By Danielle Dawson and NAT Staff
The year 2021 marks 80 years of Captain America and the world-renowned comics giant, Marvel Entertainment, has something special in store. Meet warrior Joe Gomez, the Avengers’ first Native American Captain America Hero, who is a proud member of the Kickapoo Tribe in Kansas. The superhero is featured in the United States of Captain America mini-series, now in international release.
The saga of the new hero begins when Captain America’s original shield is stolen. And when the mysterious shield thief targets a cultural landmark in Kansas, hoping to put a permanent stain on Captain America’s image, Steve Rogers and Sam Wilson are hot on his trail when they meet the Kickapoo Tribe’s own Captain America.
The character was co-created by Christopher Cantwell and Dale Eaglesham, who are working in close partnership with geoscientist and Lipan Apache writer Darcie Little Badger and artist David Cutler, a member of the Qalipu Mi’kmaq First Nation.
The inspiration for the Indigenous hero is a combination of Gomez’s recognition of Captain America and what the mantle stands for, as well as his personal honoring of Kickapoo traditions as a grass dancer, where he is a pinnacle and protector of his people.
Co-Writer Darcie Little Badger
Per co-writer Darcie Little Badger, “Something I love about Joe is his day job. It represents everything he stands for as a hero. See, Joe Gomez is a construction worker, a builder in a world plagued by destruction… Work like that may seem thankless, but Joe genuinely enjoys helping his community survive and thrive… I know lots of people like Joe—many of them my Indigenous relatives—so it was wonderful to help develop a character with his values, strength, and extreme crane-operating skills.”
Brought to life by a diverse lineup of all-star talent, Gomez and other heroes are slated to fight alongside the iconic shield bearer, coming from all walks of life and with their own thrilling origins, heartfelt motivations, and bright futures explored by their creators in each issue.
Boosting diversity in the Marvel Universe has become a priority since the notable success of 2018’s Black Panther, but this landmark announcement is only the latest in a marathon of inclusivity. Joe Gomez is set to don the iconic shield after Aaron Fischer, the very first openly gay Captain America (created by Josh Trujillo and Jan Bazaldua), and Nichelle Wright, a black woman from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania (Mohale Mashigo and Natacha Bustos). Arielle “Ari” Agbayani, a Filipino-America hero (created by Alyssa Wong and Jodi Nishijima) has now also been announced to feature in September, following Joe.
At the beginning of 2020, Marvel had published the anthology special Marvel’s Voices, in which comic book creators from diverse backgrounds crafted short stories starring the Marvel Universe’s various superheroes. Previously, Marvel’s Voices had solely existed as a monthly podcast where those of color were given a space to talk about their previous and upcoming work in the industry. Each contributor for this collection was invited to tell a story uniquely important to them. This book is not just the product of their talents but their unique perspectives and love for Marvel, even featuring a collection of essays from cultural journalists discussing a diverse range of topics and themes.
Then, just in time for National Native American Heritage Month, Marvel’s Voices: Indigenous Voices special features an all-star ensemble of Indigenous comic book creators to deliver four short stories from across the Marvel Universe. It features a cast of legacy Indigenous characters in stories not only written by Indigenous authors, but also drawn by Indigenous artists.
Cover art for Marvel’s Voices: Indigenous Voices
The first short story is by Black-Ohkay Owingeh author Rebecca Roanhorse, Tongva artist Weshoyot Alvitre, and Lee Loughridge. The next tale is by Darcie Little Badger, Kyle Charles and Felipe Sobreiro, and the closing story is written by Stephen Graham Jones, David Cutler, Roberto Poggi and Cris Peter.
Author Rebecca Roanhorse, who felt a “connection with the superhero”.
When Marvel approached Roanhorse to contribute to an anthology featuring Indigenous creators telling the stories of Indigenous characters, she was immediately interested. Roanhorse said she also felt a connection with the Indigenous superhero, since Roanhorse is also part Indigenous herself. And fan reactions have largely been positive — from both Indigenous and non-Indigenous readers. “I don’t think it can really be underestimated, the amount of excitement and what it means to comic book readers — especially younger ones and even fans who have grown up with these characters — because they were Indigenous and they could see themselves,” she said. “I think people are very excited about it, I think it was really speaking to a need that I think is out there.”
Comic artist and illustrator, David Cutler, advocates bringing forward First Nations heroes. Born in Newfoundland, he is a member of the Qalipu Mi’kmaq First Nation.
Cutler provided similar sentiments when he was asked his thoughts on the Captain America project. “I can’t really express the pride I feel being a part of the team that gets to introduce Joe to the world,” he said. “The Marvel Universe is the biggest stage there is and bringing a new First Nations hero to that venue means more than I can say.”
The anthology series highlights three Indigenous characters and contexts.
Maya Lopez (Echo), a half-Cheyenne and half-Latina warrior, is one of the few deaf comic characters. She is an Olympic-level athlete possessing “photographic reflexes” or the uncanny ability to perfectly copy other people’s movements just by watching them.
Danielle “Dani” Moonstar (Mirage), a Northern Cheyenne mutant, originally code-named Psyche, has empathic psi abilities that allow her to communicate with animals and people, as well as create three-dimensional images of visual concepts from within the minds of herself and others.
Silver Fox (pictured left) of the First Nation Blackfoot Confederacy is a mutant whose superhuman powers were never fully revealed. She possesses accelerated healing abilities and an age suppressant. Due to being an experienced markswoman and a highly trained hand-to-hand combatant with strong leadership skills, she became a member of the most formidable covert ops team the CIA had to offer.
Similarly, Indigenous writer, Taboo, from the Black Eyed Peas, teamed up with co-writer Benjamin Jackendoff and artist Scot Eaton for Werewolf by Night, a new four-issue miniseries that re-imagines a classic horror icon in a brand new cultural context. The storyline also features a Native American US Marshal, Red Wolf, who appears in pursuit of the young werewolf and reports of missing Native people.
Taboo and Earl’s writing possesses a specific Indigenous angle, acknowledging the long and ugly history in genre fiction where people of color are depicted as monstrous. Instead of the character being an unknowable horror in the vein of the story’s original concept, he is the protagonist and main character. The emphasis on his werewolf side’s emotional intensity humanizes him in a way that horror stories of the past would not. He is not a predator, but rather a protector of other Native people living on his reservation, an idea demonstrated by a scene at the start of the issue, where the character, Jake Gomez, protects Hopi lands from trespassers with ill-intentions.
The new Werewolf by Night is a Native American teen trying to solve a mystery while living alongside his loved ones on a Hopi Reservation in Arizona.
Jake’s “werewolf” is presented in the same style of a conventional hero like Spider-Man or Captain America. He embraces his transformation and uses it for good as he fights for the safety of his people, thereby including the reader into the cultural context of his life on a reservation and reversing a dated dynamic where marginalized communities are carelessly represented.
Native American and Indigenous heroes are stepping into the spotlight by way of stories written by Native creators. By placing them front and center, Marvel offers up spellbinding stories from the many voices waiting to be heard. The purpose of these Native-themed works is not about a company boasting about inclusion, but rather they signify the diversity and culture of Native peoples.
Hopefully, Captain America Joe Gomez will inspire more creative outlets.
About Marvel Entertainment
Marvel Entertainment, LLC, is one of the world’s most prominent character-based entertainment companies, built on a library of more than 8,000 characters featured in a variety of media over seventy-five years. Marvel utilizes its character franchises in motion picture and television entertainment, licensing and publishing.
Comics by Indigenous Creators – A Reading List
By Ariel Baska
November comes the tradition of Thanksgiving. As a child in school, I was exposed to the holiday as a story of bonding between the Pilgrims and the Native Americans. My teacher talked of sharing, all while neglecting to mention anything meaningful about the people, the languages, or the cultures of the indigenous peoples.
Now, however, I have been seeking out the storytelling of indigenous authors and creators within comics. The power of the word and the image together, I believe, in some ways makes the comic book the ideal medium to connect with mythic symbols, concealed histories, and tales of daring. I have compiled this sampling of the wonderful and multi-faceted works by and about indigenous creators! Some of these can be difficult to find, but if I included them here, I did so because I believe they are worth the trouble.
La Voz de M.A.Y.O.: Tata Rambo
Writer: Henry Barajas (read the interview with Henry here)
Artist: J. Gonzo
Letters: Bernardo Brice
Editor: Claire Napier
Publisher: Image Comics
La Voz De M.A.Y.O: TATA RAMBO is based on the oral history of Ramon Jaurigue, an orphan and WWII veteran who co-founded the Mexican, American, Yaqui, and Others (M.A.Y.O.) organization, which successfully lobbied the Tucson City Council to improve living and working conditions for members of the Pascua Yaqui tribe. Thanks to this period of activism, the Yaquis were federally recognized as one of the remaining Native American tribes. Meanwhile Ramon’s home life suffered as his focus was pulled from family to wider community, and from domesticity to the adrenaline of the campaign.
Why This Is So Good: This comic reads like a piece of detective fiction, fused with memoir, as the author digs and uncovers pieces of his family’s past. Writer Henry Barajas tells the story of the Yaqui tribe and the part his great-great-grandfather (Tata Ramon) played in preserving the land and the voice of the people. To do so, Ramon had to document the existence and experience of the Pascua Yaqui, when no treaties or clear documents existed.
The strength of this work lies as much in the telling though, as the demonstration of how these rich stories and traditions passed down orally can be lost to time and relegated to irrelevancy by the powers that be without the written word. The historical record provided in this volume is deeply personal, exquisitely drawn in solid lines that echo images from underexposed historical texts. A winning portrait of the treasures so easily lost to time.
Release Date: November 2019
Available Digitally at Comixology
Writers: Gord Downie and Jeff Lemire
Artist: Jeff Lemire
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Secret Path is a ten song digital download album by Gord Downie with a graphic novel by illustrator Jeff Lemire that tells the story of Chanie “Charlie” Wenjack, a twelve-year-old boy who died in flight from the Cecilia Jeffrey Indian Residential School fifty years ago.
Chanie, misnamed Charlie by his teachers, was a young boy who died on October 22, 1966, walking the railroad tracks, trying to escape from the Cecilia Jeffrey Indian Residential School to return home. Chanie’s home was 400 miles away. He didn’t know that. He didn’t know where it was, nor how to find it, but, like so many kids—more than anyone will be able to imagine—he tried.
Why This Is So Good: This wordless story, narrated only by the music and lyrics of Gord Downie, is masterful at communicating the horrors of the residential school system, and one boy’s deep longing for home. Downie’s expressive voice on the digital download album, paired with Lemire’s stark lines and blue ink washes convey a perfect sense of reflexive melancholy, that visibly brightens every time Chanie’s memories flood back to him. The imagery chosen matches the lyrics tonally to a tee, without ever becoming tediously concerned with illustrating a lyric. The choice is always resonance rather than consonance. For telling the story of why children suffered so much in the residential school system, you could not do better than this book, which clarifies in imagery the uniformity expected, the separation enforced, and the misery created. A truly lovely book with an important story to tell.
Release Date: October 2016
(Note: Though not directly created by indigenous peoples, Secret Path highlights indigenous experiences.)
The Outside Circle
Writer: Patti LaBoucane
Artist: Kelly Mellings
Publisher: House of Anansi Press
In this important graphic novel, two Aboriginal brothers — both gang members — surrounded by poverty and drug abuse, try to overcome centuries of historic trauma in very different ways to bring about positive change in their lives. Pete, a young Aboriginal man wrapped up in gang violence, lives with his younger brother, Joey… A jail brawl forces Pete to realize the negative influence he has become on Joey and encourages him to begin a process of rehabilitation through a traditional Native healing circle. Powerful, courageous, and deeply moving, The Outside Circle is drawn from the author’s twenty years of work and research on healing and reconciliation of Aboriginal men who are gang-affiliated or incarcerated.
Why This Is So Good: This story is unique amongst the stories I’ve included on this list, in that it outlines a social evil created by colonial rule, and discusses a realistic path forward. Two brothers face a disproportionately white judicial system to become a part of the disproportionately brown criminal justice system.
While the horrors of gang warfare are acknowledged, and no excuse given for these crimes, the narrative deftly integrates a secret history of poverty and violence. In frames flowing with tears and roots, LaBoucane and Mellings draw apt visual metaphors for the pain and loss at the heart of such acts. At the same time, they highlight the power of restorative justice and reconnection with native identities for those who’ve become trapped in the endless cycle of violence. The severed connection to self, restored through ritual and healing practices, becomes central to unity and ultimately, freedom of the most important kind. This book is drawn from the author’s real-life experiences, and her passion for this work is the heartbeat that drives the story. An ultimately hopeful story of moving on.
Available at Kindle
Redbone: The True Story of a Native American Rock Band
Writers: Christian Staebler and Sonia Paoloni
Artist: Thibault Balahy
Publisher: IDW Publishing
Experience the riveting, powerful story of the Native American civil rights movement and the resulting struggle for identity told through the high-flying career of West Coast rock ‘n’ roll pioneers Redbone. You’ve heard the hit song “Come and Get Your Love” in the movie Guardians of the Galaxy, but the story of the band behind it is one of cultural, political, and social importance.
Why This Is So Good: Not only is this the story of a highly influential rock group, Redbone, who made a powerful impact on the international music scene, but it is equally the story of the members and their shared cultural identity as Native Americans, and what that identity means. Co-written by a French super-fan of the group, the graphic novel documents a series of interviews with embedded flashbacks, that tell the history of the band in brilliant detail, and the history of America we never learned in school.
The lifeblood of this book though, is the artwork. Thibault Balahy crafts expressive faces, lined in unusual patterns, sometimes quite abstractly. He pairs this with two-toned, yet utterly brilliant watercolors that feel stream-of-consciousness. The drops from the brush run away with the intensity of emotions that appear to bleed through each page. Read Comic Bookcase’s review! (https://www.comicsbookcase.com/reviews-archive/redbone-native-american-rock-band)
Release Date: October 2020
Available Digitally at Comixology
(Note: Though not directly created by indigenous peoples, Redbone highlights indigenous voices.)
Writer: Lee Francis IV
Artist: Weshoyot Alvitre
Publisher: Native Realities
Alice In Wonderland meets Kill Bill set in Cherokee Country. When Alice Sixkiller’s sister is murdered she embarks on a mysterious journey of revenge. But her quest won’t be easy, especially as her schizophrenia pulls her further and further down the rabbit hole. As she is swept away from reality, the stories and characters of her people give her purpose and direction: to find her sister’s killer and exact vengeance. This debut comic… weaves a surreal tale of intrigue, identity, blood memory and issues of violence against Native women.
Why This Is So Good: Representation matters, and this issue is a shining example of representation done well. The book depicts a female lead with a serious mental illness, who uses elements of indigenous culture in her attempts to understand her own world. She is not “slightly depressed” or just a little too spunky for her own good. She is a thorny, difficult character experiencing the complexities of grief. In the hands of lesser writers and artists, this story might become gratuitous or exploitative. Instead, her encounters with a rabbit and her conversations with her totemic figures place the story in the realm between madness and magical realism. Her fragmented sense of self is reflected effectively in the opening scenes, and the psychological depth explored in the connections to Lewis Carroll only enrich the experience.
Available at Red Books and Comics
Tribal Force #1
Writer: Jon Proudstar
Artist: Ron Joseph
Colors: Weshoyot Alvitre
Letters: Lee Francis IV
Publisher: Native Realities
In the Diné belief there are Five Worlds of existence. These worlds are barred from mortals. Nita Nitaal Nakia is the first to break the boundaries placed by the gods. What she sees as dreams or nightmares are glimpses into possible futures, parallel realities, mirrors of uncountable existences. With an inexhaustible array of possible endings, the unique factor presented before her is the last spoke in the wheel of reality. The last chance for everything to go right. With the wrong outcome as the end of human civilization as we know it.
Why This Is So Good: This story packs a punch, and not just because of the super-powered Navajo warrior at the heart of it. The story blends history and science fiction and ancient legend with trauma and healing, telling the story of a girl who is facing abuse at the hands of her father. The mechanism at play in this comic is nothing new, but the many levels on which the narrative structure works are revelatory. The pairing of the gritty and the fantastical works so well that it’s almost heartbreaking that only the first issue is currently available. Nonetheless, an essential read on this list.
Available at Red Planet Books and Comics
Sovereign Traces, Volume 1: Not (Just) (An)Other
Editors: Gordon Henry Jr. and Elizabeth LaPensée
Publisher: Makwa Enewed
By merging works of contemporary North American Indian literature with imaginative illustrations by U.S. and Canadian artists, Sovereign Traces, Volume 1: Not (Just) (An)Other provides a unique, extended possibility for audiences to engage with works by prominent authors such as Stephen Graham Jones, Gordon Henry Jr., Gerald Vizenor, Warren Cariou, Niigaanwewidam James Sinclair, Louise Erdrich, Joy Harjo, Richard Van Camp, and Gwen Westerman. Through this exciting medium, Sovereign Traces beckons to audiences that are both new to and familiar with Native writing, allowing for possibilities for reimagined readings along the way. Readers will find works of graphic literature, uniquely including both poetry and fiction, newly adapted from writing by American Indians and First Peoples.
Why This Is So Good: Many of the most acclaimed voices of Native American authors are represented here, all literary prize-winners, every last one. Does that fact make you as skeptical as it made me? I usually would place little hope that a novelist or poet could transform their work seamlessly into a new medium, but the artists and writers here blend their talents and produce something shockingly good.
The first story, “Werewolves on the Moon” calls on the supernatural stories of werewolves as a child and his older sister are called in for a school conference about his controversial drawings. The story never explicitly calls on their Native American identity. However, many themes that emerge in the other explicitly indigenous stories can be found here too, making it a perfect starting point for an anthology wrapped in gorgeous language and multi-layered imagery.
Also, because each author is so impressive, each story or poem is accompanied by a mini-bio, to give you a better sense of the larger context of their work. For an introduction to the world of American Indian literature, brought to life in imaginative color, you could do no better.
Available at Amazon
MOONSHOT: The Indigenous Comics Collection
Editors: Elizabeth LaPensée and Michael Sheyahshe
Publisher: Inhabit Education Books
MOONSHOT: The Indigenous Comics Collection brings together dozens of creators from North America to contribute comic book stories showcasing the rich heritage and identity of indigenous storytelling. From traditional stories to exciting new visions of the future, this collection presents some of the finest comic book and graphic novel work on the continent.
Why This Is So Good: This collection explores superheroes and science fiction just as much as it does legends and lore, with contributions from some of the greatest talents working in comics and advocating for Native voices. This graphically superb anthology begins with an excerpt from David Mack’s extraordinary work in the Daredevil Vision Quest series, an Indian Sign Language telling of the perspective of Echo. Echo’s real name is Maya Lopez, and Mack created her for Marvel as an indigenous Latina deaf superhero who works with Daredevil. Those words, strung together in that order, may seem extraordinary in and of themselves, but Mack’s stunning artwork paired with deep insight into Echo’s experience make this first piece breathtaking.
The stories that follow have less realism than this origin story, but because they follow this one story, they feel more grounded in the power of symbol, in the unending thrill of stories. Even as we encounter bears climbing between earth and sky, spaceships, and monsters, we remember the power crafted by the image.
Available at Amazon
This Place: 150 Years Retold
Publisher: Highwater Press
Explore the past 150 years in what is now Canada through the eyes of Indigenous creators in this groundbreaking graphic novel anthology. Beautifully illustrated, these stories are an emotional and enlightening journey through indigenous wonderworks, psychic battles, and time travel. See how Indigenous peoples have survived a post-apocalyptic world since Contact.
Why This Is So Good: The book itself positions each story within a timeline of oppression, giving context to the events that were happening simultaneously to each story told. The beauty of this collection is that while all of the tales have a distinct historical setting, the tales they tell are not all explicitly historical. A favorite segment of this anthology, Red Clouds, written by Jen Storm, and illustrated brilliantly by Natasha Donovan, features a spirit called the Manitou, which can become a force for good or evil. The magic of the story lies in the tension of the spirit force and how it will respond to encroachment from white settlers, while Donovan’s otherworldly illustrations of the creature amongst the aspen are spine-tingling.
Many of the other stories function as comic biographies, but the illustrations are gorgeously stylized, and integrate aspects of indigenous lore that are unfamiliar but fascinating. This anthology helped me better understand the history of our neighbors to the north, and gave me a far deeper appreciation for the power of art to reclaim history.
Available at Kindle
Trickster, Native American Tales, A Graphic Collection
Editor: Matt Dembicki
Publisher: Fulcrum Books
All cultures have tales of the trickster – a crafty creature or being who uses cunning to get food, steal precious possessions, or simply cause mischief. He disrupts the order of things, often humiliating others and sometimes himself. In Native American traditions, the trickster takes many forms, from coyote or rabbit to raccoon or raven. The first graphic anthology of Native American trickster tales, Trickster brings together Native American folklore and the world of comics.
Why This Is So Good: In Trickster, 24 Native storytellers were paired with 24 comic artists, telling cultural tales from across America. Ranging from serious and dramatic to funny and sometimes downright fiendish, these tales bring tricksters back into popular culture.
The thematically grouped different perspectives makes the short-form comics contained in this volume a highly accessible look at the same theme across American Indian cultures. Anthology volumes such as these can be a mixed bag, and this one is no exception, but the approach only increases their impact both individually and collectively. This patchwork quilt of a book reveals small glimpses into a fascinating mythos, told in a unique style of storytelling that echoes the rhythms of nature and rich ancestral traditions.
Available at Amazon
About the Author
Ariel Baska is a horror and documentary filmmaker. She recently wrapped her short, Our First Priority, which she wrote, directed, and Kickstarted. Ms. Baska is the founder, co-host and executive producer of Ride the Omnibus, a podcast parked at the intersection of pop culture and social justice. Her reviews of horror films can be found at Ghouls Magazine, while her comic book analysis and criticisms can be discovered at Comics Bookcase.
In her former career as an educator, she authored four books on topics covering gifted education, and receiving the National Association for the Gifted (NAGC) A. Harry Passow Classroom Teacher Award.
About Comics Bookcase
Comics Bookcase is the foremost commentary/curation website dedicated to comic books and graphic novels. They cover all manner of releases, both through a network of comic shops that represent the direct marketplace, as well as traditional booksellers. Their website is updated daily with new features, interviews, reviews, and reading lists. The over-arching goal of Comics Bookcase is to “connect readers old and new with all the good stuff comics have to offer.”