Look Who’s Been Vixenified This Time

by Guest Contributor Kali921, originally published at Possibly Irrelevant Information

Marvel has apparently decided to engage in a game of one-upsmanship with DC to see who can take a character of color, specifically black characters, and draw them as white people. In other words, subtextual racist bingo.

I was looking at the new covers solicited for all the endless Secret Invasion tie ins, and something LEAPED out at me right away.

What’s wrong with this picture?

That, my friends, is the cover to the Secret Invasion issue of The Initiative. That’s supposed to be Ryder in front there, standing with the chain gun. Ryder from the Skrull Kill Krew, of course.

Ryder who normally looks like this:

When Skrull Kill Krew was first published, Ryder had outrageously long and wild hair; it always looked to me like he had long dreads, and they looked fantastic.

Compare that to The Initiative cover.

What in the HOLY HELL is wrong with you, Marvel and DC? With your talented stable of artists who no doubt see people of color every single day, are you constitutionally incapable of drawing black people with anything but ultra straight hair? What’s the matter? Is it too “ethnic” for you? Like hugging?* Are you afraid your covers featuring black people or people with “ethnic” hair won’t sell unless you straighten their hair to within an inch of its collective keratin-rich life? Are dreads suddenly too political and threatening for you when combined with a very outspoken and defiant black male character?

At least he’s not lily white. But on first take? I thought that was the Ultimate version of Forge on the cover, not Ryder.

The last time I saw non-straightened black hair on a Marvel comic cover was during the Daughters of the Dragon mini in 2006. The new Heroes For Hire covers don’t count because they all gave Misty Knight those highly improbable straightened bangs in front of her glorious textured ‘fro, a fro which, by the way, has looked smashingly gorgeous on her since 1976.

Debate has raged back and forth recently about Misty Knight’s hair. She had the big afro in the seventies and eighties, very close-cropped hair in the late nineties (another gorgeous look for her), then she went missing from continuity, then she showed up back with her longer natural in the mid 00’s, then she…well, look for yourself:

Straightened hair and BLUE eyes in the new Iron Fist book:

That’s from the newest issue of Iron Fist. David Aja, Kano, and Matt Hollingsworth are responsible for this atrocity.

Yep. That’s supposed to be the same person as this Misty Knight from 2006, who is black, beautiful, and about to rip out your viscera:

We just saw this happen with Vixen. There was outcry. There was a LOT of outcry in the comics blogsphere, and apparently no one at Marvel or DC bothered to take any of the complaints seriously, because look at that panel of whiteified Misty up there in the Iron Fist book, with her oddly straight hair and blue eyes. It’s a particular slap in the face because right at the beginning of the new Iron Fist run, a mere year ago, Misty DID have an afro.

Anyone who is tempted to argue “LOL, it’s just that not big a deal!” and who also happens to be white, don’t. Until you’ve walked through the world and had the experience of repeatedly being shown in media and popular culture that your natural, unaltered beauty (and HAIR) is undesireable, until you’ve had the experience of rarely if ever seeing yourself represented in the highest echelons of popular culture under the category of “beautiful,” you don’t have any right to diminish the experience and perception of those who do have that experience.

As digital_femme once cogently (and rather brilliantly) pointed out, there is no shortage of sources for artists to look at to see how men and women of African descent wear their hair the world over. For fuck’s sake, you can look out the window and see a cavalcade of beautiful hair in real life. There are entire publications devoted to the care, maintenance, and styling of black hair that feature scads and scads of hairstyles, textures, colors, and arrangements. People of all colors wear their hair in a diversity of styles as personal preference, whim, and money dictate. That means people of African descent, too. Maybe you should take that into consideration, Marvel and DC. Believe it or not, some PoC actually don’t straighten their hair into something Gwyneth Paltrow would sport on the red carpet.

This is racism. It’s the most insidious kind of racism, because it’s so deeply internalized and subtle. It’s not overt. It’s the kind of racism that says characters like Vixen, Storm, Misty, and Ryder are only visually palatable to mainstream audiences if their “ethnicity” is toned down. (I’ve put “ethinicity” in quotes because that’s the code word you occasionally see from the whiter portions of comics fandom when a desire is expressed to embrace universalism rather than acknowledge a thorough history of probelmatic portrayals of PoC in the medium.)

Marvel did a better job with visual depictions of black characters twenty years ago. How sad is that? How truly, truly sad is that?

* Not so gratuitous 30 Rock reference

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Racialicious is a blog about the intersection of race and pop culture. Check out our daily updates on the latest celebrity gaffes, our no-holds-barred critique of questionable media representations, and of course, the inevitable Keanu Reeves John Cho newsflashes.

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