Sunday, January 26, 2014

The Curious Resurrection of the Bronze Terror

I read a lot of golden age comic books, thanks to sources like the Digital Comic Museum.  And I read a lot of racism.  Not just in the post-war depictions of the Germans and Japanese either; for my money, the most grievous offenders were the early Centaur comics. 

Which is why it struck me as unusual when Gallant Comics, a web comics team that is currently resurrecting some golden age characters now in the public domain, brought back the Bronze Terror, but changed his name to Medicine Man because they thought “bronze terror” sounded racist.  Now, the Gallant team has already done a great job with Amazing Man and I'm going to keep reading regardless, but I can't help feel they made a bad call with the Bronze Terror. 

A peculiar dynamic was going on in the golden age.  Yes, there was racism, but there was also surprising diversity, as a slew of companies all sought to distinguish their characters from each other.  The Bronze Terror was an Indian hero, but he was not even the first (which would be Mantoka, who debuted months earlier from another publisher; ironically, Mantoka was the medicine man, not the Bronze Terror).  The Bronze Terror was a completely serious character; he kicked butt and looked cool doing it.  The color bronze, to my knowledge, doesn’t even have a racist connotation.  Now, if he’d been called the Red Terror, maybe the boys at Gallant would be onto something.  Further – and maybe Indians would feel differently – but it seems to me that the traditional role of the medicine man in their culture has become a stereotype and would be more offensive than the Bronze Terror.

Nuelow Games, a repackager of golden age comics content along with bonus, related gaming material, recently released Real American No. 1, the name of which comes from the tag line on the old Bronze Terror stories.  They are short, six-pages features from 1941-42, but not devoid of substance.  While there are comical caricatures of some Indians, there are also realistic depictions of Indians, as well as a mix of realistic and caricature Caucasians.  Yes, Indians are shown walking around in 1941 shirtless and with bows and arrows, but there are other elements of the Mythic West depicted on the Caucasian side, with bad guys gambling in saloons and public hangings.

Real American No. 1, incidentally, comes with two pages of bonus gaming material.  While the stories have substance, the gaming material is disappointingly slight.  Using the ROLF rules (and adding some more optional rules, none of which are bad), it sets up a series of possible brawls on a poorly-defined mansion on an estate.  It would have been nice to get a map of the estate or at least some suggestions for how to incorporate the location into the fight scenes.     

This package contains four of the original nine Bronze Terror stories.  I like the Bronze Terror.  Time will tell if the Medicine Man also grows on me.