These days, comic book superheroes often work for the government — or at least they side with the police and the powers-that-be to protect the status quo.
And most of them — or at least many of the best-known versions in American culture — are white, upper-to-middle class men.
But beginning this month, a series of potentially controversial one-shot comics from Moonstone will challenge that entire idea by creating a world where the "superheroes" are actually rebelling against the powers-that-be and the status quo. And according to the author, their ranks are made up of social and racial minorities who rely on their own powers instead of waiting to be saved by white men.
The comics are the brainchild of Eric M. Esquivel, a Zombies vs. Cheerleaders scribe who's working on the series with artist Ander Sarabia. The two are re-interpreting several Golden Age crime fighters into what Esquivel calls "revolutionary figures" who are "left-of-center."First in line is The Blackest Terror, a racially charged reinterpretation of the 1940's hero Black Terror. Of course, the original Black Terror was white, and because the character is in the public domain, he's been reinterpreted before, including Dynamite's recent Project Superpowers.
But Blackest Terror, the Moonstone one-shot that hits October 26th, is certainly an original take on the hero, changing him into an African-American character and putting him in the position of potential revolutionary as he fights against the mainstream legal system.
He'll be part of a whole universe of revolutionary heroes that Esquivel is creating from public domain characters, including Thor: Unkillable Thunder Christ, Super American: Red, White and Blue Knight, Moon Girl: Princess With A Punch, and a crossover comic called Modern Myths: In The Company of Immortals.
Esquivel said he thinks the time for revolutionary heroes is now, with society's frustrations shown by rebellious events like Occupy Wall Street. He also pointed out how the introduction of Hispanic Spider-Man Miles Morales got backlash from right-wing media, stating that "if Glen Beck hates the new Spider-Man, he's going to really loathe The Blackest Terror."Newsarama talked with Esquivel about why he wanted to create these types of revolutionary superheroes and what public domain characters are next in line.
Newsarama: Eric, what's the thought behind these potentially controversial superheroes? Did you feel like there was a need for these types of superheroes?
Eric Esquivel: Marvel and DC do one thing well, and that's tell stories about white, heterosexual, secular males in their early 30's.They're untouchable when it comes to that. At the top of their game. But that leaves a massive void in the marketplace. Massive.
Ander Sarabia and I are looking to fill that void with superheroes that are a little left of center.
Nrama: Why these classic characters?
Esquivel: H.G. Wells said, "No passion in the world is equal to the passion to alter someone else's draft," and while current events certainly prove that to be the case, I'd like to think that there's more to it than that: Times are hard right now, and if there's anything people want more than to return to a (fictional) simpler time, it's heroes.
Nrama: The cover for Blackest Terror is certainly eye-opening. Why did you decide to start with a re-interpretation of the classic character Black Terror?
Esquivel: Black Terror is a dude who, in his origin story, cited wanting to “help run down people” as his entire Raison d'être.In a world where “run down” folks are so frustrated about their world that they spray paint “I am the 98%” on their chests and charge into Wall Street with no demands other than “Please, God, somebody, do something,” I figured the least I could do as a storyteller is give them someone to believe in.
Black Terror seemed like the perfect choice.
Nrama: What's the story you're telling in the Blackest Terror comic?
Esquivel: It's similar to the old Black Terror stories, in that it's about a guy who takes it upon himself to rid the world of America's enemies — only it's set in the modern day, when America's enemies happen to be, for the most part, Americans.
Nrama: The fan reaction to this cover has seen a lot of people wondering: Is this to be taken seriously? Or is this a parody?
Esquivel: Blackest Terror is intended to be taken as seriously as any other superhero comic — which, you know — is simultaneously “not very” and “deadly.”
He's a guy who thinks society can be changed with violence — so he's clearly insane — but there are an uncomfortable amount of people who feel that way, so it's a philosophy that needs to be addressed.From Blackest Terror's point of view, civilization is inherently violent. We just hide it by paying people to do our dirty work for us. He's a killer, but from his point of view, everyone who pays taxes, purchases clothing made in sweat shops and orders hamburgers is. It's just a fact of life.
And I'm clearly rambling now, but I guess, to answer your question: I want this book to get people to think about their place in the world, the law of causality, their heroes, and why they idolize they people they do, whether they're fictional or not.
Nrama: Why is this important to do now?
Esquivel: This feels like one of the most important eras in American history. We've got our first non-Caucasian president, the poor are rioting, we're at war, Starbucks has that new “Trente” size...and our superhero fiction is the most boring it has ever been.
The Marvel heroes are all government-sanctioned super-cops — completely forgetting the anti-authoritarian “rebel yell” aspect that made them popular in the first place.
And the post-DC-Reboot characters have been stripped of the larger-than-life, mythic quality that made them cool — and have become these awkward, hollow Frank Miller cover songs.
Superheroes are supposed to be representative of the culture they serve, and if America is known for anything, it's fetishizing the individual. And shouldn't that be easy to do with superheroes? I mean, if they were just in it to help people, superheroes wouldn't give themselves flamboyant aliases and wear garish costumes and practice their mantras in the mirror every night before they go out and crack heads.
These are clearly guys who are more interested in drawing attention to their personal agenda than in saving lives. If they were just in it to preserve the status quo, they'd be firefighters, or police officers, or soldiers. Maybe guidance counselors.
Nrama: What's next in this line of "left-of-center" superheroes?
Esquivel: The next books in this series are Thor: Unkillable Thunder Christ, which is a Supergods-like discussion about the role myths play in shaping world culture; Super American: Red, White and Blue Knight, a time-travel thing that talks about the Buddhist concept of universal interdependence and ray guns; Moon Girl: Princess With A Punch, an unashamedly feminist kung fu yarn; and then a crossover thing called Modern Myths: In The Company of Immortals, that pits Ander & my remixes against their original incarnations.
Nrama: You've mentioned Ander a lot in this interview. What does he bring to the first in the series, Blackest Terror?
Esquivel: Ander Sarabia penciled, inked, and lettered every inch of this thing. He's a machine.Ander's coolest quality is that he can't not make comics. He doesn't even send emails, he responds to queries with these Pekar-esque mini comics wherein he's addressing the sender like he was recording a Real World testimonial. It's nuts.
There are even these little silent panels when he pauses to smoke, or take a sip of coffee or whatever.
Ander contributes clean, mainstream-quality visuals to a story that could easily be interpreted as (and subsequently dismissed at large as) yet another indie superhero parody.Ander's art sells the idea that this is not a parody. It's a superhero story—just a different kind of superhero story than modern audiences are accustomed to.
Nrama: Anything else you want to tell comic readers about Blackest Terror?
Esquivel: Blackest Terror is a controversial, high-concept, black and white, independent book that has the misfortune of being published at a time when retailers' dollars are tied up in the whole DC Comics relaunch initiative.
If you don't let your retailer know that you're interested in it, there's a very high likelihood that they're not going to order it.And that's completely fair! The economy is in the crapper, and stores shouldn't be asked to bet on books they're not confident they can move.
But if you're interested in superhero stories that mean something, if you're into the idea of superheroes-as-revolutionaries, if you're keen on the idea of non-Aryan superheroes conceived and created by non-Aryan dudes: consider ponying up $2.99 for this book.Got a comment? There's lots of conversation on Newsarama's FACEBOOK and TWITTER!