Black Dynamite: Slave Island
Writer: Brian Ash
Artist/Cover artist: Jun Lofamia
Colors: J.M. Ringuet
Publisher: Ape Entertainment
Price: $5.95 US
I haven’t had a chance to see the Black Dynamite movie, but I’m quite interested in the Michael Jai White-starring vehicle; its satire of blaxploitation films of the 1970s looks like a lot of fun. One needn’t have seen the flick to appreciate and enjoy this comic book, which makes me want to see the movie even more. Like what the movie promises, this comic satirizes movies such as Shaft to great effect, but it also celebrates those films. With the title character’s exaggerated machismo, unparalleled skills in martial and carnal arts, and singular vision of black empowerment, Black Dynamite spotlights the ugliness of racism by mocking it relentlessly. This comic book also pays homage to comics storytelling of the 1970s, from the pencilling style, colors and even the lettering. And as Dynamite’s Luke Cage-like garb on the cover demonstrates, comics in the 1970s weren’t without their own spin on the blaxploitation genre.
Urban crusader and ladies-man-without-equal Black Dynamite encounters a scarred, broken man in one of the city’s emergency rooms, and he soon discovers the man has escaped from a life in chains on Slave Island. Travelling there to bring an end to the atrocity, Dynamite discovers Slave Island is not only a rich white man’s slavery operation but also a resort for white people who want to relive the days when black men and women were kept as possessions. Black Dynamite is determined to free his brothers and sisters, and to burn Slave Island to the ground.
What I enjoyed most about this comic book was how well Jun Lofamia’s art captures the overall look of comics storytelling from four decades ago. There are some really weird panel layouts that are in keeping with the period, and the same is true of the general style of the linework. I was reminded of the styles of such period comic talents as Mike Vosburg, Tony DeZuniga and Ernie Colon, for example. The fluid approach to some of the sound effects reminds me of the ’70s as well. Furthermore, the colors are more traditional in appearance. The brighter and more textured tones offered by modern computer coloring techniques aren’t to be found here. Instead, the colors are flatter, more muted, like what one might in a 1970s comic (minus the dot-matrix method — simulating that would’ve been a nice touch).
The title character seems clearly inspired by Shaft, considered by many as the original blaxploitation hero, but a quick bit of online research reveals other influences in the character. Apparently, there was a 1974 film entitled Willie Dynamite, starring another badass black hero — and as the titular protagonist was Roscoe Orman, better known as Sesame Street‘s Gordon! Now that’s a versatile performer! The script for this comic also features other notable blaxploitation nods, such as the villain’s reference to the hero as “Mandingo,” the title of another film in the genre.
I found the theme park/resort angle in the plot to be particularly interesting. It’s unleashed rather suddenly on the reader, but it makes for a significant impact. Again, it’s an exaggeration of past racist attitudes and practices, but I think Ash is saying even more about it. He targets Corporate America, symbolizing how financial empires and celebrated brands are often built on the backs of the poor, of minorities. It’s also clearly a commentary about how wealth and power are the domain of the few, and that real power, if we were only to tap it, lies in numbers. Apathy and hopelessness are what’s holding the many back, allowing the few to flout what’s right, as Ash points out earlier in this script.
Brian Ash’s plot and script walk a fine line between satire and drama. At first, it seemed as though the Slave Island concept seemed too harsh, too dark for a piece of satire, but Ash soon achieves a nice balance. He certain doesn’t belittle the past plight of African-Americans. What he mocks are the attitudes that allowed racism and cruelty to thrive years ago. The villain’s actions and motives are laughable when viewed in the context of the 21st century, but then the reader is struck by the fact that such attitudes and actions were prevalent in our recent history and still aren’t completely eradicated. As a result, the audience is left not only to roll their eyes at the ludicrous, extreme hatred in history but pity and dismiss those holding such views today.
Ultimately, though, while there are serious issues at the heart of the satire, Black Dynamite‘s first (and hopefully not last) comic-book adventure is a whole lot of fun. The title character’s cheesy dialogue, the machismo, the unbelievable action, the gratuitous and exaggerated sex (61 hours!)… one can’t help but smile. 7/10
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