Should Inclusion Riders for Comic Book Publishers Be a Thing? Review of Marvel Defenders Issues 1 — 5
I just finished reading the first five issues of the latest run of Marvel Comics’ The Defenders. I told myself I would not continue reading until I wrote this review so as you can imagine I am hastily typing this with issues number six, seven, and eight sitting right beside me.
The juggernaut of Marvel comic book authorship, Brian Michael Bendis, is the author of this run and it goes without saying that the writing is superb. This is among the last books that Bendis wrote for Marvel since he announced his departure from the company and an exclusive multi-year deal with DC at the end of 2017.
You can definitely tell that this was a labor of love for him. Jessica Jones is kicking butt and taking names in all of her foul-mouthed glory and Miles Morales even makes a cameo to demolish Hammer Head in one of the issues. This comes as no surprise because both are characters which Bendis created.
There are little nods to his tenure in and through these first five issues, because he has virtually written every major Marvel superhero. He wrote individual books like Daredevil and Spider-Man but he has written almost every group/team-up book that you can imagine from X-Men to Civil War to The Avengers. Which makes it no surprise that he handily takes on The Defenders.
The current iteration of The Defenders is comprised of Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, Daredevil, and Iron Fist. The Defenders has always been a team-up book that puts together an eclectic group of heroes who really know how to rumble. The first time the team appeared was 1971, it was comprised of Dr. Strange, Namor the Submariner, and The Hulk. They were definitely a rowdy bunch in terms of fighting prowess and their raucous personalities.
Through the years The Defenders have continued to put together a curious bunch of phenomenal characters: Wolverine, The Silver Surfer, Warmachine, Valkyrie, She-Hulk, and even Drax to name a few.
If you are imagining epic fights and hilarious banter between those characters, then you won’t be disappointed when you pick up this book. Bendis does an amazing job of balancing the dialogue between characters and letting their unique personalities shine through. This paired with David Marquez’s superb artwork ensures that you won’t put these books down.
The only thing that gave me pause was Bendis’ use of dialect with black characters. It is a well known fact the the comic book industry is predominated by white males, although in recent years comic book publishers have been pushing for diversity, the fact still remains that the majority of major super hero titles are written by white guys.
As one can imagine, problems around gender and race naturally arise when this is the case. As a black guy born in the late eighties, I can’t help but laugh at some of the dialogue of the villain Willis Stryker aka Diamondback and even some of Luke Cage’s lines. I understand that the goal of comics is to create larger than life characters who are superlative examples of the traits that make them who they are, but I don’t know if “blackness” should be one of the traits that non-black authors attempt to“play-up.”
To be fair, Bendis was born in Ohio in the sixties, I am also unaware of his cultural connection to black people, but the “blackness” of his characters seems like it belongs in generation that I never knew. There is your occasional “My Brother” when two black characters are talking, or dropping linking verbs like “are” in lines like “Why you tryna…” Or my favorite, replacing verbs like “enjoy” or “like” or “is really into-” with “dig.” A perfect example is in Issue 5 when Diamondback is fighting with Jessica Jones and he says “Now I see why my man Cage digs you…”
Perhaps Bendis is waxing nostalgic by incorporating these subtle hints of blaxploitation vernacular. It may be a sort of homage to Luke Cage’s origins in the early seventies. Perhaps that’s how black people talked in Cleveland where Bendis grew up. Perhaps I am a hyper-sensitive-millennial from California who is completely off base and need to go talk with some black people to corroborate Bendis’ usage of these terms. In any case, amidst all of Marvel’s efforts to be progressive they could stand to do a cultural audit of the little things in order to avoid the perpetuation of stereotypes.
I’m sure there are tons of people of color who would love to consult on the way they are being represented in comics #InclusonRiders4Comics. Better yet, I am sure there are more than a handful of writers of color who should be writing these books #BlackComicAuthors. Myself included!