Martin Luther King Day, 2015

Today's mixed media art.

Today’s mixed media art.

Our new principal asked students and staff to take Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Federal Holiday as a time to “reflect and be inspired.” Considering that thus far I have been impressed by every single thing she has said, I took that very seriously. As a result, I took today’s art, and today’s post very seriously.

Initially, I was going to feed at the trough of “Let That Be Your Last Battlefield,” and old school Star Trek episode about the folly of racism. I came up with a funny bit, and I might run it in February, but it’s not like I drew it. It felt…off. Not disrespectful by any means, but not the direction that it seemed that I should go, as advised by someone that seems worthy of my respect.

So, of course, I read some comics.

It dawned on me that one of the BEST comics of the year, “Multiversity No. 1” by Grant Morrison, had an African American protagonist. In fact, it had an African American protagonist that happened to be Superman. It is one of my favorite books of the year, because the story was so well done. That struck me as a starting off point.

See?  There he is in action, defeating a giant robot, in Multiversity No. 1.

See? There he is in action, defeating a giant robot, in Multiversity No. 1.

The first chapter, illustrated by Ivan Reis, Joe Prado, and Nei Ruffino, The Multiversity features Calvin Ellis, President of the United States and Superman of Earth-23. Morrison describes The Multiversity as a big team book, featuring characters from all over the Multiverse, the team looks “after the welfare of the entire multiverse and they’re headquartered in a place called the Multiversity” Morrison compares the team to a Justice League of the Multiverse. The team will include characters such as Captain Carrot, and Thunderer, an Aboriginal version of Marvel Comics’ Thor. It was published in August 2014.

Following so far? Let’s go back to Calvin Ellis (Kal-El) both President of the United States and Superman. Oh yeah…he’s also African American.

Let’s see what we can say about his origins, in summary:

In a faraway star system, an ancient civilization died, leaving barely a trace of its passing. That world was called Krypton, and greatest of all its mighty cities was the science-capital Jandra-La on Vathlo Island in the green Dandahu Ocean.

It was there, as the planet was ripped apart in a cataclysm, that two desperate scientists named Jorel and Lara sent their race’s only survivor, their son Kalel, in a rocket across the gulfs of space with little more than a prayer.

After a time the last son of Krypton came to planet Earth. Adopted by a poor but kindly couple, the last Kryptonian became a strong and proud man. Now, disguised as the President of the United States, Kalel fights a never-ending battle for truth, justice, liberty and equality as Superman.

So, he’s Superman.

He’s a hero.

He happens to be African American, and political. He’s hugely educated, opinionated, and strong. He is scientifically designed to be A) AWESOME, and B) a character I want to see more appearances of. That’s my problem so far. Besides his first appearance in pre-New 52 “Final Crisis” and one appearance in Action Comics, we have seen precious little of President Superman. Heck…he’s only been in the one issue of Multiversity…

…which was incredible.

The raw color art.  "Brother. You just picked on the wrong parallel universe. My intention is to beat you right down, right here, right now."  That's a quote from President Superman.

The raw color art. “Brother. You just picked on the wrong parallel universe. My intention is to beat you right down, right here, right now.” That’s a quote from President Superman.

Let’s be clear here. He’s not a low-rent Superman, his powers don’t suck, he’s not a second stringer in a Superman suit. He is straight up Superman, people. That would have been impossible to do when I started reading comics, in the seventies. In the seventies, you could have African American superheroes, but they were never the A-list. Even in the eighties, they were replacing white superheroes in their roles more often than not.

President Superman was the protagonist of one of the biggest comics DC published last year. There isn’t a white Superman to be found in that book, and in fact, Calvin Ellis is more experienced, smarter, more educated, and arguably more powerful than mainstream continuity Clark Kent.

How’s that for progress?

It’s especially telling to me, because my students like comics and superheroes. Of course they do…they’re kids. Still…more than once I’ve had a student ask me, “Why don’t more superheroes look like me?” Or…”I like Superman, but I can’t be Superman…he’s white.” It’s discouraging to see that one of the most engaging forms of media has been so slow to become more diverse.

I’m thinking that my students are going to love Multiversity (I got several copies for school today). Mostly because it’s awesome, and at the same time, it’s diverse without making a show out of it. It just IS.

I really liked the way the inks came out.  Almost better than the color.

I really liked the way the inks came out. Almost better than the color.

I think about the progress that having President Superman in comics represents, and I’m impressed. I think, “maybe that’s an expression of what Dr. King was after.” It doesn’t matter about his color…being Superman is about the content of your character. The Superman portrayed in Multiversity is arguably a more likeable, rational and enlightened character than the current Superman in “Action Comics.” He thinks first, is polite, and cares for his fellow man. He considers the consequences of his actions. He is an example.

I think that, and then I look at the industry. There aren’t a whole lot of African American creators welcomed by Marvel and DC, and not too many female creators either. When I think about that, I think that Dr. King would tell me that there is still a huge distance to be covered.

The pencils.

The pencils.

As I drew this, I though about my vintage “Supermen of America” fan club pin from the Golden Age. (I’m not that old…I bought it.) The fan club gave out all sorts of materials, such as the pin, a decoder, a ring, and so forth. Some of those items are worth a whole lot of money now. Still…on all of them, the virtues of “strength, courage, and justice” were key. The members were supposed to try to increase their strength, courage, and justice, because that’s how Superman rolls.

See?  Says it right on the pin.

See? Says it right on the pin.

...and on the membership card.

…and on the membership card.

I thought about the pin, and how my students would think it was a cool thing. They love superheroes, love pins…it’s a no brainer. I then thought…couldn’t it be closer to home? Why wasn’t President Superman on it? The answer to that is that the Supermen of America Fan club ended decades ago, before Presidents Superman, Calvin Ellis, could be written into existence.

But there is no reason he can’t now.

So…I turned Kalel (as it is spelled on Earth-23) into the central part of the design, and ran of some pins with the button making machine my co-teacher and I have. I intend to give them out to young men who seem to be working on Kalel’s four virtues, which are slightly different: Truth, Justice, Liberty, and Equality. Pretty excellent qualities to be focused on as a young person. Here’s the pin:

Came out pretty cool.  Truth, Justice, Liberty, and Equality.

Came out pretty cool. Truth, Justice, Liberty, and Equality.

That’s my big reflection and insight for Martin Luther King Day….to try and pass along the inspiration that Siegel and Shuster gave to me, to my students. To take a moment with these young people in my care, and remind them of values.

To remind them that we have the same heroes.

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