In my last post, I started looking at the differing perspectives we get of Jupiter’s history in Rodney Barnes and Jason Shawn Alexander’s Killadelphia. Specifically, I began to examine Jupiter’s description of his past in juxtaposition to the perspectives of Abigail Adams and Thomas Jefferson. After killing Blake Scott on stage during a concert, Jupiter turns himself in to the police so he can infiltrate the prison and turn incarcerated individuals and others into vampires for Abigail’s army. Before he does this, he sits in his cell in Abigail’s house, with his wrists and ankles shackled and a spit guard over his mouth, he begins to tell his journey to this moment and how the knowledge of that journey, while not causing us to condone his actions, will provide context for what he has done and will also begin to “make sense” to us. His story focuses on the psychological trauma of enslavement and his continued, long after the end of enslavement, dehumanization whereas Jefferson’s and Abigail’s retelling of Jupiter’s story present him as willfully subjecting to his position until Abigail frees him.
Issue #9 opens with a five-page panel depicting Jupiter sitting in the jail cell as he addresses the audience about killing Scott on stage. We see him in the first panel, facing us, looking down at the ground as he narrates, “A great man once said, ‘The genius is the one most like himself.’” This quote comes from Thelonious Monk’s advice to Steve Lacey, a saxophonist in Monk’s band, in 1960. The full quote reads, “Whatever you think can’t be done, somebody will come along and do it. A genius is the one most like himself.” The quote reminds us that anyone can do anything, but within Jupiter’s context, and specifically considering he only quotes the latter part of Monk’s statement, it takes on a slightly different meaning.
For Jupiter, the quote becomes a self-reflection on himself. The genius is within oneself, not brought about by competition with an outside force. It is inherently within, waiting to arise from the interior. We see this aspect in the second panel when we see Jupiter in silhouette and in profile, head down as he sits shackled in the chair. He asks, “What if one isn’t aware who one is?” Jupiter’s dehumanization, through enslavement and afterwards, has stripped him of the ability to define himself and to construct his own identity. Rather, his identity exists through the eyes of others, as we see with Abigail’s and Jefferson’s depictions of him.
When Abigail turns Jupiter into a vampire over a four-panel sequence, we see Abigail remove the halo from Jupiter’s neck, hug him, then bite his neck. During this sequence, she tells those gathered at her table, “He was numb to life, going through the motions until the inevitable final blow. He seldom spoke. His only request was to keep the halo. I surmised it served as a reminder of his separation from the world. If I freed him from his pain, Jupiter would be indebted to me forever.” A few things stand out it Abigail’s retelling. One is that she recognizes Jupiter’s dehumanization and the psychological impact it has on him. She understands why he wants to keep the halo. As well, she also, in the act of “freeing” Jupiter, makes him “indebted” to her. She makes him immortal, but she also keeps him in servitude.
After she turns Jupiter, we see a panel with Abigail holding Jupiter’s face in her hands. She looks towards us, and we see the back of Jupiter’s head. Here, she tells her crew, “Armed with immortality, perspective, and clarity, he’d either make peace with his pain or weaponize it. Time would tell.” Abigail wants to harness Jupiter’s pain as a weapon, sowing fear in those that she attacks. She does just this. She doesn’t allow Jupiter to really choose whether or not he wants to make peace or become a weapon. She relies on the stereotype of the violent and angry Black man to fulfill her plans of domination, and Jupiter does her bidding, relying on fear to forward Abigail’s plan. However, he turns away from Abigail, constructing his own army to fight back against her oppression.
As he turns himself into the police, Jupiter removes the spit guard from around his mouth and head. Alexander shows Jupiter reaching behind his head to undo the clasps as he thinks, “The name Jupiter was given to me by my enslavers.” In the next panel, we only see Jupiter’s hands as he places the spit guard on the ground. He iterates, “It’s not who I am.” Jupiter begins, here, as he attacks individuals in the jail, create his own story. Entering the police station, he informs us, “My bloodline is Yoruba.” Down on his knees and hands in the air as officers point their guns at him, he thinks, “In the old way, we danced to praise our gods.” Being led down the corridor past cells, he states, “I did not deserve my suffering.” Jupiter’s enslavement stripped him on his story, of his identity, of his humanity. Abigail did the same, using Jupiter as merely a weapon for her nefarious ends.
Creating chaos in the jail during his attack, Jupiter ruminates, over the course of five panels, “Jupiter the slave is no more. I am free. I dance four hundred years of suffering. I dance the loss of self-worth and identity. I dance freedom and destruction to all who wish to enslave others. I dance the dance of death.” Jupiter’s dialogue, along with his choice to turn incarcerated individuals into vampires and have them attack the guards, is important. It links, directly, the historical thread from enslavement to Jim Crow to mass incarceration. It highlights the “four hundred years of suffering.” Jupiter reclaims himself from this past. He reclaims his identity, forging his own path.
Yet, Jupiter’s actions lead to his death. He goes to Abigail’s hideout to kill her. He fights his way through her guards, and when he gets to her, she punches him, bites a hunk of flesh out of his shoulder, and beats him mercilessly. Standing in front of Abigail, with blood running down his body and his head lowered, Jupiter says, “You never loved me.” Abigail thrusts her hand out and cuts Jupiter’s neck, telling him, “You’re right,” as he body drops to the floor. For all of her highfalutin posturing, Abigail maintains white supremacy and oppression. We see this in her treatment of Jupiter when she weaponizes him. We also see this in her treatment of Sally Hemmings, which I will discuss in the next post.
Preparing to teach Killadelphia and the “Monsters, Race, and Comics” course, I’ve started looking at music videos and songs that utilize horror and the gothic as well. One song that sticks out, in connection with Jupiter, is the Gravediggaz’s “Diary of a Madman,” and specifically RZA’s second verse. RZA raps, “Overwhelmed by the wicked inspirations of an evil jinn/I realize my ideas have spawned/for 400 years of blood sweat and tears.” RZA highlights the psychological trauma of enslavement and white supremacy. The “evil jinn” infect the speaker psychologically, and they continue to impact the speaker because he wakes up in sweats, feeling as if he is in the electric chair, shackled. Thinking about Jupiter’s experience, I think about the speaker in RZA’s verse and the trauma upon him, trauma that links enslavement to mass incarceration.
There is more to say, but I will leave it for the next post on Sally Hemmings. Until then, what are your thoughts? Let me know in the comments below, and make sure to follow me on twitter @silaslapham.