Friday, February 15, 2008

Black Jack Blood And Honor

Two summers ago my daughter had a summer assignment to read December 6th by Martin Cruz, which was all about American and Japanese relations prior to World War II. To help explain it I turned to such movies as Tora, Tora, Tora and Blood on The Sun. Of course, there was a great deal of anti-Japanese propaganda in those, but she was aware of that.
I also looked for a graphic novel account. I was lucky to find the above book.
I scanned some of it and did my own voice-over, foolishly thinking I could sell it to her teachers in the fall. Actually I never tried, since my daughter was afraid I might embarrass her. Anyway I rediscovered it and tried to modify it for this google video format. Not very viewable, but I think one can appreciate how this could be a motivating way to teach history. Here's a review of this wonderful work, which I bought at Forbidden Planet on Broadway 13th Street in Manhattan. Now it only seems to be available on ebay

If you are reading this article, I ask you to stop, stand, and give a round of applause to Blackjack’s creator Alex Simmons. Not since Will Eisner’s Last Day in Vietnam, have I read an American comic so entertaining and socially profound. Alex Simmons has given me hope that there is still a chance for American Comics to be innovative and progressive. Blackjack is not your atypical spandex clad superhero; rather he is a superbly trained martial artist. However, do not expect the stereotypical 70s Black Exploitation Kung-Fu Afro trippin brother. Blackjack is a world-renowned bodyguard who uses intelligence, common sense, and conventional hand weapons to protect his clients.
Blackjack: Blood and Honor, is the second collection of stories about a Black American bodyguard set during the 1930s. Blood and Honor takes place in 1935 Japan. Aaron Day the name of our man of distinguished valor has been hired to protect a Japanese Public Official, named Oshio Masato. Masato views on Japan's aggression in Asia has marked for death. Joining Day, is his servant, who is more of a slave, a Chinese man named Tim Cheng. The relationship between Cheng and Day is strenuous to say the least, especially since, Day won Cheng in a card game. This tensions builds as other actors enter, and Day must decipher who are his enemies, friends, or both. Yet, what stood out most in this story was that this was the first time I read a comic where people of color dominate and decide the course of events.
For some, the very plot details that move this story might seem uncomfortable or unbelievable, but that is what makes Simmons a genius. Simmons weaves in the awkward racial and prejudice issues that most mainstream comics glaze over in easy moral fashion. He speaks to the fact that there were rich, educated Black Americans, who held capital, which may have included human capital. Day was not just dipped in chocolate, he is a three dimensional character, who is forced to deal with the demons and issues instilled in him by his father and American Society.
But this sequential piece is not blatantly about racial issues, rather, it weaves them intricately into an intense action and drama. Those familiar with the classic films of the Golden Era of Hollywood will appreciate how Simmons and company take you into this time period from Harlem to Tokyo: you are there in the clothing, gunfire, the romance, reliving the political mindset of the time. There is plenty of blood, guns, bombs, and even a dirty journalist, with the best information in town, to fit any action lover’s lust.
Blackjack is the hero prototype of the 21st Century. The series has even been optioned for the silver screen, by Catch 23 Entertainment. Currently Michael Jai White, from the film Exit Wounds is in talks to star as Day. And to tell you the truth, I cannot wait! Simmons takes on the character in a way you will not realize until the end. Blackjack: Blood and Honor, simply is a much-welcomed view on historical perspectives quietly kept under wraps.


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