Wednesday, October 19, 2016

BAME! POW! Comics get diverse (part 3)

A continued history of black, asian and minority ethnicity characters in 2000AD.

Art by Paul Marshall
And so heading into the Rebellion years, in which lessons had largely been learned. Basically, the modern approach to comics seems to be: keep mixing up the ethnicities of more and more characters, both in named and leading roles, but also in background characters. If a character doesn’t have a reason to be one ethnicity rather than another, then why make them white British? I don’t suppose it’s a perfect system, and it’s certainly not my place to offer any sort of ‘yes, all good here’, but it’s better than it was, right?

A note before we dive into the details: my working knowledge of Progs 1000-2000 is way less intense than what has come before (ah, the lost days of youth, endlessly re-reading the same progs). That, coupled with the fact that there are just way more characters of colours to talk about, means I’m going to miss a lot of examples. Hopefully I will at least name check the main players, and some minor ones besides.

We’ll kick off with Dredd epic* Darkside (Progs 1017-1029), in which we meet small-time crook Rydell, something iof an entry-point character (until he kicks the bucket, anyway).

Words by John Smith; Art by Paul Marshall
 and not-long-for-this-world Psi Judge Hassid - a Muslim from Casablanca, complete with Fez, but with speech patterns that for some reason I read as Indian. But that's on me, not writer John Smith!.

Smith n' Marshall

Another Wally Squadder gets two-episodes, in the Big Hit (Progs 1029-1030) Judge Wishbone:
Words by Mark Millar; Art by G. Stoddard
 On to Mercy Heights, we get Dr Leo Kintry, who is the point-of-view character for Series 1 (Progs 1033-1047), although he rather fades to the background in favour of a certain blue-skinned colleague by the end of series 2.

Art by Kevin Walker
And over in Dredd, a new mini-epic gets underway, the Hunting Party (Progs 1033-1049), featuring cadet Washington.

Words by Wagner; Art by Sean Phillips
Then there’s the Space Girls (Progs 1062-1066), which like its real-world counterpart had a token black member in Deep Space.

Art by Jason Brashill
Time to revisit Sinister Dexter. Downlode, a sort of pan-European city, is home to examples, usually comedic, of an ever-widening range of European types, from the freakishly white Irish Finnigan Sinister, to the freakishly white Ukranian (well, he lives in Odessa, anyway) Philly O’Phish.

Not to mention their various excursions to Mangapore, populated by Japanese / Singeaporean types (actually not on the same planet as Downlode, for reasons I don’t understand). And more recently Generica – which should just be future America, but is also in fact on another planet entirely.

Let’s pick out a handful of actual characters, then:

cop-turned-bartender Rocky Rhodes, and his wife Wendy Deng

Words by Dan Abnett; Art by Simon Davis
Indian hitman mentee and later rival / Kal Cutter (real name Veejay)
Words by Dan Abnett; Art by Andy Clarke

his partner Cane Broadus (I'm still trying to figure out where the Kal Cutter / Cane Broadus pun is. There must be one somewhere!)

Words by Dabnett; Art by Anthony Willimas

Sinister’s Generican buddy, Missy Solemnis

Words by Dabnett (in disguise); Art by Simon Coleby
There are a ton of one-off and side characters across two decades (!) of Sinister Dexter. I've probably forgotten some key exmaples. So be it. Just in time for the Millennium, Mazeworld delivers an evil Doctor (mostly in Book 3, Progs 1151-1160).

Words by Alan Grant; Art by Arthur Ranson
And Devlin Waugh’s international Herod caper (Progs 1149-1175) brings in Eddie Whyteman, seen here talking to cover star Miss Kapoor

Words by John Smith; Art by Steve Yeowell
Art by Steve Cook
The torch of hyper-intelligent Chinese gangster passes to Red Fang, and most of his supporting cast, both good, evil and Samurai robot (Progs 1200-1211)

Art by Jason Brashill
Dredd and Rico get up to tricks in Sector House (Progs 1215-1222) October 2000, which includes another incendiary piece of art (for Americans certainly),

White policemen truncheoning black men = bad visual.
But in the context of Judge Dredd, it is somehow progressive to show black characters getting exactly the same treatment as white characters.
Words by Wagner; Art by Ezquerra
and tackles the day-to-day life of Tac Chief Cone.

Wagner n' Ezquerra
Pat Mills’s feud with Andy Diggle hits a curious note in relation to ABC Warriors: the Third Planet (Progs 1234-1236). As Mills explains in his intro to the collection, he worked with writer Alan Mitchell to put some “authentic black military dialogue” into the mouth of the unnamed Major – only to have it rewritten by Diggle.

Words by Mills via Diggle; Art by Henry Flint
Of course I can’t know exactly what happened, but I can imagine Diggle baulking at what he may sensibly have feared would come across as white people trying to sound really black, even if that wasn’t what was going on. So he toned it down, much to Mills’s annoyance. Apparently you can find the original dialogue, and more, in Mills & Mitchell’s novelisation ABC Warriors: the Medusa War.

Far fewer foibles seem to affect white appropriation of Asian and Hispanic characters, so no one at all gets upset to meet Johnny Woo (Prog 1233)...

Words by Gordon Rennie; Art by PJ Holden
 ...or Bato Loco (Meg 202).

Art by Peter Doherty
both riffing on western-created tropes of certain ethnicities (Hong Kong and Puerto Rico, respectively), but significantly less racistly than e.g. RoboHunter. So there's that. It helpes that their stories were both short and rather fun.

Garth Ennis, in order to reclaim his uber-Northern Irish series Troubled Souls, delivered the Dredd mini-epic Helter Skelter (Progs 1250-1261), which starred technician Darien Kenzie.

Words by Garth Ennis; Art by Carlos Ezquerra
She’s due for a reappearance one day, no?

Into the Rebellion and Matt Smith years, the trend of increased incidental (rather than tokenistic or comedic) divesity of characters continues.
Meet Daksehban ‘Daksha’ Patel, from Thirteen (Progs 1289-1299)

Words by Mike Carey; Art by Andy Clarke

The Red Seas, a globe-spanning adventure, sustains a vast cast across the years. Series 1 (Progs 1313-1321) includes Julius, part of Dancer’s crew, and Dancer’s Caribbean girlfriend Isabella.


Series 2 (Progs 1371-1379) gets all Sinbad, bringing Alhazed and rival captain Sarita.

All words by Ian Edginton and art by Steve Yeowell
I’m pretty sure there’s more to come in later series but I’m blown if I can remember specifics (those first two series were so much fun; the rest got a bit too baggy)

Half-alien Holt, from Asylum (Progs 1313-1321; 1406-1414)

Words by Rob Williams; Art by Boo Cook

And, in Alan Barnes’s Megazine, there’s a multinational cast at work in the Bendatti Vendetta (Megs 4.13-4.18; 209-211), e.g. Miss Sinaro

The lady will have her revenge
Words by Robbie Morrison; Art by John Burns

Family (Megs 201-207), the somewhat forgotten super-powered Mafioso thriller, narrated largely by detective Kurt somethingorother.

Words by Rob Williams; Art by Simon Fraser
and of course Black Siddha (across three series in Megs 202 - 252), with its extensive cast of British Hindus and mythical superhero avatars, led by hero Rohan

and his girlfriend Mirabai (in the Peter Parker/Mary Jane Watson roles, filtered through the lens of Mills)

Words by Pat Mills; Art by Simon Davis
Anderson, Psi Division gains another Indian Psi, Judge Shakta in Half-Life (Megs 214-217), who goes on to be a recurring sidekick for the rest of the Arthur Ranson episodes. Bring her back, she’s cool!

Art by Arthur Ranson
 and non-Psi Judge Wain, part of the team who rescue Anderson from a prison in her own mind in WMD (Megs 221-226)

Words by Alan Grant; Art by Arthur Ranson
Dredd teams up with the Damned Ranger (Megs 218-220)
Art by John Ridgway

and, back in the Prog, gets help from some doomed mercs in Incubus (Progs 1322-1335)
Words by Andy Diggle; Art by Henry Flint
 Spookfest Caballistics, Inc (1st series Prog 2003 + 1322-1326) brings Haitian priest Lawrence Verse

Words by Gordon Rennie; Art by Dom Reardon

Snow/Tiger (1336-1342) co-stars a British Muslim, i.e. Tiger, specifically in order to draw attention to the muddle idiot white people get into when falsely equating all Muslims with terrorist ideology. It's well-intentioned, but really we could have done with a few more stories from this world to get further into this problem, which just has not gone away over a decade later.

Words by Andy Diggle; Art by Andy Clarke
Interceptor (1337-1345) eschews racial politics and simply lets Doctor Darius do her own thing as aliens invade her life

Words by Ian Edginton; Art by Steve Pugh
Second City Blues (Progs 1420-1431) explores the ethnic (and class) mix of future Birmingham, e.g. Shaila and Danny. Again, a second series could have done wonders to explore these themes more. What we got remains entertaining and admirable, despite the inevitable (and perhaps necessary) sports-story cliches.

Words by Kek-W; Art by Warren Pleece
Tiger Sun, Dragon Moon (Progs 1426-1432) has yet more inscrutable Asians, but at least they’re not surrounded by scrutable Europeans this time.

Art by Andy Clarke
Chiaroscuro (Progs 1507-1517) sent readers to the Caribbean again for some voodoo chills

Words by Si Spurrier; Art by Cam Smith
and we’re back round to Judge Dredd again, whose Origins (Progs 1505-1535) reveal a black US President in the mid 21st century, who is not Barack Obama, 

Wagner n' Ezquerra
and whose Interlude in Prog 1520 introduced new leading man Dan Francisco (Prog 1520), who is also not Barack Obama but was surely, in part at least, inspired by the man. He would go on to become Chief Judge, briefly, and then succeed in not being Chief Judge anymore, still be alive, and even get his own solo series.

Words by Wagner; Art by Rufus Dayglo

We’re getting close to the present day here, bringing with it a state of affairs that I think is incredibly welcome. 2000AD (and the Megazine) have kind of reached the point where any given character’s ethnicity is hardly a talking point at all, because it’s just typical to expect any new series to show characters from a range of backgrounds, ethnic and otherwise. It’s also increasingly difficult to immediately tell what ethnicity a character is, unless they happen to bring it up in dialogue. This also reflects real life (certainly my experience in London). I suppose if there’s one lingering question, it’s that the comic has never yet managed to recapture one of the unique glories of Harlem Heroes – a strip in which, potentially, every single character in any given episode might just happen to be non-white. And for that to be unremarkable.

Let’s get the most problematic of the new wave out of the way: Stickleback (series 1 Progs 1518-1525). Our ‘hero’ amasses a motley crew of ne’er-do-wells to help him out in his 19th Century London adventures. Adventures that, very particularly, are inspired by literature of the day, e.g. Sherlock Holmes. And although we're far from perfect today, it's fair to label this era of liteature as unenlightened. So we should expect to see what might at first appear to be amazingly racist figures. But then, ideally, welcome the way they're actually written, which often inverts the original trope. Or at least, gives the characters actual personalities. Edginton and D'Israeli tread a fine line, but I think they get away with it?**

Words by Ian Edginton; Art by D'Israeli
Black Bob (yes, really) is the big man with the skull and crossbones shirt, and Stickleback's valet/batman/manservant/dogsbody. He turns out, in fact, to be the oldest human being who ever lived, or something, which is kind of awesome.

Edginton n' D'Israeli
I don't know if we ever found out what the deal is with the little dude with the bone through his nose, whose name I can't recall. But, in the context of the series, he's fun. See also the yellow-peril looking (but not actually being) villains from China Town in a later series.

Zombo (Progs 1632-1640) goes completely the other way. It’s set in the future, a future where, as far as the story suggests, racism has lost. Hooray! Characters of all skin colours and blends are free to hold whatever positions they wish, and to be as heroic or cowardly as a story demands…

Words by Al Ewing; Art by Henry Flint


In passing, we’ll wave hello and goodbye to zombie protagonist Darren Dead (Megs 287-289), still waiting for a second series.

Art by John Higgins

Before hailing Al Ewing once again. He does seem to exemplify the basic tenet of 'if I'm going to poplulate my stories with characters, do they have to all be white?' school of modern comics creation. He's currently waving the diversity flag hard over at Marvel. Long before then, he was in the Megazine with new series Tempest. The p.o.v. character was small-time crook Jonny Kierkegaard:

He has no idea what a bad day he is in for...
Words by Al Ewing; Art by Jon Davis-Hunt

The many and doomed crew of the Damnation Station (1677-1692; 1850-1861). The original protagonist of the series was an over-privileged white dude. He soon got killed off / sidelined and superceded by the mutli-ethnic team of soldiers around him. I really need to re-read this series. Seriously, Tharg, put it in a Meg floppy already!

Words by Al Ewing; Art by Mark Harrison
The multiple incarnations of Richmond Thyme in Numbercruncher (Megs 306-315), which transcend both ethnicity and gender boundaries.

Words by Si Spurrier; Art by PJ Holden

Absolom’s DI Terry Sangster (1st series Progs 1732-1739), and later new recruit Daniel (3rd series Progs 1934-1942)


Words by Gordon Rennie; Art by Tiernan Trevellion
Grey Area’s Officer Feo (1st series Progs 1764-1766), who I assume is Hispanic (Feo being Spanish for ‘ugly’, ho ho)

Words by Dabnett; Art by Patrick Goddard
Simping Detective: Jokers to the Right (Progs 1804-1811) has another villain of colour, the blandly (but necessarily) named Mr Turner.

Words by Si Spurrier; Art by Simon Coleby
 Ulysses Sweet (Progs 1862-1869) is surrounded by multiple ethnicities

Words by Guy Adams; Art by Paul Marshall
No, I don't remember her name either

Adams n' Marshall
And then of course there’s the mighty Aquila (1st series Progs 2012; 1792-1799), a re-imagining of good old Blackhawk. Aquila is hardcore, and gets to look it on the cover quite a bit, too. 

Words by Grennie; Art by Patrick Goddard
Art by Karl Richardson
The last two years alone have seen:

Dredd: Enceladus (Progs 1940-1947), in which Judge Sam saving the day

Words by Rob Williams; Art by Henry Flint
 Anderson: Mutineers (Megs 359-360) introduced Psi Judge Flowers, who looks like he’s going to stick around for a while (at least, while Emma Beeby is scripting)

Words by Emma Beeby; Art by Nick Dyer
 Tainted: Fall of Deadworld (Progs 1973-1981) has a black zombie in passing

Words by Kek-W; Art by Dave Kendall
I haven’t picked out any Future Shocks/one off type stories so far, mostly because I don’t have a working knowledge of them, but I would say that, until recently, very few had anything other than white leads. I’ll pick out recent 3riller Repossession Orders (Progs 1973-1975) as a bucking of that trend.

Words by Eddie Robson; Art by Jake Lynch
Dredd: Dust to Dust (Meg 371-373) is notable for being the first Dredd story to talk about native Americans, and indeed feature them as characters:

Words by Michael Carroll; Art by Henry Flint
Lawless Of Munce & Men (Megs 371-376) gets its first black character

Words by Dabnett; Art by Phil Winslade
Brink (Progs 1978-1993) is about as good an example as any of showing the melting pot of Earth. Set on a cramped space station after Earth has been abandoned, Officer Bridge, of unknowable ethnic origin, uncovers a conspiracy led by three characters of equally indistinct mixed ethnic backgrounds. I don’t want to live to see Earth die, but I do hope to live to see this kind of mix.

Words by Dabnett; Art by INJ Culbard
Blunt (Meg 372-377), running at the same time, manages to stand out from the white crowd by featuring two black leads: young girl and narrator(ish) Ilya, and her mother, who are attempting to find each other on a hell planet.

Words by TC Eglington; Art by Boo Cook
The story doesn’t and won’t end there, but we’re practically at Prog 2000. As if by magic, the perfect place to end is Scarlet Traces: Cold War (Progs 1988-1999). While not particularly displaying a mix of Earth ethnicities, the strip was very explicitly about the lot of refugees and the woes of living in a racist society, as we see two different kinds of Martians and various Venusians mixing it up with Earthers. Any given character from the strip can stand in for whichever persecuted minority suits the political climate of the time you’re reading it. Which is a simple illustration of proper science fiction doing its job. 2000AD, as ever, is not afraid to poke readers where it hurts.

Words by Ian Edginton; Art by D'Israeli
 That about wraps it up. Thanks for reading, and do keep writing in to point out characters I’ve missed.

Art by Leigh Gallagher
 *Everyone knows what a Dredd mega-epic is, right? The massive 26+ part serials we get every couple of years, from the Cursed Earth to Day of Chaos. Is there a consensus on what to call the shorter Dredd serials? Mini-epic? Micro-epic? Not-an-epic? e.g. the much-loved Graveyard Shift.

**So far they've got away with it far more than Alan Moore and Kevin O'Neill over in League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. Their use of 'Black Sambo', a popular literary figure of the same era, has not pleased all readers. Personally I think their use of the character is perfectly fair, but their reaction to some readers's unhappiness could have been more considerate.