As I sat down to write my recent posts on Buck Wild in Milestone Comics` Icon, I did not imagine that it would take four posts to discuss a character that appears in maybe four-five issues. Even with those posts, I did not get a chance to cover every aspect of the character. What arose, though, was an interest in a broader discussion around representation in comics that I started looking at with my first posts on Icon and specifically a focus on Luke Cage. Dwayne McDuffie and M.D. Bright created Buck Wild as a satire on Luke Cage, from his origin story to his costume and speech. After speaking with John Ira Jennings “Afrofuturism and Comics” class last week, I thought now may be the time to think a syllabus which would explore these issues in a broader manner. The result is a continuation of Tara Betts’ the #lukecagesyllabus that she started in 2016 after the first season of Luke Cage dropped on Netflix. Make sure to check out her two syllabi below.
Black Kirby (Stacey Robinson and John Ira Jennings) discussing Uncaged: Hero for Higher.
Archie Goodwin, George Tuska, Roy Thomas, and John Romita Sr. created Luke Cage, and he originally appeared in Luke Cage: Hero for Hire #1 in July 1972. Cage was the first Black superhero to receive his own title at one of the major two publishers. While the Black Panther debuted in 1966 and The Falcon (Sam Wilson) in 1969, they did not receive their solo titles until later. Hoping to cash in on the rise of blaxploitation cinema, Marvel, as Steve Englehart puts it, ” It was a saleable genre, to whites as well as black . . . so other people decided to sell some, too. Nature of capitalism.”
Luke Cage did provide representation for Black readers; however, he provided a representation that while powerful and heroic also fell into stereotype. Dwayne McDuffie and Christopher Priest both spoke about this tension, noting that Luke Cage did not represent, as Priest writes,
“my experience as a black youth in America.” While Luke Cage emerged from the blaxploitation era of Black-male hyper-masculinity, Adilifu Nama argues that he “is in many ways the most inherently and socially profound black superhero to ever emerge.”
Speaking with a young fan at a Toronto convention, Jeffery Brown asked him about the images of Icon and Buck Wild on his jacket. The fan told Brown about how he initially thought Buck Wild was just a funny character, but after speaking with his dad he realized he was much more. Brown asked him if Icon and Buck Wild are the same, to which the young fan replied, “No, not the same. But–hmmm–you gotta know one in order to understand the other. I guess.”
Over the course of the semester, we will explore the tensions found within Luke Cage and his various iterations. Along the way, we will expand our discussion to look at the ways that creators, both in the early years and later, provide social and political commentary through Luke Cage. We see examples of this in Luke Cage’s origin story which can be read in relation to the Attica Uprising and we see it in later years with the historical links between Noah Burnstein’s experiments on Luke Cage and modern medicine’s experimentation on Black men and women.
This course will not be exhaustive, solely due to the amount of material that we could cover and the directions that we could take. However, it will be an in-depth exploration of how Luke Cage can open the door for broader political, social, and artistic discussions surrounding identity and race. If you have any suggestions for texts, let me know in the comments below.
- Marvel Masterworks: Luke Cage: Hero for Hire, Vol. 1, Marvel, 2015.
- Marvel Masterworks: Luke Cage, Power Man, vol. 2, Marvel, 2017.
- Owsley, James and Mark Bright. Power Man and Iron Fist #122-#123, Marvel, 1986.
- McDuffie, Dwayne and M.D. Bright. Icon #13, #22-#30, Milestone Media, 1994-1995.
- Priest, Christopher, Sal Velluto, and Bob Almond. Black Panther #36-#37, Marvel, 2001-2002.
- Bendis, Brian Michael et al. New Avengers, the Complete Collection, vol. 2. Marvel, 2017.
- Benson, Mike, Adam Glass, and Shawn Martinbrough. Luke Cage Noir, Marvel, 2009.
- Walker, David and Sanford Greene. Power Man and Iron Fist Vol. 1: The Boys are Back in Town, Marvel, 2016.
- Walker, David and Nelson Blake II. Luke Cage, Marvel, 2017.
- Luke Cage. Netflix, 2016-2018.
- Betts, Tara. The Luke Cage Syllabus: A Breakdown of All the Black Literature Featured in Netflix’s Luke Cage, Black Nerd Problems.
- Betts, Tara. The Luke Cage Syllabus: A Breakdown of All the Black Literature Featured in Season Two of the Netflix Hit, Black Nerd Problems.
- Comics, Race, and Society series, eds. Julian Chambliss and Walter Greason, AAIHS.
- Davis, Blair. Bare Chests, Silver Tiaras, and Removable Afros: The Visual Design of Black Comic Superheroes.” The Blacker the Ink: Constructions of Black Indentity in Comics and Sequential Art, eds. Frances Gatewood and John Ira Jennings, Rutgers University Press, 2015, pp. 314-332.
- Gayles, Jonathan. White Scripts and Black Supermen: Black Masculinites in Comic Books.
- Jennings, John Ira and Stacy Robinson. Uncaged: Hero for Higher. 17 Nov. 2018-31 March 2019. Culver Center of the Arts.
- Nama, Adilifu. “Birth of the Cool.” Super Black: American Pop Culture and Black Superheroes. University of Texas Press, 2011, pp. 36-66.
- Priest, Christopher. Ducks!! Power Man & Iron Fist, Digital-Priest.com.
- Terry, David Taft. “Imagining a Strange New World: Racial Integration and Social Justice Advocacy in Marvel Comics, 1966-1980.” Soul Thieves: The Appropriation and Misrepresentation of African American Popular Culture, eds. Tamara Lizette Brown and Baruti N. Kopano, Palgrave, 2014, pp. 151-199.
- Wanzo, Rebecca. “It’s a Hero? Black Comics and Satirizing Subjection.” The Blacker the Ink: Constructions of Black Indentity in Comics and Sequential Art, eds. Frances Gatewood and John Ira Jennings, Rutgers University Press, 2015, pp. 314-332.
Sources from Black Kirby’s Uncaged: Hero for Higher
For Uncaged: Hero for Higher, Black Kirby (Stacey Robinson and John Jennings) created multiple pedagogical tools to compliment the exhibit. One is a 10 week syllabus that draws attention to everything from Afrofuturism and race in science fiction to gentrification and medical apartheid. You can find the prompts for this 10 week syllabus by clicking this link. Along with this, they also created a Spotify playlist entitled Uncaged: Illabus. Each week in the above syallbus is named after a song by Mos Def. Below, you can find the playlist.
Working through this syllabus, I started to think about other ways to look at Luke Cage in a broader context. The secondary sources above mostly deal with comics and popular culture; however, I think that we can expand these lists. For me, I constantly think about the late-1960s and early-1970s in relation to authors such as Iceberg Slim, Donald Goines, George Jackson, Eldridge Cleaver, Angela Davis, and more. These authors illuminate the incarceral state that Luke Cage exists within. As well, I think about histories of medicine and books that explore the stories of Henrietta Lacks, the victims of the Tuskegee experiments, the enslaved women that J. Marion Sims operated on, and much more. These are just two avenues for broadening the conversation started by a #lukecagesyllabus. We could even look at the history of stereotypes and representation back into the 19th century, constructions of Black masculinity, and representations of the urban environment.
John Ira Jennings provided a great list of resources for expanding discussions around these topics. His lists are below.
- Coates, Ta-Nehisi. Between the Word and Me, Spiegel and Grau, 2015.
- Coates, Ta-Nehisi. The Beautiful Struggle, Spiegel and Grau, 2009.
- Curry, Tommy J. The Man-Not: Race, Class, Genre, and the Dilemmas of Black Manhood, Temple University Press, 2017.
- Ellison, Ralph. Invisible Man, Vintage, 2010.
- hooks, bell. We Real Cool: Black Men and Masculinity, Routledge, 2003.
- Jackson, Ronald L. Scripting the Black Masculine Body: Identity, Discourse, Politics in Popular Media, SUNY Press, 2006.
- Neal, Mark Anthony. Looking for Leroy: Illegible Black Masculinities, NYU Press, 2013.
- Neal, Mark Anthony. New Black Man, Routledge, 2015.
- Sexton, Jared. Black Masculinity and the Cinema of Policing, Palgrave Macmillian, 2017.
- Wright, Richard. Black Boy, Perennial Classics, 1989.
- Wright, Richard. Native Son, Perennial Classics, 1989.
The Great Migration
- Drake, St. Clair and Horace R. Cayton. Black Metropolis: A Study of Negro Life in a Northern City, University of Chicago Press, 2015.
- Kendi, Ibram. Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America, Bold Type Books, 2016.
- Lemann, Nicholas. The Promised Land: The Great Black Migration and How It Changed America, Vintage Books, 2011.
- Rothstein, Richard. The Color Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America, Liverright, 2017.
- Wilkerson, Isabel. The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration, Vintage, 2010.
The Harlem Renaissance
- Double-Take: A Revisionist Harlem Renaissance Anthology, eds. Venetria K. Patton and Maureen Honey, Rutgers University Press, 2001.
- Du Bois, W.E.B. The Souls of Black Folk, Oxford University Press, 2014.
- The Harlem Renaissance: The History and Legacy of Early 20th Century America’s Most Influential Cultural Movement, ed. Charles River, Charles River, 2018.
- The New Negro, ed. Alaine Locke, Touchstone, 2014.
Prison Industrial Complex
- Alexander, Michelle. The New Jim Crow, The New Press, 2012.
- Blackmon, Douglas A. Slavery by Another Name: Re-Enslavement of Black Americans from the Civil War to World War II, Random House, 2008.
- Eisen, Lauren-Brooke. Inside Private Prisons: An American Dilemma in the Age of Mass Incarceration, Columbia University Press, 2017.
- Peterson, James Braxton and John Jennings. Prison Industrial Complex for Beginners, For Beginners, 2016.
- Nelson, Alondra. The Social Life of DNA: Race, Reparations, and Reconciliation after the Genome, Penguin, 2016.
- Skloot, Rebecca. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, Broadway Books, 2010.
- Washington, Harriet A. Medical Apartheid: The Dark History of Medical Experimentation on Black Americans from Colonial Times to the Present, Anchor, 2008.
Afrofuturism/Comics and Race
- Black Comics: Politics of Race and Representation, eds. Sheena C. Howard and Ronald L. Jackson II, Bloomsbury Academic, 2013.
- Brown, Jeffrey A. Black Superheroes: Milestone Comics, and Their Fans, University Press of Mississippi, 2000.
- Cosmic Underground: A Grimoire of Black Speculative Discontent, eds. Reynaldo Anderson and John Jennings, Cedar Grove Publishing, 2018.
- Jennings, John and Damian Duffy. Black Comix Returns, Lion Forge Comics, 2018.
- Jennings, John and Stacey Robinson. Black Kirby: In Search of the MotherBoxx Connection, Cedar Grove Publishing, 2015.
- Medina, Tony, Stacey Robinson, and John Jennings. I Am Alfonso Jones, Lee and Low Books, 2017.
- Nama, Adilifu. Black Space: Imagining Race in the Science Fiction Film, University of Texas Press, 2008.
- Octavia’s Brood: Science Fiction Stories from Social Justice Movements, eds. Walidah Imarisha and adrienne maree brown, AK Press, 2015.
- Schalk, Sami. Bodyminds Reimagined: (Dis)ability, Race, and Gender in Black Women’s Speculative Fiction, Duke University Press, 2018.
- Womack, Ytasha L. Afrofuturism: The World of Black Sci-Fi and Fantasy Culture, Chicago Review Press, 2013.
Hip Hop Culture
- Asante, Jr. M.K. It’s Bigger than Hip Hop: The Rise of the Post-Hip-Hop Generation, St. Martin’s Press, 2008.
- Chang, Jeff. Can’t Stop Won’t Stop: A History of Hip-Hop Generation, St. Martin’s Press, 2007.
- Chang, Jeff. Total Change: Art and Aesthetics of Hip Hop, Civitas Books, 2008.
- The Crunk Feminist Collection, eds. Brittney C. Cooper, Susana M. Morris, and Robin M. Boylorn, The Feminist Press at CUNY, 2017.
- Home Girls Make Some Noise!: Hip-Hop Feminism Anthology, eds. Gwendolyn D. Pough and Elaine Richardson, Parker Publishing, 2007.
- Kitwana, Bakari. The Hip-Hop Generation: Young Blacks and the Crisis in African-American Culture, Civatas Books, 2008.
- Morgan, Joan. When Chickenheads Come Home to Roost: A Hip-Hop Feminist Breaks it Down, Simon and Schuster, 2017.
- Petchauer, Emery. Hip-Hop Culture in College Students’ Lives: Elements, Embodiment, and Higher Edutainment, Routledge, 2012.
- Rose, Tricia. Black Noise: Rap Music and Black Culture in Contemporary America, Wesleyan University Press, 1994.
- Rose, Tricia. The Hip-Hop Wars: What We Talk About Hip Hop–and Why it Matters, Civitas Books, 2008.
- Serrano, Shea and Arturo Torres. The Rap Year Book: The Most Important Rap Song from Every Year Since 1979, Discussed, Debated, and Deconstructed, Abrams Image, 2015.
- That’s the Joint: The Hip-Hop Studies Reader, eds. Murray Forman and Mark Anthony Neal, Routledge, 2011.
- Wish to Live: The Hip-hop Feminism Pedagogy Reader, eds. Nicole Brown and Chamara Jewel Kwakye, Peter Lang, 2012.
I hope this post will serve as a point of departure for a larger syllabus that uses Luke Cage as the locus of conversation. What works would you recommend adding to this syllabus? Let me know in the comments below. Make sure to follow me on Twitter @silaslapham.
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