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Brown, Jeffrey A.  Black Superheroes, Milestone Comics, and Their Fans. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2001. 232pp. ISBN 1578062810 (cloth), 1578062829 (paper).

Publisher's Information on-line

List of Illustrations ... ix
Acknowledgments ... xi
Prologue ... xiii

Introduction: "New Heroes" ... 1
A Milestone Development ... 15
Comic Book Fandom ... 58
The Readers ... 93
Reading Race and Genre ... 133
Reading Comic Book Masculinity ... 167
Drawing Conclusions ... 189

Appendix ... 203
Notes ... 205
Works Cited ... 209
Index... 225

Reviews in print or on-line:
Full-text reviews:
    Milestone Comics was a small black-owned and operated creator and publisher of superhero comic books during the mid-1990s bubble, with distribution by DC Comics. Both Milestone and DC Comics cooperated with the author. Brown's book is a problematic one for comic scholars for two main reasons. Brown continues to refer Milestone in the present tense, although it had ceased publishing by early 1997. Except for licensing Static as an animated series, by the time this book came out Milestone was essentially defunct, but Brown writes, "This business deal (with DC Comics distributing their comics) has allowed Milestone to flourish..." (27).  The reader would have been better served with revisions or  an epilogue detailing Milestone's eventual demise and the reasons for it.  I believe the company was probably affected by the collapse of the comic book market which brought down several other publisher's superhero universes.
    The main focus of the book is largely sociological. As such, it may not speak directly to comic book scholars, since it appears to recount common knowledge in the field. Brown is convinced that Milestone represented a significant effort by black creators to speak to a varied audience. He "want(s) to emphasize that this study is an exploration of young male readers from a diversity of cultural backgrounds and how they read symbolically loaded texts across, and along, racial lines rather than just a look at how the comics speak directly to black audience members" (8).  Brown begins his book with a generally good examination of pre-existing black superheroes, Milestone's response to their blaxploitation focus, and other more radical black publisher's responses to Milestone. However, a more extensive examination of Spawn, a nominally black superhero created by white Canadian Todd McFarlane, should have been included in this section; Spawn was the best-selling comic book of the 1990s, but Brown only devotes a half-paragraph to him on page 136. The remainder of the book is largely concerned with examining and interviewing comic book readers. At the present time, this material will be largely familiar to any American comics scholar who has ever bought a comic book from a direct market store or attended a convention. Brown's target audience appears to be people unfamiliar with comic books. To the comics scholar, this material probably will be valuable historically, and perhaps currently to non-American readers, but it mainly reinforces what many of us already know.
    Brown's chapters on fans and readers can be read as an implicit refutation of Wertham's arguments, although Wertham is only mentioned once in passing. Brown argues convincingly that "for many comic book fans reading is primarily a social act, not a solitary one" (128). Many of his interview subjects note that they read extensively due to comic books, and they frequently model themselves on the behavior of their heroes. One young Chicago reader spoke eloquently about the nature of fictional heroes as opposed to sports stars.  He stated, "I know they (i.e.  superheroes) aren't real, and I know it is impossible to live my life like that. But I figure why not set the bar really high, then if I even get partway there I'll be doing great" (105). These chapters, once one gets beyond the feeling of reading familiar material, can be quite interesting. Brown's discussion with his interviewees of comic books and literacy, 'brains vs. brawn,' role models, and the hypermasculinity of superheroes are all of interest. While this is not the definitive book on black superheroes, or even Milestone Comics, it is a useful introduction to them and the  male comic book reader of the 1990s.

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This Page Last Updated 9 August 2006.