Monday, April 24, 2006

Closer To The Truth With Some Rough (Accountable?) Talk

Over the Easter/Passover break I paid a visit to NY's premier comic book store, "Forbidden Planet." I was searching for some history related titles and discovered Constantine Hellblazer Papa Midnite. Amazon reviews: "Papa Midnite collects the five issue mini-series into trade paperback format featuring the sometimes ally, sometimes adversary of John Constantine. The book relates the origin of the Voodoo master and crime lord as well as his curse of immortality. Midnite is visited by the spirit who is the son of a 18th century slave named Cuffee. The story moves back and forth from present day to early 1700's New York when the young Midnite and his sister were still children yet already he was knowledgeable in the dark arts of Africa, if not entirely wise in their use. The slave Cuffee is planning a revolt against their "pink-skinned" masters and comes to Midnite to buy guns. Midnite tricks the man with a parlor trick into believing he has a magic powder than can repel bullets. This of course leads to tragedy as the rebellious slaves challenge their masters, falsely believing they are protected. As revenge, Cuffee forces Midnite to kill his own sister as the rest of the slaves commit mass suicide in a powerful blood sacrifice to curse Midnite. He is doomed to live forever until he can lead his people to control of the city. The only survivor of the suicide is the infant son of Cuffee named Fortune, who is now the spirit that haunts midnite. Several decades later, Fortune is now an adult slave and Midnite is now even more versed in the native arts and calls upon the Trickster God named Anansi (who arrives in the form of a giant and rather deranged looking rabbit) to assist his people in yet another revolt against their slave masters. John Constantine makes only a brief appearance in the story but one of his ancestors from the 1700's takes a central role as a tavern owner who tries to help the slaves. Writer Mat Johnson based the events in his story on actual slave uprisings in New York in 1712 and 1741. In fact even the notion of a power to protect against bullets is supposed to be factual. The story humanizes Midnite and turns what had been a pretty stereotypical character into one of real depth with human emotions, ambitions and failings. Now, almost 300 years later Midnite is confronted with these specters of the past and realizes that he's spent his many years doing nothing to forward the cause of his people. Mat Johnson, who himself is black, seems to be taking aim at certain public figures in the black community who themselves have been criticized for not being more socially conscious. Johnson makes no attempt to tone down the subject matter. Slaves are shown being beaten, sexually assaulted, hung, and burned alive. Perhaps most damning is their being treated as mere property...and opposed to a living, free-thinking person. About the only downside is that in the end there isn't much of a payoff for Midnite. He's confronted with his sins of the past but there doesn't seem to be much remorse on his part, and certainly no resolution to try to mend things. The story ends quite abruptly and I felt as though I had perhaps missed something." Here I put together a slide show from the beginning sequence of Papa Midnite. I did some censoring of some rough dialogue

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