The Odd Case of Black Sidekicks

The comic book world was set ablaze today by the announcement of Anthony Mackie playing the role of Falcon in the upcoming “Captain America: Winter Soldier” movie. You’ll be forgiven for not knowing who Falcon is.  He’s Captain America’s sidekick.  His Black sidekick.  And, yeah, if you think about it, Iron Man does have a partner, a Black partner, known as “Rhodie,”  the operator of the War Machine armor.  This isn’t a super prevalent theme in comics.  But, it is a theme.  The idea of the Black sidekick has always been a weird one to me, and it’s worth a conversation.

Sidekicks are supposed to give the reader someone to emulate(and sometimes immolate). That’s what Robin is for.  You see Batman being awesome in the comic and, as a young person, you can put yourself into the role of Robin.  Batgirl does the same thing. Captain America’s Bucky serves this purpose, too.  There isn’t anything really wrong with it, and it makes sense.  But when it comes to the Black sidekick, things get a bit…weird.  I would argue that these characters were introduced in order to allow young Black man to see an African American hero in a comic book.  These characters were not introduced because there was a need.  These Black characters were introduced as a function.

Comics needed more black characters. So, they created Black characters. We need to show a white man and a Black man working together to solve problems. Fine. Here. Make the Black guy his sidekick. Problem solved.  My question: Is this good? Or bad?

I have a huge problem with the idea that these characters were created to fill in some slot.  I also have an issue with the idea of forced diversity in comics and other entertainment property.  If you look at sitcoms, there is always the “Black Guy,” the character who is black to fit the role of being, well, Black.  Once the black guy is in the role, problem is solved.  Is this how people pick friends?  I don’t have any Black friends. I need more black friends.  You pick your friends based off their merits, the qualities you enjoy. You don’t pick your friends based off race. Or do we?  Do we do it subconsciously?  If we do, is that a bad thing?  What about interracial dating? Is that the same thing? Are we talking cultural?  Is this more social strata than race?  Ow. My head.

Getting back to the comics, the Black Sidekicks feel so much like racial appeasement.  But, is this ok? Is this a problem?  Diversity should be organic, not forced. It should make sense. New characters need to be created in comics, so, if we create them, why can’t we make these characters racially diverse? The new Ultimate Spider-man was not only Black but he was part Black, part Latino! Two problems solved!   Looking at Gender diversity, the JSA Green Lantern has been revamped and is now gay.  Is this appeasement?  Or is this just recognizing the diversity of the American population?

Maybe I’m missing the bigger picture here.  Entertainment is artificial. Entertainment properties reflect reality. It isn’t reality. In the construction of a fake reality, where men can fly and shoot rockets out their hands, it’s probably fine to create a forced, fake diversity.  And, if a young Black man see a Black superhero on a cover of a comic book and feels pride, you can’t say that’s a bad thing. But, it shouldn’t be hammered in bluntly.  A good way to look at how diversity is handled in Entertainment is to look at the Matrix films.  The second two are “meh”, true, but there are tons of different colors and genders in the film, working together in a seemingly natural order.  Even through the main character, Neo, is white, you never get the sense that the rest of the characters are fulfilling a role.  It feels like they naturally belong there.

The problem with discussing how race works in the different aspects of our society is that race is a vast issue, and I never have time to completely dig into it.  Eh.  I don’t know. What do you guys think?