HOW AN UNDERGROUND NEWSPAPER CHANGED MARVEL COMICS (part 2 of 4—click here for part 1)
The following essay, by D.A. Latimer, appeared in the East Village Other in March, 1969.
But that’s T’Challa in the Avengers, and the only comic Marvel runs that’s worse that the Avengers is Kid Colt. The best Marvel comic is the Amazing Spider-Man, and lately this item has gotten into some really flagrant pro-Afro-Americanism, as comics go. As we all know, Spider-Man’s civilian alter ego is Peter Parker, CCNY student and photographer for the Daily Bugle. His nemesis is of course J. Jonah Jameson, publisher of the Bugle, a dirty old fart of Hearstian bombast who hates Spider-Man’s guts—but who employs as city editor, a spade called Joe Robertson! Holy Mundolo, Batman! And not only is Robertson black, but he actually has real human conflicts, as Marvel comics go. Like, Joe’s kid Randy goes to the same college as Peter Parker, and was some time ago instrumental in organizing a radical student demonstration there. It seems the school wanted to turn an old museum into an alumni banquet hall or some such frippery, and a coalition of what looked like New Leftists and Third World Students wanted it renovated as a low-cost dormitory for impoverished students. So they sat in—oh, there was rightness in their cause—and in the confusion a valuable stone tablet inscribed with curious cuneiforms was pilfered from one of the display cases by a super-baddie who took advantage of the sit-in as a cover-up for his eviltry. But that’s the plot, and we’re concerned with the sub-plot.
Cut to the police station, where the militants have been taken, under suspicion of complicity with this theft. Robertson is agonized by the position Randy puts him in. “A protest is one thing,” he moans, “but the damage you caused! But don’t worry, your mother and I will stand behind you! I just have to figure out…How to break it to her!” For this he gets called an Uncle Tom by his kid, and he is being extravagantly middle-class…but Tomism? Ooo, that cuts. Because beneath that mild-mannered exterior, Robertson is really damned militant—for Marvel comics. What he is, see, is understanding: a few nights later, he tells his wife, of Randy—“He’s troubled…Rebellious…full of the angry impatience of youth! He wants to take it into his hands…and shape it into something better! That’s what’s important, Martha! That’s what really counts!” And who could gainsay him? Applause, Marvel, if not a standing ovation.
Joe just gets more radical as time goes on, too. In the current issue…The inker fucked up this issue and made the Robertsons look grey; usually Marvel gets a much better tone of brown—but you can’t complain, at least they got swell Afro haircuts this time…In the current issue, we see Robertson standing up to Jameson in front of his kid, laying his job on the line by insisting on printing good things about Spider-Man; and in an argument with his kid, he actually goes on record as saying this: “You wanna be a militant…Fine! Maybe we need more of that stripe!” Standing ovation this time, Marvel, but no jumping up and down yet.
There have been other Negroes in Marvel comics, they range in significance from an occasional cop or doctor to the character who saved the Silver Surfer from an untimely death a few months ago. There have been no colored super-baddies, though, because…After all…But then, there was this matter of the High Evolutionary in ‘67—but that might have been just a poor print job—he was sort of mauve… But what Marvel needs now is somebody who can write spade dialogue. Everybody in Marvel sounds either like a refugee from a Shakespeare stock company or a Bronx bricklayer—Marvel can’t even get “sock it to me” to read right.
Next: Marvel’s response.