I recently sat down and read Black, a trade paperback published by Black Mask which collects all six issues of the comic book series by writer Kwanza Osajyefo and artist Jamal Igle. It was originally published in 2016 and drew some controversy at the time. The controversy seemed to be rooted in the premise: that Black is a super hero story set in a world where only black people have super powers. I assumed the criticism was coming from the more racist and fragile corners of toxic online comics fandom - I intended to keep an open mind as I read the book.
Unfortunately, I was very disappointed in this series. The idea that only black people have super powers in this world is a provocative notion. However, I don't think the comic ever lives up to its premise. I've never read anything by Osajyefo before -- it appears Black was his first big project. I was familiar with Igle, however, and the story is definitely helped by Igle's steady artwork. Although the entire story was rendered in black and white, Igle's dynamic art keeps the story looking energetic.
Initially Black seems to have two point-of-view characters encountering its world. One is a young man named Kareem Jenkins who gains his powers at the start of the series after being gunned down by police officers. Jenkins is quickly snapped up by a secret society of black superhumans who explain something about their world to him. The second POV character is Ellen Michaels, a black police detective who examines the black superhuman community from the outside. However, when Michaels finally confronts the superhumans in the fifth issue her story is basically over; well before that point it's clear that Jenkins is the one true protagonist of this series.
Yet although Jenkins is a decent POV character in terms of explaining the world the superhumans run around in, he's virtually a blank slate; beyond being black and having powers I never came to understand his character. Like, he had two friends at his side when he was gunned down in the opening pages; not once does he seem to care about his friends' murder or wonder if either of them similarly survived the attack by manifesting super powers. Not once does Jenkins look back at his old life -- whatever that was -- and yearn to see his family or friends. We don't even get a sense of his age or occupation. Once he's brought into the fold by the black superhumans, he exists solely in a world populated by superhumans (and their enemies).
I feel it's a problem as it becomes hard to define what exactly is at stake in Black. The main concern seems to be keeping the black superhumans' existence a secret, but when they eventually reveal that superhuman blacks have existed in this world for more than 150 years (issue #5 during a long monologue), it becomes awfully hard to believe that the secret could have been kept under wraps. Indeed, the bubble is burst pretty easily in the final pages of the sixth issue. It's not so much that this is what our world would be like if there were black superbeings so much as this is what a super hero world would be like if there were only black superbeings. I mean, the white people who have been oppressing the blacks have super exo-armor and robots. That ain't our world.
This is a very uncharitable comparison, but the comic which I was most reminded of while reading Black was Rob Liefeld's Youngblood. By that I mean, Black is constantly introducing superhumans one mob at a time; they crowd the page, their names and powers unknown (Liefeld at least had the common courtesy to include text boxes identifying where in the thesaurus he found his codenames), then about ten pages later another gaggle of superhumans are introduced. None of them make an impression. There are perhaps one dozen characters who are important to this story's plot, but there are about four dozen characters jockeying for panel time. I think it was meant to indicate that the superbeings in Black are set in a lived-in universe where the local superbeings have a history we readers only glimpse. However, the throngs of superhumans just feel tiresome, much like Liefeld's thesaurus mobs.
The X-Men have been a very flexible premise for exploring different kinds of discrimination while remaining a sci-fi/super hero concept. Black wears its metaphor on its sleeve (I mean, there are teams designated 'King' and 'Selma'; subtle, it ain't); this isn't "people born with super powers would face discrimination" it's "people born with black skin AND super powers would face discrimination." There's also something buried in there about black people possessing power and how that power should/could be exercised. Black is a very interesting premise in search of a plot.