Black Chapter 1 Review
Writer: Kwanza Osajyefo
Designs: Tim Smith 3
Illustrator: Jamal Igle
Inker 7-20: Robin Riggs
Art Assist: Steven Walker
Cover Art: Khary Randolph
Tones: Sarah Stern
Letterer: Dave Sharpe
Publisher: Black Mask
Review by Robert Coffil
Comics are Art, and people are undecided about the purpose of Art. Some say, ‘Art should entertain’. Others say, ‘Art should be socially conscious’. And a few say, ‘Art should entertain and have a message’. Black by Kwanza Osajyefo and company fall into the latter category and is all the better for it.
Black is controversial insomuch as it is topical. The blurb inside the cover of the book says, ‘In a world that already fears and hates them- what if only black people had superpowers?’ This is the question and idea that the book hinges on. If you find that question offensive or even racist, don’t read the book. I would point you in the direction of books, documentaries, and videos that back up the assertion of the first half of the blurb inside the cover. The latter half is where the fiction dwells. The team that created this book uses fiction to address issues regarding the hyper-criminalization of brown people in America.
The inciting action of Black is an incident that feels like it was pulled from headlines. A robbery is called in. Police respond and begin looking for people matching the description of ‘black males 20’s, in basketball shorts and t-shirts’. The police stop some kids they feel match the description. It is worth noting that there was a research article from American Psychology Association that talked about black kids, particularly boys, being viewed as older than they actually are. Because black kids are viewed as older and less innocent due to a host of societal reasons it presents a complex situation for cops who aren’t familiar with the neighborhood. The kids flee because they are scared (recently a Mass. Court ruled that black men aren’t suspicious if they flee ). Immediately after, they are shot fleeing from the police. This is where the book turns away from the real world analogy and begins to veer hard into science fiction. In the ambulance, one of the kids wakes up and has miraculously healed.
It would have been easy to write a book where cops are the bad guys. Kwanza and company craft a story where nothing is simple. There are the cops who shoot the kids, but there is also another cop who feels remorseful and wishes she had gotten there first to prevent the incident from happening. This is important because it is not a book that bashes cops, but presents them as an organization with people who respond differently to a myriad of situations.
The shooting and radical recovery happen in the first 10 pages of the book. The rest of the book feels like Claremont X-men (the good years). A young man, hated and feared by the world around him taken in by a small group of similarly gifted people. I say this not as an indictment. The X-men comics by Claremont are very good and deal with a lot of societal issues. There is even the secret organization in the government hunting theses extra-normal humans.
Black is in black and white. If this is a problem for you, I would advise giving the book a chance because it is beautiful. Even without color, using shading there are some really powerful moments in the comic. For example, prior to the kids being stopped by the police they are varying shades of grey. When they are stopped by the police, all the color drains out of them and they are a ghastly white. This foreshadows the life draining out of them and highlights their fear. It is well done.
MUST BUY!!! Comics or Art that reflect the world around us and attacks controversial issues are important and drive the medium forward. Black from Black Mask is one of those books I think people will be talking about in years to come as a book that changed the industry. With the X-men books seemingly being phased out, this is the Claremont X-Men for a new generation and I heartily endorse buying this for the stories to come.