[wo]man vs. nature
[wo]man vs. man
[wo]man vs. the environment
[wo]man vs. machines/technology
[wo]man vs. the supernatural
[wo]man vs. self
[wo]man vs. god/religion
This has held true for the total expanse of human storytelling history. Now there is an eighth: Ladies and gentlemen, I give you ZWANNA SON OF ZULU.
SWEET CHRISTMAS!!!!!!! Where to begin with this? Some context I suppose. 1993 was an interesting year to say the least. Cast your mind back to a time when Ace of Bass wandered the Earth painting it a wonderful musical shade of beige, a young man called Robin Williams taught us that trannies were fucking hilarious with Mrs Doubtfire, and the final episode of Quantum Leap caused us to utter a collective “whatthefuck?”
“LOOK OUT, MY FALSE TITS ARE ON FIRE"
How did I find my way to the Ace of Bass concert? I saw the sign!
“You aren’t from around here are ya stranger? Come on in, have a drink, and help us figure out what the fuck is going on!”
The comics industry was deep in the middle of its (in hindsight) totally pathetic Dork Age. Superman was dead and Batman was about to have his back broken. Hologram covers, multiple first issues, shite art (TM Rob Liefield), and comics based on absolutely any character were the order of the day. Seriously. ANY character...
"I'm a darker, edgier Captain America"
" I'm Thor with a beard"
"I'M NOT SPAWN"
And they were selling a shitload. Terrible comics were selling tens of thousands of copies. First issues were selling millions. MILLIONS!!!!!!!
Black America was at the forefront of public consciousness. The LA Riots were fresh in everyone’s mind, Malcolm X had proved a massive hit at the box office the previous November, and hip-hop acts like Public Enemy and NWA were surging in popularity. It was only a matter of time before someone realised the twin worlds of comics and black empowerment were not mutually exclusive. Many people felt that a comic about a contemporary black hero needed to be released badly. Few comics in history have been as badly released as this one.
"Zwanna son of WHAT?"
The idea of an ethnic super hero trying to redress the balance was not a new one at the time; Black Panther, Power Man, and Black Lightning had appeared at various points over the previous 30 years. But Zwanna was to be the first proactive black hero published by an all-black comics imprint, the extremely short lived Dark Zulu Lies.
Zwanna Son of Zulu is the simple tale of an African prince imbued with superhuman powers sent to the United States to somehow stop an international conspiracy by attending university and killing transsexuals.
Let’s all take a second to deal with that by reading the opening text caption word for word. The capitalisation is theirs, not mine
“DESCENDANT OF GREAT KING SHAKA ZULU, HIS VEINS FLOWING WITH THE VENOM OF A RADIOACTIVE, DDT-CRAZED COBRA: EXILED ACROSS THE VAST SEAS TO A SMELLY CONCRETE JUNGLE, VOWING REVENGE! NABILE HAGE PRESENTS: ZWANNA, SON OF ZULU."
The main character Zwanna has been sent from his homeland to the United States to learn the ways of the white man at “Black American State College”. I’m reliably informed that universities of this nature are quite common in large American cities; in fact the Cosby Show Spin off A Different World was based on this premise. They tend not to be so literally named however. He attends classes even when they clash with his favourite talk shows.
MISS THE MONTEL SHOW? CURSE YOU WHITE DEVIL!!!!
His brother the king has warned him of an “International Conspiracy”. This is run by what could only be described as “three pooftahs”.
"OH THAT ZWANNA IS A SILLY SAUSAGE"
Zwanna's mission is to use his secret jungle powers to kill them. Simple dimples.
The problems with Zwanna Son of Zulu are twofold. Firstly it tries very very hard to have black protagonists who are proud of their heritage. This is an admirable notion. The problem is that it swings too far in the other direction. Zwanna is a walking talking anachronism, a hero who wears a loin cloth and swings around the city on vines that shoot from his spear, a spear which he uses, by the way, to kill people. Really.
Take THAT whitey!!!!
And EVERY white character is either a drunken neo-Nazi, or black hating homosexual axe murderer. It puts one in mind of certain Spike Lee movies (as Howard Stern pointed out, “Every Jew is a money lender; every Italian runs a pizza shop.")
The second problem is that every single thing about this comic is TOTAL SHITE. The art is awful, the plot is caustic, and the dialogue? Oh the dialogue: “I got that jungle love for you, baby.” “Give it to me Wild Man."
Let's get 'em before they reproduce? Holy fuck!!!
It would not be too long after this that the excellent Milestone Comics would come along with a whole line of contemporary black characters that were well written, well drawn and handled respectfully. This is, as a wise man once said, “offensive to anyone with any viewpoint at all. It is at once racist, sexist, misogynist and homophobic. Thouroughly enjoyable."
Sadly, there was only ever one issue of Zwanna, Son of Zulu. Author Nabile P. Hage clearly felt quite strongly about redressing the racial balance. So much so that he was once arrested for climbing the Capitol Building in Georgia while dressed as Zwanna and throwing out free copies . I can’t imagine it sold too well. We were given 50 copies to give away as a prize at the 2d Festival 16 years after it was published. But no-one who has ever read a copy will ever forget the mighty African warrior and his adventures.
I have two copies of Zwanna Son Of Zulu to give away to the two people who leave the comments that bring me the most pleasure. Have at you!!!!!