BLACK #1 – Review
Writer: Kwanza Osajyefo
Artist: Jamal Igle
Inker: Robin Riggs
Letterer: Dave Sharpe
Publisher: Black Mask Studio
slight spoilers ahead
“Chapter One” opens in an interrogation room with NYPD Officer Ellen Waters answering questions about the events of earlier today. Three unarmed young black men were gunned down by the Police. It’s a situation that unfortunately all too common, but what was uncommon about THIS particular situation is that one of the victims named Kareem Jenkins actually regained a pulse, woke up in the ambulance, and fled the police on foot. How did this happen? Also, why does Officer Waters feels like the interrogating officer knows more about this story than she does?
Comic books have told stories like these for decades. A race of people with superpowers that the public hates and fears? Sounds familiar? Yes, the X-Men and Inhumans made this concept popular, but it’s problematic when you’re telling stories with themes of bigotry and oppression through the eyes of good looking white people. In fact, the subtext is lost on most readers. Most X-Men fans still have no clue Charles Xavier is an analogy for Martin Luther King, and Magneto is an analogy for Malcolm X. So, what makes Black different from X-Men? Simple, you’re telling a tale of bigotry and oppression through the eyes of someone that doesn’t need superpowers to understand bigotry and oppression.
Most comic fans don’t like to have social and political commentaries, even though it’s been there from the very beginning. Captain America? World War II propaganda. Incredible Hulk? Dangers of the military exploiting science for weaponry. Even Superman. It’s the story of one man (an immigrant for that matter) standing up against corporate greed during the Great Depression. Why else do you think his arch enemy is a CEO of a billion dollar company?
This book deals with a VERY controversial topic, and sadly that’s going to limit its appeal to a mass audience, mainly because the mass audience of comic readers don’t even believe police brutality exists. Also, make no mistake about it: the NYPD are the villains of this story. To the book’s credit, there is one good police officer shown in the story, and that’s Officer Waters. It’s also needs to be noted that Officer Waters is the only person of color shown on the police force. This is very much needed, but prevents another problem in itself. The book is saying not ALL cops are bad, but it does seem like it’s implying all WHITE cops are bad.
In fact, Officer Waters is the narrator of the story, for the most part anyway. Halfway through the book another character who goes unnamed takes over the narration. At that point the story takes a complete tonal shift and reminds you it’s a comic book. We go from police brutality and racial profiling to Ninjas and Jedi Mind tricks in just a few short pages. Instead of merging together, the tone feels like it takes a hard left. The first time I read it was a little jarring, but the story is definitely better on the second read.
Overall it feels like two stories that fits together like oil and vinegar. Taking both on their own, however, they’re very captivating stories. You’re dealing with a controversial topic of not only police brutality, but one officer speaking against it (which I can’t recall ANY officer doing as such). As for the sci-fi portion of the story it does a great job of setting up a world that I actually want to see explored. I’ll even go out on the limb and say the concept is brilliant, since the sky is the limit on the kind of stories that can be told in this universe. Definite recommend.