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Friday, March 24, 2017

Speculative Blackness: Blacks in Science Fiction Media and Fandom

Speculative Blackness by Black academic André M. Carrington  is a compilation of essays on Black characters portrayed in science fiction on television and in comics which are bracketed by a pair of essays on fandom.   There are mentions of science fiction novels and authors, but that isn't the focus of Carrington's study.


There was an essay on Uhura from Star Trek: The Original Series and another on Sisko from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.  These were familiar territory for me, and I can't say that there were any fresh observations in those Star Trek essays.

The first of the essays on fandom was interesting because it dealt with a fake persona of a Black fan that was created by Caucasian fans.  The persona was intelligent and articulate.  I would speculate that one reason for creating the persona was to attract real Black fans. Yet it's also possible that these fans wanted to feel inclusive without actually being inclusive.  In the 1970's I met  local Black fans in New York City.  I feel that NYC fandom at the time was not as a diverse as the general population of NYC, but more diverse than fandom in other areas of the U.S.  

The essays dealing with comics are the reason why I felt it was important to review this book.  They educated me about comics characters that I either knew little about, or were totally unknown to me.

I would first like to call attention to the essay on Storm, an African female mutant in the X-Men universe.  I have to confess that  I used to be a DC comics fan who never read any Marvel.  So I discovered the X-Men through the movies, and knew nothing of Storm's background.

 I learned from this book that Storm was originally from Kenya where she was worshiped as a Goddess.   Carrington praised this as an African strategy for respecting difference rather than marginalizing those who are different.  I would like to add that this can also be seen in African diasporic religion where trance mediums are viewed as leaders in their community who are favored by the spirits rather than being considered suspect deviants.   Marie LeVaux  would be a prominent historical example. Carrington portrays Chris Claremont as believing that the origin of Storm was racist.  Claremont is a writer who was most instrumental in the popularization of the X-Men.  I'm not sure what origin he would have given Storm if he had the opportunity to re-boot her, but I prefer Carrington's interpretation of Storm's established origin over Claremont's.  It seems to me that your attitude toward the origin of Storm depends on how you feel about African culture.

I was also interested in Carrington's discussion of the origin of Storm's claustrophobia.  She became claustrophobic as a result of having been buried in rubble.  I was reminded of the award winning YA novel, In Darkness by Nick Lake.  The plot of In Darkness centers on a Haitian boy who was buried in rubble during Haiti's catastrophic earthquake in 2010.  The boy survives with the help of a spiritual connection to the 18th century Haitian revolutionary Toussaint L'Ouverture.   I found In Darkness inspirational.   Storm's claustrophobia origin story portrays her as having PTSD that manifests as a phobia.  I think that it may have been intended as a way of making Storm more relatable.   This would seem to imply to me that Marvel had to give Storm this additional trait for relatability because they thought that no reader would normally identify with a character from Africa.  That would be sad if true.  I love Storm, and I didn't even know she was claustrophobic.

The essay that I found really amazing was the one about Black owned comic publisher Milestone Media's title, Icon.   The superhero Icon was a Black equivalent of Superman, but the really groundbreaking character was Icon's female sidekick, Rocket.   Rocket wanted to be a writer.  She was inspired by Toni Morrison.  When Toni Morrison won the Nobel Prize, there was an editorial about it on the letters page of Icon which mentioned that Rocket was really pleased.  Not only did Rocket have literary interests, she was independent minded.   I was thrilled by everything I read in this book about Rocket.  I have never heard of a comics character like her, and I also had never heard of Milestone Media. They have a website.  It would be very interesting if they resumed publishing.    I ordered a paperback compilation of Icon issues from Amazon and I'm looking forward to reading it.

The essay about Icon alone makes this book very worthwhile.   I recommend it to anyone interested in Black characters in comics or television.




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