Sunday, February 27, 2011

Diversity in Comics: Adventure Comics 411 - "The Alien Among Us"

From the era of the misleading cover, the scene depicted here on Adventure Comics 411 (October 1971) doesn't occur in the actual story inside. Nevertheless it does accurately hint at the inclusion of an African American character, in this case a little boy. The story begins with Linda Danvers working at her TV station job, where she has an evil co-worker bent on exposing her secret identity of Supergirl. When Linda makes excuses to leave and investigate reports of an alien sighting, her enemy plans to follow her, but someone else delays the party-pooper on purpose - looks like a couple of people in the office know Linda is Supergirl.

The first African American character encountered in the story is, however, not the little boy, but a stereotypical street thug. At least he's part of a mixed race gang. When the police end up having difficulty dealing with the situation, Supergirl has to intervene.

The alien escapes, and Supergirl ends up being blamed by a group of influential local old geezers who haven't subscribed to the Feminist Movement. Talk about male chauvinists!

The next page tries to illustrate the inhumanity of humanity, by referring to persecution of people of difference from a variety of categories. The mob seizes upon anything who violates mainstream norms, accusing anyone different of being the alien.

The alien, meanwhile, is hiding in someone's basement, and he's starving. The little African American boy from the cover encounters him, and provides him with food. In return, when the alien notices the boy has a crippled arm, he heals the boy so that he has full use of his appendage - a miracle to Earth people with their current level of medical knowledge and technology. the boy's father, however, doesn't see the full exchange. he's only concerned about the alien, because of the panic the whole community is in, assuming that he's dangerous. Unknown to his son, the father alerts the authorities as to the alien's whereabouts.

The armed police surround the building, and the alien is told to give himself up and he'll not be harmed. When he does, however, the leading chauvinist from the group of male coordinators of the response orders the tank to open fire and the alien is hit.

Instead of a dangerous monster, the alien was a potential savior. The little boy who knew him for who he really was rushes forward in grief and lamentation. The fallacy of the mindless shoot first ask questions later approach is exposed.

I think the story, written by John Albano, is loosely analogous to the tragic demise of Jesus - the mindless, violent, unthinking rabble seeing difference only in negative terms, seeking to destroy that which steps outside the boundaries of their self-defined normality, even if it is something that not only bears no ill will but instead desires the well-being of its detractors. In that way the story also condemns the majority's tendency to commit violence on people of difference, to almost purposely misunderstand and label difference in negative ways that foster fear, hatred, and aggression. The story also highlights the uncontaminated nature of little children, and by extension, the corruption that society subjects them to as they grow up, perhaps to become one of the mass of bigoted, prejudiced, unfeeling adults that hold sway over the collective world view. It's a story that's been told before in comics, and probably one that's been borrowed from a 1950s sci-fi movie and given a fresh coat of paint. It's a story that suggests a society that does contain a portion of people who do care, who want things to be different, otherwise how come we have this story? I'd be asking whether we still have much of that in us today.

Nice art by Bob Oksner, whose work tended not to be on superhero books (see Binky, Buzzy, Bob Hope, Jerry Lewis, Angel and the Ape, The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis, Miss Beverly Hills, etc. for DC, Terry Vance in Marvel Mystery Comics for Timely in the 1940s - heck, Bob's portfolio goes on and on - he's a major, major comic book artist!). Bob's very bare-legged version of Supergirl would have an unannounced costume change in the next issue, with those shapely gams covered over completely - from one extreme to the other!

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