Publisher: Black Mask Studios
Writer: Kwanza Osajyefo
Designs: Tim Smith 3
Illustrator: Jamal Ingle
Release Date: 5th October, 2016
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before – three black kids are leaving a basketball court and are stopped by white police officers who suspect them of committing a robbery. One of the kids tries to make a run for it because he knows exactly how this is going down, and all three are shot down and killed. This is a story that one way or another should be familiar to anyone that checks the news, their Facebook or their Twitter, and highlights a problem which is rife in today’s society. That’s where the similarities end, however, and where Black – a brand new series from Black Mask Studios – begins. One of the kids wakes up in the back of an Ambulance, without a mark on him, he’s now invulnerable.
The first issue of “Black” hasn’t been without it’s controversy since it was announced. A book about only black people getting superpowers, “if it was about white people it would be racist!”. Well, no. If if was about white people, it would be called 99% of superhero books on the shelves for the last 75 years. Black Mask are making a fairly large statement with this book, which came on the heels of an impressively successful Kickstarter campaign. Boasting a back writer/artist team, with aforementioned plot line, the series wears it’s heart on it’s sleeve and isn’t afraid who knows it. Osajyefo has even taken to social media, responding to some fairly large amounts of heat from comic “fans”.
Taking all political statements and racial undertones out of the picture, it’s actually a fairly run of the mill first issue. There’s the event that awakens Kareem’s powers, the mentor with the massive stature, the member of the police department who actually wants the best for our lead, and the shadowy team who are out to get our newly reborn hero. Osajyefo has taken some influence from pop culture when crafting these scenes, with a couple of (possibly unintentional) homages to The Matrix thrown in there for good measure, and a touch of the “DC origin” feel to it. The story itself is well paced, and is fast flowing, if perhaps a little obvious in its superhero storytelling. That said, even with the trope heavy “shady villain turning round and asking for the capture of the lead” cliffhanger, it has still managed to grab my attention.
Jamal Igle, who fans may know from runs on Supergirl and Nightwing, has such a kinetic style, the panels flow beautifully. There’s so much less you can hide when a story is black and white like this, and Igle positively shines. The scenes on the freeway, and those with the old woman particularly stand out, with so much said by the artwork and not the words themselves. Yes, some of the characterisations are slightly on the nose, such as the “lurch like” enforcer, and the design of Kareem’s Mentor. However, these are all somehow comforting, and remind you that this is, at it’s core, when you take away all of the politics and troubling real life scenarios, a superhero book.
If I was being totally impartial, it’s not perfect. Some of the science jargon is straight out of Dr. Who with it’s levels of crazy, not to mention the jarring overuse of a word (Quark), but it does all serve a purpose. The story itself is interesting and grabs the readers attention, and the art work is nothing short of stunning.
This isn’t going to be a book for everyone, but there’s a statement to be made here, and it’s an important one. Black people, and other non-white races are criminally underrepresented in today’s comic industry, both on the page and behind the scenes. It’s becoming more and more apparent that something has to change, and this book is definitely another step in the right direction. Rich in real life drama and racial tension, it manages to handle itself in a way that may seem forced to some, but very necessary to others. This is going to divide comic fans that pick it up, and I only hope the ones who are publicly negative ask themselves a simple question:
“Did I at least learn something from this?”
Today I re-read and reviewed Black, while watching Luke Cage on Netflix. That makes me incredibly happy. Taking the story on it’s own, if it was about a white guy called Steve, I’d probably give the book a 3. However, taking into consideration how important this message is, and how forward-thinking it comes across, I’ll happily give it a…
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