Comic books have a history of addressing the current political landscape and racial inequalities. Stan Lee has his famous Soapbox column that address bigotry and the X-Men have always been an allegory for inequality. In memorial of George Floyd, we were giving a half day off from work to reflect or watch the memorial service for Mr. Floyd. I want to take that time to recommend some books that address Racial inequality and have been an influence of studies and taste in my love for comics. This list will only provide a short summary of the stories, as the idea is to get more to read these books.
March by John Lewis , Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell- Published by Top Shelf Productions
Written by Congressman John Lewis and Andrew Aydin with art by Nate Powell, March is at trilogy of books in black and white art that captures the Civil Rights Movement through the eyes of Civil Rights leader and Congressman John Lewis. Each book in the trilogy focuses on different events during the Civil Rights Movement from the Freedom Riders in Book two to Selma march in Book three. March also takes place in 2009 with John Lewis preparing to attend the First inauguration of Barack Obama, this is where we find Lewis telling his story to a family in his office. This trilogy should be required reading in the educational system, much like Art Spiegleman’s Maus and Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis. In times like this, March provides a history lesson that is much needed and shows the meaning for fighting in what you believe in.
Black by Kwanza Osajyefo, Tim Smith 3 and Jamal Igle- Published by Black Mask Studios
Black is different in all the best kind of ways. The premise of the book being what if only black people had superpowers. Kareem Jenkins is gunned down by the police but survives and learns that he has superpowers and the government is keeping it a secret. It is a powerful story with commentary on racism and racial inequality. The cover of the trade paperback sends chills down the spine with a young black man with police surrounding him in riot gear. It is a mature book with lots of action and profanity, but the message and commentary blends effortlessly with the over the top action.
Bitter Root by David F. Walker, Chuck Brown and Sanford Greene- Published by Image Comics
Bitter Root is a fun series that allows a message to be told through monster hunting. It is currently ongoing and is on issue 7. The Sangeryes were once considered the greatest monster hunting family of all time by curing souls infected by hate. Using the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920’s, Bitter Root addresses racism by using the hatred as an infection that creates monsters. Bitter Root is another story for mature readers but it has humor and uses family dynamics to create a relationship with the characters. Sanford Greene’s artwork is stunning and chaotic at times. Of all the books on this list, this is the book that all comic fans can read and enjoy.
Captain America: Truth: Red, white & Black by Robert Morales and Kyle Baker. Published by Marvel Comics.
This is unlike any Captain America book that you will ever read. Steve Rodgers thought he was the only person to have been injected with the super-soldier serum, but he was wrong. This story is about the US government using a group of African-American soldiers as test subjects. It’s a tale of injustice and provides a great history lesson to go along with the typical Marvel story. Teenagers can read this book, as it’s not as mature as others on this book but still can be upsetting for some. Easily among my favorite Captain America stories.
Superman Smashes the Klan by Gene Luen Yang and Gurihiru- published by DC Comics
The most recent entry on the list and did it send shockwaves through the comic community. Inspired by the 1940s Superman radio serial “clan of the fiery cross” writer Gene Luen Yang crafts a tale of immigration and battling adversity. Using the symbol of hope in Superman, we see Superman protect a family and society from the evilness of the Klan. A very courageous book that is recommended for readers of all ages.
This list is only a few examples of comics and graphic novels that address social injustice and racial inequalities. Dennis O’Neil and Neal Adams addressed it in their Green Lantern/Green Arrow series in the early 70’s. Milestone comics in the early 90’s was a publication of all African-American creators creating new characters, produced well known characters like Static Shock and Icon. Comics have been a place for creators and readers to express their concerns about the current landscape of politics and society as a whole.