Wednesday, January 20, 2010

MLK Week Special: Black SUPER Power Part 4 of 5

Soooo... somewhere I made a miscalculation. I'd originally intended to present this as a five-part series, with two "Bests" and one "Worst" per blog, but since I was too busy on Monday, I shortened the series to four parts, but intended to double up the first one. BUT, I only listed two Bests instead of four, so now I have to expand back to five anyway. So tomorrow will be a jumbo blog. I'm holding off on my top Worst until then. I also realized I made a huge error and omitted a pretty important character, so I'll be giving him a special tribute as well as mentioning a few that didn't make the list. Basic VH1 countdown stuff... "Why did you include this person instead of that one? Why is so & so higher that this guy?" I'm not even sure if anyone is reading these, but I enjoy writing them, so whatever... anyway, we're up to...
#4: The Falcon (Sam "Snap" Wilson)
Debuting in 1969, The Falcon is the first African American super hero. The first black super hero, The Black Panther, is just plain African. Trained by Captain America and given a flying harness by The Black Panther, The Falcon, miraculously avoided being dubbed "The Black Falcon" and becomes the first black super hero to headline a comic, when Captain America became Captain America and The Falcon. Okay, so he really co-headlined the book, but he was still the first.
In addition to flight, The Falcon was telepathically linked to his pet falcon, Redwing and eventually, could establish telepathic contact with other birds as well as see through their eyes. (And people make fun of Aquaman...)
The Falcon joined Marvel's flagship super team The Avengers, but learning that he was enlisted to fill a racial quota, he quit, but occasionally teams up with them when his help is needed. And while his name no longer appears in the headline, he still works regularly alongside Captain America.The Falcon is the first black super hero to receive his own action figure, as part of the Mego line in the mid-70s. Controversially, his hands were recycled from Mego's Planet of the Apes line and were extremely hairy, which some people attribute to racism. Others suggest pretending they're feathers instead of hairs. My question: Why does he have brown hands to begin with? He wore white gloves. Why didn't they include the gloves as part of his costume? At this point, who can say? But honestly, they INCLUDED him in the line, so I doubt there was any racial overtone. They probably just cheaped out on the hands and it kinda backfired.

He also appeared very frequently on all Marvel merchandise during this time, including stickers, books, various toys and even...a 7-11 Slurpee cup!
Ironically, although in the comics, he is most often thought of as Captain America's partner (NOT sidekick!), in animation, both times he has appeared on a series, it's been without Cap. First in a short-lived Avengers series in the 90s and currently on Super Hero Squad, along with a host of other Marvel Heroes all, strangely illustrated to look kind of like babies.

While The Falcon has only once headlined his own solo book, a 4-issue miniseries in the 1980s, I remember him appearing everywhere when I was a kid, because Marvel slapped his picture on every piece of merchandising they could. He HAS to be, at least until lately, the most merchandised black super hero and never underestimate licensed merch. Millions of people buy that stuff, but never pick up a comic book. That means something.

Speaking of merchandising...

#3: Spawn (Al Simmons)
In 1992, when Spawn #1, published by Image Comics, debuted, it instantly became the best-selling single comic book of all time! An especially impressive feat, considering it was published by NEITHER of the two top-selling comic book publishers, Marvel and DC. The secret of Spawn's success was it's creator/illustrator Todd McFarlane, an innovative artist who'd become a superstar, thanks to his work on Marvel's The Amazing Spider-Man among others.
The Spawn character, visually, was a little bit Spider-Man, a little bit Batman (both characters that McFarlane had previously illustrated) with a healthy dash of Ghost Rider and Dr. Strange thrown in. Al Simmons was killed (secretly by his own boss), went to hell and made a deal with the Devil (refered to in this series as Malebolgia), in order to return to Earth... Simmon's purpose-- to be with his wife, Wanda. However, as deals with the Devil generally go, Simmons was double-crossed and promptly realized that his new Earthly form bore no resemblance of the man he once was. As Spawn (short for Hellspawn), his skin is charred and burnt, like Freddie Krueger's and he possessed amazing magical powers.
Spawn, with its dark, graphically violent and sexual content, was a runaway hit immediately inspiring spin-off comic books, followed promptly by an adults-only animated series on HBO and a live-action movie, starring Michael Jai White in the title role. Just as McFarlane decided not to publish Spawn through one of the major publishers, he took the same DIY approach when it came to creating toys based on his comic.
McFarlane created Todd Toys, which became McFarlane Toys after a lawsuit by Mattel... it turns out there was a boy doll named Todd in the Barbie line. Yeah, me neither. McFarlane went on to create 35 waves of action figures over the span of 14 years. All of these factors easily make Spawn the most successful (at least when it comes to $$$) black super hero EVER!

One drawback... most people forget that Spawn IS black. He's completely covered from head-to-toe and even when his mask (or any other costume parts) are removed, his skin is charred beyond recognition. Even so... as De La Soul said, "Black is black."

Unfortunately, Spawn's popularity waned heavily after the close of the 90s. the comics have been relaunched a few times in an attempt to spark interest, but the toy line has ended (McFarlane Toys continues, creating toys based on a variety of sources, from rock bands like Metallica and KISS to TV shows and movies and their own fantasy creations). McFarlane has been hoping to create another Spawn movie, but it's been over a decade since the last one, so who knows if that will ever come to fruition. But at any rate, at one point, Spawn was selling in that Spider-Man/Batman/Wolverine range and that's quite a feat for a brand new, creator-owned character!

Okay, like I said, tune in tomorrow for the big finish!

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