After his initial appearance in Icon #13, some fans asked whether or not Buck Wild would receive his own series. Others asked that the Milestone team update his speech and clothes to fit the 1990s. Ken Harris wrote in stating that “ICON #13 was absolutely ‘Power’-ful! NEVER has a comic make [sic] me laugh so hard. . . . it was truly comical. I must commend ‘Trouble Man’ on his biting satire and respectfully request. . . please, KEEP ‘EM BITING!”
Buck Wild did not reappear in Icon until issue #22. In his reappearance, Buck Wild dons the mantle of Icon as Arnus (August Freeman IV) has returned to his home planet. Raquel Ervin (Rocket) is about to give birth to her son, so she decides to enlist her friend Darnice to take over for her during her leave of absence. In turn, they seek out a replacement for Icon as well. They do this because of the impact that Icon and Rocket have had on the community, as shown in Icon #11 where Todd Loomis relates his interaction with the duo.
Initially, Raquel and Darnice approach DMZ and Hardware as possible stand-ins for Icon, but neither pans out. So, they go in search of Buck Wild. The duo goes to Buck Wild’s offices, which is above a theater. As the approach, the theatre’s marquee shows three films playing: Birth of A Nation, [The] Color Purple, and What’s Love Got to do With It. Just as Dwayne McDuffie infuses Buck Wild’s initial appearance with “biting satire,” the marquee provides even more. To begin with, the placement of Birth of a Nation at the top serves as a call back to Luke Cage’s initial appearance in 1972 when Cage rents office space above a theatre. The owner’s nephew is named Dave Griffin, and he tells Cage, “My movie freak friends call me D.W. . . . after the director, y’know?” Cage doesn’t address this allusion; instead, he just says, “I’m Cage, D.W.”
Birth of A Nation lies behind this exchange, explicitly through the fact that the offices are above a movie theatre and through the fact that Dave goes by D.W., a reference to the racist film’s director. Lacking in this exchange, of course, is any critique of the popularity of Griffin’s film in the early 1900s and the NAACP’s attempts to counter its release. The exchange has the opportunity, in Luke Cage’s first appearance, to address the ways that representation in media affects the masses, but it doesn’t.
The other two films, however, center on the experiences of Black women, Celie, Nettie, Shug Avery, and Tina Turner respectively. Yet, white men directed these films. Again, this gets into discussions of representation, not just in front of the camera/page but also behind it. McDuffie’s and Christopher Priest’s comments about Luke Cage that I noted in my previous post are important here. While the works that these films are based on were penned by Black women, the visual representation on the screen becomes mediated through the eyes of white men.
Walter White and the NAACP understood the ways that media affects individuals. Writing to Dave Selznick about the 1939 film adaptation of Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind, he informed the director that the “motion picture, appealing as it does to both the visual and the auditory senses, reaches so many Americans, particularly of the middle classes, that infinite harm could be done in a critical period like this one when racial hatred and prejudices are so alive.” Griffin’s Birth of a Nation, 14 years before Selznick’s film, did just that.
As Darnice and Raquel walk up the stairs, Darnice asks why Raquel didn’t see Buck Wild as her initial choice to stand in for Icon. Raquel responds, “He’s not normal, Darnice. He’s not very smart. He’s kind of embarrassing.” These three sentences sum up the “biting satire” that McDuffie employs with Buck Wild. Serving as an allusion to Luke Cage, he exists as nothing more than a caricature (i.e. “not normal”). Raquel reminds Buck Wild that Icon sparked something in him that made him want to change, and she explains that “Icon isn’t a person, he’s a symbol. The embodiment of hopes and dreams and possibility.” Eventually, Buck Wild agrees, and he takes on the appearance of Icon.
How did fans react to Buck Wild, “the old played-out record,” taking on the mantle of Icon? Well, the letters in response to issue #22 show that some fans did not see the point. While they saw the satire oozing from the page in Icon #13, they did not think that Buck Wild was a good choice to take over for Icon in his absence. Appearing in the letters column for issue #24, Leo Padialla asked, “Do you think you can get away with replacing Augustus with Buck Wild, Mercenary Man? No, I don’t think so. . . ” Another reader, Tim Royer states, “Surely, no one will mistake Buck for Icon. . . . it’s ridiculous.”
At the end of Icon #25, Oblivion knocks Buck Wild unconscious, and he never gets to thaw out from the 1970s and become the hero that Icon inspired him to strive for. Interestingly, the letters column for issue #25 contains responses from readers who look forward to Buck Wild’s future exploits. Antonio Powell asks whether on not the villains in Icon “will look like they came straight out of the 70s” and if Buck’s brain will thaw out. Kevin Shaw expressed praise at Buck Wild’s reappearance, extensively thinking Milestone for bringing him back into the series. Christopher Currie intoned, “I’m glad to see Buck Wild return. Now that he is the new Icon, maybe he will eventually start becoming more than a Luke Cage parody.”
Buck Wild doesn’t appear again until Icon #29. Here, though, he does not say any lines because he is in a coma with Darnice by his side. As the Utopia Park riots rage outside, Darnice stands over the comatose Buck Wild. The doctor tells her that she should not hold out much hope for Buck Wild’s recovery, and she tells him, “Buck Wild is not going to die. He’s too stupid to die.” While saying this, she gently strokes the side of unresponsive Buck Wild’s face with her hand.
Darnice’s statement that Buck Wild is “too stupid to die” highlights how hard it is to eradicate stereotypes. They become so ingrained within the cultural psyche that uprooting them takes a focused, unified effort. The problem, however, is that people are invested in stereotypes as a means of control and power. Just because Buck Wild, a metonym for Luke Cage and other characters, ultimately dies in Icon, it does not mean that the problematic aspects of Luke Cage and other characters, based in blaxploitation and stereotypes perished alongside him. It just means that Buck Wild provides an avenue for discussing how we can tear the tap root of these stereotypes out of the ground and destroy them forever.
Along with this, Darnice’s gentleness and concern for Buck Wild expresses the love/hate relationship that fans and subsequent creators had with Luke Cage. While problematic, he was one of the first Black superheroes, providing a representation for Black youth. On the flip side, though, that representation played upon caricatures and stereotypes. Darnice’s statement, taken in relation to her action, draws attention to the tension between Luke Cage as a pioneer on one hand and as a laughing stock who peddles in stereotypes on the other.
The issue concludes with a full-page panel showing the doctor holding Darnice as Buck Wild’s heart stops. Rocket’s narration, carried over from the previous page, reads, “And where there’s life, there’s hope.” This image sets up Icon #30, Buck Wild’s funeral, where Dwyane McDuffie and MD Bright expressly satirize not just Luke Cage but other Black superheroes and villains from the 1970s.
Stay tuned next post for the post I have been teasing for a while, the one with Buck Wild’s funeral. Until then, what are your thoughts? Let me know either in the comments below or on Twitter at @silaslapham.
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