The big news at Marvel Comics is the introduction of a lineup of new characters and titles following the Secret Wars miniseries that is currently on newsstands. To build anticipation, Marvel released an image of 14 characters that includes a couple Spider-Mans, a couple Captain Americas, Iron Man in a snazzy new outfit, the female Thor (who has been a thing for awhile now) and a relative no-name: Red Wolf.
Red Wolf was a minor character, introduced in Avengers #80 ("The Coming of Red Wolf") published in 1970. That Red Wolf was a Cheyenne Tribal leader who went by the name William Talltrees in everyday life. The Hollywood Reporter gives more background on the character, explaining that the Red Wolf identity was bestowed upon at least two other Native men, adding the observation that "Red Wolf, like the Black Panther, turned out to be a persona handed down throughout a tribe, oddly enough; white Marvel heroes of the time tended to be more self-made men."
Mostly New, Somewhat Different. Image courtesy Marvel Entertainment.
James Leask, Metis, gives a long and informative analysis of Red Wolf from an Indigenous perspective at Comics Alliance, and offers his reactions to the promotional image—and he's not optimistic. "Red Wolf is dressed like the most problematic stereotype you have ever seen of an aboriginal person," Leask says. "He’s holding a bow and arrow. He’s wearing buckskin breeches. He’s wearing a loincloth on top of the buckskin breeches. He has a bone necklace and a warpaint. He’s not wearing a shirt. The only thing missing from the Injun Stereotype Bingo Card is a feather in his hair. It’s hard to make this more suspect-looking."
Red Wolf's 1970 debut in 'Avengers.'
Leask looks at Red Wolf through the lens of Thomas King's The Inconvenient Indian: A Curious Account of Native People in North America, which speaks of three kinds of Indian: "Legal Indians," "live Indians," and "dead Indians." King's "dead Indians" are easy to deal with because they don't change; in the panorama of movies, TV, books and comic books, "dead Indians" are (to use Leask's ingenious term) "clipart."
Red Wolf, Leask says, is a classic "dead Indian": "This is just a promotional image, but it’s the image that Marvel decided to sell their diversity with. It’s the image they decided to present of an aboriginal person in 2015. It’s an Injun."
From 1972, the first issue of Red Wolf's short-lived solo series, which ran for nine issues.
On Tuesday, a comics fan addressed that issue in a question to Tom Breevort, Marvel's Senior Vice President of Publishing. Here's the question:
Hey Tom, I think bringing Red Wolf into prominence is a great idea, and will fit Marvel's sense of diversity in the future. I do have a question about this though: was there ever a concern that the character might be viewed as a stereotype, or met with a similar controversy to say, the Washington Redskins? Well, thanks for your time and keep up the good work!
It's a polite and gently-phrased question. Breevort, who is known as a prickly sort, replied:
No concern, in that we thought that when people read the story, as opposed to judging wildly from a piece of promotional art, they would understand the character.
It's obviously an arrogant response. Irreverant comics blog The Outhouse goes into detail in a post titled "Tom Brevoort Scolds Fans For Judging Marvel Character by Promotional Art Marvel Created to Promote Character."
But Breevort's response is so arrogant, it makes us wonder whether the folks at Marvel have already begun holding damage-control meetings that have made Breevort extra-cranky. Putting a bare-chested, face-painted Native hero in buckskins next to Iron Man in the year 2015 is really unforgivable. That needs to be fixed. Time will tell whether the Red Wolf Marvel ultimately delivers really is All-New and All-Different, or whether he's the same-old same-old.