Saturday, October 24, 2009
Icon: A Hero's Welcome
I recently read Static Shock: Rebirth of the Cool and enjoyed it. Yesterday I read Icon: A Hero's Welcome and was blown away. This is truly revolutionary stuff, entirely deserving of the name the imprint chose for itself. On the cover of this new edition of the trade, Alan Moore is quoted as saying, "ICON is that rarest of creatures--a well-told adventure story that achieves genuine political depth." I have to agree. In the early nineties while other writers were following in Frank Miller's footsteps, making superhero comics more "mature" by adding more violence and crudity, Dwayne McDuffie was creating a superhero comic that actually approached adult themes with maturity beyond that of a hormone-charged adolescent--and managed to do so in the context of a genuinely fun story.
Icon's story starts in 1839, when an alien escape pod crashes in the deep South. The pod genetically alters its inhabitant to appear like an African-American baby, in order to fit into his surroundings. He's found by a slave and raised on a plantation, and then he proceeds to help the Underground Railroad; fight in the Civil War, World War I, and World War II; earn a law degree; and participate in the Harlem Renaissance. As his sidekick, Rocket, says of his history, "His life spans the breadth of the African-American experience." When Rocket meets him in 1993, he's an upper-middle class lawyer living in the suburbs of the fictional city Dakota. (She says upon learning his origins, "I think I just figured out how a Black man could be a conservative Republican--you're from outer space!") By setting up this centuries-spanning backstory for his title character, McDuffie takes the Superman myth, a classic tale of the American immigrant, and transforms it into something uniquely and intrinsically African-American.
My favorite chapter in this volume is from Icon #7, wherein Rocket, a fifteen-year-old girl who has recently discovered that she's pregnant, must decide whether or not to keep the baby. McDuffie sets up the story such that Rocket's ultimate choice is entirely believable for her character and he presents this choice in such a way that the reader wants to cheer for her, but he does so while demonstrating an understanding of and compassion for those women in her situation who choose otherwise. I've seen several superhero comics attempt to address such difficult themes as abortion, but none have done so as gracefully and honestly as this one.
I wish now that I had checked out the Milestone line while it was being published in the nineties. I was certainly aware of it, and somewhat intrigued, but never enough to spend a couple bucks to read an issue. I hope that DC continues to publish these collections, so I can catch up on what I missed.