecognized due to the racism plaguing the United States at the time. Nevertheless, during the early 1960s, Adam was the team lead on a science experiment to try to harness antimatter. The experiment ended in disaster when the Negative Reactor that had been built exploded, bombarding Adam and his best friend, Conner Sims, with antimatter mutating them both. Conner became both physically and mentally unstable, and soon donned the villainous persona of Anti-Man, while Adam became a perfect, living antimatter reactor. Armed with superhuman strength, durability, speed and flight Brashear became the Blue Marvel and dedicated his life to fighting crime. For a about a year and a half the Blue Marvel was America’s greatest hero until his final battle with Anti-Man revealed him to the public as a black man, thus destroying the general populations trust in him. With racial tensions at an all-time high President John F. Kennedy personally, though reluctantly, requested that Blue Marvel retire. Out of patriotic duty, as well and genuine fear that his presence could start a nationwide race war, Adam agreed.

Forty-five years later Anti-Man returned to wreak destruction yet again, defeating the Avengers in the process. Iron Man came to Adam, still fit and vibrant due to his powers, asking for help. They succeeded in defeating Anti-Man once and for all and in the aftermath Brashear decided that the time was right to don his costume once more. The Blue Marvel lives again!

Beta Says: I feel I need to make sure this is clear; the Blue Marvel is NOT a character from the 1960s but a new character created in 2008 whose background was retroactively added to Marvel’s history. This isn’t out of the ordinary; both Marvel and DC have created characters that supposedly existed in decades past. Amazing-Man (a character who we’ll get to one day) is in a lot of ways DC’s equivalent to Blue Marvel as he was a character created in the 1980s who supposedly was a hero in the 1940s. However because Blue Marvel is an obvious Superman analogue the character that I assume he would draw the most comparison would be the Sentry. The Sentry is a goddamn garbage character whom I hate with the fiery passion of a million exploding suns. And yet I think Blue Marvel is pretty darn cool. Am I hypocrite? I mean, in addition to all the things I’m already hypocritical about.

More on Black Superman after the jump.

Blue Marvel was conceived by actor/screenwriter Kevin Grevioux who, as I understand it, thought of the character when he was just a kid. As I've mentioned several times in the past both Marvel and DC were spotty in their portrayal of black characters during the 60s and 70s, and essentially non-existent in the 40s, so the number of well crafted black superheroes from that era is limited. Therefore occasionally they will make a new character whose history is tied to their shared universe's canon. I think I'm okay with this in theory; after all, by pretending this new character existed in the 60s you can tell certain mature stories that would have never flown back in the day. I find the idea that Kennedy asked Brashear to retire because America wasn't ready for a black superhero is this depressing, maddening idea that completely makes sense with what I know about American history (See: the brief story of "Jericho” in the Mal Duncan profile). This can be a bit dangerous, though not necessarily because of race. When you're inserting a new character into you fictional history and acting as if they had always been there you can run the risk of mucking up continuity in increasingly annoying ways. The Sentry is a prime example of this.

As I said I feel that Blue Marvel is very similar to the slightly earlier character of the Sentry. Now I think that explaining who and what the Sentry is should be reserved for a different blog but long story short he too is a retroactively created hero who has been there all along, wink-wink. With the Sentry I don’t think it works as the he literally feels like a self-inserted Mary Sue type of fanfiction character. He's the Hulk's best friend, he's very close with Reed Richards, Spider-Man won a Pulitzer Prize because of him, he used to date Rogue (good lord, do I want to talk in great detail about that last one!) and, of course, he’s incredibly powerful due to his being a Superman analogue. It feels incredibly lazy when creators say "he's been here all along" while also having all of the superheroes explain how cool this guy is.

Blue Marvel can be argued to be just a bad as the Sentry (but to be fair I'm purposely biting my tongue on all the reasons the Sentry is a garbage character because I don't want to rant). Adam is literally good at everything we see him do and on top of that he is also incredibly powerful. Perhaps not quite as much as the Sentry but close enough. What makes him work is that Marvel wisely have his history mostly limited to an eighteen month period in 1961 and 1962, decades before the canon start of the "Marvel Age" (due to the nature of Marvel comics, the official timeline states that first public appearance at any given time the current group of heroes including Spider-Man and the Fantastic Four, was about ten to fifteen years before whatever the current date is). As a result Adam does not interact with almost any of the current Marvel characters and therefore less likely to create weird plot holes with his existence. It’s kind of weird that he and Uatu the Watcher are bros, but at least it doesn't shit on anyone's character what the Sentry did to Rogue. (Sorry; I couldn’t help myself. I'll stop rating about Sentry and move on).

It's the Sentry! Finish him, Adam, FINISH HIM!!!!!
Basically, Blue Marvel’s existence enhances the Marvel Universes, making it a more complex place and allowing for real world issues to be firmly established din its admittedly cartoony history. His introduction comic is in that way similar to Truth: Red, White & Black, which reveals that the original Captain America was black. It's interesting but not damaging to any important status quo, which is exactly how you want to use retroactive continuity.

Unlike many of the characters we've looked at Blue Marvel is currently active. After several relatively minor guest spots Adam joined Luke Cage’s Mighty Avengers and more recently he became a member of the Ultimates. But I think I'd be interested in seeing a new solo title stating the scientist turned hero. Adam: The Legend of Blue Marvel wasn't all that great but also felt less like his own book and more like an Iron Man miniseries. I think seeing a title about an older hero in a "Man out of Time" scenario could be an intriguing read if done but the right author. Like, what if your grandfather was an all-powerful superhero who just came out of retirement only to see all these young punk heroes and their rap music? Maybe another miniseries would work best and, if not a story in present day then a limited series detailing his brief adventurers in the early 60s would likely be a fun (i.e. "horrifyingly chilling" and "racist") romp.

Blue Marvel, Black Panther and Monica Rambeau on the same team?
Why in the hell am I not reading The Ultimates?
One more thing before I end this: his wife Candace was brutally and pointlessly murdered in the final issue of Adam: Legend of Blue Marvel. It in my opinion limited the story potential of a character like Adam coming out of retirement. I would love it if at some point anyone working behind the scenes of that comic could explain to me why they felt she needed to be killed off and what possible storyline purpose it could have served. I don't think anyone at Marvel reads my blog though so I guess I'll never know.

For more on Blue Marvel click here. Next time, on what will likely be our final profile of the month, we'll be looking at yet another character who has come to the present from the future...except she's, like, a living hologram or something? Maybe?

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