By Leroy S. Douresseaux
January 6, 2008 - 07:58
TRUTH RED,WHITE & BLACK #1
WRITER: Robert Morales
ARTIST: Kyle Baker
40 pp., Color, $3.50
Published in late 2002 and running into 2003, Truth: Red, White & Black was a seven-issue Marvel Comics mini-series that did some retroactive construction or reconstruction on the fictional history of one of the company’s signature characters, Captain America. The series presented the notion that the government first tested the serum that created Captain America on black men.
Steve Rogers was too frail to serve in combat in World War II. Desperate to serve his country, he agreed to be a lab rat and allowed the “super soldier” formula to be tested on him. The serum worked, turning him into a supernatural fit specimen of red-blooded American white male. Rogers later donned a flag-based costume and became Captain America. Truth writer Robert Morales flipped this and took a lead from the “Tuskegee experiment.” The Tuskegee Study of Untreated Syphilis in the Negro Male was a real-life clinical study in which poor Black men were denied treatment for syphilis, so that the doctors involved could study how the disease spreads through the body and eventually kills the infected person.
Morales posed the questions: What if realizing that the “Super Soldier” serum was potentially so dangerous and perhaps fatal that before testing it on a white man (Rogers), the government tested it on Black soldiers. [Realistically, it’s hard to imagine that even a fictional version of the U.S. government and military of the 1930’s and 40’s would risk creating a platoon of super Negroes.]
Morales uses the first issue to introduce his characters and the era in which they live. Truth, Part One: The Future opens July, 1940 in Queens, New York at The World’s Fair, during, according to the first person narration, “Negro Week.” A young Negro couple, Isaiah & Faith, are honeymooning and enjoying the week that the Fair is open to Black people – remember this is a time of segregation of people by skin color or “race.” Portrayed as a loving couple given to bouts of witty banter, Isaiah and Faith only run into a bad time at the Fair when they are denied admittance to an exhibit. This exhibit displays scantily-clad white women and… well, Isaiah is a Black man and shouldn’t be allowed to openly lust and gaze upon the pristine, snowy flesh of a White woman, even if she’s whore.
Morales moves on to Maurice Canfield, the son of well-to-do Negroes in Philadelphia. We meet Maurice, who is a labor organizer, not long after his activities have gotten him and a friend beat up by stevedores they were trying to organize. Next, Morales moves the scene to a pool hall in Cleveland in June, 1941. There, we meet Luke Evans, a former Army captain demoted back down to sergeant after shoving a white superior who belittled the life of a black soldier killed by cracker cops.
In one page, for the briefest moment, Morales offers a glimpse of the Japanese attack of Pearl Harbor (via a lovely page by Kyle Baker), which is all that’s needed for this pivotal and explosive moment in 20th American history. Although many Americans lose their lives during the attack, for other Americans offers, it offers a second opportunity. That includes Luke Evans (who was moments from killing himself) and Maurice, who chooses enlisting to serve his racist country over spend 20 years of hard labor in prison. Back in New York City, Isaiah likely sees military service as the beginning of an adventure. Little did these three men know they were taking steps to lose themselves in the secret and hidden history of the United States.