Saturday, February 5, 2011

Comic book time capsule -- acknowledging racism in 1942

Sadly, it is not difficult to find ugly racial caricatures in Golden Age comics. If anything the depiction of any non-WASP was even more crude than what you routinely found in the rest of the popular media. Largely unrestrained by the shackles of respectability, comics went wherever they had to for a cheap laugh or an easy dramatic effect.

But there was more complexity here. As with poverty and corruption, the artists and writers of comic books could show some surprisingly progressive views about racism. As previously noted, the Green Lama confronted racism in the army during World War II. This Midnight story (Smash #33) by Jack Cole takes an even more interesting view. It starts out as a fairly standard comic book fantasy about finding a lost African tribe in the Florida swamps (complete with white queen adorned with decorative breast plates), but them it takes an interesting turn...

The introduction of slavery adds a certain weight to the story and gives the antagonist a just if misguided cause.

What really struck me, though, was the ending.

If nothing else this is a testament to the amazing impact of Joe Louis, not just as an incredible athlete but as an honest man in what had been considered a corrupt business. More than that, though, the strip reminds us that people in this country were aware of and felt guilty about the treatment of the Black Man in America for a long time, long before anything was done about it.

Sometimes we like to think that recognizing a problem brings the nation close to a solution. History does not support that assumption.

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