“Is America’s ready for a superhero? How about if she is a black 15-year-girl?”
That is the question that writer Kwanza Osajyefo (BLACK) poses to us in his newest release, BLACK [AF]: America’s Sweetheart. Eli Franklin is a teenager living in rural Montana with her adoptive family. And she just so happens to be the most powerful person on the planet. As she steps up to help people (while combating the fear of empowered blacks in the aftermath of the world finding that only black people have superpowers), “Good Girl” becomes the country’s first superhero, ready to save the day.
But when a super-terrorist goes on the warpath to destroy everything Eli holds dear, will the country stand behind her or be waiting with pitchforks in front?
America’s Sweetheart starts to expand the world created by Osajyefo and Tim Smith 3 in BLACK, which was illustrated by artist Jamal Igle with cover art by Khary Randolph. This newest outing is illustrated by next breakout artist Jennifer Johnson, with a slick and stylish cover by Sho Murase.
Forces of Geek spoke with Osajyefo regarding power dynamics, perceptions, and optimism in the face of reality.
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FOG!: Eli seems incredibly young and pure, and has a very Norman Rockwell-esque family around her for the most part. What made you move the setting from cities and labs out to the country?
Kwanza Osajyefo: Expanding the BLACK universe means expanding the locations and therefore perspectives. The first book is framed with mostly coastal and urban settings. As the events at the end of BLACK have widespread implications, I wanted to reflect what those would be against the backdrop of BLACK [AF]: America’s Sweetheart taking place in the Midwest.
Even if she was without powers, Eli would have still grown up in as an interracial adoptee. Why was it important that she be othered in not one but two ways? Do you feel that a black adoptive family would have led to significantly different challenges?
Because that family dynamic you refer to is part of the black experience. I certainly think Eli’s upbringing would have been different with black adoptive parents, but then, those people could also have raised her with religious, conservative, and patriotic values.
Eli plays the role of the “good black superpowered girl” much in the same vein as a “well-behaved” black child may be held up as an example of approved behavior. Yet she seems to enjoy this role. Do you think that she is aware of the degree to which she serves as a reprimand to others who fail to “fall in line”?
That may be a misread of Eli’s intent, which is part of her struggles in the story. She is fundamentally altruistic in her goals, but not naive, simply optimistic. She doesn’t want to present herself as a contrast to shame other black people so much as she just wants to be a symbol of hope that she believes will quell fears of empowered blacks.
Her father must balance the roles of paternity and government employee. Which do you feel gives him more difficulty?
Paternity, I’d say. Director Franklin is in a precarious role where he holds certain views on what’s necessary for the common welfare all the while knowing his daughter could end up subject to the darker aspects of his own handiwork. He loves his child but also fears her and for her. It’s good fortune that how he raised Eli presents an opportunity to keep her somewhat safe.
Her sister is the embodiment of power, and was able to live for years in the same world that Eli did. Why did the years of peace not affect her views of her future captors?
I think because Zion was already an adult and had witnessed a much darker world, whereas Eli grew up in an environment where she could truly believe in the idealized America.
The showdown between the two was more than sister vs sister. In a way, it played out as respectability politics versus revolution via demolition. Why does each sister try so hard to pull the other to their side?
Both have a deep conviction in their beliefs and are fully aware of how the world regards empowered black people. Where Zion is more pessimistic and responding to the negative way in which we are perceived, Eli is looking to rise above that and be an example. Both girls are physically impervious to harm which is why, despite the theatrics of their superhuman conflict, it is really a battle on an emotional level.
Who do you feel this story, versus the others in the series, will most resonate with? Did you have someone in particular in mind when you wrote it?
BLACK [AF]: America’s Sweetheart can be read by anyone, though I wanted to write this story in the tone of YA fiction. The themes and artwork are all intended to appeal to a younger, and hopefully broader, group of readers.
In particular, I wanted to present a young black female superhero to readers. Part of what inspired BLACK was this gross lack of representation of our demographic, and in this case gender, in mainstream comics.
Why does Eli keep coming back to defend those who so quickly distanced themselves from her?
In short, because she is better than them. Eli is intrinsically a good person and that doesn’t come just from how she was raised but what she actually believes because of that. She isn’t blind to the realities around her, she simply thinks she can overcome them.
How can the rift between those with superpowers and those without be mended? Do you believe that there can ever be peace between the two, or will tensions always simmer just beneath the surface?
I think in the world of BLACK you have an added layer of tension because only black people are expressing superpowers.
It is a situation that reflects a lot of things bubbling at the surface of society – in particular the inability to reconcile with the past and its impact today.
At the end of the day, it does not seem that the question of “Is the world ready for its first superhero to be black?” has been completely answered. Are there other questions the reader should be asking themselves throughout the story?
I don’t know that it is completely answered.
I think the ending leaves us with even more to consider about how we treat each other. Who people say they are and what they actually do are in perpetual conflict, so I wanted to introduce a person in BLACK [AF]: America’s Sweetheart who is who she says she is, and perhaps it is us who are not ready.
BLACK [AF]: America’s Sweetheart is available today in both print and digital