Why The New Black Wally West Is Just Offensive

Bobby Joseph writes for Bleeding Cool:

Recently I've done a bit of press due to my inclusion in the Comics Unmasked: Anarchy in the UK exhibition at the British Library. The exhibition is a fantastic exploration of all things British and I am proud to have my Black British comic Black Eye as being featured in it.

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Now last week, I did an interview on London Go (which is a Sky TV channel arts programme) to discuss Black comic books and characters. I had my 12-year-old son Orion (yes, named after the New God) with me and we both talked about Black comic book characters in general. My son raved about Miles Morales – the Ultimate Spider Man. He was passionate. He was animate. He loved talking about the best things about Miles Morales.  I kept quiet on Black characters produced by the mainstream publishers such as Marvel and DC Comics.

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"But why, Mr. Joseph?", you may ask. Simple! I'm fed up to my back teeth of this crap being fed to us by the two big publishers. But "What crap is this?" you may ask. Well dearly beloved, it comes down to representation. "But wait, Mr. Joseph!", you scream, "Haven't Marvel and DC Comics introduced Black characters to fill the Token Black quota?" Yup. I will admit. They have upped their Black characters.  However, I don't see the mainstream publisher upping their quota of Black comic book writers!

Personally, I feel their Black characters suffer tremendously by being written solely by White writers as these particular writers seem to follow the usual long-standing clichés and stereotypes that I suspect can only be found after swallowing box sets of The Wire, Jerry Springer repeats or when they accidentally stumble onto BET Channel. "But what stereotypes are they doing?", you may ask. Oh, there are so many! But just for you, I will explore just a few.

If you look at Miles Morales, his Dad and uncle were career criminals before he was born. Both guys spent time in prison. Wow. Thanks Bendis. Gripping stuff! I guess having family members that are doctors; nurses or lawyers are a bit unbelievable for a comic book that deals with predominately Black characters. I await more fantastic tales. Maybe Miles can get a job as a local drug dealer to put himself through college (with great power comes great weed?). Or maybe Miles can get Gwen Stacey pregnant? And then have to go on Maury to declare he is 'not the father' only to be confounded by those damn DNA tests. Brilliant ideas! Feel free to pick the bones of any of these Mr. Bendis if you so wish!!

I thought Black characters in comic books couldn't annoy me any further. But then, this week I got really chewed off with the newly coloured Wally West (whom, I might add was completely fine being a floppy-haired lovable ginge). This new 'Black' Wally West kid is devoid of any kind of personality and charm. New Wally West wears a hoodie (as all Black kids do obviously) and is on a downward spiral because he doesn't have a firm family network (yawn) to rely upon.

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New 'Black' Wally West speaks street, by saying 'chump' (of which, I'm sure the last Black person to actually use that specific term was Mister T in the eighties).  Now, New 'Black' Wally West is introduced to the mass market by doing graffiti on a wall. Whoa! Really? Seriously? Is that the best Mr. Venditti can do? Sorry man. That annoyed me so much – that I threw the damn comic book at wall. And after a hefty trip to the toilet (and after a course of stodgy stewed chicken and pasta), The Flash annual finally made sense to me. Its true purpose unfolded and it was used appropriately and flushed appropriately.

Believe it or not I don't have a problem with White writers writing Black characters. What I do have a problem with is Black characters that are written badly and this new flag of diversity that mainstream comic companies are flying at the moment to fill their demographics quota without using at least some Black writers to tell their tales. After all, check out the Black comic books that are out at the moment. Iron Patriot? Ultimate Spider-Man? Green Lantern Corps (where the main character is Black)? These comics are all written by White guys. Now this to me seems unfair. There are talented Black writers out there so why are they not being used? So Comic book publishers? Pull your finger out! Use them!!

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Bobby Joseph is the creator of UK Black comic books Skank Magazine and Black Eye comic. He has written for the BBC comedy show Lenny Henry in Pieces and is a columnist on Loaded Magazine. He is currently working on Scotland Yardie – a UK graphic novel with Joseph Samuels. And his comic work Black Eye is featured in Comics Unmasked: Anarchy in UK- an exhibition at the British Library exploring the impact of UK comic books. He still misses Milestone Comics and the criminally underrated The Crew.

Follow him on twitter: @Malcolm_Vex

About Hannah Means Shannon

Editor-in-Chief at Bleeding Cool. Independent comics scholar and former English Professor. Writing books on magic in the works of Alan Moore and the early works of Neil Gaiman.

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