by Stephen Hardman
Black Mask Studios continues to publish some of the most original and exciting comic books coming out right now. The diversity of the creators, and the characters and stories they are putting on the page, guarantees an intriguing slate of titles which is being expanded even further as 2016 rumbles on.
One of the most highly anticipated new titles from the publisher has recently been released. Black by writer Kwanza Osajyefo and artist Jamal Igle, was launched as a Kickstarter project during Black History Month earlier this year. It raised the necessary funding quickly and ended up raising over three times its original target amount.
Osajyefo has cited Dwayne McDuffie as a major influence on his life and work. McDuffie, along with Denys Cowan, Michael Davis, and Derek T Dingle, created Milestone Media in partnership with DC Comics, a publishing company which had a clear focus on creating multi-cultural characters and a determination to re-balance the under-representation of black people in comics. McDuffie provided inspiration to the young Osajyefo and Black is the latest of his accomplishments which Osajyefo hopes will inspire people in the same way.
Black centres on teenager Kareem Jenkins who we first meet with two of his friends walking down the street coming away from a basketball court. They are mistaken for suspects in a robbery, simply because they fit the description of young black males. The police officers who find them do not bother to confirm any more details and assume they are the suspects. With tensions running high, the kids are nervous and one of them makes a break for it. Inevitably they are gunned down in the street.
Kareem has suffered multiple gunshot wounds but miraculously he wakes up in the back of an ambulance and flees. He is pursued by the police and seemingly cornered. Approached by a mysterious figure Kareem hesitantly accepts his offer of help. Kareem is taken to The Project, where he will be introduced to people just like him, people with powers and abilities. It is here that Kareem learns that the powers are only manifesting in black people. It becomes clear that there is a bigger threat to Kareem than the police, and we see glimpses of the people intent on finding him. Kareem has been persecuted throughout his life because of the colour of his skin, now he will be persecuted because of his new-found powers.
There is no shortage of real life incidents involving young black males being fatally shot by police officers. While the victims of police shootings encompass male, female, white, black, Hispanic, young, old, etc., the officer-involved shootings that get the most headlines, and subsequently lead to soul-searching, political commentary, Twitter meltdowns, and public protests are the ones involving young, unarmed black men. For many people growing up in America this is something they live with every day.
Black was released a few weeks before the Netflix series Luke Cage premiered, and the similarities in themes between the two is clear. As Method Man says while being interviewed for a radio show in the penultimate episode of Luke Cage “There’s something powerful about seeing a black man that’s bulletproof, and not afraid.” Kareem Jenkins, a young black man with super-powers is a similarly powerful character who, like Luke Cage, offers a symbol of strength and inspiration.
This first issue was very much an introductory piece and I’m definitely intrigued to find out where the story is going. Hopefully Black can reach a wide audience so the themes and subjects it explores can be disseminated and discussed by as many people as possible.
Stephen Hardman is a trainee Legal Executive Lawyer who currently resides in Bath, in the UK with his wife and their cat. Among other things he writes in his spare time. He is currently working on a novel which he hopes to finish soon, and he has written a few short stories as well, though has not had anything published. Yet. Stephen loves reading and is a huge crime fiction fan; George Pelecanos, Dennis Lehane, and Ken Bruen being particular favourites. He is an editor and contributor at the geek culture website Geeks Unleashed.
His obsession with comic books knows no bounds and he loves sharing news and reviews of all the great comic books and graphic novels being published right now. He also loves listening to music and seeing bands live, and is always seeking out new bands and musicians to obsess about.
You can catch him on Twitter @HardDaysWrite.