This past Wednesday I joined my fellow ComicMix columnist Martha Thomases at the signing for Scout Comics Solarman #1 at JHU in midtown Manhattan. Present from the creative team were co-writer and Milestone Comics alum Joseph Phillip Illidge as well as illustrator N. Steven Harris. Martha gave a big hug to Joseph Illidge, she introduced me, and they proceeded to catch up. Dakota North even got brought up by Joseph Illidge and not Martha!
On my way home I got a chance to read Solarman #1. For those of you unfamiliar with the character, he was created by Dave Oliphant with Deborah A. Kalman and starred in two issues of his own comic book series at Marvel in early 1989. In the time since then, Dave Oliphant eventually got the publishing rights back and has now found a new home at Scout Comics.
The original iteration of Solarman was a white guy with red hair donning an outfit he clearly nabbed from the Legion of Super-Heroes HQ during a skirmish with Dr. Regulus. Chances are you can probably guess his superpowers as well.
What makes this reboot of Solarman stand out is that the character is now black. Multiple people on the creative team are black as well. And although myself and presumably most comic book readers didn’t read the original two issue run of Solarman so I can’t compare the two, this reboot is a compelling story with a rich and well developed world in just one issue.
Solarman got me thinking a lot about representation in comics. In the past I’ve talked about how at the big two we’ll see a character a woman or minority character take over for a big name like Captain America, Thor, Green Lantern, and so forth. The problem that I and many others have with this is that it is often short lived with their original straight cis white counterparts taking back the reigns. Almost as if to say you’ve had your fun, but now let’s get back to the real story.
A character like Solarman is a bit different. With heavy hitters like Captain America and Thor, people already associate them so heavily with their long time comic and movie counterparts that are straight cis white men. Solarman is a character that is a virtual unknown in comics and never had the opportunity to gain much of a following. By updating Solarman to be a young black man, the vast majority of readers will associate this Solarman as being the default and makes it significantly easier to see this character as staying black for the long term and being a part of long term representation as opposed to being a footnote.
This is going beyond Solarman as well. This year has been seeing an influx of black characters in comics written by black writers. Black Panther is being written by Ta-Nehisi Coates and was the highest selling comic of the year so far. Marvel is also introducing a new ongoing with a new black Inhuman hero, Mosaic, being written by Geoffrey Thorne and illustrated by Khary Randolph.
We will also be seeing DC Comics doing something closer to what Scout Comics is doing with Solarman. This fall, DC is rebooting Vigilante in a miniseries titled The Vigilante: Southland, the once problematic by our current standards golden age hero. Vigilante has popped up time and again since then, but arguably never in any significant way. He’s been reimagined as a failed NBA player getting by in life as a maintenance man until being dragged into a conspiracy.
One of the most intriguing sounding titles involving a black hero with a black creative team coming out this September is Black from Black Mask Studios. Written by Kwanza Osajyefo with co-creator and designer Tim Smith 3, art by Jamal Igle, and covers by Khary Randolph, Black is the story of Kareem Jenkins, a young black man gunned down by the police only to find that he’s one of many black people with superpowers.
A powerful concept tackling unfortunately divisive issues like police executing citizens is important for the comics industry to tackle and I’m proud of Black Mask Studios for putting a comic like this in its lineup. It’s certainly one of the comics I’m looking forward to reading most this year.
It seems like the comic industry is starting to make a bigger push at publishers both small and large to better represent the black community both on their pages and behind them. These efforts certainly seem to be more prevalent than they were over the last few years. Of course there is always more work to do to create a better, more inclusive environment in the industry as well as its readership, but these are certainly some positive developments and they should be noted.
These kinds of positive developments will only continue if we support these books though. So please, keep an eye out for comics like Black, The Vigilante: Southland, and Mosaic this fall, catch up on Black Panther if you’re not up to date, and pick up a copy of Solarman #1 if you haven’t yet.