With Black History Month right around the corner DC Power: A Celebration showcases several stories centering the experiences of black superheroes throughout DC’s multiverse. We start off this anthology of stories with a foreword by John Ridley who reflects on his love-hate relationship with superhero comics. He shares his personal passion with trying to bring diversity to a genre that, growing up, never really cared about having people who looked like him and he wants to see our diverse society reflected especially for those who have been left out of the picture. I’d also like to note that the Pan-African flag (or rather, one version of the Pan-African flag) subtly lingers between the pages of each story. Pan-Africanism is (broadly speaking) about celebrating and uniting the African diaspora and is a great lens through which to read this anthology. We are greeted by stories that cover black characters from different backgrounds, time periods and social statuses, characters who are fighting, shopping, dating, and a whole lot more. So while not every story may hit the same, it’s always vital to have a plurality of voices that can share these stories to us and not get caught up in whoever is serving us the most “authentic” African story. That being said, let’s look at the stories in question!
The first story in this anthology, written by Evan Narcisse, is a strong start and an incredibly poignant indictment of the United States. While Amazing-Man was fighting for the United States, his government was doing nothing to protect people like him. The US still tries to talk about World War 2 as though it were the “good war”, completely ignoring the atomic bombs, Japanese internment camps and continued mistreatment of the black working force that fueled the factories and sacrificed their lives on the battlefields. This story opens with Amazing-Man being incredibly angry that they would gloss over the horrible attacks committed against black people who moved to Sojourner Truth homes in order to join the war effort. The news reel only focuses on the parts that make the government look good which is still the way that the United States treats WW2.
Not only did black people have to relocate to help the war effort but this story also shows how they are never welcome in the neighborhoods they move to and how the government will constantly try to seize the land that minorities have called home. Ironically the government had also provided affordable homes and non-predatory loans for white people who were trying to buy land. A stark contrast to the people of Paradise Valley who are getting kicked out to build a highway. Camila Domonoske (NPR writer) addresses “the infamous redlining maps from the Home Owners’ Loan Corporation. In the late 1930s, the HOLC “graded” neighborhoods into four categories, based in large part on their racial makeup. Neighborhoods with minority occupants were marked in red — hence “redlining — and considered high-risk for mortgage lenders.”
The people living in Paradise Valley are also talking about incredibly effective praxis like organized strikes and pickets in order to protest their forced removal. I do think it’s a shame that we don’t see them actually carry it out though. It would’ve been way more cathartic to see Amazing-Man help the grassroots campaign to stay in Paradise Valley as they fight against a government that values white people’s cars over black people’s lives.
So the ending of the story is pretty bittersweet to me and I’m also not a huge fan of the way that Amazing-Man just sums up the struggle as though losing their homes isn’t a massive blow to their history and the fact that they don’t even show them putting up a fight! It’s the kind of ending that makes this story feel like it’s unintentionally saying it’s ok to defend yourself against racists but not against racist institutions.
Apart from the ending I will say that Amazing-Man’s story does have a great progression as we follow his life through his eyes and see his commitment to helping those in his community even when masked vigilantes are taboo. I really like how each thing he does feels purposeful and although it’s not always necessary to have it be explained by him it’s not like those explanations are taking us out of the comic too much. The fact that he asks his old teammates for information but refuses to have them come help makes complete sense when you see how much he’s already done for his community. I will say it’s a bit weird to me that Amazing-Man told the bystanders to go to a police box when they’re all under attack because his key already allowed him to be discreet and the police are one hundred percent on the side of Real American (as evidenced in the story itself since Real American is among their ranks).
I really love the old-timey feel of the art in this story and it totally matches the time setting. Darryl Banks draws the action in incredibly fluid ways and the panel composition is just as smooth. I love the little details like the phone cord that separates Amazing-Man from his old colleagues and I’m genuinely shocked at the panel where he’s bursting out of a burning cross. His superpowers also provide for a lot of cool snapshots and I wish the writing had a bit more confidence in the art because it does a great job of giving the reader a lot of information through short bursts of visual wonder!
“Separate but Equal”
This second story is a bit of a mixed bag for me. Lamont Magee writes two opposing sides who debate the segregation of meta-humans in order to live separate but equal lives. While the side in favor of segregation is an incredible parallel to real world anti-black rhetoric, claiming that their genes make them more violent and that they are a menace to society, I do have a problem with the way the anti-segregation side is framed. The fact that Mr. Pierce counters those arguments by bringing up statistics just rubs me the wrong way. On one hand, the statistics are on his side so it’s a good way of showing that the fear mongering about meta-humans is entirely made up and clearly favors a specific agenda. On the other hand the natural question is, does that mean it would be ok to segregate if the statistics showed that Mr. Connelly was right? Absolutely not! Statistics don’t show the context of crime and the factors that push those to commit illegal acts. I think this quote by Ernest Cole (South African photographer) sums up a much better rebuttal than just fighting a statistics battle. It’s a bit long but you’ve seen the length of this review, if you’re still reading this then you clearly don’t care:
“The white community […] cannot see the delinquency and crime in terms of the poverty and despair that encourage them. It cannot even see how remarkable it is that so few Africans are, in fact, criminals. All it understands is that ‘the native’ is a problem. All it can see to do is to intensify the repression it already has imposed. All that is left to it to feel is fear. For the whites, the only refuge is behind the steel bars at their windows, the only security in private watchmen and a revolver by the bedside. It is their purgatory that they must live in an armed camp, under a siege of their own making.”
One thing I do love about this story is that Mr. Connelly hired the attackers to frame the metahumans as violent and dangerous. Connelly created a “siege of their own making” and it’s obvious that they are consumed by the fear that they are pushing others to embrace, creating a miserable (although of course privileged) existence. Meanwhile the meta-humans who are not afraid to show their powers make the world safer by preventing further harm.
My least favorite aspect of this story has to be the art though. While I think that Chrischross (penciller) and Juan Castro (inker) do a great job of drawing the people talking to each other and standing around, the moment they engage in battle the comic takes a dive into intense mediocrity. The panels feel so constrictive and the fight scenes are almost shoved under the rug with the beautiful streaks of lightning sadly covering most of the panel and making it even harder to register what’s going on. I love that the fight of lightning against lightning presents twists and turns and genuine moments of tension but the fight is kind of a pain to look at and makes that tension ultimately feel pointless.
“The Queen, the Bee & the Symphony”
I’m just gonna say this now, it’s a bit weird that the first female lead story of the anthology opens with them shopping for clothes. There’s nothing wrong with this kind of story and it’s not like shopping is anti-feminist or whatever but after two stories that are more gritty and political we have to wait for the female lead story to present a bit of levity.
That being said, I really love this story. It’s campy and goofy and genuinely heartwarming. You can tell that this is Queen Nubia’s day off and it’s cool to see throwaway comments like her talking about how much she loves playing the harp come back in satisfying ways. The villain of the story has such a funny motivation and it’s cool to see Stephanie Williams be self aware and talk about the “saturday morning cartoon” feel. The framing of Queen Nubia’s vacation also perfectly fits the anthology format because it’s the type of one-off short story that you don’t mind checking out real quick.
The art by Alitha Martinew (penciller) and Mark Morales (inker) elevates this already great story. The character designs and elegant clothing makes you feel like you’re witnessing royalty. The panels going from solid to shaky the moment the fight breaks out is also really clever and I love the way that Bumblebee zips through the panels in order to deliver a devastating blow. I’m not super into the section of the fight where the ceiling collapses and I wish it had a tad bit more space or maybe connected the panels where she takes the ceiling and flings it at Mallah. The idea of the ceiling turning into a weapon is cool so it’s a shame it got a bit sped up but apart from that this comic does a great job of showing you everything else!
“Keeping the Peace”
I’m still pretty confused by Brandon Thomas’ story. It’s a weird one for sure and the way that John Stewart compartmentalizes his past makes for a cool framing device. The touching dialogue between him and his younger self, the fact that random memories get strung together through thin thematic threads and the way that the boxes are all contained within a literal mind palace is really clever and very authentic to the experience of people who are forced to keep their emotions suppressed. The ending is the only thing that confuses me where I can’t really figure out who that young lantern is. Is it him as a younger lantern? Is it someone who helped him out? Did he manifest him into being or was this character able to come help of their own volition? So many questions! This confusion isn’t even a bad thing. I think the framing of the memory palace allows for these kinds of open-ended plot points.
Natacha Bustos compliments the theme of memory perfectly in having their art be just detailed enough to make out everything going on but still maintain the lack of complete realism that comes with the nostalgic lenses we apply to the past. To go back to the ending it’s super cool to see that Stewart flies back to the green boxes as a sort of meta comment about how the story itself is like the memory that has been kept in a box. We are seeing Stewart’s past the way he wants us to see it and the art does a great job of reinforcing that.
“Own Your Name”
Dorado Quick & Jordan Clark dive straight into the controversy of the characters and deliver a powerful message that fights back against the backlash. From the very beginning we see Kid Flash cynically perceive themself as just a knockoff Flash, hired by the speakers to give some formulaic speed puns to please a crowd that they expect to already be disappointed by their appearance. Kid Flash’s doubts are then amplified by Thinker as he sees the past Flashes all sneer at him in disgust. While already feeling distress, Aquaman comes to see what’s wrong and they begin fighting each other over the fact they feel the other had left them behind. Throughout the buildup to the fight and the fight itself we see both characters directly address all the hatred they’ve received and how they feel excluded from the communities they want to embrace.
Instead of letting the hatred and self-doubt bring these superheroes down, they come to the conclusion that they can provide each other mutual aid and forge their own path. This plot can be seen as meta-commentary: with the people who hired Kid Flash being DC and the audience having their online hatred directly mentioned in the comic. Each unfair criticism is also manifested by the past Flashes who try to cling onto an idealized past. So as the ending points to the fact that Kid Flash has inspired others to see themselves becoming superheroes we see a beacon of light kick out the negativity. On a meta level the ending has Kid Flash inspiring others in his own way and reaching people beyond hate and cynicism, alongside allies like Aquaman. A touching final note to end on.
As for the art I feel like Clayton Henry has accomplished the opposite of Chriscross and Juan Castro. The action shots are amazing, with ample space to see the full force of each attack and headshots that provide the perfect emotional cutaway. Meanwhile the panels of people standing around feel dry in comparison with little to grasp onto after you’ve registered what’s going on.
When it comes to the action, Marcelo Maiolo makes the red, yellow, purple and blue stand out as flamboyant manifestations of each character’s powers. The streaks of white as the filling for Kid Flash’s lightning speed also serves as a great contrast to the hazy white mixed into Thinker’s purple hypnosis. The dream-like texture of Thinker’s power visually surfaces the subconscious insecurities of Kid Flash too!
Speaking of forging your own path! This story about Cyborg isn’t just the perfect follow-up to Own Your Name but is straight up perfect! Morgan Hampton centering this story around Cyborg’s dead mother’s birthday provides for an incredibly heart-warming ending and succinct time frame. You really feel for Cyborg as he tackles the responsibilities he’s been forced to accept and the weight of a day that constantly reminds him of the way that he’s been changed into the partial machine that he is now. While all that powerful emotional stuff is going on we also have a villain that wants to steal the electricity that Detroit is desperately in need of.
Once Cyborg secures the electricity and embraces the love that his mom had for him we see the story tie the loose ends over an incredibly lovely emotional present. I also really appreciate the way that this story subtly reinforces the fact that Cyborg has embraced all parts of him by having him take advantage of his machine side to communicate in sign language with his impromptu ally. I love that so many stories in this anthology focus on protecting and giving back to vulnerable communities without having to frame that as necessarily stripping away that person’s identity (as we’ve seen in so many superhero stories before). Instead of losing yourself you gain an empowered and active community who is ready to fight alongside you, thankful to have you by their side.
I also love the art by Valentine De Landro. The style almost looks like it’s melting under the heat of the day, allowing us to capture in the smudges a multitude of emotions and moments of average day life being disrupted by the clash between Cyborg and Livewire. The fight is also not the most important part of the story and is fitted with perfect percentage to its relevance. The amount you do see is visually pleasing and Lime Wire’s powers spread out in erratic and exciting ways that make it memorable.
“Vixen & Batwing”
Now we jump to elite superheroes protecting other elites in order to spend some romantic time together. The story is playful when it comes to the romance but ends in a sweeping romantic gesture while their fight is an exciting mash up of powers that are detailed and impactful. It’s a snapshot of two characters who have become so disconnected from real problems that they are able to stage a date in the middle of someone’s potential assassination. Chuck Brown writes it as very self-aware and surreal which allows for a level of separation from the main characters needed to appreciate their intimacy.
The amount of detail that Petterson Oliveira provides to each character design is incredible as though every panel was treated with the same dedication you would have for the comic’s cover. I especially love the way that the animal powers of Vixen are merged with the part of her body that is taking advantage of them.
The Cavalry is beautiful black and white Boogaloo boy bashing from another billionaire Batman who can’t understand that they’re the complete opposite of anarchists. So the villains are actually called the Igloo Boys but it’s obvious that they’re supposed to be a reflection of the Boogaloo boys, a far right militant group drenched in eye rolling irony. The Igloo Boys are also a reflection of the more general white supremacy that had been central to the Unite the Right rallies with Batman punching a member as they were trying to say “you will not replace us!”. At the same time this is another Batman who has come from wealth and who must rely on the police and the US government to at some level protect that wealth. Just because he comes from wealth doesn’t mean that it’s not super satisfying to see him absolutely demolish these far right fringe freaks! The ideas that they devote their guns too are incredibly harmful and Batman has every right to defend himself from them and by suppressing them he does help protect people who look like him. Exactly the kind of cathartic wish fulfillment Batman has been great at being for so many years!
While the story is gorgeous to look at and a nuanced mixture of satisfying and understandably frustrating, there is still the slight problem that it doesn’t fit the anthology format as well as the other stories. This story jumps straight into the action and could’ve just been a super fun bashing of Batman and Igloo Boys but we also have this frankly tedious narration about making the right choices and loving all the choices you made. It’s not something terrible or outright ruins the comic, just makes it feel like it’s desperate to fit the anthology without allowing its story to just exist.
I’m really glad that because this is an anthology many people will come across this story and think to themselves “wow this comic looks amazing!” instead of those who have been following I Am Batman who might react by saying “wait, that’s not what I Am Batman looks like!” The art by Olivier Coipel is incredible as always and you just have to look at it yourself to see what I mean. From the first page we see the menacing brutality of the Igloo Boys being focused on Batman with more and more of his tortured body coming to light as the panels progress. From the first page we are already hurting alongside him. The big difference being that we see a flash of a smirk on one panel and immediately know that Batman wasn’t worried like us. The action takes center stage after that and the acrobatic escape of Batman and his younger sister are mixed in with incredibly powerful looking punches delivered straight to the enemies face!
“Far Sector Preview”
The final story of this anthology by N. K. Jesmin is a series of snapshots from a lantern-to-be’s life. This lantern happens to have been part of some incredibly unjust US institutions during a time where the general population was recoiling from the aftermath of 9-11. We see through these snapshots the hero’s previous attempts including being complicit in crimes against humanity as well as the attempted public execution by her fellow officer. She also witnessed firsthand the ways in which white supremacy forced her parents through economic and emotional distress, adding undue stress to their marriage. Later she is also persecuted in a restaurant alongside her black friends despite clearly wearing her graduation robe.
The intersection between the racialization of her as black by those in the US and the privilege of being able to impose the power of the US through her police and army jobs makes Jo a complicated character who exists between the lines of victim and persecutor. This is what primes her to escape in some way by joining the Green Lanterns. If only this story didn’t cut off so abruptly because we’re so close to seeing the impact of her new job and the way that it actually allows her to wield power in a way that is transformative!
As for the art by Jamal Campbell I am in awe at how the first half of someone’s life has been condensed into powerfully descriptive panels. Each snapshot maintains the energy and history of the last as we see Jo desperate to make her mark within a rigid unreformable mess. The backgrounds are always worth looking at as you see the lives of other people either broken down or mindlessly enjoying themselves, fueling the emotional layers of each panel.
- You love anthology books
- Seeing a diverse range of stories from marginalized voices, tackling issues or having fun, sounds intriguing to you
- Good art and solid writing sounds like a good time
Most of these stories are incredible and capture the essence of so much in such a short amount of pages. The diversity of stories, of emotions, of problems and characters really makes this anthology stand out and if you approach it with a critical lens then you are going to be rewarded by thoughtful depictions of many of the problems currently plaguing the world. The lessons that can be learned from these stories are inspiring and I am glad to see many of these superheroes empowering themselves through their communities as both are elevated and ready to take on what they know to be the problem!
Total score: 8.5/10
Disclaimer: DC Comics provided Batman News with a copy of this comic for the purpose of this review.
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