Sunday, February 11, 2018

Comic Review: 'Black Panther & The Crew' (2017)

In which we celebrate Black History Month by taking a look at one of the biggest flops in recent comic book history (P.S.: come for the tie-in to the new Black Panther movie, but stay for Ta-Nehisi Coates' incredible anti-Semitism sneaking past Marvel's radar.) 

By: Jimbo X

Anybody who says comic books have only recently started injecting SJW-flavored politics into their stories clearly haven't been paying attention to the medium over the last 50 years. Just take a look at Marvel's work in the 1970s, which definitely sided with the progressive liberals on issues like civil rights (X-Men) black identity politics (Black Panther, Luke Cage) environmentalism (Man-Thing) and gender equality (Ms. Marvel), and D.C.'s work in the 1980s, which was championing gay rights in books like Hellblazer and Swamp Thing years before the mainstream media declared its own jihad against whatever they thought "homophobia" consisted of that particular afternoon.

Alas, in the 2000s, the industry decided to go full retard with the leftist politics, to the point comics stopped being low-culture, instant gratification juvenile junk and turned into full-fledged, foaming, anti-white, anti-male, anti-conservative and anti-Christian agitprop. Over the course of a decade nearly half of the X-Men roster was turned homosexual, Spider-Man turned into a half black/half Puerto Rican 12-year-old, Superman boldly declared his endorsement of open border governance, G.I. Joe have been turned into morbidly obese Hispanic lesbians who hate guns, and Archie - perhaps the ultimate emblem of apolitical junk culture - was literally gunned down by a racist Republican NRA member during a botched attempt to assassinate a gay black politician and his white male lover.

Not that you really need me to tell you this, but despite all of the back-patting that surely arose from turning Captain Marvel into a Muslim woman, M.O.D.O.K. into Donald Trump and Iron Man into a black teenage girl, none of these SJW-enthused works have translated into commercial successes. As it turns out, hardcore comic readers are actually in it for decent stories that expound about the decades of their favorite character's back stories, not identitarian dreck pandering to the latest leftist outrage du jour. That's kind of the inherent problem of propaganda - you spend so much time trying to fellate the base that you often forget to make your agitprop, you know, entertaining

And that is VERY much the case with the (in)famous Black Panther & The Crew mini-series from 2017. Originally meant to be an ongoing series, the project got cancelled two issues into its run and ultimately crapped out after six issues. The big hook for the ill-fated comic was that it was written by Ta-Nehesi Coates, a longtime The Atlantic columnist who - outside of writing articles ranting and raving against Bernie Sanders for not supporting reparations and berating Daniel Moynihan for being 100 percent right about father absenteeism being the single most important factor behind black underachievement - is probably most famous for penning Between the World and Me, an astonishingly popular tirade against contemporary racism in which the only two examples of "racism" the author could pinpoint was a time a white person told him "come on" to get on an elevator and when one of his friends was killed by a cop ... who was actually black

Anyway, Coates - who gets paid $1,000 a minute to harangue almost entirely white audiences about how their very skin tone automatically makes them perpetrators of hate crimes by biological default - actually wrote a couple of issues of Black Panther back in 2016, so you really can't say he doesn't have any comic book writing experience. But by that same token, I also think it's safe to say we ain't exactly dealing with an Alan Moore or a Howard Chaykin here, either. Fuck, the guy can barely make a 1,600-word diatribe on The Atlantic sound coherent, so I guess it's not really a surprise the guy isn't any more more deft with the sequential art medium.

But the big problem, as you will soon see, is that Black Panther & the Crew tried to make a "serious" political statement inside the framework of the single most ludicrous low-culture art form this side of pro wrestling and monster trucking. The series' Black Lives Matter pandering already made it dated as soon it hit news stands, but the fact Coates tried to insert that real world polemic inside a comic book world filled with super powerful God-like beings and robotic martial law death squads just made the thing a big, fat muddled mess of a "social commentary," one that's too stuck up its own ass to be fun and too fantastically absurd to be taken as a sincere statement about anything.

But hey - why don't we let this spectacular failure of a series speak for itself, why don't we?

Issue one is titled "Double Consciousness." Get it, because it's a reference to W.E.B. DuBois and shit? Anyway, it's 1957. There's this black dude named Ezra (aka, The Lynx) and he runs the Harlem version of The Avengers, alongside his super-powered crew Flare, Brawl, The Gates and Glass. He looks a lot like Malcolm X, which I'm sure is 100 percent totally coincidental. Anyhoo, he roughs up a drug dealer and tells him if he doesn't vamoose, next time he's going to incinerate his intestines or something.

Well, fast forward to today's Harlem, and Misty Knight is walking through a #BLM protest over the death of Ezra, presumably at the hands of the local po-po. So for those of you wondering just how long it would take the series before it devolved into shameless black power identity politics propaganda - well, it wound up being page nine of the very first issue.

Oh, and since this is a Marvel comic, the cops in the comic also include a unit of Robocop-wannabes called the Americops, which were created by PRIVATE INDUSTRY and therefore evil as all fuck by default. Just figured you folks needed to know that.

So Misty Knight has breakfast with Ezra's family and they refer to cops as "pigs" about half a dozen times. Then she investigates Ezra's jail cell and of COURSE there's video missing from the time of his death and then Knight and this other black chick have a discussion about mayonnaise and that's when the AMERICOPS attack them for breaking curfew, which, obviously, is codeword for "being black." Knight uses her metal arm to kill a couple of robot cops, and just when she's about to get fucked up, here comes Storm out of the blue to make the save.

We resume the "story" in issue two, titled "Afro-Blue." You'll see why in just a few. 

It's 1955 in Indonesia and Ezra is at the Bandung Asian-African Conference. He talks about Africans, Asians and Harlemites having "the same enemy" but never explicitly stating who (hint: it's Whitey.) Zip to the modern day and Misty and Storm walk into a crack house in Little Mogadishu and fuck up a bunch of ruffians. Then We learn Storm grew up in Harlem (now THAT's what I call a retcon!) and Misty is almost blown up on a train and she goes back to Storm's apartment and tells her to not give her any "intersectional privilege crap."And then Black Panther shows up on the very last page.

Oh, and by the way - the title is a reference to Storm's "beautiful blue black skin." No, that's literally what Coates tells the readers himself.

Issue three is titled "Black Against the Empire," so you just KNOW it's not going to be a bunch of paranoid, hysterical preaching-to-the-choir nonsense.

We travel back to Harlem, circa 1956. Ezra is in an underground bunker, staring at a bunch of "people of color" who might be candidates for some genetic experiments to make 'em into Wakanda super soldiers or some such shit. Then we jump to modern day and this old black woman named Marla tells Black Panther to stick it where the sun don't shine because of his bad manners.

Then Black Panther walks around Harlem, looking at all the gentrification going on and says "an empire is a plague - insidious and relentless" while looking DIRECTLY at two Jewish characters. And no, I am NOT making that up, as evident by the photographic evidence below ...

What the? Blacks, being openly and unapologetically anti-Semitic? Who'd thought such to be the case in a million, billion years?

Anyhoo, Storm is still pissed at Black Panther and they talk about their divorce for a bit. Wait, where they ever canonically married in the regular Marvel universe? 'Cause last time I checked, she was getting boned by Forge from X-Factor. I mean, not that it really matters, I guess, but stillThen they get a hotel in a place literally called "The Renaissance" and read a dossier on the property manager, whom Black Panther assumes killed Ezra. Hey, isn't Donald Trump famous for being a property manager and a multi-billionaire entrepreneur, too? What a funny coincidence.

Anyway, Black Panther wipes off some dirt and, yep, there's a HYDRA logo, right there in plain sight, in the basement of the apartment. Then a dude bazookas a condo and Luke Cage walks out unharmed, because he's Luke Cage, damn it, and being hard to kill is like his gimmick or something.

Issue four is called "Nothing But A Man," which isn't really applicable to Storm or Misty Knight, but asides, motherfucker, asides. We flash back to 1964, where Ezra is basically written into the real-life Mississippi Burning caseHe brings his crew of  super-powered black people with him and they unironically use violence to force a bunch of white cops and bureaucrats to confess to murdering a bunch of civil rights workers.

Fast forward to modern day Harlem, where Luke Cage is literally punching Hydra helicopters out of the sky. Then he and Misty talk to this one black dude who was in the holding cell when Ezra mysteriously died. But he's not really much help, because all really wants to do is play pinball. Then they visit the CEO of Paragon Industries, the manufacturers of the Americops. Then its revealed that it's a subsidiary of Paragon Properties, which is uprooting all of the black people in Harlem for rich white Jews and their ilk.

Issue five is titled "Down These Mean Streets," which, unfortunately, isn't a thinly veiled reference to the theme music of the Fabulous Freebirds

Now it's 1969 in Harlem, and all of the Black Avengers look blaxploitation-tastic. Then we hop to present day, and some black dude in a robe with billy clubs destroys some Americops while they're trying to apprehend this Puerto Rican kid. Anyway, he's some half black/half Aborigine mutant I've never heard of before called Manifold. He talks about being mentored by Ezra, and how Ezra's black super soldier experiments were actually being bankrolled by Hydra, because they were trying to start a race war or something.

And that brings us to our sixth and final issue, rather optimistically titled "Everybody Loves the Sunshine," which to me, sounds extremely prejudiced against the thousands of white people on the planet who are deathly allergic to sunlight. But hey, fuck those ultra-honkies, ain't that right, Ta-Nehisi? 

It's 1972 and Ezra finds out he's been double crossed so he shoots his partner who was actually a Hydra informant and also looked a LOT like John Shaft.

Then we return to modern day Harlem. There's a big protest over Ezra's death, and of course, it isn't long before the fists start flying and Storm has to make it rain to keep everybody from rioting. The crew deduce that Whitey is using some sort of experimental mind control weapon to make everybody go bananas, but it's actually the work of this black dissident named Malik, who is secretly a double agent for Hydra. You know, Marvel's neo-Nazi, super racist terrorist network that has no real world analogue. Now, as to why the Fourth Reich would want to hire a black dude, or why a hardcore black identitarian would even think about aligning himself with people trying to clone Hitler, though, Coates gives us the following explanation: absolutely fucking nothing at all, whatsoever. 

And then the comic just ends with the crew declaring themselves "the streets," with no final battle, no resolution about Malik or the Americops or the Paragon subplot, nor Hydra or even who really killed Ezra. We get four pages of fan letters, then the editors talk about the comic getting cancelled earlier than they'd like, and that is it for the whole god-dang experiment.

But seriously ... why is that bad advice, exactly?

Boy, did that end on an anti-climactic note or what? It's obvious that Coates had planned out a much larger story, as evident by the mountains of loose ends left unresolved at the end of issue six. For example, we never even scratched the surface of who Ezra's super-P.O.C. were, whom seemed pretty rife for a spin-off at some point. And it seems like that Malik guy was being positioned as a Kingpin-like uber-villain, who probably would've commandeered scores of his own super-powered negroes  to do battle with Black Panther's all-Melanin Avengers. Now, I'm not saying the series had potential, per se, but it seems like the thing could've gone on for another 12 or so issues, easy. Hell, if you had a real comic writer at the helm, it might have even turned into a pretty fun little series. Alas, with Coates calling the shots, it's pretty much a guarantee the thing would've crashed into the ground in a hurry; shit, just half a dozen issues in and it was already running on fumes.

As for the rest of the creative team, the series was penciled by Butch Guice (the same guy who drew Micronauts back in the day), inked by Scott Hanna (who has inked pretty much everything) and (people of) colored by Dan Brown, who, ironically enough, is not brown, but white. Aesthetically, I've got nothing bad to say about the series. I mean, it's not the most amazing art you'll see in a comic book, but it's still pretty crisp and clean and never really devolves into that oh-so pretentious abstractionism that so many modern series wind up falling into. Tis a pity they weren't given a decent story to wrap their drawings around, though.

If you're looking for some painfully unaware, crypto-reverse-racist agitprop, you'll probably be disappointed here. That's not to say the series is devoid of some heavy-handed and clumsily ham-fisted lecturing (because lord knows, it isn't) but it seems like Coates never really had the momentum nor the space to really start hammering home the political message he wanted. Maybe if he had another five or six issues to work with he would've gone completely overboard, but as is, Black Panther & The Crew is hardly anything more than a crappy superhero ensemble origin yarn, with some woefully inarticulate "social commentary" wedged in there. So it's propaganda that's too pussy to come out and announce itself as propaganda, which I think we can all agree is pretty much the most insufferable kinda of propaganda there is.

All in all Black Panther & The Crew is pretty much what you'd expect it to be. It's bad, but it's not brain-breakingly bad, which makes the whole package all the more disappointing. It's such a horribly uneventful series, that doesn't excel at anything - or, really, rise above mediocrity whatsoever. Instead of being an all-time, monumental dud, it's just another boring, unremarkable Marvel offering with hardly any distinguishing characteristics.

Which, yeah, I suppose makes it the epitome of late 2010s, multiculturalism-uber-alles comic books, now that I think about it ...


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