Over the past few posts, I have explored Buck Wild in Dwayne McDuffie and MD Bright’s Icon. Today, I want to conclude that discussion by looking at Icon #30, the one with Buck Wild’s funeral. In many ways, Icon #30 sums up the discussions on the history of representation of Black superheroes that Buck Wild critiques. The entire issue takes place at Buck Wild’s funeral, and the eulogies all satirically comment on the history that Luke Cage, Black Lightning, Falcon, and Brother Voodoo embody, a history that while working to forward a more representative comics’ universe falls prey to cultural stereotypes that limited the overall impact of these characters and created tensions within fans about whether or not to accept or disregard these attempts.
Perhaps Vincent Nunes best sums up the importance of Buck Wild’s appearance. In a letter that appears at the end of Icon #30, Nunes writes in to praise the series for introducing Buck Wild all the way back in Icon #13. He writes, “The issue was decades in the making, and at the right place.” Continuing, Nunes comments that he has had an issue with “certain superheroes and their origins,” specifically Sam Wilson’s beginnings as a drug dealer turned social worker and the Prowler who started off as a burglar.
Buck Wild’s appearances cause readers to question whether or not representations of Black superheroes such as Luke Cage should be applauded or disparaged. The answer, as I have shown throughout these posts, lies somewhere in between. In his debut, Buck Wild comments that he hears an “old, “played-out record” (himself) and determines that it is time for him to move on. His debut served, in many ways, as his farewell too, the farewell of the baggage that Luke Cage carries. Yet, he returned.
Taking on the mantle of Icon, it seems that Buck Wild has the opportunity to grow and change. He does, to a certain extent. He looks up to Icon, and he strives hard to match Icon’s image. Even with this change, though, he does not survive. Oblivion knocks him unconscious and he eventually passes away in Icon #29. As Rebecca Wanzo puts it, “[Buck Wild] stands for ‘physically stuck’ representations. McDuffie suggests that rather than try to revamp the old stereotype, it is time to develop new paradigms.” This is exactly what occurs in Icon #30 with Buck Wild’s funeral. His existence ends, paving the way for Icon and Rocket.
The issue begins with the reverend’s eulogy for Buck Wild. In it, the reverend claims that Buck Wild “was not a smart man.” “not a gentleman,” “neither wise, nor temperate,” “not a charitable man, nor was he spiritual.” He goes on to intone that “[h]e died without achieving any of his dreams.” Buck Wild, like Luke Cage, never transcended the stereotypes that embodied his life. He perished still waiting for his brain to thaw out from the 1970s.
The pastor concludes by stating, “The picture would be incomplete unless you also said what was good about this man.” At this, the sanctuary falls silent. Two wordless panels appear. The first shows the reverend, standing at the pulpit, with the top of Buck Wild’s coffin in front of him. The next shows the congregation, wide-eyed and silent. The looks indicate that they cannot think of anything good to say about Buck Wild, and the pastor just shrugs his shoulders and proceeds to end the ceremony.
Darnice steps up and tells those gathered, “Buck was a hero!” and Icon rises to the pulpit. He tells those gathered,
[Buck Wild] spent his life fighting for what is right, all the while struggling with questions of identity and pubic perception that we STILL do not have answers for. He reinvented himself time and again, searching for a comfortable way to present himself to the world. And while we winced on occasion at his embarrassing speech and demeaning behavior, more often we cheered him on. Because whatever else he was, he was always a hero. A hero for those of us who had no heroes. Were it not for him we would not be here today.
Taken in conjunction with the preacher’s eulogy, Icon’s highlights the tensions to be found in characters such as Luke Cage. While he was important in regard to representation, he also failed on that same front. While he was only one of a handful of Black central characters in the 1970s, he never transcended completely to mainstream success. The initial run started off as a solo title before the tile changed to Powerman and before, as the blaxploitation era faded, he became paired with Iron Fist, thus changing the title again. Even though Black Panther appeared in Jungle Action in the 1970s, he received a short-lived series, headed by Jack Kirby, in the late 1970s which ended after 15 issues and he didn’t return in an eponymous series until Christopher Priest’s run in 1998. (There was a four issue mini-series and Don McGregor’s Panther’s Quest in the 1980s.)
As Icon speaks, panels show the congregation’s faces, Rocket’s face, and Icon at the pulpit. The panel that shows the congregation shows smiles creeping into the countenances and intent listening, almost pride. Not every congregant displays these emotions, but the faces of two of the most prominent in the panel show these expressions. When Icon talks about Buck Wild being the “hero for those of us who had no heroes,” we see Rocket gazing up at the pulpit. Her eyes are wide, and she listens intently. In this moment, the beginning of Icon, when Raquel Ervin discovers Augustus Freeman, IV’s powers, comes full circle. She had no heroes in the community, and she became a hero for the community.
Perhaps the most telling image comes at the end as Icon wraps up and tells the congregation, “Were it not for him we would not be here today.” This panel, like the one at the end of the reverend’s eulogy, shows Buck Wild’s casket. However, the perspective is different. With the reverend, we gaze at the pulpit from an angle, and all we can see of the casket is the lid. We do not visually know who lies within. In the latter panel, we view the scene head-on, Icon standing at the pulpit and Buck Wild’s casket below him. Here, we see Buck Wild in the casket. The image, in conjunction with Icon’s words, is important. It highlights the connections between Buck Wild (Luke Cage) and Icon. It shows what came before. It shows history. It speaks, as eulogies do, for the present and the living. It points towards the future.
Following Icon’s eulogy, a litany of parodies of Black superheroes and villains appear to pay their respects. Each of these (Falcon, Black Lightning, Black Goliath, Brother Voodoo) deserve longer discussions, which I do not have time for right now. However, I do want to focus on the Kingfish’s statements when he takes the stage. (The Kingfish is either Tobias Whale from Black Lightning or Wilson Fisk from Daredevil.)
The Kingfish wants to resurrect Buck Wild. He tells everyone, “Without Buck, I am nothing.” This statement stick out because if Kingfish is Wilson Fisk, then that means he is white. On the surface, the comment basically means that the villain needs the hero to exist. They define one another. On another level, we can, and I think we should, read the Kingfish’s assertion in relation to race and the constructions of race. If Kingfish is white, then that means that he cannot exist without the Black Buck Wild because they define one another. In essence, Kingfish reasserts James Baldwin’s statements when answering the question, “Who is the nigger?” Whites, as Baldwin states, invented the term and the identity to feel superior. So, it is a myth.
Icon and Milestone Comics take up discussions of the constructions of myths in the crossover series “Worlds Collide,” something I want to write about at some point. There, writers deconstruct the myths of superheroes but they also deconstruct racial myths too. Be on the lookout for posts about “Worlds Collide” sometime in the future.
Until then, what are your thoughts? Let me know either in the comments below or on Twitter at @silaslapham.
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