From its first illustrated page, Marvel’s Voices: Heritage announces that it will be viewing the Marvel Universe through a different lens, one storied and full. Under the pen of Jeffrey Veregge, we are treated to the timeless being, Uatu the Watcher, portrayed using a bold visual language undeniably rooted in indigenous influences. Uatu, ever-present, is notorious for his betrayal of the Watcher non-interference oath. He might have long ago worked his way into the stories and myths of any number of world cultures; this, then, might be the Uatu of the pre-Colonial American continents.
On the second page, Veregge lays out the vast diversity of these peoples, identifying the nations and tribes of a variety of Marvel’s native cast, imparting that information with as much gravity as their codenames, their resume of superheroic exploits. With no fanfare, it is established how central their cultural lineage is to each of them; it is just as important that we should know who is Cheyenne, who is Kisani, and who is Blackfoot as it is important we know their powers and their team affiliations, their very names.
It’s no secret that American fiction—like the work of any colonizers—has reduced the presence of indigenous peoples to flat, cookie-cutter roles, bled dry of any of the rich and varied cultural heritage so that these characters read as interchangeable, faceless.
American culture today continues the long, bloody work begun by European settlers four hundred years ago; it is a tool by which erasure is made implicit, perhaps even requisite, in its usage. It’s a not-so-silent tool of oppression. The Cowboy vs Indian, the Brave versus the Brave White Man. Popular culture never lingered on the differences between the many peoples of the continents during the Westward expansion of the 1800s, and it refuses to do so even now, in the 21st century.
It seems like an impossible task, then, for the voices of those many peoples to override centuries of media-coded violence, to turn back the tide of erasure, particularly when that erasure is still being put forward by massively rich media machines. That a facet of such a major corporate machine should invite some of those important voices to undo its own work is an impressive and defiant act. It’s idiotic, of course, to praise that corporate entity for these bare 200 pages when it continues to do harmful work elsewhere, but that they make an effort at all is significant.
If Marvel’s Voices: Heritage can be said to fail at all, it is in its inability to be radical enough for its undertaking, but that by no means negates the massive work it is doing. Not only is it putting indigenous voices behind Marvel Comics’ indigenous characters (most of whom were created by white men), it is instilling in those once-flat characters active cultural detail. These characters are important, and now they are also whole.
The recording and presentation of the myths and beliefs of the scattered indigenous nations—and then attributing them to iconic and influential characters—is a massive blow against the erasure of these myths and beliefs. It is an act that forces these repressed ideas into the cultural record; these concerns refuse to be flattened.
The creators collected in this book are doing the hard work elsewhere, writing heartbreaking examinations of reservation life or becoming highly visible faces for activist causes; they create foundational works of Indigenous Futurism, and they infuse that oppressive popular culture with a native visual language, effectively co-opting that media for a reduced people.
This is to say that Marvel’s Voices: Heritage is an important stepping-on point for a larger framework of cultural change. Introducing readers to these creators opens the door to the exploration of decolonial thinking. Introducing readers to these enriched characters provides a cultural foothold for present and future generations to continue that work.
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