Mister Chon, Suddenly I Wish to Leave Your Island (A shrill partisan talks about Birth of a Nation)

Do comics have a liberal bias? This seems like a loaded question because most conservatives will tell you everything has a liberal bias (You know, not counting the Supreme Court, the FCC, our new electoral system set up by the Help America Vote Act…), but it seems like a valid question to me. Sure, there’s Chuck Dixon, but from what I’ve read (OK, I’ve only really followed Nightwing and Birds of Prey), most of his stuff seems fairly apolitical to me. Hell, I’d loved to have seen that American Power thing, just because the severe right-wing bent could have made it fascinating. For every Micah, there must be an anti-Micah, or the harmony of the universe will be in jeopardy. It’s the circle of… something.

I know there are people who say superheroes are right-wing power fantasies, but that’s all fairly subconscious. Are there any overtly right-wing comics out there to combat, say, Hutch Owen? Is there a comic told from Dennis Worner’s POV? Could there be a market for a comic featuring a fearless man of industry taking down a filthy dope-smoking rabble-rouser? Of course there is. There’s a market for everything. You don’t think Brit Hume would talk it up as a “great fable for the kids” on that Fair and Balanced news channel?

There have to be a lot of Republican comic fans out there and I’m sure they’d love to see a right-wing comic character presented without irony, just as we loved it when Power Pack brutalized those anti-abortionists (It was implied in Secret Wars 2 and I know I’m not the only person who saw it). If there are any great right-wing comics currently out there, please let me know. I’d really love to see it.

Wow, only three paragraphs? Am I slipping? Where’s all the “Me, Me, Me” everyone sees as my most endearing attribute? Oh it’s here, my friends. It’s still here.

Reginald Hudlin, Aaron McGruder, Kyle Baker
Crown Publishers
ISBN 1-40004859-1

There are so many exciting things about this comic. I’m excited that we finally have a hilariously sharp satire of the debacle that was the 2000 election in a graphic novel format. I’m excited that three extremely gifted African American gentlemen have co-opted the title Birth of a Nation and turned it on its head. And I get personally excited when Jim Kelly is referenced (His name is Mister Keyes, because his mother wanted people to show him respect. You’d have to be a robot to not love that guy.) in anything, just because I’m just weird like that.

Co-written by director Reginald Hudlin and The Boondocks creator Aaron McGruder, and illustrated by the always-brilliant Kyle Baker, Birth of a Nation is a fictionalized account of an oppressed underclass demanding justice after being disenfranchised during a Presidential election.

Wait… didn’t this actually happen?

An allegory in the highest sense, Birth of a Nation tells the tale of Fred Fredericks, the young, earnest mayor of East St. Louis, Illinois who watches as he and his constituents are told they can’t vote in the Presidential election because their names were purged from the voting records as felons. It appears a group hired by the State Government to do background checks didn’t do that great of a job and “scrubbed” the wrong names from their lists.

Say, is this satire of historical fiction?

Watching helplessly as their disenfranchisement leads to the rise of Governor Caldwell of Texas to the highest office in the nation, Mayor Fredericks leads an impassioned protest demanding justice, which, inevitably, falls on deaf ears. Angered by the vulgar misuse of power, we see a group of African-Americans across the nation, from a young Afrocentric revolutionary group, to the lantern-jawed Marine Corps pilot, Captain. George “Boogie Down” Washington, to the Colin Powell-esque Secretary of State, cope in different ways. Their hopes and dreams (and nightmares) are realized when Mayor Fredericks very boldly declares East St. Louis has seceded from the Union. Yes, they are no longer a part of the United States of America (I was tempted to say “Amerikkka” for dramatic flourish, but it would sound really silly coming from me, the whitest Asian boy on the planet). Hilarity ensues in an Abbott and Costello-style scene where cabinet members explain the difference between succeed and secede to the new president.

The brilliance of their secession scheme plays like a well-constructed heist film. The nation sets up an offshore bank, acting as a tax haven for oil companies, arms dealers, and other individuals that want to keep their earnings private. Because of this newfound money, the once-poorest city in the Union becomes one of the richest nations in the world, setting up a quasi-socialist paradise with universal healthcare, obscenely amazing school system, and their own currency with James Brown and Will Smith.

Thus, the Republic of Blackland is born, with the comically appropriate red-black-green Jesus flag and a national anthem sung to the theme to Good Times. As the nation thrives and flourishes, the analogues for Dick Cheney, Strom Thurmond (who presumably wasn’t dead when this was written), and the president begin to lose patience and plot a military strike.

To paraphrase one of my heroes, “Man, President Bush comes straight out of a comic book,” and this cartoon abstraction of Bush does not fail to disappoint. No matter how desperately he tries to not “screw himself in the foot” or “bite the shit that feeds [him],” President Caldwell comes off as an (oddly enough) affable boob who spews malaprops like… well, like the real Bush. While adding heavy satirical heft to the dialogue, these hilarious Presidential non-sequiturs aren’t so far off the mark from the actual Bushisms we hear every day, because the our “real” president—I just want to say that our President’s a brilliant spin-doctor and decent orator when he’s sufficiently prepared—really doesn’t seem to fare so well when speaking off the cuff with the “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice… We won’t get fooled again.” Man, that’s good stuff.

Drawn in panels with dialogue captions underneath like those old Gil Kane His Name Is Savage comics your granddad raved about, Kyle Baker takes what could have come off as a storyboard and crafts a charming and animated bit of sequential exuberance that amazes and captivates the reader’s attention. Dramatic, touching, and flat-out fun at the same time, his line-work wildly exaggerates the satire while still finding a way to ground the reality and not undercut the gravity of the storyline. This project was tailor-made for an artist like Baker and is profoundly enhanced by his presence.

A high-spirited political satire, a feel-good story, and an amazing example of what comics can do when it feels like it, Birth of a Nation is an uproarious tale with whip-smart dialogue, strikingly beautiful imagery, and represents everything my America, and the America of a multitude of others, should be about.

“To Hell with Caldwell,” indeed….

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I used to be at the Savant meatwagon until we imploded and I've written for this site, on and off, since it was the Continuity Pages. I've created comics published by Moderntales and E-volution and have published my own S.P.I.R.I.T. '76. Why have you never heard of these, you ask? It's because the millions (and I do mean millions) who've read these awesome comics have decided they were so awesome that they should be kept a secret amongst themselves. The uninitiated must never know, or their minds will be blown. So you see, it's for your own good.

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