Whereas Warhol frames dehumanized black bodies for gallery walls, Shetterly and Stone frames African-Americans for the mass public of 1986 (and the 21st-century, as Shetterly made most of the series available for free online). Still, even with the restoration of human identity to black bodies, the positioning of Blacks within this comic reveals the comic medium’s tensions between breaking and needing tropes.
One of the rebels, a Black man named Mr. X, tells Jeremy he distrusts the former poster boy of the Confederacy (see Fig. 3). Yet, two pages later, he is asking Jeremy to be the figure of the rebellion (see Fig. 4). He doesn’t trust Jeremy, yet he wants the man he said has not proven himself of the resistance’s protection to visually lead them. Captain Confederacy is Jeremy’s story, he experiences the hero’s journey. However, why is Mr. X not the hero?
Mr. X is already well-known and feared by the Confederacy for his rebellious actions, as Jeremy’s introduction states. He already is a symbol. He has proven his commitment to the cause and knows how to organize such far-flung allies as Kate and Kitsune. Surely he has the confidence to be a symbol of the resistance if his “Purple Rain”-era Prince appearance is any indication. Most importantly, though, Mr. X has a greater stake in dismantling the Confederacy. Mr. X, as a man of color, is a second-class citizen -- he is persecuted. Jeremy is not. The only reason Jeremy leaves the Confederate side is because his best friend -- a black man -- is killed by the Confederacy. Shetterly and Stone have a black man killed -- ending his story -- by the government to awaken the consciousness of a white man to save society. A superficial excuse is given for Jeremy wanting to directly fight the government (he needs an antidote from the government in order to live), but that does not mask the fact that Captain Confederacy is a white savior story.
Why do Shetterly and Stone make Jeremy the hero? According to Shetterly, it is because Jeremy, as an attractive white male, is the symbol of the Confederacy: “The way to weaken symbols is to subvert them. That was my intention when I wrote Captain Confederacy” (Shetterly). What this does is make the words “hero,” “South,” and “man” synonymous with the white race. Jeremy being Captain Confederacy does not so much weaken and subvert the symbol -- it reinforces that symbol’s ideology that white is right. Having a Black man free himself and his fellow citizens -- black and white -- would be the subversion. Instead, we have Mr. X made one-note by being having a white man tell the reader who he is rather than showing Mr. X’s character via his actions. Also, Mr. X’s Prince appearance is inappropriate. It lacks the militancy of Kitsune’s costume while looking diminutive and unimaginative to Captain Confederacy’s muscles and costume (see Fig. 1). Mr. X is grounded in the reader’s reality, not a heroic one, with his stereotypical, humorously out-of-place attire and accent. Mr. X is created and drawn to be read as Black. That is his character, and it shows Captain Confederacy’s failingDespite noble intentions, Captain Confederacy's Achilles heel is the very thing it is satirizing: it is a story trying to show the stupidity of systemic racism, yet uses racist story tropes to send that message. As such, the message fails. The black body satirizing racism will be explored in other works Charles’s (Forever Free) Dress Your Best (1999) or even Wiley’s Ice T (2005). In regards to Captain Confederacy, if Fredrik Strömberg is correct in saying comics give “a clear picture of the spirit of a certain time,” then it stands to reason that the picture “Captain Confederacy #4” gives three decades later is of a better world for white men -- and, therefore, Black men as well (Strömberg 23).
Penciler and Inker: Stone, Vince.
- Shetterly, Will. “On Subverting Symbols, Why I Wrote Captain Confederacy, and the Current Confederate Flag Controversy.” It's All One Thing, Blogspot, 24 June 2015, shetterly.blogspot.com/2015/06/on-subverting-symbols-why-i-wrote.html.
- Strömberg, Frederik. “Prologue.” Black Images in the Comics: A Visual History, by Frederik Strömberg, Fantagraphics, 2003, pp. 22-34.