On Red Wolf and Indigenous Representation in the New Marvel

James Leask , First Nations writer, presents an insightful article on the revival of Marvel’s First Nations Superhero, Red Wolf.  Red Wolf was Marvel’s first Native American superhero. The William Talltrees version of Red Wolf first appeared in the story “The Coming of Red Wolf!” published in Avengers #80 (cover-dated Sept. 1970), and was created by Roy Thomas and John Buscema. The character appeared also in the next issue.

Avengers 80 - Red Wolf cv

The character became the star of the nine-issue series Red Wolf (May 1972 – Sept. 1973). The first six issues were set in the Old West of the 19th century.  These adventures featured Johnny Wakely.  In  issues #7-9,  Thomas Thunderhead a 1970s version of the Red Wolf  was featured in New York based adventures.

Marvel Spotlight 1 Red Wolf cv

Red WolfRed Wolf 7

Marvel comics is presently in the process of introducing an “updated” version of the character as it adjusts ( this-is-not-a-reboot ) universe with modifications to its more familiar characters.

 

Click image for background on Secrets of the All-New All-Different Marvel Image

Red Wolf All New All DifferentIt is not clear in what time period this new version will be having adventures. Leask  observes, “in the promo image, Red Wolf is dressed like the most problematic stereotype you have ever seen of an aboriginal person. He’s holding a bow and arrow. He’s wearing buckskin breeches. He’s wearing a loincloth on top of the buckskin breeches. He has a bone necklace and a warpaint. He’s not wearing a shirt. The only thing missing from the Injun Stereotype Bingo Card is a feather in his hair. It’s hard to make this more suspect-looking.”

This portrayal of a First Nations character reflects the Mass Media  Principle ” that all Mass Media art contain values, beliefs and ideologies.  As Leask point out, “having the aboriginal character dressed in warpaint and a loincloth sends one key message: he’s “savage.”That word has consistently plagued aboriginal people for centuries, and been used to justify any number of crimes and cruelties against us. It’s patently obvious Marvel isn’t trying to invoke that, but they are invoking it.”

This brings up another principle of Mass Media.  While conveying intended messages, Mass Media frequently conveys unintended  ones through lack of control of context or an unconscious acceptance of beliefs & values.“Of course, this is just a promotional image. We don’t know how Red Wolf will be included in All New, All Different Marvel or, for that matter, how he’ll be included in Secret Wars: 1872. We don’t know what books he’ll be in, who the creative team will be, or who he will be.”

Without a clear context, the audience is left with a visual image to derive a  context & expectation. While the earlier version of the character expressed many of the same stereotypical aspects  as this version, there was an attempt to fit the codes & conventions of a superhero. This new portrayal looks out of place next to the diverse contemporary characters displayed in the promo.

Read Leask’s the full analysis in the following link. 

 

On Red Wolf and Indigenous Representation in the New Marvel. via Comics Alliance

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8 thoughts on “On Red Wolf and Indigenous Representation in the New Marvel

  1. Yeah, it’s tragic, but perhaps public reaction will have an influence on how the character turns out. Could this have been a calculated publicity stunt by Marvel?

    • I do not think First Nations people are on the American Public radar. In terms of race in America it is about African Americans and Hispanics ( scary illegal immigrants).

      Red Wolf has a enormous potential. In some ways he is very much like The Black Panther – Captain America level physical battle skills combined with the mystical avatar connection to a powerful totem spirit. Keep in mind that The Black Panther has gone through repeated attempts to star in his own series. If they can not maintain a African superhero then how can they get a First Nations superhero up and running ?

      Unfortunately superhero comics are a mass media narrative form function as a modern mythology on a number of levels and they can easily be subverted into social/cultural stereotypes. As a Mass Media product, superheroes sell lots of things, including toys, clothing and so forth. American marketing of First Nations iconography & social symbols are still very limited. As a consequence they are seldom used.

      • Thank you for that insight. Saddening truth, but who knows. I have been impressed by actors like Johnny Depp throwing their weight behind indigenous land reclamation and bolstering the Indian archetype a little into a leading Hollywood role. I’ll certainly be watching the character with interest.

  2. I generally gave up on Marvel and DC Comics over these years.

    They have become more of the political-correctness propaganda rags like most of our major news outlets.

    What a shame! I used to enjoy these comics years ago.

    • I have not purchase many comics in quite some time. I am still interested in them in part from nostalgia and because with developments in mass media technology the world of the superhero comic can be presented in a form that a wider audience can enter into the fantasy world more readily.

      As for political correctness, I find it has become a overly charged term, lacking in accuracy. First came the narrow bureaucratic usage. An attempt to try and create terminology and poorly executed policy to deal with a lack of cultural respect and balance. It then turned into a pejorative, first as a criticism of poorly executed policy and then by some as a reaction to social change.

      Most Mass Media in North America is finally awakening to the need to create messages that recognize cultural & social diversity. Those at the top do not do it out of morality, but rather from pragmatic business sense. If the potential target audience, who you are selling products and services to, are diverse in race, ethnicity, gender and sexual orientation, then as a business, you need to send out messages that welcoming to that audience.

      I do not think that this is a form of propaganda, anymore than the previous content was propaganda. All Mass Media contain values, beliefs and ideology. In the past the the DC and Marvel comics reflected a narrow world view of American society. They are playing catch up. Whereas newer comic publishers can introduce brand new characters and situations that are more reflective of present cultural attitudes, the old companies have to take their long established characters and update them to current sensibilities.

      What looks like a non-issue to some can have a huge impact on the lives of other. Having worked with First Nations people, both as educational colleagues and as students, the invisible/colour blindness of white society can be very constraining. As someone from a background that is neither English or French, I am aware that even so-called white Canadian society is layered. For example, we have only had one Canadian Prime Minister who had a background that went beyond French, English, Scot or Irish. Even he was a mix with some Dutch, German and Scot/English. This again is an example of how acceptance in relationship to a target audience influences the actions of social institutions, be they business or government.

      • I believe the term “Political correctness” is an accurate assessment. When said forms of media, especially that aimed towards children and adolescents, are geared heavily toward influencing a certain belief-set, and to discourage independent thought and ideas – then that is the crux of “perception management”, which is the total purpose of political-correctness.

      • Then I take it you disagree with the idea that we have a diverse society made up a more than one race includes both genders and other sexual orientation ? You refer to “a belief set” and that seems to be where your concerns centre.

        I see no problem with accurately portraying that reality , whether in a fictional reality or when presenting that reality in the news media. As for children and comics, as I pointed out elsewhere in this blog, most comics are aimed at young adults and older teens.

        Keep in mind that we had political correctness before the term was invented, the difference was in the past it portrayed a political correct white male view of social reality – a belief set.

        As someone interested in First Nations religion, I would think you would support positive images of First Nations culture in the media. To me that is a needed example of political correctness; I would recommend to read James Leask’s articles, since they provide a First Nations view of comics and other media.

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