Despite a universe full of heroes with the proportionate strength of spiders, indestructible vibranium shields and reality-altering infinity gems, Marvel Comics has always had a way of letting the real world flow into the pages of its comic books.
When social media began giving a voice to comic-book fans of color who were once voiceless, Marvel debuted Miles Morales, Kamala Khan and Sam Alexander. New, young Avengers who each represent different walks of life.
Marvel made a black man (Sam Wilson, formerly the Falcon) Captain America and had him protect the same people who doubted his right to that mantle.
That’s not to say Marvel always gets it right.
When Riri Williams was introduced as the next Iron Man, many in the black Twitter community thought it was just another Marvel character of color being given a voice by writers who weren’t as diverse. But Marvel can counter those complaints knowing they have Ta’Nehisi Coates writing their most important black character, Black Panther, and they’ve just hired a black woman (finally), Roxane Gay, to write an extension of the new world being crafted by Coates’s words (“World of Wakanda” will debut this November).
It’s oftentimes been difficult to bring diversity and the real world to comics, but the effort is there.
That’s important. Because if you’ve read the disturbing reports out of Baltimore on how some of the police officers there treat a select few of Charm City’s citizens, you understand that Baltimore needs a hero. Even if it’s just of the comic book variety. And Marvel may already have just the person in mind.
While reading the first issue of “Civil War II: Choosing Sides” (a series that debuted in June and is linked to Marvel’s current Civil War II event), I came across a hero I hadn’t seen in years: Dwayne Taylor, better known by his superhero name of Night Thrasher.
In the comic book, Night Thrasher, who has no superpowers other than being smart, wealthy and having a cool armored suit, saves a young girl during one of the first major battles of Civil War II and asks her why she’s running around New York by herself. The girl says she’s trying to reach her family in New York after leaving Baltimore. Night Thrasher asks her why she’d come to New York knowing how much of a mess it is because of the battles going on.
The girls tells Night Thrasher that Baltimore is no different. And that’s how the story ends.
There’s no indication Marvel has plans to give Night Thrasher his own series and place him in Baltimore. But why wouldn’t they? It actually seems like a perfect idea. This issue of “Civil War II: Choosing Sides” came out before the Department of Justice report that more or less says Baltimore police consider it a crime to walk their streets as a black man, so sending a wealthy, intelligent, armored-from-head-to-toe black man/vigilante to try to use his resources to battle such a systemic failure, well, that’s something I’d read.
This is a black character who has been around for decades and hasn’t been completely forgotten despite Marvel not using him that much. A character that can’t be accused of being a mantle holder. He’s not following in the super-boots of someone else. Why not create a Night Thrasher series that could focus on Baltimore’s real-world issues and use it as a means to bring in more diverse talent in the form of new writers and artists of color?
It wouldn’t be the first time a mainstream comic-book company sent a black hero to a majority black city in need.
DC Comics did it back in the ’90s during its death and return of Superman story line. John Henry Irons, the armored hero known as Steel, filled in for Superman while he was “dead.” Irons left Metropolis when Superman returned. A black man who was a tech genius, Irons built an armored suit, threw on a red cape and took his crime fighting to Washington.
At the time, a story line like this made perfect sense. A black hero going back home to the black city he was born in, trying to make it better. Then again, some native Washingtonians might say that Washington is slowly starting not to exist anymore because of gentrification. Maybe DC Comics could send Steel back to Washington and have him look into how his hometown became so unrecognizable. Perhaps he could look into how some DC residents sold their homes years ago, only to come back to their neighborhood and realize the same home you sold is now worth twice as much because people that look like you don’t live in the neighborhood anymore. Or to see new restaurants and Starbucks, the likes of which you never thought would ever grace your city only to realize you’re not the intended recipient.
And don’t forget about people being kicked out of their homes permanently over bills less than $30.
Superheroes of color in comics aren’t just about making sure you don’t lose the dollars of a certain group of people. They inspire. And when needed, the people responsible for them should have those heroes rise to the occasion.
There are established superheroes of color already out there ready to fight the good fight for the right cause. Hopefully we’ll get to see what they stand for.