Last post, I wrote about T’Challa’s role as a teacher within the community, and today I want to briefly look at Monica Lynne’s movement from an entertainer to to social activist as she begins to work as a social worker. In Avengers #73, Monica’s actions lead T’Challa to take a more active role in fighting everyday segregation and injustice within the community instead of focusing all of his energy on super villains. While this movement began in Avengers #73, the conclusion of Avengers #74 brings T’Challa’s and Monica’s decisions to the forefront in the final panels.
Avengers #74 serves as the culmination of the story arc that started in Avengers #73 where the Sons of the Serpent sought to create division amongst Blacks and Whites in order to gain absolute power. They capture T’Challa, and Avengers #74 starts with the Avengers seeing an impostor commit crimes as the Black Panther. Some of the Avengers believe that the impostor is not T’Challa, but others believe that T’Challa does commit the crimes. The Avengers’ comments and discussions are worth exploring, especially in relation to he ways that they frame the narrative in a similar manner that Priest does with the use of Everett K. Ross. However, I do not have the time or space to address these aspects today; rather, I want to look at the role Monica plays at the conclusion of this issue and later in Avengers #78.
Monica comes to Avengers’ Mansion to tell the team that the man running around as the Black Panther is not T’Challa and that the Sons of the Serpent have captured him and plan to reveal his true identity. (To this point, only the Avengers and a few others know that the Black Panther is Black. Goliath brings this up early in the issue.) During the nationally televised confrontation at the end of the issue, the Sons of the Serpent unmask the Black Panther, revealing T’Challa (this is the impostor with a mask). Unbeknownst to them, Vision rescued T’Challa and he enters the fray to take out the impostor and reveal his true form.
After being unmasked themselves, Hale and Dunn attempt to shoot T’Challa. Monica pushes them as they attempt to shoot, opening up a space for T’Challa to take them out. The last two panels focus on Monica and T’Challa. Monica brings up the double sided position that Montague Hale inhabited in his role as a counter to Dunn but also as a leader of the Sons of the Serpent. She tells T’Challa, “If only we could undo the harm which a man like [him] has done to . . . my people!” through the poison he infected them with. T’Challa reminds her that Hale’s ideas, even though covering his vileness, can be right and move people to action.
T’Challa’s comments cause Monica to proclaim, “Then . . . maybe I’ve lost a singing career tonight . . . and gained a new career . . . a worthier purpose . . . !” While Monica moves T’Challa towards social activism earlier, it is T’Challa who pushes her towards her career as a social worker. To this, T’Challa simply responds, “[S]o has the Black Panther!!” T’Challa begins his role as a teacher only three issues after this statement, highlighting the fact that there are real-world issues that must be addressed, even within a fictional comic book setting. In this manner, T’Challa and Monica become, to a certain extent, role models as I discussed last post.
Following Monica’s first appearance in Avengers #73 and #74, she does not return until Avengers #78 when M’baku (Man Ape) takes her captive to lure T’Challa and the other Avengers into a trap. Immediately before M’baku abducts Monica, T’Challa pays her a visit. The opening of this encounter, and its descriptions of Harlem, warrant examination because the issue sets up the place for Monica, and for that matter T’Challa, to work exists within the “ghetto” and nowhere else.
Our first view of Monica involves her reading a paper with the headline “Poverty Bill Defeated!” in large letters. Within the context of the Cornelius Van Lunt story arc, this headline shows the inhuman nature of Van Lunt’s real estate dealings. In regard to historical aspects, it draws connections to the War on Poverty and the backlash the initiative drew from middle-class whites who felt that the programs focused too much on Black America. Monica sees the importance of helping those who are impoverished, and she laments, “Don’t they know it was not only our salvation . . . but theirs!” In many ways, this comment highlights the similarities between the Sons of the Serpent’s ploy to divide the nation by pitting Whites against Blacks and having them ignore the class struggles. (This, of course, is nothing new. Look at Keri Leigh Merritt’s work for how wealthy planters did this in the South with poor whites and enslaved individuals.)
As she ponders to herself, T’Challa appears at the window and startles her. After T’Challa tells her that he would not forget “the girl who gave up singing career to help her people,” Monica asks him what he has given up. Has he given anything up to help the hungry children? Or, has he remained “a high-and-mighty Avenger”? T’Challa tells her about his new job as a teacher, but Monica still feels like that is not enough. She replies, “Well, three cheers for you!! You toss us a crumb . . . while you pal around with ones who hold us down . . . who’d make slaves of us, all over again!”
Monica’s comments bring to the reader’s attention the disparity between the roles of the Avengers and the everyday struggles of Monica in Harlem. As a team of superheros in America, they work to maintain the American way of life and to uphold the beliefs and values of the nation. T’Challa, even though he is an African king, becomes part of the team and moves to America. In his manner, he initially does the same thing. However, after coming to the realization that the American ideals of equality do not, in truth, get extended to everyone, he alters his role and works to make those ideals a reality.
T’Challa quickly shifts the focus and tells Monica, “Justice never had a better friend than the Avengers,” and Monica agrees. Even with this movement, though, Monica voices the hurt and pain of seeing the Avengers uphold a system that works to keep her down in any way possible. This is where the Avengers’ discussion about T’Challa in Avengers #74 come full circle. There, Goliath does not want to believe the news that T’Challa is a criminal, but Yellowjacket tells him, “Hold it, Goliath! No matter how painful it is . . . we’ve got to see this thru to the end!” Instead of going off of his former interactions with T’Challa, Yellowjacket listens to the television reporter who states that the impostor’s actions lead “to speculation that [the Black Panther] is both Black . . . and the vanguard of a new type of marauding militant!”
As readers, we do not know that there is an impostor T’Challa until later in the issue, so the opening pages of Avengers #74, while centering on the Avengers questioning their support of T’Challa, also challenge the reader to, as Kirby and Lee wrote, “base [their] opinion of a fellow human being on his basic qualities and character–not on the color of his skin, the name of his God, or the place of his birth!” Even though T’Challa calms Monica down and gets her to admit that the Avengers are helpful, her accusation raises an important question not just for the comic book world but for the real-world as well. Do we uphold the ideals of life, liberty, and equality?
Of course, there is much more that could be said. What are your thoughts? Let me know in the comments below. Make sure to follow me on Twitter @silaslapham.