The anthology series Bronx Heroes 2.0 from Ray Felix and Cup O Java Studio is a comic book I’ve been planning to review for a while now. This past Saturday at the White Plains Comic Con, I bought Bronx Heroes 2.0: The Ultimate Edition special. It collects together the “Black Power” chapters from the first three issues. This seemed like the perfect time to finally review the series.
Of course, as it turned out, Saturday was also the day that Muhammad Ali died. Ray Felix’s work on Black Power was very much inspired by the life and beliefs of Muhammad Ali. So it was rather sad reading though that collection this weekend, knowing that the man who Felix was paying homage to had passed away.
On June 4th Felix wrote on his Facebook page:
“In 2008, I released “Black Power” which was the story of Ali in the pages of Bronx Heroes 2.0. His wisdom and outspokenness inspired generations and his memory will live on forever.”
Black Power, aka Muhammad X, was introduced by Felix in A World Without Superheroes #4, published in 2007. A professional boxer and Olympic gold medal winner who converted to Islam, Muhammad X refused to serve in the Vietnam War. Unlike his real-life inspiration whose conviction for draft evasion was overturned by the Supreme Court, Muhammad X faced going to jail. At the urgings of his family, Muhammad X reluctantly agreed to participate in Panther X, one of the experiments by the military to create super-powered soldiers.
All of the participants in Panther X were African American. Serving in Vietnam, the Panther X unit grew disillusioned with the war and went AWOL. They worked to broker peace between the North and South Vietnamese, as well as to drive Western forces out of the country.
The “present day” of the story is 1975, as Black Power fights against a government assassin while the military brutally cracks down on protestors in Harlem. Flashbacks reveal Muhammad X’s history, as well as the machinations of the Nixon administration in their efforts to bring him down. It’s an interesting read, although somewhat light on development for the various supporting cast. Hopefully Felix will have more opportunities to examine these characters in the future.
Felix has Muhammad X deliver a speech similar to the one that Ali gave on February 17, 1966 to explain his opposition to the war. On the opening page of Bronx Heroes 2.0 #2, Muhammad X speaks to the press…
“I am not going to fight the Viet Cong, because they want the same freedoms that I do. My people are dying and fighting for freedom back home. The United States is my opposer not the people of Vietnam.”
Muhammad X and his allies have a definite allegiance to a communist ideology in these stories. At first this seemed a bit odd to me. For all its flaws, I thought to myself, the United States was never as bad as the Soviet Union or Red China. Of course, that was my perspective as a white man. I suppose that if I had been non-white and had spent my entire life facing virulent racism and institutionalized discrimination, I would possess a much less charitable view of this country. Communism might appear a much more appealing proposition to someone who has spent their entire life enduring systematic persecution.
Reading this story, I was once again reminded that people who have led very different lives than my own are naturally enough going to have very different perspectives on a wide variety of issues. I think that it is important to not take your own point of view for granted, to assume that it is some sort of immutable truth. Instead, you should try to think outside of your own experiences, to work to achieve an understanding of how and why others perceive things.
The first two chapters of “Black Power” are illustrated by the Trevor Von Eeden, an artist whose work I enjoy immensely. Von Eeden wrote & illustrated The Original Johnson, a graphic novel biography of Jack Johnson, the first black heavyweight champion of the world. Von Eeden’s work on The Original Johnson, which was published in 2010, led Felix to ask him to draw the Black Power feature for Bronx Heroes 2.0.
Von Eeden’s artwork for Black Power is dynamic, featuring powerful layouts & storytelling. His pencils are packed with detail.
On the third chapter Felix himself provides the artwork. His style is much more loose & cartoony, at least compared to Von Eeden, which made the transition a bit jarring. Felix nevertheless does good work, and I found his layouts to be effective. He certainly knows how to tell a story.
The coloring on “Black Power” is also by Felix. It’s a nice job, displaying real range. There’s a very vibrant quality to certain scenes, whereas in others he utilize a more muted pallet that suits the mood.
My only real criticism is in regards to the lettering. There were a number of typos. Also, some sentences started in one word balloon, only to finish in another separate caption. I find those things to be very distracting, and they end up taking me out of the story. Lettering is as much of an art form as writing or illustration or coloring, and I think it should be given as much care & attention.
There are several pages of behind-the-scenes material in The Ultimate Edition. I enjoyed seeing a few examples of Von Eeden’s pencils, and Felix’s experimenting with different color schemes. Felix also wrote a two page text piece explaining the project’s influences.
The inside back cover promises the upcoming release of Bronx Heroes 2.0 #4, with artist Paris Cullins joining Felix to chronicle the saga of Black Power. Cullins is another great artist, so I’m certainly looking forward to it.
Bronx Heroes 2.0 and other fine comic books by Ray Felix & friends can be purchased online. No, they are not paying me to say that 😛