Sunday, November 22, 2009

Possibly the Vilest Trademark Villainess -- Mosquito

In my last blog, Running the Race, I offered my take on the topic of race in general terms. For the next three blog entries, I’m going to explore this topic in more specific terms, namely how my childhood views on race influenced the development of three very prominent characters in the Trademark Universe: Mosquito, Retaliator, and Wolf.

When I was a child, I spent quite a bit of time on Cleveland’s near west side. My father grew up on Trowbridge Avenue in a largely Czech neighborhood between Fulton Road and West 41st Street. While I was growing up in suburban North Olmsted, my grandmother and aunt still lived in that old house. When my parents took a vacation every year, my siblings and I spent a week in the old neighborhood familiarizing ourselves with the landscape of my dad’s youth.

One of the local landmarks in Cleveland’s Czech community was the Ceska Sin Sokol Hall on Clark Avenue. My grandmother took us there many times for weekly suppers featuring traditional Czech food. Coincidentally, right across from the Ceska Sin stood another Cleveland landmark, this one not so community friendly: the Cleveland headquarters for George Lincoln Rockwell’s National Socialist White People’s Party.

Whenever my grandmother took us to the Ceska Sin, I invariably turned a curious, horrified eye across the street towards the run-down storefront brazenly brandishing the swastika. Admittedly, the place held a sick fascination for me. Given my upbringing as the grandson of a prominent civil rights activist, I knew a lot more about racist ideology than your typical lily-white pre-teen suburbanite.

Even now, I remember being astounded how blatantly these American Nazis advertised. I couldn’t believe they operated so openly, and no one -- not cops, nor protestors, nor well-meaning vigilantes -- shut them down. I also noted, with a kind of smug satisfaction, that I never saw anyone entering or exiting the storefront. Perhaps these racists could operate legally in our country. But they still boasted no members.

I was disabused of this naïve notion on a warm spring afternoon when I was twelve years old. During one of those yearly sojourns in the old neighborhood, I found myself stopping at the Ceska Sin with my aunt and grandmother while they ran errands. As they talked inside the hall with friends, I ventured outside onto the street. Immediately, my eyes riveted to the ramshackle building across the street.

Something was different about the headquarters this day. Something very different.
Unlike the previous times I’d studied the dormant storefront, the headquarters that afternoon buzzed with people and activity. A small squad of uniformed men stood outside the large black swastika hand-painted across the boarded and barred windows. Sprinkled among these armbanded brownshirts, a handful of teenagers strutted up and down the sidewalk shouting slogans like “White Power” and “Send Them Back to Africa!” while passing out pamphlets.

I pause now because I’m about to make a confession in the next few paragraphs that I’ve never disclosed to anyone. So please, remember, I was twelve years old at the time. And go easy on me.

As my gaze swept over the gaudy, unseemly spectacle of a mini Nazi rally, my eyes focused like the proverbial laser beam on one of the hate-spouting street urchins. She must have been about 14 or 15 years old. She had long black hair, pale white skin, wide doe eyes, a face like Pamela Sue Martin, and a pair of cantaloupe-sized breasts that strained against the black swastika emblazoned across her blood-red t-shirt. To say I was drawn to her would be like saying a fly is drawn to a pile of horse manure.

In what can only be described as a hormone-induced trance, I sauntered stiff-legged across the street, barely breathing as I approached the object of my early-adolescent adoration. As the old expression goes, she saw me coming from a mile away. She walked towards me with a big smile on her face, her out-stretched hand offering me a black-and-white illustrated pamphlet formatted like a small comic book. She then asked me a question for which she obviously knew the answer: “Hey, do you like comic books?”

“Uh... yeah...” I stammered, unable to talk through the arousal coursing through my dilated blood vessels. “I love comic books.”

“Do you love the white race?” she pressed as she pressed the comic book in my hand.


“Good. You’ll love this comic book. It’s all about what you can do to stand up for our race against all the niggers and kikes.”

“Okay, cool.” I just kept staring at her, stupefied by her face and breasts. “What’s your name?”

“Anne.” She wasn’t walking away, so I thought maybe something about me had impressed her.

“My name’s Mark.” I paused. “I hate niggers, too,” I suddenly blurted in a desperate attempt to convince her to be my girlfriend... FOREVER!

“It’s not just the niggers. Remember. It’s the Jews, too. They control the blacks and are using them to destroy our race. The Jews are the real problem. Without the Jews we could beat the niggers down no problem.” She smiled, and I knew she was about to leave me... FOREVER! “Remember, White Power!” she crowed before swiveling her impossibly perfect posterior back into the brownshirted phalanx.

I walked back to the Ceska Sin, flushed with shame and lust. I folded up the comic book and stuffed it into my back pocket only moments before my grandmother and aunt exited the hall. Unbelievably, they looked at me the same way they’d always looked at me. Obviously, the egregious nature of my hate crime branded me with the Mark of Cain. Without any discussion regarding what I’d been doing outside the hall, we drove back to their house. A short time later, in the privacy of their basement, I slid the comic book out of my back pocket and lost myself amid the poorly-drawn panels.

Through the haze of memory, I recall the short black & white comic being all about a white kid getting bullied by black students at school. As a victim of bullying myself, the tale drew me in on a purely guttural level. The comic recounted how the poor white kid fought back against his black oppressors until finally triumphing and becoming a hero for the white race. Many years later, while scanning the internet for a presentation on hate literature, I came across what I think must be the same comic, White Power Comes to Midvale.

Gazing upon those panels some thirty-odd years later, I can’t believe I once responded so viscerally to the amateurish script and mediocre artwork. For some reason inexplicable and unfathomable to my twelve-year-old self, I found the comic not only thrilling but stimulating (if you get my drift). Yes, I’m absolutely mortified to admit for the first time in my life that I not only proclaimed my hatred for the black race in order to impress a girl, I also... uh... pleasured myself while reading a race-baiting comic and thinking of Anne, the Teutonic Temptress.

So what does all this have to do with Trademark Comics in general and Worlds Apart in particular? Well, the experience with Anne and her racist comic book inspired the creation of perhaps the Trademark Universe’s most despicable villainess, the Mosquito. When I first created Maniac’s Götterdämmerung, one of my initial hybrid shock troopers was based explicitly (pun intended) on Aryan Anne.

Mosquito, as originally conceived, came to Maniac’s ranks through a neo-nazi skinhead gang. Transformed into an insectoid freak with wings, super strength & reflexes, and an organic exo-skeleton, Mosquito also possessed the power to drain blood from her victims, which in turn further amplified her own formidable prowess. Immediately, she became one of my “go-to” baddies, especially in racially-charged Silver Streak and Wolf stories where she provided the perfect bane for the ever-squabbling heroes.

Due, no doubt, to the pangs of guilt and self-loathing born from my shameful encounter with Anne, I instantly rendered Mosquito in terms of the grotesque. Her ghoulish outward appearance thoroughly complemented her abhorrent inner nature. Subconsciously, I guess, I was attempting to strip away any sense of the misplaced attraction I’d cast in the direction of Aryan Anne, her real-life inspiration. Even among Maniac’s über-evil yet racially-diversified Götterdämmerung, Mosquito’s virulent, uncompromising white supremacy cast her in the role of pariah. As Buckshot once commented, “You know you’re really a sicko when even Spree doesn’t hang with you.”

Despite my best efforts to make Mosquito completely unappealing, I continually found myself drawn to her character as a means of exploring my own confusion, fear, and fascination with issues of race in American culture. As I filled notebook after notebook with Trademark tales, Mosquito stories became my darkest and most violent offerings. My multi-issue arc chronicling Mosquito’s involvement in the Rhodesian civil war shocked even myself as I reread my words. The things Mosquito said and did, her actions as well as her motivations, pushed the proverbial envelope well beyond the borderline between good and evil. Of all my super-villains, Mosquito singularly possessed the unique ability to bring out not only the worst but also the best in Trademark heroes and villains.

In the opening of Worlds Apart, we see Mosquito in all her racist rancor. Her confrontation with Silver Streak displays the essence of her evil. Gripping two pretty teenagers in her horrific clutches, she forces the ultra-moral hero to make a Sophie’s Choice, of sorts, between a pair of victims, one black and the other white. Tony Lewis’ artistic depiction of Silver Streak’s utter paralyzing horror is worth a hundred voice balloons.

Later on, as the plot of Worlds Apart develops, we will see other, even more horrifying instances of racial hatred and racial violence being perpetrated upon innocent victims. Such disturbing unexpurgated content found its way early into my Trademark stories. Even at the tender age of twelve and thirteen, I was tentatively exploring the limits of my own imagination and capacity to fictively deal with the evil I’d encountered within myself that warm spring afternoon on Clark Avenue.

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