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365 Reasons to Love Comics #59

It’s the final day of Black History Month! So who’s landed the coveted final spot? Is it All-Negro Comics? Prince: The Comic? Dale Gunn? Curtis? Or hey, even Battlestar? Nah.

I’ve been thinking about the themes that’ve recurred throughout this month, specifically that of the “neighborhood heroes” from last week and the similar-and-stereotypical background and themes a lot of the characters have. In a way, today’s featured hero is a summation of these themes. He represents every black hero, yet his story is not about race, but about all of mankind. He’s also one of my favorite new characters of the last few years.

2/28/07

59. Manhattan Guardian

Manhattan Guardian 1.jpg

(Every picture’s probably going to be clickable.)

“We’re telling stories about human dignity, Jake!”

Those words, spoken by Ed Stargard, the Baby Brain, in Manhattan Guardian #2, pretty much sums up everything we’ve been looking at. “Stories of how human being make culture and meaning for ourselves, even down there in the garbage.”

Manhattan Guardian was part of the Seven Soldiers non-event, written by God of All Comics Grant Morrison and drawn by one of my favorite current artists, Cameron Stewart. The character and story of this Guardian, Jake Jordan, was very Marvel-y. Jake accidentally takes a tragic action in his life as a police officer, causing him to quit his job and fall into a depression. His father-in-law inspires him to try out to be the spokeshero for the Manhattan Guardian, a newspaper written by the people, for the people. He does so, but, of course, further tragedy occurs, leading Jake to discover what it means to be a hero. The regular G-Mozz DCU madness occurs as Jake gets caught up in a world of subway pirates, robots gone mad, bizarre kid gangs, golem guards, and faeries from the future. If Jake makes it as a hero, can he make it as a man and iron things out with his wife, Carla?

Manhattan Guardian 2.jpg

Guardian is about the highs and lows of being a hero. It really does follow the Marvel Spider-Man method: as the Guardian’s life gets better, Jake’s life gets worse. He’s got to find a way to balance his super-career and his normal life. Jake goes through hell and comes out a better hero and a better man.

“Baby, it’s not about the job or the money, it’s about being in the right place at the right time to do the right thing. And knowing you’re gonna do it even if you don’t want to. Something real bad’s come up and there’s only me downtown. But sit tight: I’m coming to get you.” (Jake in Guardian #4)

Manhattan Guardian 5.JPG

Human dignity. That’s all it is. That’s what these “neighborhood black heroes” are about: finding the measure of oneself, the measure of a man. Going through hells, literally or personally, to find out what makes a hero. Being there for the people you care about, saving your community, even if it’s just one soul at a time. Whether it means taking weapons off the streets, teaching a class full of kids, cradling a lost soul, becoming a one-man A-Team, taking flight, or kicking a pirate in the face:

Manhattan Guardian 4.JPG

Jake loses everything worth any meaning to him, but he recovers it by the end. He saves his wife and himself, and he saves the people of Manhattan. Guardian, Steel, Falcon, Cage, Black Lightning, Static, Black Panther (sorta), hey, even Black Goliath, War Machine, Rocket Racer, Brother Voodoo, and Mr. freakin’ T are about finding the inner worth of oneself and projecting it in a hero persona to save and elevate the people of the community. But, look, the same could be said of Batman or Spider-Man or Superman or most any superhero.

Yeah, the black heroes get labelled as “neighborhood champions” and “heroes of the people/community” and “streetwise men of action” and all that, sure. That particular “subgenre” has been foisted upon them. There’s no reason for them to be labelled such and not nerdy white Peter Parker, though. All superheroes are champions of their community and heroes of the people. Dammit, they should be! The black characters don’t have to hide from this, but they don’t have to dwell in it, either. All the heroes we’ve looked at this month have brilliant concepts and limitless potential; I want this potential to be fulfilled! That’s all. Race can, and naturally will become a part of their stories, but it’s not what they’re all about. The stories are about what makes them human, what makes them heroes, what they do with the knowledge thereof, and how they make the world a better place.

Manhattan Guardian was a great mini-series and a great story of one man’s journey– one hero’s journey, to be Campbellian– but I don’t want it to be the end of the road. Let’s see a Manhattan Guardian ongoing!

Manhattan Guardian 3.JPG

No way, man, you be quiet. The people need to know you’re a reason to love comics, and that your story is a terrific examination of the meaning of a hero. Let’s just hope your story isn’t over, and that many adventures will be forthcoming.

16 Comments

Manhattan Guardian was great because it was Morrison’s take on a Stan Lee superhero origin.

I agree wholeheartedly. Where’s the Manhattan Guardian ongoing, DC?

“Manhattan Guardian was great because it was Morrison’s take on a Stan Lee superhero origin.”

That’s definitely one of the reasons.

I loved this mini-series, and the Guardian was my favorite of the Seven Soldiers. How come there’s a new Dr. Fate series and nothing for the Guardian?

Supply and demand, DC! Supply and demand!

Well said and a perfect capper to another month of this great series. Manhattan Guardian was one of my favorites of the whole Seven Soldiers thing. In fact, it was my appreciation of this series (which honestly, I figured I wouldn’t much like) that inspired me to keep going with the Seven Soldiers line.

Sooner or later, I really oughtta sit down and read all of those that I bought but never read. Note to self, I guess.

Have you guys seen the way they’ve handled the rest of the Seven Soldiers characters? I’m okay with leaving him be, if it means nobody is going to screw him up.

FunkyGreenJerusalem

March 1, 2007 at 1:03 am

“Supply and demand, DC! Supply and demand! ”

How do we let them know there’s a demand?

We can’t vote with our wallets, as there’s nothing to buy (and personally, I’m not going to pick up an issue of Green Whatever if Winnick has him stop by – I want him written by a quality writer!), and the big two brag about how little they listen to the internet.

So how the heck do we convince them to give us a MG ongoing?

The Mad Monkey

March 1, 2007 at 2:21 am

It’s easy…
Just go to DC Comics message board, at their website, and start a thread or two or three thousand. Put it everywhere you can…if the regular posters start getting annoyed, then you’ve got their attention.
Let them know what you want and how badly you want it.
If others agree, they’ll post too.
If they don’t, then your post will get lost in the vastness that is cyberspace.

Or send them a letter in the mail.

Or send them a letter in the mail.

I vaguely remember one of my grandparents mentioning something like that once. Does it have something to do with paper and pens?

Great entry, Bill. Great month.
Query: Did you write about Vixen, and I missed it? (Or is she not a reason to love comics?) (Before anyone gets snarky, please remember that she existed long before Meltzer discovered the peacock in her, and the monkey-with-a-typewriter in himself.)

Fantastic choice to close the month. Manhattan Guardian deserves far more than just a four-issue mini and off to limbo.

I really hated the Guardian mini-series and I thought it was poorly written. I didn’t think the characters had any real personality, it was painful for me to read and I gave it two issues. Whereas I could somewhat read the other first three miniseries, I couldn’t stomach how bad I thought the Guardian was. I still don’t understand why people think Morrison is a good writer, and probably never will. I’ll give you that he has an imagination, but everything else is dreadful. Though I will admit, I enjoyed Animal Man when it came out. It was everything else I’ve tried that just plain sucks in my opinion.
And I was another person hoping to see Vixen make the list. Well, maybe somewhere further down the line.

The Kirbydotter

March 10, 2007 at 4:10 pm

I don’t see what you guys see in Grant Morrisson.
Sure I liked his Doom Patrol and Animal Man.
He was bringing something new to the medium when he came at DC.
But his recent stuff doesn’t appeal to me.
He doesn’t reach me in the guts.
I liked the first introduction one-shot issue to the Seven Soldiers thing, and the Zatana mini. But the rest of Seven Soldiers didn’t grab me at all. Just another grittier and darker reboot of old characters. I thought the 90’s where over…

Grant Morrison doesn’t write dark and gritty comics. He writes wonderful optimistic comics. Most of the stuff he does excites my brain and my heart in a way that most comicsmiths haven’t been able to do since I was a kid.

He’s not remotely “90’s.” He’s usually ahead of the curve, rather than behind it.

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Interesting comments.. :D

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