Last Thursday, I wrote about Milestone Comic’s Icon and representation. Today, I want to continue that discussion by focusing on Icon #11, “What I did on my vacation.” Throughout Icon, discussions of representation, specifically within comic books and popular media constantly appear. Icon #11 directly focuses on this by having a 4th grader, Todd Loomis, narrate the issue.
Before the reader even cracks the cover of Icon #11, the issue of representation appears. The cover shows Icon and Rocket flying upward from the right of the panel to the left. Icon’s pose resembles Superman, soaring through the air with his fist pointing towards The left of the page. Rocket, likewise, appears like Superboy. Below the Icon title, we read the words “Hero Worship,” indicating that the issue will address some aspect of the ongoing debate between Rocket and Icon about whether or not Icon is just a superhero stopping crime or if he is an actual icon and “a positive example–inspiring people” as Rocket says.
The issue opens with a splash page showing Icon and Rocket getting shot at, point blank. The title of the issue appears at the top, and three blocks show the narration. Taken together, they read like the beginning of a school report, which they are.
What I did on my vacation
by Todd Loomis
Miss Bageroto’s 4th grade class
Hester J. Louislier Elementary School
My name is Todd Loomis and I live in the Paris Island Hosuing Projects and over Christmas vacation I got to see Icon and the Rocket wrecking on some dealers. It was great!
Loomis proceeds, over the next few pages to relate the battle he saw between some arms dealers and Icon and Rocket. After the duo defeat the men, Icon expresses to Rocket that he thinks their actions, in trying to stop all of the violence, actually endangers people more than protects them. To this, Rocket replies that they do more than beat up bad guys, they inspire people.
Icon pushes that thought aside, asking Rocket, “do you believe [your words]?” With that, he grabs Rocket and the two fly away. The next panel shows Loomis as he gazes at the pair flying away, and he exclaims “It was so great!” seeing Icon bust up the guys. For Loomis, Icon represents a hero that he can look up to and count on, in his mind, to protect the community.
The next page shows Loomis imitating Icon as he wears a cape, made from a shower curtain, that his mother made him for Christmas. He stands on the roof “pounding on bad guys and flying and keeping [his] mom safe from the guns.” He reenacts Icon’s actions on the roof, imitating Paris Island’s hero. In this manner, Loomis exhibits the actions of Icon, showing that no matter if Icon believes he is an influence or not others, especially impressionable young youth, see him as one.
After Loomis helps Icon and Rocket capture the arms dealers, Icon tells him he is “a brave young man,” but he needs to tell an adult next time there is trouble. Loomis tried to do just that, even approaching Rocket. No one believed him. Rocket apologizes and says, “I should have treated you with more respect.” As they fly away, Icon asks, “Now what was that you were saying about inspiration?” Icon sees, at this moment, the impact that his presence has on the community, especially children like Loomis.
It’s like this: children learn by what they see.
As I have written about countless times on this blog, representation in any form of media is important. In the 1970s, when the big-two comic companies sought to cash in on the blaxploitation era with characters such as Luke Cage and Black Lightning, the Black-Owned Communication Alliance (BOAC) released an advertisement stressing the need for accurate representation in media. The ad shows a young Black boy standing in front of a mirror. He has a towel wrapped around his shoulders and his arms on his hips. Staring back at him, however, is the image of a white superhero that looks like Superman. Below the image, the caption asks, “What’s wrong with this picture?”
The ad proclaims, “It’s like this: children learn by what they see. And if it weren’t for Black media, a Black child wouldn’t see the world as it really is . . . with Black men and women doing positive things besides playing basketball and singing songs.” Milestone Comics provided a more accurate representation of Black men and women for their audiences. What stands out in this section, as well, is the BOAC’s statement about basketball players and singers. Icon #11 came out a year following Nike’s commercial that featured Charles Barkley proclaiming, “I am not a role model.” This is important because Barkley, like Icon, was a role model, whether he wants to admit it or not. Children saw what he did, looking up to him and his actions.
The ad continues by stressing the importance of representation and positive images in media. It asks, “What can you do to make sure our kids have self-pride?” The answer, “Decide which media shows them Blacks as Blacks really are.” Did Luke Cage in his earliest incarnations do this? Did Sam Wilson? Did others? I would argue no. For children, seeing themselves realistically represented on screen, in a book, in a video game, or in any form of media is of the upmost importance. As Beverly Daniel Tatum points out,
In [William Cross’s] first stage [pre-encounter], the Black child absorbs many of the beliefs and values of the dominant White culture, including the idea that it is better to be White. The stereotypes, omissions, and distortions that reinforce notions of White superiority are breathed in by Black children as well as White. Simply as a function of being socialized in a Eurocentric culture, some Black children may begin to value the role models, lifestyles, and images of beauty represented by the dominant group more highly than those of their own cultural group.
If the child in the BOAC image does not see himself as the superhero, but instead he sees himself as an inner city villain, what does that to his psyche? While he can act as Superman, will he ever be Superman? This is what Rocket makes clear at the end of Icon #1 as police officers aim their guns at her and Icon, She says, “I bet this never happens to Superman.”
In their initial editorial, which appeared in the first issue of Hardware, Static, Icon, and Blood Syndicate, Milestone Media stated, “Diversity’s our story, and we’re sticking with it. The variety of cultures and experiences out there make for better comics in here. When people get excited about the diversity in here maybe they’ll get just as excited about the diversity out there–Call it a mission.” They provided readers with representation, not just white male superheroes who espoused patriotic ideals. They presented Black and Latinx characters as non-monolithic stereotypes or as merely sidekicks.
You don’t need to be Icon to be like Icon. All you got to do is do it.
The final page of Icon #11 shows Loomis standing on the rooftop, arms on his hips, head angled towards the sky as his shower-curtain cape blows in the wind. He narrates, “I did it. I made it happen. And I’m just a kid. I’m not Icon, or the Rocket, or anything like that. But you don’t need to be Icon to be like Icon. All you got to do is do it.” Icon inspires Loomis to act and to look into himself. Icon does not make Loomis act, but he does influence whether or not Loomis will act. Loomis sees Icon acting and protecting the community, and that gives Loomis the drive to do the same.
What are your thoughts? Let me know either in the comments below or on Twitter at @silaslapham.
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