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Words and Pictures

Marvel's Truth: Red, White and Black generated a lot of controversy when it was first announced. Some people weren't comfortable with the idea of Captain America being tainted by racism. I wasn't one of them.

America has a racist past and only by acknowledging it can we ever truly put it past us. Captain America, the living symbol of all that is right about our country, sometimes needs to be confronted by the things that are wrong. Truth promised to do just that, but it fell short.

In terms of sales, the book is doing alright. The first issue was ranked number 15 on Diamond's sales chart with subsequent issues coming in slightly further down on the charts. Though if the store I work at is any indication, the sell-through has dropped off significantly after the first issue.

Many of the people who bought the first issue simply aren't coming back for the second. The primary reason is one of distribution. Truth is one of those rare comic book projects to garner mainstream media attention. It was written up in USA Today, talked about extensively on NPR and even made the subject of a New York Times editorial. There were literally millions of "civilians" who knew about this book. So where were they? Not in comic stores, obviously.

Which shouldn't come as a surprise. Most people don't know where the comic book stores in their area are and aren't willing to make the effort to find out. And even if they did make the trek to the comic store for the first issue, what are the odds that they'll come back every month for the next six months to buy all the subsequent issues? Slim to none.

The serial format pamphlet format is a dinosaur in many ways, but especially so in the case of high-profile projects with mainstream crossover appeal. Truth should have been released as an original graphic novel simultaneously in bookstores and comic shops. That would solve the problem of declining single issue sales for the comic shops and get the book to a much wider mainstream audience while it still had some heat on it.

Of course, poor distribution isn't the only reason Truth is failing to light the world on fire. Part of the blame must be placed squarely on the shoulders of writer Robert Morales (editor of Vibe magazine) and artist Kyle Baker (Why I Hate Saturn). Morales demonstrates an excellent ear for dialogue and a deft hand when it comes to characterization, but his plotting and sense of pacing leave a lot to be desired. The book moves at a glacial pace and Morale's story of four black servicemen from different backgrounds who struggle with the idea of serving a country that treats them as second class citizens is a good one, but this isn't the story of the Tuskegee Airmen. This is a story about Captain America, and he is nowhere to be found.

Truth would be far more powerful if it involved Steve Rogers from the start. How does a man whose entire existence is defined by service to his country deal with a revelation like this? How does the country at large, Americans both black and white? These are the big questions raised by Truth - too bad Morales doesn't seem interested in answering them.

Then there's the implausibility of it all. When Morales has the U.S. government sending hundreds of black servicemen off to what is, for all intents and purposes, a death camp, he loses a lot of credibility in my eyes. The Tuskegee syphilis experiments which clearly inspired this story were abominable and truly unforgivable, but America in the 1940s was not Nazi Germany. Even if there were enough rabid racists in the military and political structure to approve measures like these (which I sincerely doubt), it would be impossible to keep the disappearance of hundreds of servicemen - black, white or anything in-between - a secret. Real life isn't the X-Files and there aren't enough men in black in the world to stop a story like that from getting out.

And the art… Kyle Baker was the wrong choice for this book from the start. I'm a big fan of the man's work, but his style only really works for comedy - and this is no comedy. It's like getting the Farrelly brothers to direct an adaptation of Howards End or putting pickles in ice cream. Some things just don't go together. It doesn't help matters that Baker is putting out the worst work of his career. The line work is sloppy, the colors garish and the backgrounds non-existent. Truth looks rushed and amateurish - not the kind of work one expects to see on such a high-profile project.

There's nothing I hate more than wasted potential. Truth could have been one of the great Marvel stories - a superhero story with relevance and importance that could actually get mainstream America to sit up and take notice.

Instead, it's just another comic book.


Joshua Elder

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