Friday, March 14, 2014

I Reads You Review: TRUTH Red, White and Black #1


WRITER: Robert Morales
ARTIST: Kyle Baker
LETTERS:  JG & Comicraft’s Wes
EDITOR: Axel Alonso
EiC: Joe Quesada
40pp, Color, $3.50 U.S. (January 2003)

Part One: The Future

Published in late 2002 and running into 2003, Truth: Red, White & Black was a seven-issue comic book miniseries from Marvel Comics.  The purpose of Truth was to do some retroactive construction (also known as “retcon) or reconstruction on the fictional history of one of the company’s signature characters, Captain America.  The Truth’s conceit was that the United States government first tested the “super-soldier” serum that created Captain America on black men.

Back to the beginning:  way back in Captain America Comics #1, we meet Steve Rogers, a young man who volunteered for “army service” but was refused because of his “unfit condition.”  Basically, Rogers was too frail to serve in combat in World War II.  Desperate to serve his country, Rogers agreed to be a lab rat for Professor Reinstein.  The professor administered the “super soldier” formula to Rogers.  The “strange seething liquid” worked, transforming Rogers into a strapping young buck and a supernaturally fit specimen of red-blooded American White male.  Rogers eventually donned a flag-based costume and became Captain America.

Truth writer Robert Morales flipped the script on Captain America’s origin, and referenced a real-world situation in which men were used as lab rats, the “Tuskegee experiment.”  The Tuskegee Study of Untreated Syphilis in the Negro Male was a real-life clinical study in which poor Black men were denied treatment for syphilis so that the doctors involved could study how the disease spreads through the body and eventually kills the infected person.

Morales posed the following question on Marvel Comics mythology:  What if realizing that the “Super Soldier” serum was potentially so dangerous and perhaps fatal that before testing it on a White man (Rogers), the government tested it on Black soldiers.  Obviously, it is hard to imagine that even a fictional version of the U.S. government and military, especially in the 1930s and 40s, would risk creating a platoon of super Negroes.

In Truth: Red, White & Black #1 (“The Future”), Morales introduces his characters and the era in which they live.  The story opens in July, 1940 in Queens, New York at The World’s Fair.  We meet a young Negro couple, Isaiah and Faith, who are honeymooning and enjoying “Negro Week,” the week that the Fair is open to Black people.  [Remember that this is a time of segregation of people by skin color or “race.”]  Portrayed as a loving couple given to bouts of witty banter, Isaiah and Faith only run into a bad time at the Fair when they are denied admittance to an exhibit.  This exhibit displays scantily-clad white women and…  well, Isaiah is a Black man and shouldn’t be allowed to openly lust and gaze upon the pristine, snowy flesh of a White woman, even if she is whore.

Morales next introduces Maurice Canfield, the son of well-to-do Negroes in Philadelphia.  Maurice is a labor organizer, and his activities have gotten him and a friend beaten by the stevedores they were trying to organize.  Next, Morales moves the scene to a pool hall in Cleveland in June, 1941.  There, we meet Luke Evans, a former Army captain demoted back down to sergeant after shoving a white superior who belittled the life of a black soldier killed by cracker cops.

On one page, for the briefest moment, Morales offers a glimpse of the Japanese attack of Pearl Harbor (via a lovely page drawn by Kyle Baker), which is all that is needed to depict this pivotal and explosive moment in 20th century American history.  Although many Americans lose their lives during the attack, for other Americans, this tragic event offers a second opportunity.  That includes Luke Evans (who was moments from killing himself) and Maurice, who chooses enlisting to serve his racist country over spending 20 years at hard labor in prison.  Back in New York City, Isaiah likely sees military service as the beginning of an adventure.  Little do these three men know they are taking steps to lose themselves in the secret and hidden history of the United States of Marvel Comics.

I like this first issue Truth, which I first read about eight years ago.  Morales is quite good at creating three strikingly different black men, whose only connection is skin color, but who are still identifiably black men of their time.  Artist Kyle Baker’s loose, “cartoony” drawing style captures emotion through simple, yet classical cartoon facial expressions.  Baker gives each character his or her own unique physicality, but I would expect nothing less from one of the great comic book artists and storytellers of the last 30 years.  I eagerly look forward to reading more Truth.

[This comic book includes a three-page preview of X-Men #416 by Chuck Austen and Kia Asamiya.]


Reviewed by Leroy Douresseaux

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