At Least Marvel Got The Funeral For The Latest Death Right

In Captain America: Sam Wilson #10, the character whose death gets Captain Marvel and Iron Man fighting over a philosophical difference gets laid to rest. It's a pretty emotional service.

The homegoing for James Rhodes is significant because the Marine who flew the black-and-white Stark Industries armour is getting laid to rest like a hero, not an embarrassing casualty. If the death of War Machine was the lemon that Marvel editorial handed to black superhero fans last month, then the soulful portrayal of Sam Wilson's unease is the lemonade that those fans will have to assuage themselves with.

The last time a black hero died in a Marvel Civil War event, it was all sour and no sweetness. Super-scientist Bill Foster (AKA Black Goliath/Goliath/Giant-Man) was killed by a clone of Thor and his funeral in issue #23 of the 2005 Black Panther series was written as a polemic by Reginald Hudlin. Hudlin's pointed writing was the proverbial "phone call from a bogeyman coming from inside the house" -- he was a black writer commenting on the death of a minor black character to motivate the battles between major white heroes.

The rainy, sparsely populated funeral scenes with Foster's surviving family were a small reservoir of bitterness that showed the character's death has more meaning than just being a tired plot device.

Despite the considerations that went into the decision, Rhodey's death still stinks. It robs fans of the evolving history of that character and the symbolism that comes with him being a seasoned veteran. There might be other brown faces rising through the panels wearing armour that looks like his, but they're getting introduced in a smaller, more charged landscape. They're not the same as a character who survived the ups and downs of the comics business' flush and fallow periods.

Nick Spencer's work in Captain America: Sam Wilson #10 responds to that loss well. The issue reads as if it's intentionally designed to be the polar opposite of that nine-year-old Black Panther story.

There's a different, more celebratory kind of grief on display here, one that starts with a gathering of Rhodey's friends and peers.

Spencer has been using Sam Wilson's tenure as Captain America to explore the symbolism attached to that particular heroic mantle, as well as working in allusions to the racial and socioeconomic tensions in America right now. But there's been great character development for the lead character, too. Take the scene where the assembled heroes argue about the issue at the heart of Civil War II, only to silently agree on who should deliver Rhodey's eulogy.

The speech that Spencer writes for Sam recognises Rhodey's loss in a metatextual way -- invoking the particular experiences of what it means to be a black person in America -- which right now feels the best possible consequence from his death.

It's all too rare that you get to see a gathering of Marvel's major black heroes in one place. (The excellent Mighty Avengers series written by Al Ewing often approached a quorum.) Too bad it takes a funeral to get everybody together.


Comments

    The overreaction to Rhodey's death becoming a racial thing is obnoxious and, I believe, racist in its own way. Yes, certain narrative tropes of entertainment through the 20th century placed black people as expendable red shirts used for example while in the end a white person was triumphant. That was pretty bad. But does that mean that today all black characters (and other minorities) must have "race armour"? White characters die ALL the time. Why should minorities be spared? That's not equality, that's shameful walking on eggshells for PC reasons. That's /still/ giving way too much thought to the whole racial thing instead of treating everybody the same, for better or worse.

    Someone needed to die in order to drive a wedge deep enough to cleave former alliances and friendships. It needed to be a key character. Rhodey didn't die because he was expendable (because he was black). He died because he was important and beloved, because his future was bright, because his absence hurts. As an ethnic minority myself, I am glad that such a vital role was given to an ethnic minority character. He died and he was so loved that people went to war over him.

    @pylgrim you must be a white person because obvious you didn't see the significance or understand that people can be tied together for multiple reason, consciously and unconsciously. Being a minority, whether it's sexuality, racially, ethnically, disability, religiously, etc binds groups of people together without there needing to be an actual tie. It's hard for white people to understand that concept because often white people are seen as individuals/singularities and not groups. With that I mean is, heterosexual whites don't share a bond.
    This isn't the time or place for a sociology lesson so I will not continue but all you need to know is that this comic was significant because it reflects what goes on the real life, what happens to real people. You don't have to have intimate knowledge of someone to share their pain or grief when you exist as a part of a larger community. #CheckYourWhitenessAtTheDoor

      Tsk. I'm not white. I did say so in the last paragraph of my post. You disagree with my opinion and automatically made the assumption that I'm a stupid and entitled part of the majority. How is that not racist? Take a second to consider it.

      You were so eager to rub on my face my apparently inherently faulty "whiteness" that you completely missed my point. Hell, you basically invented your own point that the theorised white imbecile you thought I was would say, in lieu of reading my comment. I have 0 problems with this comic. It was great and deeply moving. The complaint in my post was about the article writer who used the comic as a platform to keep spouting a very subjective and shortsighted opinion (this is not his first article on the matter) about Rhodey's death being a racist cliche.

      You seem pretty articulate and polite which is great. Now complement that with actually listening/reading to what people have to say instead of quickly forming a biased image in your mind about them and then waxing poetic about whatever misguided foolery you think is coming out of their mouths/keyboards.

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