Funnybook Babylon

February 14, 2008

Black History Month: The Wall (FBB Remix)

For anyone who missed Pedro’s contribution to 4th Letter’s celebration of Black History Month, here’s a crosspost. Check out the end for special added content! Don’t say we never did anything for you.

The Wall sonning Batman

Before that Christmas, just like my older sister, I was into Marvel Comics. She used to blow her cash on X-Men, and the moment I got an allowance, I would save my daily dollar to get Uncanny X-Men and whatever Spider-Man I could get my hands on. This growing pile was supplemented by those 3 for $1 bags of comics that never had any DC issues. It was when someone gave me a near complete collection of Giffen/De Matteis Justice League comics that I was introduced, along with many other things, to the Wall.

The big crossover during this time was Invasion. The forces of earth–human, hero, and villain alike–allied together to stop the alien attackers. And in charge of villainous forces, which was made up of some of the nastiest guys I had seen, was a Black woman?!

I had to pause and rewind that panel. Not only was this Amanda Waller character black and female, but she was the toughest person among an entire room of politicians, soldiers, villains, and heroes. Shit, Ronald Reagan, who was in nearly a quarter of these Giffen League comics, was in awe and a bit frightened of her. This was something even my 7th grade knowledge of history knew was crazy. You could tell that she was assigned to work with the villains because she was the only person tough enough to keep them in line. They were afraid to cross her because she seemed to have the resolve and determination to make them pay.

Thankfully, the pile o’ comics contained a Doom Patrol vs. Suicide Squad issue, which featured more Waller action. In this book, I saw the Wall at what she does best, politically outmanuvering everyone else in the room in search of what was best for the American people.

With the right words, she could do more damage than Superman’s heat vision, escape situations that would tax Mr. Miracle and his motherbox, and save the day better than Wonder Woman could. Sure, she was ruthless, did things that only benefitted United States, and worked with the worst of the worst.

And yet, I couldn’t help loving her as she did it all, because she was so different than everyone else I had read before.

No one else in comics is physically depicted the way Waller is. Very few heavyset characters, especially female ones, are portrayed in non comical roles, and the few that are taken seriously are explained as being secretly muscular. Waller seems to avoid needing to justify her weight either way, because she is too dangerous to not take seriously. The skills that make her so dangerous are unrelated to hey body type.

What makes everyone fearful of her is that she didn’t receive a magic wishing ring or powers from a bolt of lightning. Instead, she worked herself up from nothing, which has made every one of her accomplishments defined by what she is willing to do. It’s this drive to do better that also makes her a sympathetic character to me.

If you were to ask her why she goes to the extremes that she does, she would tell you that someone with the resolve has to go out there and do the awful things to keep the world safe. The closing episode of the Justice League cartoon series features a moment with an older Waller at the end of her life. She’s unapologetic and at peace with her decisions, prepared to face whatever punishments await her in the afterlife. That nails her perfectly.

When Waller is done right, she’s one of the most complicated and nuanced characters in all of comics. She’s neither villain or hero and does very little to benefit herself. Shit, one time in the cartoon, Brainiac showed up out of nowhere. What did Waller do, did she run away? No, she whipped out her gun and helped the same heroes that she had been working against all series long fight this common threat. Sometimes a character like her can be too much for the simpleness that people want in their superhero comics, but to me, comics are in a better place because of characters like her.

The world honestly can never have enough Amanda Waller….

HOLD UP! I love 4th Letter, and you should too. But how would I look if I just reposted day-old material?

You know that we had to do a remix, didn’t you?

You and I have a rendezvous with destiny. We will preserve for our children this, the last best hope of man on earth, or we will sentence them to take the first step into a thousand years of darkness. If we fail, at least let our children and our children’s children say of us we justified our brief moment here. We did all that could be done.
-Ronald Reagan

It’s impossible for me to think about Amanda Waller (or about any post-Movement, non-fictional African American political figure of note) without thinking about former President Ronald Reagan. Although she may not have been a direct response to the Reagan Revolution, it’s hard to ignore the obvious parallels. Although there are multiple, equally valid explanations behind the massive changes wrought by the resurrection of American conservatism in the 1980’s, the decline (and perceived failures) of President Johnson’s Great Society (and the New Deal) played a large role. Americans saw a world in which a consensus on racial healing devolved into a self-perpetuating welfare state (remember Reagan’s evocation of welfare queens in limousines?), ‘reverse discrimination’ in employment and education, and crumbling cities dominated by vicious criminals. Amanda Waller is the incarnation of the African American leaders that arose from this chaos.

Dr. Amanda Waller was a victim of the failure of the traditional civil rights movement and public sector institutions to adequately respond to the decay in the infrastructure, education system, and law enforcement that took place in the late 1960’s and ’70’s. Her family was decimated by the drug wars that filled that vacuum. Her response was a mixture of the two synchronous trends that characterized the more successful segment of the African American community at the time, rapid class mobility, and an ambivalent relationship with the Civil Rights Movement. No matter how much was achieved, no matter how many degrees obtained, or promotions received, successful African Americans at that time had to deal with a community that accused them of abandoning their principles, and institutions that believed them to be inferior. This is where her anger comes from. She was the first to make the Suicide Squad work, and the first to make the hard decisions that leaders have to make. And what does she get for it? Public disapproval. An arrest for decimating the leadership of a criminal organization. You see the ambivalence in her brazen adoption of the most inhumane elements of modern conservatism, whether it came to the treatment of criminals (Suicide Squad) or her willingness to bend/break the law in order to guarantee American supremacy (Checkmate).

So how should one assess a character as complicated as Dr. Amanda Waller? On one hand, Pedro’s right. Her actions are not motivated by personal gain, and she doesn’t actively seek to kill large numbers of people, or take over the world. She’s a patriot. But is that enough? Shouldn’t the means used to accomplish a goal be as important as the goal itself? Then again, I still remember one of the first comics I read starring her, where she faced down Batman. At that time in my life, I didn’t really question the essential rightness of superheroes. They righted wrongs and brought villains to justice. But in that issue, I saw Batman in a way that I would’ve seen him if he was an actual person, rather than a two-dimensional character. The rich white guy with all the advantages in the world. He’s driven by some inner struggle (that he could afford to have with few other material concerns) to end crime. And what does he do? He doesn’t open a school, or some community centers. He doesn’t do anything to reduce the poverty of Gotham City. He commits a string of illegal assaults against criminals. There was a scene in that book (which I won’t excerpt here because the art was atrocious) where she gave him a look of utter contempt for his imperiousness, his conviction that he was always right. For that moment, I understood. She (and we) had been through far more than he could ever imagine. And while he played his games, she was engaged in the ugly work that’s needed to make the world a better place. But I can’t stop myself from thinking that if she existed in the real world, I’d be the first one to protest against her.

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