Wednesday, February 22, 2023

Black Superheroes: Patriot II

A black sheriff Bucky?!?

Name: Elijah "Eli" Bradley

First Appearance: Young Avengers #1 (2005)

History: Eli Bradley is the grandson of Isaiah Bradley, an ex-soldier who was part of a government sponsored program during World War II to recreate the super soldier serum that created Captain America. The program opted to test the unstable formula on unwitting black soldiers and Isiah was the lone survivor, giving him peak physical abilities amongst other attributes (Note: we will probably need to talk about Isiah in more detail another time). Years later, following the events of Avengers: Disassembled where the Avengers were disbanded, a mysterious time traveling youth known as Iron Lad trigged the Avengers Failsafe Program (set to activate in the event of the Avengers ending) that led him to various superpowered individuals with connections to the team in order to revive it. Eli was one for those selected. He explained that, even though his mother was born before Isaiah received his powers, after being wounded he received a blood transfusion form his grandfather which gave the boy similar physical attributes. Taking the name “Patriot”, Eli joined Iron Lad’s new team, the Young Avengers.

Over time the Young Avengers became a successful crime fighting team but eventually the truth came out; Eli had lied about the source of his powers, and he had actually been using Mutant Growth Hormone (basically super powered steroids) to gain his abilities. After quitting the team in shame but later rejoining, Eli was seriously injured while aiding Captain America and was only saved by a lifesaving blood transfusion…. from his grandfather, just like the story he had earlier made up. The process embowed him with enhance physical abilities similar to that of his grandfather and Captain America and he continued to fight alongside his friends in the Young Avengers, this time with actual powers to back it up.

Beta Says: Eli Bradley was a major character in the mid-2000s for Marvel as part of their big Young Avengers push, a team of characters inspired by or part of the legacy of established Avengers characters. Eli has an extra nod as he is tied to the then recent groundbreaking comic Truth: Red, White & Black. That comic is very historically relevant and deserves its own article, but the short version is that it retcons both the nature of the experiment that created Captain America and its purpose wherein it explains that, with the comic creator’s taking inspiration from the real-life tragedy of the Tuskegee Syphilis Study, the United States government experimented on black soldiers. Eli’s grandfather was the star of that book, but it ends in a way where it wouldn’t be appropriate for Isaiah to enter the fold as a hero in the “modern” Marvel universe. But Eli, trying to live up to his grandfather’s legacy, could be and it opened a lot of opportunity to tell mature stories about the complexities of race and patriotism.

But then eventually Marvel got tired of him and replaced him with a new young black kid to be the Bucky to Sam Wilson’s Captain America. Cool. Cool cool cool.

More about the rise of the Patriot after the jump.

Monday, February 13, 2023

Black Superheroes: Natasha Irons

John Henry took sick and went to his bed
Polly Ann drove steel like a man, Lord, Lord

Name: Natasha Irons

First Appearance: Steel #1 (1994)

History: Natasha Irons is the niece of superhero and scientist John Henry Irons, better known as Steel. From early on into his hero career Natasha had been his steadfast supporter and ally, to the point where she was the only member of the Irons family to accompany him when John relocated back to Metropolis. One day, John was trapped under the influence of the Entropy Aegis, a powerful armor created by Darkseid. Designing her own armor using Aegis tech, Natasha teamed up with Superman and others to rescue her uncle from the clutches of Apokolips. While they were successful, John was too injured to continue on as Steel. Therefore, he passed the mantle to Natasha, something he had always planned on doing, and with his blessing and support she began her own heroic career as the new Steel.

Sometime later Natasha ad John had a falling out and he stripped her of the armor. Unable to recreate her own, she signed up for the Everyman Project, a superhuman creation program sponsored by Lex Luthor. The program gave her superhuman strength, the ability to fly, and the power to emit light blasts from her hands and she soon took up the name Starlight. However, after realizing that Luthor had criminal ulterior motives with the project she betrayed him to her uncle but was stripped of the powers for her efforts. Later still it turned out that the experiments had lingering effects and she developed new powers, the ability to phase into a gaseous form, and she took up the name Vapor.

Beta Says: Natasha is a bit of a difficult character to write about as she is a spin-off character of a spin-off character; a derivative of a derivative, if you will. Steel has never been all that successful as a character beyond being loosely associated with Superman and a lot the time that Natasha ends up donning the power suit herself it usually feels like current DC Comics’ current writers aren’t interested in John Henry Irons at the moment for whatever reason, and tag her in instead like she’s a back-up character when they need to add a woman or a black person or both to story. Considering she spent so many years as a supporting character to John in his solo series, I to this day wonder why exactly DC felt the need to replace him with her, and then keep replacing her back with her uncle anytime someone decided they had a use for him again. It makes me tired.

More on Natasha Irons after the jump.

Monday, February 6, 2023

Black Superheroes: Ironheart

And lo, did the tears of a thousand fanboys flood the streets

Name: Riri Williams 

First Appearance:  Invincible Iron Man Vol. 3 #7 (2016) 

History: Riri Williams, a genius teenage MIT student, built a working suit of power armor based on Iron Man from stolen spare parts around her school just to see if she could. Upon completion she took it out into the world and ended up stopping two escaped convicts, but the still-not-quite right suit was destroyed in the process. The event caught the eye of Tony Stark himself, who personally came to Riri to offer guidance and support on her path to becoming a superhero. Some time later Stark is rendered comatose after the events of Civil War II, but apparently he saved his personality into an Artificial Intelligence housed in a holographic construct with the purpose of being shipped to Riri in the event of his death. Now directly working with an A.I. with the personality with intellect of the world famous Iron Man, Riri is able to fully complete her armor. On the A.I.’s suggestion she adopts the name “Ironheart” and sets forth to try to fill the gap that Iron Man left in his wake.

Beta Says: Riri Williams is something of a pariah amongst a certain percentage of the superhero comic fandom. As I understand it, some of it is backlash from her early stories not actually being very good considering how hard Marvel Comics was pushing her as this cool new superhero. However I’d argue a huge portion of it comes form a dark corner of modern comic fandom who rejected Ironheart not simply because of quality of stories but because she became their poster child for a then big mandate from Marvel to push diversity amongst their characters. In her case, Marvel probably unwisely had her temporary take over Invincible Iron Man. Replacing a high profile character with a very new character and telling everyone how cool they are is never the safest bet in the best of times but it becomes worse when that character is black and a portion of your fanbase have decided to be “Anti-Woke.” Oh yes, it’s one of these things. 

More on the “Ironheart Controversy” after the jump.

Wednesday, February 1, 2023

Black Superheroes Month VIII: Black is Beautiful

Bow down before the Queen of superhero comics!

Now that I’m back writing blog content, it was really no question that I would bring back my annual celebration of Black History Month with my Black Superheroes Month series, a tradition so prestigious that even Rob Bricken of has used it as research material for an article at least once (…..well, I think it’s cool).

It’s been quite a few years since I’ve done this, so for those who have forgotten or newcomers who have wandered in by mistake, here is the gist: there is a very common misconception that there are hardly any black superheroes in comic books, but the truth is that there are actually tons. It’s just that they often are created then forgotten about, both by readers and by creators. So every year (…except for the last few; whoops) I spotlight both the popular and the not-so-popular black heroes, explaining who they are, any interesting information I think is relevant, and my own thoughts about what could or should be done with them.

Click this link to see a list of characters covered so far, but keep in mind I’ve been doing this since 2011 and at this point it’s fair to say many of the profiles are wildly out of date by 2023. This year, assuming nothing goes wrong, the plan is to spotlight three characters starting with the next post. However, before we get into it I have two points I’d like to make:

1) The original theme this year was going to be Black Women, but the lynchpin of this year’s crop was supposed to be a character by the name of Monet St. Croix aka M. However, after much checking and double checking in preparation for this year’s blog I have come to the conclusion that M is simply not black. From what I can tell she was originally meant to be considered black by her creators, but apparently they didn’t realize the area where she is from didn’t lend itself to that ethnic background. Monet’s ethnicity has since been retconned to better reflect her background. Of course, seeing as she is a mx of several different races it is likely that she is at least a little black, but frankly she’s such a complicated character (her origin is nuts) that it might be easier on me to not worry about it. If someone wants to show some specific and recent evidence that proves I’m wrong I’ll be happy to write on her in the future, but for now I frankly don’t need the headache of a bunch of folks leaving comments here FOR YEARS about how stupid I am for including her in this project. Speaking of which...

Sorry Beta from 6 years ago, but it ain't happening...

2) Fun fact: due to the sheer amount of spam and bots I get in the comments, I set it up so that I have to approve anything before it actually posts. Now, knowing that I stepped away from the blog for several years, imagine my surprise when I finally started preparing to come back late in 2022 and discovered a comment box filled with anger (and some defenders, to be fair) regarding my post about Exiles leader Blink being black. Look guys, writer Saladin Ahmed made this pretty clear during his run on Exiles from 2018. Was this a retcon? Yeah, I don’t think they were planning on that when she was originally created. Does it match-up with her many years established background as being from the Caribbean region? Yeah, it does. Sure, she has been (incorrectly) played by East Asian actresses in live action and yeah, she could be retconned again tomorrow, but I still stand by the post. If it bothers you, please complain to Marvel for giving it a thumbs up; I didn't make it up, I promise.

Okay, that’s enough pent-up frustration. Next time we’re start off Black Superhero Month with a new character who, while sparking controversy in the comic community, is being primed to be a major player in the Marvel Cinematic Universe going forward.

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