Thunderbolts #112

By | Thursday, March 15, 2007 Leave a Comment
This week saw the release of Thunderbolts #112, which included an extended appearance of Jason Strongbow a.k.a. American Eagle. It stood out for me since I just happened to attend the Native American Portrayals in Comics panel last weekend. What further stood out is that, in his brief sequence, he throws out nearly all of the kitsch stereotypes normally associated with Indians. He ditches the huge feathered headress; he drinks beer without getting drunk off his tuckus; he doesn't sell himself out to 'the man' -- he's treated as an individual without relying on hokey gimmicks. What further stands out is that the story was written by Warren Ellis -- a Brit who still lives "across the pond" in Southend-on-Sea, England.

So, my question is: why does it take someone almost, if not entirely removed from an issues concerning the treatment of Native Americans in various media to give the character some respect? Have Americans just seen too many John Wayne movies?

In that Andy Warhol exhibit at the Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art, there was a series of images he created to make a point about Americans' perception of "cowboys and injuns" -- the 2-foot-square pieces each depicted either a "cowboy" or an Indian. But while each of the Indians were portraits of real American Indians with whatever emotional baggage they brought into their portraits, the cowboys were all fictional or semi-fictional heroes built up through media exposure -- John Wayne, Anne Oakley, William Custer... -- characters who are known more by legend than by reality.

Warhol's point was to get people to think about Native Americans as real people and not simply the convenient Hollywood bad guy for whatever the latest Western was.

Kudos to Ellis for doing something worthwhile with American Eagle. Minus a few points, of course, for making the one African-American a stereotypical angry black man.
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