First Impressions – BLACK DYNAMITE #1

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He’s a powder keg of black fury that’s about to explode! IDW brings the smoothest, baddest mother to ever hit the screen to the printed page with BLACK DYNAMITE #1. After clearing the dope off the street, avenging the death of his brother, and beating up certain evil presidents, kung fu master Black Dynamite has continued his efforts to make the black community safe. But what happens when the greatest threat to the black community is…Black Dynamite himself?

The Exploitation film genre is a simple beast: find some aspect or element that can be added to a film, and exploit it. Exploit it hard. And example would be a crime film whose action more thoroughly focuses on the grisly nature of the crime or the lurid nature of sex surrounding it than actually solving the crime. Such cheap entertainments populated theaters, both classy and seedy, since the medium began. And since anything can be exploited, there are many, many subgenres of exploitation film. There are of course more obvious ones, like sexploitation or violencesploitation. Then there are the niche ones, like the Mondo movies, Nazisploitation, or even nunsploitation.

If I may quote Noah Antwiler: “way to hedge your bets that God doesn’t exist.”

And then there’s Blaxploitation, the subgenre focusing on African American protagonists and characters. Popular in the seventies and early eighties, Blaxploitation pieces starred black actors, usually depicting stereotypically violent, independent characters who use action, fighting, and intimidation to achieve some goal. Usually it was some fight against the mafia or The Man, or some generic white racist characters. All while speaking in jive. It’s an extensive genre that endeared itself into the American cultural consciousness – despite also being fairly racist. One must go into any Blaxploitation work knowing what kind of experience they’re up against.

Anyway, 2009 saw the release of Black Dynamite, an affectionate parody of the subgenre that mixed its cheesy elements with equally seventies-style martial arts films. As well as a considerable self-awareness. It stars the eponymous Black Dynamite, a martial artist, smooth customer, and lover of the ladies. His brother is murdered by drug dealers, leading him on a crusade against them, an Asian stereotype villain, and even The Man. Naturally, it was both an action movie and a comedy. And it is amazing. So amazing that it even got an animated spin-off on TV.

Not even that is enough for the super bad, super fly nunchuck wielder, though. And so IDW has begun publishing a comic book to continue his amazing tale.

BLACK DYNAMITE #1 starts in the seventies of course. Just come off from fighting and beating President Richard Nixon – it’s a whole thing – Black Dynamite tries to enjoy the new age of prosperity for African American kind. Except new, stylized supervillains keep stepping in his territory, calling him out to fights. Villains like the extremely engorged Too Swole, who terrorizes innocent brothers and sisters in…

…okay let me mention now that I’m incredibly white, and thus feel uncomfortable conveying such things in a style I have no business emulating. Then again, affectionate parody; so I don’t know what I’m complaining about.

Anyway, Black Dynamite uses his rad skills to beat his enemy, but all is not well. Members of the community call him out for endangering the lives and livelihoods of innocent people. Black Dynamite is forced to confront the painful truth: that with the drugs off the streets and The Man off their backs, Black Dynamite and his penchant for attracting crazy people with hilarious gimmicks are the greatest threat remaining to the black community. Reluctantly, he leaves town, setting himself to wander the land, constantly moving so as not to bring more trouble to the common man.

That is until white men – men apparently not from the CIA this time – need Black Dynamite now more than ever. And they’re not taking “I thought I told you honkies from the CIA that Black Dynamite is out of the game” for an answer.

This comic is amazing. Not only is it every cheesy thing the blaxploitation genre ever produced, it’s also morphed somewhat into a very comic book like atmosphere. Black Dynamite faces straight up supervillains; African American themed ones like Willy Scorch or Crazy Ass Craps, or the aforementioned Too Swole. As a comic book nerd who loves superheroes, BLACK DYNAMITE #1 is like a breath of fresh air compared to modern, melodramatic hero tales. Sometimes a guy just wants to hear about good guys beating up colorful supervillains with rediculous names and gimmicks.

And no, that pun about “colorful” was not intended. I love bad puns, not racist ones.

Speaking of color (I swear this is not intentional), the art on this book is amazing. It all has the effect of old 1970s comic books, complete with ink dots and deliberate color printing errors. All the make BLACK DYNAMITE #1 look like something dug up from that era. I think my only complaint is that action seems not to flow as smoothly, with certain things that probably should be shown skipped over between panels. Like in one instance, Too Swole grabs an old woman and her grandchild and tosses them high in the air. Next panel, Black Dynamite is screaming no in a dramatic, wonderfully cheesy fashion. And then they engage in a fight. We never see the two victims actually land.

So the only thing we can assume is that those two are dead. Okay.

If I may wax philosophical, I also found the plot point of Black Dynamite’s exile to be symbolic. Namely, that he represents blaxploitation itself. See, the reason the genre faded away in the eighties was because, as cool as it tried to be, it was also pretty embarrassing. It gave African Americans strong role models sure, but it also rooted their public image in that of violent, rebellious psychopaths. And when civil rights leaders are trying their hardest to get their white brothers to trust them, not see them as a threat, the presence of media that reinforces the image of an entire minority group as to be distrusted and feared is hardly helpful.

Similarly, Black Dynamite as a character did his thing and protected his people from outside threats, only to become a target. Or rather, he created a situation where insane black people from within challenge BD to fights, and innocent people suffer. Black Dynamite changed from a force for good to an albatross around the neck of the black community. It’s telling that the primary character who calls him out on the situation is clearly meant as a personification of the civil rights movement during that period.

No doubt coming issues in the series will focus on Black Dynamite learning to balance his obligation to ass-whooping with his obligation to innocents. To grow into a responsible badass. In between fighting for (or against) The Man, of course.

BLACK DYNAMITE #1 won’t be every reader’s cup of tea. It’s a thoroughly tongue-in-cheek affair, just as it was on the movie screen. Cursory understanding and enjoyment of its native genre is required, as is the understanding that it’s a comedy that shouldn’t be taken too seriously. Even though I read really deep into the plot just a couple paragraphs ago. But it’s funny, action packed, and dynamically drawn. And fun. Remember fun? For fans of the franchise, it’s a must-read. Because if you crave satisfaction, dig this action.

And if you’re still not convinced, just know that one of the alternate covers is Black Dynamite punching a shark. Enough said.

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