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Things That Turned Out Bad – That Time Captain America Fought a Villain Driven Mad By an Evil Black Man’s Hand

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In this column, I will spotlight plotlines by writers that probably weren’t a good idea at the time and have only become more problematic in retrospect. I’ll try to stick with stuff that’s more ill-conceived than flat-out offensive (like racist stereotypes of characters during the 1940s).

Today we look at the very poorly-conceived origin of Captain America’s Golden Age foe, the Black Talon.

First off, you might be thinking, “But Brian, you said you were going to avoid racist stereotype characters from the 1940s because they’re too easy as targets. You are a lying liar who lies!” Fair point. However, I think that the Black Talon doesn’t really count as a racist stereotype – it goes way beyond that (there is obviously some racist stereotype stuff going on within in – but it is so much more than just that).

“The Case of the Black Talon” took place in 1941′s Captain America Comics #9 and was written by Otto Binder and drawn by Jack Kirby and Syd Shores, pretty much a Hall of Fame trio of comic book talent (although obviously Shores sort of pales in comparison to the first two – but Shores was pretty freakin’ awesome in his own right).

The story opens with someone known as the Black Talon killing famous painters. We soon learn that the Black Talon paints his victims after he kills them….

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And then he goes to his next victim…

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Cap and Bucky were too late to save this victim, but can they stop Black Talon and his gang (by the way, I love how bad guys having henchmen were such an ingrained part of comics even by 1941 that Binder can have Black Talon have henchmen for NO REASON and no one blinked an eye. The guy doesn’t actually rob people! Why would you be a henchmen to this guy? He’s just a plain ol’ serial killer!)?

They’re doing okay but ultimately, the Black Talon defeats Cap…

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After the Talon and his gang escape, Cap and Bucky do some research and figure that the Black Talon must be this famous artist who lost his hand in an accident. They go to confront him at his home but find him dead. So they figure he couldn’t be the Black Talon. However, he was FAKING his death! He attacks and we get the ill-conceived origin of the Black Talon!

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That’s some messed up stuff right there.

Cap manages to get free and defeats the Black Talon…

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But the Black Talon escapes!!

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Yes, they not only invented a character like the Black Talon but they thought he was good enough to bring back AGAIN! He ended up showing up a couple of times (all in Otto Binder-written stories. He must have really thought he had something with the Black Talon).

If you can think of a good example for this column, drop me a line at bcronin@comicbookresources.com.

102 Comments

Even worse, the Black Talon is pretty clearly based on the various film versions The Hand of Orlac, which had little if any racial subtext. So the worst elements of this story were deliberately *added* by the writers!

I was about to mention Orlac (the definitive version of which is Peter Lorre’s Mad Love). Yes, adding a racial component adds a whole ‘nother element to “taken over by my transplanted hand.”
And no winner on the disabled front either with the villain proclaiming it’s better to die than be disabled.

Trying to fathom the logic of a crushed hand poisoning him…

It’s an allusion to gangrene, Fury.

I must say though, the art was really enjoyable.

That… wasn’t the Black Talon I thought you were going to do the origin of.

Surprisingly, the Black Talon was adapted decades later in the Michael Caine film, “Me Bloody Hand”:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BQWpxwCRbhU

An interesting article. I am not sure what to think about it.

On the one hand, the painter is a racist. I do not see anything wrong with depicting a racist in comics, especially as a villain.

As mentioned above, the idea of a transplanted hand (or other organ), specifically a killers, taking over or influencing the recipient was not original. Was there evidence that the hand’s evil influence came in part from the fact that it was a black man’s, rather than the fact that it was a killers? Is the underlying cause blackness, a killers ‘spirit’, or the painters racism?

Okay, I just read the doctor’s statement about “…wild new blood coursing through your veins…” I suppose you have to read that as medical support for blackness being bad, or the doctor is a racist, too, or that he has a poor and inappropriate sense of humor.

Or, and I know it’s a long shot, it’s a comic whose creators were unthinkingly sincere in the views the comic pretty blatantly expresses.

The amount of work some people will put it to avoid acknowledging this sort of thing is amazing.

I may well be alone here, but I find Kirby’s Golden Age art grotesque.

Mr Karindu you are usually an alright guy.

I did not put any work into avoiding anything. Binder, Simon and Kirby being racists and writing racist things has no bearing on me. I do not see the harm in discussing the matter or asking a question about it, which is what I did. I even posted a second comment pointing out some racist dialogue.

I really do not appreciate the passive internet attack.

Whatever you intended, this is the sort of thing you wrote: “On the one hand, the painter is a racist. I do not see anything wrong with depicting a racist in comics, especially as a villain.”

The problem is not that the comic depicts a character as a racist; the problem is that the creators of the comic have produced a story premised on the idea that certain racist ideas are true. In the context of the story, the character isn’t racist — he’s simply expositing for the reader what the story he is in unambiguously says is happening.

As a result, when you call the characters in the comic racist, you imply that the characters, not their creators, are getting it wrong. But in the context of the story, their views are “right.”It’s the creators of the comic, in this instance at least, presenting racist rhetoric as physical reality. This is the reason that the world the characters inhabit is shown to work the way that it does.

To put what Omar says another way, it’s not as if the painter is rationalizing his murders with racism–it’s quite clear the hand is indeed causing it. And they repeatedly emphasize that it’s a “black hand,” not just a run-of-the-mill transplant.

Yeah, I’d argue that this doesn’t violate your original rules for the column. It’s more that it contains stereotypes in the story rather than that it is a stereotype itself.

The guy goes crazy because he gets a transplant from a killer. Nothing problematic about that in and of itself. But then they had to make the killer brutishly stereotypical (or vice versa I supposed) as they did and that’s where it turns problematic.

I’ll add that they could have had the transplant come from a black male and even had him be a murderer and it wouldn’t have been an issue, but they did it in such a stereotypical manner that it… well, everyone can see it for themselves, no need to restate the obvious.

@kdu2814 –

I think the issue is more in how they portrayed the organ donor as brutish and barely recognizable as human. So it’s more about them having this guy get a transplant from a walking stereotype and him going insane because of that reason rather than just because he got a shitty and/or somehow-magical transplant.

@Omar Karindu –

I don’t think anyone said half of what you typed there. I’m pretty sure we’re all in agreement that this story is about a dude getting a transplant from a caricature of a black male and going insane as a result and the story is basically saying “don’t get organ transplants from black dudes or you’ll go nuts”. I don’t see a single comment in this comments section that’s even coming close to trying to deny that.

Kirby’s Golden Age art IS grotesque, cool arrow. That’s why I love it! I’ll take ’40s Jack over what he evolved into (stylistically) any old day.

“The Case of the Black Talon” took place in 1941?s Captain America Comics #9 and was written by Otto Binder and drawn by Jack Kirby and Syd Shores, pretty much a Hall of Fame trio of comic book talent (although obviously Shores sort of pales in comparison to the first two – but Shores was pretty freakin’ awesome in his own right).

I’m currently batch-reading 60s Cap stories, and I totally agree on Shores. I didn’t know much about him, but reading those stories I’m shocked he’s not mentioned more often in the same breath as other renowned Kirby inkers. He’s damn good.

First off, you might be thinking, “But Brian, you said you were going to avoid racist stereotype characters from the 1940s because they’re too easy as targets. You are a lying liar who lies!” Fair point. However, I think that the Black Talon doesn’t really count as a racist stereotype – it goes way beyond that (there is obviously some racist stereotype stuff going on within in – but it is so much more than just that).

I agree, this is bad even for the standards of the day.

Aw man, I’m a fan of the evil-hand trope, but adding the racial element does kind of ruin it. Of course, the usual premise of the killer’s-hand trope is that there’s something in the hand itself that makes someone kill, whether it’s in the blood or some supernatural/ghostly element. It could be interpreted generously that the blood is “wild” because it’s a killer’s blood, not because it’s from a black man, but that would require ignoring the way people had been talking about race for many, many years. The subtext’s pretty clear here, alas.

Hang on Omar, the hand is also a murderer’s hand as well as a black person’s hand.

Hang on Omar, the hand is also a murderer’s hand as well as a black person’s hand.

Please read the comments here by buttler and Fraser. It’s fairly clear what’s going on in this story from its dialogue and art, not to mention the whole historical context of the “one-drop rule.”

They could have called it “a killer’s hand” or whatever, but the fact that they specifically keep calling it a black hand emphasizes that the black part is more important than the killer part.

Wow, even by 1940s standards that’s shockingly racist. Sarcastic gold clap for Otto Binder.

With regards to the art I prefer Kirby’s later work because I generally like cleaner lines (unless you’re going full on psychedelic like Seinkwicz), but Kirby still phenomenal in this. The dynamism is almost unparalleled, and the panel layouts are brilliant. There is also so much detail there that wasn’t the norm even in the Silver Age. I’m not normally into Golden Age art, but Kirby and Cole were decades ahead of their time.

@Omar Karindu
You could have made your point with out accusing me of being an apologist for racists.

You could have made your point with out accusing me of being an apologist for racists.

I remarked that you seemed as if you were going out of your way in trying not to acknowledge the creators’ racism, not that you were presenting any sort of defense of racism itself. Your first two comments on his post seem to conspicuously avoid mentioning that the comic even has creators, instead suggesting multiple ways we might see the characters as inherently unreliable rather than as reliable mouthpieces for their creators’ apparent views.

For example, even after you point out the racist dialogue, you go on with “or the doctor is a racist, too, or [...] he has a poor and inappropriate sense of humor.” That sort of thing reads as if you’re trying to divorce the characters’ words from the creators’ views, and it’s the note you end on.

There are instances in which Watsonian readings should be put aside, and this is one of them.

talk about a little messed up creating characters way back in comics golden age creating a character who becomes a bad guy due to ganggreen from losing his hand then an organ transplant drives him evil. and a serial killer way back when then calling it a black hand. wonder if otto did not consider the black talons racial over tones a little bit

Funny but am I the only one noticing the heavy Syd Shores work here over Kirby’s layouts? Anyway, here is the 70′s Black Talon who fought Brother Voodoo in Strange Tales http://ts1.mm.bing.net/th?id=HN.608001905614392723&pid=1.9&w=300&h=300&p=0

keep that pimp hand strong

Who can blame a guy becoming a murderer after his parents called him “Strangler” Burns? It’s a shame they executed him too because he’s clearly reformed by the way he’s calmly standing next to the Doctor at the hospital. I’m getting a real “Green Mile” from Strangler Burns.

Sure, the story is clearly racist. If you write and/ or illustrate such a story you clearly have racist tendencies yourself. Whether they are overtly racist or just born out of ignorance – who knows? Most people are racist and don’t realise it until placed in a situation in which their belliefs are challenged. It’s what they do after the confrontation that’s interesting.

Talk about giving yourself a “stranger”.

The lengths some of you will go to in order to scream, “Racism!” is somewhat ridiculous.

The fact is “Strangler Burns” is a stone-cold killer, no matter the color of his skin. He gives up his hand to the painter (in hopes his hand will take control and kill again?)… And the blood of a killer seeps into the painter’s body and causes him to become a murderous villain himself.

Okay, got it.

Now, if we were to assume the creators picked a black man on purpose to tell us that all black people are secretly evil and black blood will make you evil? Then I am missing that entirely. It seems coincidental, perhaps to just provide a codename like Black Talon. And perhaps to give the character an aesthetic twist.

What I am reading from most of you is “white guilt” – hey, a black guy’s hand is transplanted on a white guy, and the white guy turns evil from the black guy. Racism!!!

Had it been a black painter and a white killer had donated a hand, and the hand caused the black man to commit murderous acts? Well, I think most people would probably be praising the story for its progressive nature. (“Oh, how true… White people are inherently evil toward people of other races, don’t ya know?”)

*sigh*

In this day and age of PC overload, a character such as this one (i.e., Black Talon) is sure to cause some sort of reactionary backlash. So you probably wouldn’t see a character like this popping up in current forms of media. But honestly, if you step away from it all and really take a hard look, it is not racist.

C’mon…

I prefer the reading that this is not a sci fi story and that the hand had no real magical effect. The painter is just so insanely racist and he believes so strongly that a black hand would make him a killer that it does. Then he gets to blame all of his problems on the black hand for the rest of his life. It’s a great free pass.

Also, I hope you’ll all come out and support my new, all white blues band called Those Black Cruel Fingers.

WTF is white guilt? Not even being facetious, I just don’t even understand how that could be played into any of the commentary about this character/origins and the discussion about it here.

Wait, am I being trolled?

Well, it’s kind of nice to see a black character in 1940s Marvel that isn’t an “hilarious” comedy sidekick, ala Whitewash Jones. Or, God help me, Corporal Dix’ pal “Fish Face Friday.” I get that it’s based on stereotypical portrayals from other media, but I really, really wish that Simon and Kirby level talents were… well, better than this.

Harlock, I doubt they were thinking it through to the point of saying “all blacks are evil”–but when they emphasize over and over that it’s a Black Hand, they’re playing with racial stereotypes and cliches about “mingling of the races.” It’s all very well to talk about how we’d react if someone grafted a white hand on a black guy, but we don’t see that in that era because it simply wouldn’t have the same connotations.

I’m just glad that Cap didn’t kill Black Talon or he’d spend 60 years crying about it.

Sadly, in the early 1940s, only a tiny percentage of the typical readers of comics would have perceived anything at all objectionable about the story. Even the otherwise exemplary Will Eisner used racist stereotypes in his Spirit series. Fortunately, by 1964, mainstream social attitudes had significantly changed and Kirby, with Stan Lee, produced stories that not only showed African Americans in a far more positive light but specifically showed racism in a very much negative light, as in a story in Sgt. Fury in which Gabe Jones, a black soldier, willingly donates life-saving blood to a man who has been depicted as a blatant racist. I don’t know much about Otto Binder, but I think in the early 1940s Kirby was too blinded by the dominant racist norms of the era to recognize the evil of those norms within his home nation even if he did recognize it when it was aimed at people who shared his religious background in Nazi-dominated Europe. Hell, it wasn’t until 1964 that a U.S. :President called out racism as a blight in this nation in very blunt terms in a televised address.
It’s sad that such talents as Binder, Kirby & Shores would create what they no doubt thought of as just another great rip-roaring Captain America & Buck adventure with such racist overtones, but sadder that that there were too few people at the time among either their peers in the industry or their fans would have noticed any problems that are very clear to us over 70 years later.

I had a good laugh when I got to the part about the hand’s “brute” strength.

Modern people often have a problem to understand how much racist notions were popular before the evils of the Holocaust were revealed to the world. A determinist view of how the “blood” you had determined how you acted was was very, very popular, even among educated people. Or perhaps more among educated people. Eugenics was big. A distorted appropriation of Darwin’s theories was big.

@Suzanne de Nimes –

Minor correction. That link you sent is actually an SCTV comedy sketch. The footage used is, I believe, from The Hand, an Oliver Stone movie in which Caine plays a comic book artist who loses his hand only to have it come to life with a (murderous) mind of its own. It kills people, Caine’s character is arrested, but hey! Those fingerprints belong to his missing hand! Gotta let him go.

Caine’s character’s art was actually drawn by Barry Windsor-Smith!

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Hand_(film)

@Harlock999 –

I understand what you’re saying and I do agree that a lot of people on this site are quick to overcompensate for their own white guilt by accusing EVERYTHING of racism/bigotry, BUT — and this is VERY important — I don’t think this is an example of that. The comic goes out of its way to remind the reader that it’s a “black hand” so many freaking times that it’s clearly intentional. If you have any doubt about that whatsoever then you only need to look at the credits for this comic. Regardless of how talented they were, Otto Binder and Jack Kirby were both racists and that fact is pretty well documented.

It was the 40′s. Different times back then. Is history: A Batman movie came out and with hysteria and paranoia surrounding the war, the movie depicted stereotypical Japannese as monstrous and evil. And Batman was there to save the world.

Everything began to change in the early 50′s to the 60′s. That’s when comic books were being portrayed as a negative influence for adolescends. Psychologists like Dr Ferdham changed the perception on comic books, calling it so many names and other inaccurate shenanigans. Of course, looking now, is easy to call out his deluded theories, implying that Batman and Robin were gay, or that Catwoman was anti-feminine. The man single-handedly banned Catwoman from comics all because of his background and expertise. And we’re not talking about a man who doesn’t know what he was talking about: his work also includes on segregation and the Civil Rights.

So it doesn’t bother me about these overtly stereotypical comic books from the 40′s or 50′s. That was a different generation. That’s what worked back then. Times change. And is quite childish to look back at history and pick on its errors. Living is not a crime; neither is adapting.

Rene: “Modern people often have a problem to understand how much racist notions were popular before the evils of the Holocaust were revealed to the world. A determinist view of how the “blood” you had determined how you acted was was very, very popular, even among educated people.”

There’s a WW II movie Black Dragons in which Bela Lugosi surgically transforms Japanese spies into white businessmen for sabotage. Given the past’s fixation on clear racial boundaries, I suspect this would have had overtones for the original viewers it doesn’t now.

See, a series of articles like this are exactly why Brian Cronin is my comic book fan patron saint.

Well done, sir.

God you people need to get a life. Racism what racism . You people find racist subtext in everything. It a bloody simple kids comic. The hand is obviously evil because it comes from a killer. It has to come from a black guy because hes called the Black Talon.

A Horde of Evil Hipsters

April 14, 2014 at 2:22 am

Facinating article, as usual. For someone interested in the history of the art form (comics) and the genre (superheroes), these are always a good read. However..

I must be some sort of a masochist since I keep reading the comments section even though I know it always descends to lunacy. I suppose it’s nice that this time the “portraying the only black character in the story as a murderous apeman isn’t racist, and racism isn’t real anyways” crowd seems to be the minority.

I swear some commentators haven’t even read the article, “quick I must defend casual racism immediately!”

Joe Bloggs has a point about the name Black Talon. After all, the Black Knight was black, Black Bolt was black, the Black Widow was black, the Black Terror was black, and every other character with black in their name was black, so there you are.

Might I point my detractors to the following line: “Black hand– White hand– What does it matter? I can paint again!”

All other variations of “black hand” and “black (cruel) fingers” seem more descriptive in nature rather than accusatory.

And while I honestly have no knowledge of the racist tendencies of Binder and Kirby? I find myself having a hard time believing the co-creator of T’Challa, the artist/writer of a (frankly bizarre) run of Black Panther, and the artist/writer of a(nother bizarre) series of Captain America and The Falcon comics was actually a racist…

I suppose it’s a true mark of progress, as Franky notes, that people are trying to defend this story or its creators from the charge that the story contains racism. And Kirby, at least, went on to co-create characters like the aforementioned Gabe Jones and T’Challa, the Black Panther.

But then, I don’t think of racism as ontological, like someone *is* a racist at some deep level of his or her being. Racism is much more about structures and discourse, institutions and behaviors (Including expression), and, as Franky notes, tends to work in terms of social norms. At the time of this story’s publication, Walter Plecker, the Registrar of Statistics for the state of Virginia, was busily reclassifying any family of mixed origins as “Black,” even retroactively, under the Racial Integrity Act he’d had a hand in passing in 1924 which formally made interracial marriage illegal in that state. Five other states subsequently passed similar legislation.

In addition to its redefinition of race, this Act permitted the sterilization of people determined “feeble-minded,” which was used by doctors to justify sterilizing minorities in the name of preventing “miscegenation,” that is, multi-ethnic births. Plecker was a eugenicist, like many in his time across the political spectrum. In 1937, for example, a poll in Forbes found that 2/3 of the sample supported eugenics. For that matter, Michigan, where Otto Binder was born in 1911, had been the first state to try to pass a eugenics bill in 1897, partly because J.H. Kellogg believed in and advocated for the theory. When such a law finally did pass there, it stayed on the books until 1956….as with similar laws in twenty-seven other states.

Plecker was an especially virulent racist, however; in 1935 he wrote a letter to the director of the German Bureau of Human Betterment and Eugenics to praise them for sterilizing some 600 children born from unions between German women and black French Colonial fathers. Virginia, for its part, did not repeal the anti-miscegenation portions of the Racial Integrity Act until 1975, about nine years after the Supreme Court case Loving vs. Virginia had struck those remaining provisions down.

It’s not hard to read Strangler Burns’s hand as an allegory for “race-mixing,” with the transplant providing a reactionary fantasy of non-sexual miscegenation. Plecker’s theory was that multiracial children inherited the greater intellect of the white parent and the negative stereotypical traits of the nonwhite parent. Here, the brilliant painter becomes a brilliant criminal mastermind thanks to the “wild blood” of his “black hand,” with the implication being that Strangler Burns’s innate brutality — he’s described as “a ferocious looking African” with “cruel black fingers” — has joined the painter’s intelligence to create an even worse menace.

So the story is rather blatant in reproducing some of the more toxic ideas of its time, and at the same time would not have been terribly objectionable to the creators or to a significant portion of the (white) readership, for whom such ideas were somewhere between scientific fact and common sense. That doesn’t excuse this story or its creators, exactly, but it also doesn’t mean condemning the creators and all their work, past and future. It means that the past, even the relatively recent past, is far different than most people think; and that education about and reflection upon the past remains an unfinished task in the present.

Omar is right.

People often make the mistake of thinking crazy eugenics came fully formed from Adolf Hitler’s mind, or it was some extreme idea of a few madmen. But no, eugenic ideas were very popular, very widespread in the 19th century and up to the 1940s.

Don’t be surprised that even “nice” people like Jack Kirby were not immune to thinking that “blood” had a large influence in who you were, at some essential level. It doesn’t mean that they hated blacks, or even disliked blacks, just that they were predisposed to see blacks more like as a separate sub-species.

“Plecker’s theory was that multiracial children inherited the greater intellect of the white parent and the negative stereotypical traits of the nonwhite parent.”
To add to Omar’s point, this was a recurring plot in stories using mixed-race villains–the superior intellect of a white man combined with jungle savagery/Indian savagery/Oriental cunning or whatever sinister trait the nonwhite was credited with. I half suspect “black hand–white hand–what does it matter?” might have been taken as a warning sign (that’s only a guess of course), much like mad scientists who insist they can tamper in God’s domain.
The Mandarin is an odd example of a mixed-race villain, as it never plays a role in his character. I wonder if Lee just stuck it in because it was such a cliche.
Regarding eugenics, “Better for all the World” is an excellent look at the eugenics movement. As several people have pointed out, it was a widely accepted view at the time and considered greatly humanitarian, as it would eliminate all those negative genetic traits we were then saddled with.

@Omar Karindu
In my second post I began with “Okay, I just read the doctor’s statement about “…wild new blood coursing through your veins…” I suppose you have to read that as medical support for blackness being bad…” I did not think the part after the comma, the only part you later quoted, would be taken seriously by anyone given how I started the sentence. My mistake.

As mentioning the painter being a racist and not the creators, when I skimmed the comics pages, the only place I saw any direct racial comments were in his dialogue, so I saw no reason to say ‘Maybe the creators are using a fanged villain as a mouth piece.’

Again, as soon as I noticed the doctor’s comments I brought them up.

@Rene — Don’t be surprised that even “nice” people like Jack Kirby were not immune to thinking that “blood” had a large influence in who you were, at some essential level.

I was with you up until this sentence. You aren’t seriously suggesting that genes don’t dictate the characteristics of any given biological organism, are you?

The idea of “white guilt” is one of the stupidest things that conservatives have ever come up with. According to the meme of white guilt, liberals don’t support civil rights and fight against racism because it’s the right thing to do. They do it because they feel bad about slavery and Jim Crow laws (and other disgraceful practices of American history).

It’s stupid. I have never run across a single liberal who supports civil rights or fights against racism because they feel guilty about the actions of their ancestors. They are educated, socially aware and empathetic. They do it because the things they are fighting against are wrong.

Conservatives seem to prefer to learn what liberals think by listening to other conservatives than by actually getting to know any liberals.

Yeah, the racial subtext of the Black Talon story is unpleasant, to say the least. On the other hand, I do have a fondness for the HANDS OF ORLAC trope. I wonder if anyone has thought about retconning the story? It wouldn’t be too difficult. The hand could be retconned as a demon’s hand, say. Or maybe it could be the product of Arnim Zola.

And I’m sorry if I offended anyone by saying that one of conservatism’s cherished memes is stupid. I will try to be more politically correct next time so as not to hurt their feelings.

To add to Omar’s point, this was a recurring plot in stories using mixed-race villains–the superior intellect of a white man combined with jungle savagery/Indian savagery/Oriental cunning or whatever sinister trait the nonwhite was credited with.

Case in point, the Mandarin.

It a bloody simple kids comic.

What an idiotic statement. Material written for kids can’t have racist content? The extent people go to excuse casual racism is really bizarre.

The idea of “white guilt” is one of the stupidest things that conservatives have ever come up with. According to the meme of white guilt, liberals don’t support civil rights and fight against racism because it’s the right thing to do. They do it because they feel bad about slavery and Jim Crow laws (and other disgraceful practices of American history).

I don’t think everything has to be black-or-white (no pun intended), either-or. I agree that this excerpt is racist, even within the context of the period it was written, and I think conservatives trying to defend it are deluded. However I wouln’t go so far as to say that white guilt isn’t a real thing. I also wouldn’t go so far as to say that liberals are the only ones who suffer from it. They just respond differently to it when it affects them. Liberals tend to surrender to the guilt feelings, conservatives try to avoid, suppress, or overcompensate against them or project those feelings into others.

The irony is, in this thread I don’t think it’s the liberals are the ones guilty of white guilt. I think the people going to extremes to defend the casual racism at all costs are.

I think it’s important to look at things in the context of the overall period. While all members of the Axis Powers were caricatured to some degree (Alex Schomburg told more of a story on his covers than some entire modern comics do today but there were all kinds off Japanese caricatures on the covers), the Japanese were far more exaggerated than the Germans or Italians. There were internment camps for both Japanese Canadians and Japanese Americans. Black characters only got it slightly better because they didn’t have a clear target among the Axis: Ebony of course is one example, and the character of Whitewash likely led to the retconning of the Young Allies as an exaggerated comic book account of what “actually” happened when the team was finally revived a few years ago. Bus segregation was around during that time, The Chinese are another example: Slam Bradley’s first appearance is cringeworthy because of the portrayal of Chinese in that story. Racism was pretty strong during that era overall.

I’m not saying that Binder, Kirby, or Shores went around saying the n-word at every opportunity, but it was a different era, and not that far removed from today as we’d like (witness the birther claim with Obama). I think one can claim that Binder/Kirby/Shores weren’t overtly trying to be racist the way the KKK do, but that their beliefs at the time the comic was made, regardless of their views in subsequent decades, did spill into the work. It doesn’t negate all the good they did for the comics industry but they were a product of the era they were in and stuff they bought into at the time that is now obviously racist does show up in their work, and the work of many of their peers.

Fraser:”The Mandarin is an odd example of a mixed-race villain, as it never plays a role in his character. I wonder if Lee just stuck it in because it was such a cliche.”

RE: the Mandarin’s mixed-race origins (Chinese father, English mother), I think that Stan was specifically riffing on Ian Fleming’s Dr Julius No. Dr No, like the Mandarin, was of mixed racial origins, although in his case the mother was Chinese and the father was German*. The clear sign of the the Fleming influence comes from the odd detail that the Mandarin was raised by his aunt, an embittered woman who filled him with hatred for the world. This is precisely the backstory for Dr No, who was also raised by a hate-filled aunt.

* Speaking of people believing in “bad blood,” Fleming really had it in for the Germans. Dr No was half-German. So was Donovan Grant (the assassin in FROM RUSSIA, WITH LOVE). Milton Krest (the bad guy in “The Hildebrand Rarity”) is of German descent, and his nasty behavior is attributed to his German ancestry.

Trajan, interesting thought on Mandy.
As for Germans, on top of the ones you listed,IIRC Drax in Moonraker is really an ex-German Nazi plotting revenge on England.
Of course, I’ve seen much more recent books that suffer similar attitudes, presenting Germans as innately inclined to fascism for instance

Fraser:”As for Germans, on top of the ones you listed,IIRC Drax in Moonraker is really an ex-German Nazi plotting revenge on England.”

Yes, Drax in MOONRAKER is a German masquerading as an Englishman. Fleming really went all out in terms of his Germanophobia in that one. There’s even a bit where we (the readers) are supposed to feel uneasy over the idea that Drax (whose identity as a German is still undiscovered at this point) has Germans working at his factory. You know, the very idea of beastly Germans on English soil……

I might be the only one thinking of “Idle Hands” the whole time while reading this.

Laurence J Sinclair

April 14, 2014 at 10:27 am

I’d like to think that the creators’ intention in giving a black hand to a white man was for the more dramatic visual contrast, to make the transplant immediately obvious.

Unfortunately, they missed the mark a little and it just comes off as racist.

At first I was wondering if it was just a ‘black taloned’ hand of some weird mythical/supernatural origin that somehow was grafted onto the artist’s hand…then I read the excerpts.

Wow.

Eric: I actually thought of Idle Hands as well, but IIRC there’s no racial component to that movie so I didn’t mention it. It’s a great use of the evil hand concept however.

“There is wild, new blood coursing through your veins …”

How anyone could fail to see that as racist is beyond me. That sentiment is pretty close to the definition of racism. Bear in mind that it is expressed by the “good guy” doctor and not the insane (and equally) racist bad guy.

On the plus side, I now feel better about the fate of Captain Marvel and Fawcett Comics.

All that I’ve read about Binder or from interviews with those who knew him suggests that he was a kind, liberal and fair-minded man

well said, omar

I agree with most of the posts here, and I second: well said indeed, omar. That time of “scientifically” proven and accepted racism is… disconcerting to think about now, especially in regards to how recent it really was.
Still…the line “now I’ll do a little retouching on your face” exclaimed to a homicidal goateed painter is AWESOME.
Looking at these golden age stories (I know they’ve been retconned out of official history – they were just actual comics within the marvel universe right?) it would be interesting if they remained canon – just because how unusual everyone acts.
Captain America to a hardened, grizzled Winter Soldier: “Hey Bucky, remember that time we fought a crazy racist murder painter, and you sat tied to a chair screaming YAHOO!!! While I did a little retouching on his face? God the 40′s were a crazy time, for sure, by the rockets’ red glare!”

WS:”…Steve, you really are an asshole.”

I agree with most of the posts here, and I second: well said indeed, omar. That time of “scientifically” proven and accepted racism is… disconcerting to think about now, especially in regards to how recent it really was.

The “scientific” racism movement still exists and is more prominent than you would think. Google “human biodiversity” or read the writings of Arthur Jensen or Charles Murray. In addition to the overt ones there are many quasi-closeted believers in respected media and academic positions.

“but the fact that they specifically keep calling it a black hand emphasizes that the black part is more important than the killer part.”

Well, if it was a white hand, you wouldn’t have the visually obvious “that isn’t his hand” thing.

I think everything in this could easily be chalked up to the style of the day (ie, repeating “i have a black hand” because every character re-describes their own powers constantly in old comics)… and then you hit the stuff with the doctor and the blood, and I don’t know what their intention was, because that’s a pretty standard part of these stories when they don’t involve race… but it definitely doesn’t sit well in the context of any awareness of race at all. And the crazy thing is, that could be so easily fixed by just saying “the blood of a murderer” instead of “wild blood”.

“The idea of “white guilt” is one of the stupidest things that conservatives have ever come up with. ”

Hoosier – it makes a lot of sense if you believe that black people and white people are not quite the same.

For instance, I saw ’12 Years A Slave’ and was incredibly emotionally moved. Then I got told dismissively that the only reason it was acclaimed was “white guilt”. This made me sad for the person who said it, because it told me that they could not relate to any of the black characters as human beings. They could only relate to the white characters and, thus, the only emotion they could feel was guilt from how bad the white characters are. And they’re not lying; they genuinely can’t understand feeling any other emotion while watching the movie.

Dean Hacker:”On the plus side, I now feel better about the fate of Captain Marvel and Fawcett Comics.”

Well, you might want to also bear in mind all the work that Otto Binder did at DC. He co-created Brainiac, Krypto, Titano, The Legion of Superheroes, etc.

@ sean

As soon as someone uses the idea of “white guilt” to justify their racist gibberish, you know you’re dealing with a real ding dong.

Racists intermittently appearing on this thread: I know how dear your racism is to you, but I’m afraid it’s still wrong and evil, and unworthy of debate.

That gum you like will never come back in style.

It’s interesting to see the comment “it’s just a kids comic” as a means to deflect social realities within which the creation of the comic book took place, as if the creators drew their ideas about race from out of a vacuum instead of from the very society they lived in. Overt racism was a part of American society when this comic was created and the stereotype of the “black savage” was easy to find in books, movies and newspaper accounts of the day.In this case the man’s savagery is embedded in his physical structure so deeply that it over-rides the artists personality turning him into a killer with bestial malice. Saying that someone is “reading” racism into the situation shows a profound absence of knowledge about the time the comic was created and the way black men were commonly portrayed as sub-human.

The idea of “white guilt” is one of the stupidest things that conservatives have ever come up with.

To be fair, i believe white guilt does it exist. However I don’t think it’s something that should be used to handwave away any and all critiques of racism a white person does, something conservatives do that I hate. Not every white person who critiques racism is only speaking out of white guilt. Second, even if they are speaking out of white guilt, it doesn’t automatically mean they are wrong when calling something racist. Third, the conservatives who do a knee-jerk excusing of all racism and angrily try to pooh-pooh any accusation of it even when it doesn’t directly involve them are ironically the biggest sufferers of white guilt out of anyone, including liberals. They’re just coping with it differently, with overcompensation rather than giving in to it. And also dealing with their white guilt by projection, which is why they are always so quick to accuse everyone else of having white guilt.

What’s funny about those crying, “racism!” is that they claim those of us saying there is no real racism present in this comic are actively defending racism.

Take a moment to let that sink in… You can now shake your head at the straw man logic.

Despite the obvious historical goings-on at the time – yes, Omar, many of us are also (a) educated and (b) capable of finding our way around Wikipedia – this specific comicbook does not contain any evidence of overt racism.

That is, unless you are using massive (dubious) subtext and historical surroundings to justify your position that, yes, racism exists within these pages. Because taken on its own, this comicbook is not racist.

Again, I do not know anything about the internal thought processes of Binder and Kirby. But if someone could point me to a piece on their past racist remarks or behaviors, I would be glad to read, analyze, and possibly rethink my position.

Otherwise, keep calling those of us with a differing stance “real ding-dongs.” Because, you know, name-calling is generally a tactic employed by the winning side of an argument, right?

Also, while this sort of thing always annoys me in message boards…

Due to the nature of this debate, I should point out that I am – in no way, shape, or form – condoning racism or racist tendencies. Some of my vert good friends come from a wide variety of international backgrounds, including both Africans and African-Americans. (My educational level and occupation has allowed me this unique and wonderful opportunity.) And, yes, these are not just people I know but people I socialize with on a regular basis.

I am also not a conservative. Nor am I an extremist. I am a political moderate, with ever-so-slight right-leanings.

“very,” not “vert.”

Thank you.
-The Mgmt

(I can’t quite seem to shut up…)

Mike O, while I understand and agree the ‘sub-human’ African was very much a part of media content at this time? Just take a look at our Strangler Burns. He has incredibly good posture, is wearing form-fitting pants and belt, and his face lacks any of the ‘racist’ features prevalent in other forms of popular media. He is also not called a Negro or ‘a black;’ he is called an African.

Yes, he is defined as being “ferocious-looking.” But so were many other thug-stereotypes of this day.

I am not sure Strangler Burns qualifies as a ‘black savage.’

Again, I believe many of you are drawing too much from the historical well to defend your “racist” stance.

Binder co-created Steamboat Bill, Captain Marvel’s minstrel-show sidekick. The character was so offensively portrayed that African-American complaints led to his being retired…in the late 1940s. The character was too racist for the 1940s, an era when Jim Crow was still in force and Amos ‘n’ Andy ruled the airwaves. That may tell you something.

But the thing is, Harlock, you have a really strange notion of what racism is. Apparently, if Binder and Kirby aren’t shouting the N-word in the street or showing off KKK tattoos, there’s no racism in this story. And the result, if not the intention, of that kind of argument is that all sorts of things that play to racist assumptions, share all the features of racism, and fit perfectly well with the racism of the times are somehow “not racism.”

It’s bizarre that you term the historical context “dubious.” Is your argument that this was not, in fact, the way most people thought about race at the time? That there was not much racism in daily American life in the 1940s? Those arguments are simply, blatantly false, easily disproven by a wealth of historical artifacts, contemporary documents, and personal testimonies from the period. Or is your argument that historical context does not impact culture or popular culture? That’s a strange position to take as well, and another one that’s demonstrably false.

You dismiss the historical context provided. Why? You call the subtext dubious. Can you demonstrate the flaws in the other side’s reading? It’s not enough to provide an alternative; give us a reason to *ignore* the historical surroundings, the seeming subtext. Show us why the benign reading is *more credible* than the malign one. You don’t do these things, though, because You aren’t really making arguments; you’re simply saying, “I’m not convinced” and “that doesn’t count as evidence.”

All you and those on the other side of the issue have offered so far are pretty plainly the methods of a denialist. They are, literally, flat denials with no supportive reasoning, no argument behind them except “nuh-uh, I don’t think so because I’m me.” Critical reading and discussion is not a court of law; you don’t get to label on set of interpreters as the prosecution and then shift the entire burden of proof onto them. You certainly don’t get to exclude their evidence on no apparent basis other than personal preference. You actually need to make a strong affirmative case for your interpretation.

Oh, and for the record: the “some of my best friends” bit does not do the work you seem to think it does.

I’m getting the feeling that some of the misunderstanding between commenters here might be that different people have different definitions of racism. A lot of people only consider it racism when it is blatantly negative, as in “I hate (racial group)” or “All (members of racial group) are stupid” or whatever. It’s an understandable position, I guess, since racism itself is negative and so closely-tied to hate and ignorance.

Maybe a few of the commenters who are claiming not to see the racism might be more likely to perceive it as just naivete, or simply being misinformed. On the other hand, if you literally cannot see ANY racial bias, confusion, or even unintentional subtext in this story, I do find that a bit confusing.

“Why would you be a henchmen to this guy? He’s just a plain ol’ serial killer!”

During the Great Depression even henchmen found it difficult to secure steayd employment. As a famous artist whose paintings were much in demand, perhaps the Black Talon was able to offer a steady paycheck. At least he seems to treat his employees well. Which is more than you can say for the Golden Age’s most famous psychopath, the Joker. Why the hell does anyone in their right mind work for him? He’s notorious for capriciously murdering his own henchmen.

Seriously, though… yeah, looking at this story from a modern perspective, this is painfully racist stuff.

On a side note, is it fair to place equal blame on Kirby as on Binder? Do we know the division of labor here and if Kirby was coplotting or plotting like he did with Stan Lee at Marvel in the 60s? His artwork of the black guy didn’t seem especially racist, and he may not have had a hand in the plotting or scripting.

Racism isn’t necessarily about enmity or hatred.

It reminds me of GONE WITH THE WIND. Scarlet and the “heroes” of the novel like blacks, they have black associates whom they are very protective of, and they even admit that some blacks are more intelligent and capable than whites.

But the notion that blacks are exactly the same sort of humans as whites would be alien and laughable to them. It’s considered an abominable farce when the Yankees try to elevate the social status of black people precisely because, in the universe of the novel, blacks are essentially a different species than whites.

And THAT is precisely the definition of racism to me. The notion that race, or blood, or whatever surface physical characteristic, makes people different in their essences, and that difference is supposed to be inheritable.

That was the mainstream thought before news of the Nazi Holocaust caused people to recoil from such assumptions.

@Harlock999

Otherwise, keep calling those of us with a differing stance “real ding-dongs.” Because, you know, name-calling is generally a tactic employed by the winning side of an argument, right?

Here is what I said:

As soon as someone uses the idea of “white guilt” to justify their racist gibberish, you know you’re dealing with a real ding dong.

That’s pretty specific. I made a specific case that the phrase “white guilt” is a stupid conservative meme. I used harsh language (ding dong) to describe people who use that phrase to justify racist behavior. I certainly did not use it as any kind of a general attack on anyone who disagrees with me. (Also note that I didn’t say everyone who uses it is racist and I didn’t call you a racist. I try very hard to be politically correct because I know that some people are very offended if they are called racist.)

If you want to clear your name of any hint that you might actually be a ding dong, you shouldn’t get mad at me for being so mean as to use the hurtful word ding dong. You should defend the use of the “white guilt” phrase, or admit that it’s just a meme you picked up without really thinking too hard about how stupid it is. (My use of the word ding dong was specifically tied to the “white guilt” phrase. You should have mentioned that in your followup comment because leaving that out makes you look kind of dishonest, but I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt and attribute your omission to carelessness.)

Which is more than you can say for the Golden Age’s most famous psychopath, the Joker. Why the hell does anyone in their right mind work for him? He’s notorious for capriciously murdering his own henchmen.

The Golden Age Joker did no such thing, interestingly enough. He was generally only interested in killing criminal rivals and law enforcement officials. The “random henchman murders” seems to be from “The Laughing Fish,” where the Joker shoves one of his goons in front of a truck for asking too many questions. It may be from earlier int he character’s 1970s revival, but “The Laughing Fish” is probably where the idea solidified, and he does it in most subsequent stories in the next decade or two.

“The Joker’s Five-Way Revenge” doesn’t count; there, he’s killing his ex-henchmen because he knows one of them betrayed him to the police. He doesn’t care that he’s killing four innocents to get one guilty man, but he’s got a basically rational motive. O’Neill’s Joker was a psychopath, but a somewhat rational one; Engelhart’s is a little more towards genuinely delusional or perhaps shcizoaffective in some way.

[…] Black Talon, um dos vilões mais absurdos que o Capitão América teve que enfrentar. […]

As Brian documents here, Kirby may have been the character designer of Whitewash Jones. Note also that this earlier thread had people insisting that Whitewash wasn’t particularly racist…somehow.

I am also not a conservative. Nor am I an extremist. I am a political moderate, with ever-so-slight right-leanings.

“White guilt” is a well known conservative dogwhistle. If you are a moderate or an independent thinker of any kind, maybe you should think about whether or not the concept makes any sense. Using the phrase “white guilt” makes it sound like you’ve never actually talked to a liberal.

Omar Karindu:”Binder co-created Steamboat Bill, Captain Marvel’s minstrel-show sidekick. The character was so offensively portrayed that African-American complaints led to his being retired…in the late 1940s. ”

Yeah, the “racial stereotype sidekick” is definitely one of the more unpleasant aspects of popular culture in the ’30s-’40s: Will Eisner’s Ebony White, Chop Chop in Blackhawk, Whitewash Jones in Young Allies, etc. Eisner’s Ebony White always struck me as the most egregious example, chiefly because Eisner tried to defend his depiction of the character. And this was from a man who criticized Dickens for his stereotypical portrayal of Fagin. Talk about hypocrisy!

Trajan, that is one of the saddest things about prejudice. Many people who are victims of it will often be blind to prejudice that is directed to another group, and they may even join in.

I was talking about Margaret Mitchell, and it’s amazing how she is astute in analyzing and deconstructing sexism, but she NEVER turns those powers of observation to racism. All the time she is showing how women are trapped inside societal restrictions that doesn’t allow them to express the full humanity that they possess, she is totally blind to how blacks are a victim of the exactly same things.

While I loved Eisner’s Contract with God trilogy, there’s a scene where an under-age teenager seduces her apartment superintendent and then (IIRC) cries rape. It’s insanely sexist and creepy.

Re, Chop-Chop, when Mark Evanier was writing Blackhawk in the 1980s, he quoted from a newspaper column complaining that Chopper no longer has the pigtail and the funny accent and bemoaning how political correctness had bleached him of his distinctive ethnic essence.

Would a transplanted hand still have the original guy’s blood in it?

Would a transplanted hand still have the original guy’s blood in it?

Arnim Zola might know.

Or maybe Dr. Gogol. But I think he’s dead.

I think I saw this in a porno once. Only, it wasn’t a hand….

More seriously, there were a lot of German bad guys in Bond books because Fleming served in WWII, and the books were written not that far after the war in the 50′s, when a good part of Germany was East Germany, in the same group as the USSR. They were kinda the bad guys. It may not seem fitting now, but they had not had the best track record through the first half of the 20th century.

Just one comment on this: the depiction of different groups of people in stereotypical and offensive ways has hardly stopped. Today, it’s mostly Arab/Muslims who get this kind of treatment. But, to be fair, there is actually less of this and it is less blatant than one would expect. I think that we have made some small progress in this respect – i.e., it’s a bit harder to simply demonize whole groups of people, at least in an obvious way. These days, if this happens, it is generally more subtle. Indeed, I have some issues of “The Vigilante” from the 1980s or 90s which are downright racist.

Wow, a lot of you have an incomplete idea of what “racism” actually is. It’s not just epithets.

Thanks for the level-headed replies, Omar.

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