Marvel Mystery Monday: Whitewash and Slow-Motion Jones, Marvel’s first black heroes

At some point today major Captain America news will hit the net (Update: spoilers for that here and here), and this Wednesday the Young Allies 70th Anniversary Special. What better time then to look back at the least discussed secret in Captain America’s past.

Cap had a side-kick named Bucky and Bucky had a sidekick named Whitewash Jones

That’s right, the sidekick of a sidekick was Timely’s first black super-hero.

But he wasn’t alone.

Background:

The history of African Americans in comics isn’t a pretty one, but this was not something unique to comics.

Uncle Tom’s Cabin was one of the earlier attempts to treat African Americans as serious characters in fiction, but even that antiquated portrayal became vilified in time. Mark Twain’s portrayal of Jim seemed both true-to-life and hauntingly disturbing. Unfortunately, these literary attempts at social criticism quickly turned into minstrel show nightmares. These racist images filled the stage, the radio waves and the screen. Naturally, comics were not immune.

One of the more embarrassing examples comes from Captain Marvel and his helper Steamboat, though this was done with the best of intentions. The same could probably be said for a lot of Timely’s goofier characters.

It’s important to note that black people did work at Timely.

In this 1948 picture we see Ray Hollaway (back left) and Ezra J. Jackson (right) along with Syd Shores (back right) and company.

The story:

Whitewash was part of Timely’s (and thus Marvel’s) first ever super-hero team, appearing in Young Allies Comics #1 (Summer 1941). Every member of the team was something of a joke – fat kid, smart kid, tough kid and… black kid. While smart and tough most people can deal with, and fat can be politically incorrect nowadays, making fun of black people is not something that one can easily gloss over. Thankfully, none of the jokes had to do with race, only Whitewash’s speech and mannerisms (for what it’s worth).

Another black hero joined Timely in December 1942 when the Whizzer gained a sidekick in the form of Slow-Motion Jones. Introduced in USA Comics #6, Slow-Motion was older than Whitewash, but had basically the same personality and speech-patterns.

No stories included both heroes. Suffice to say, while both were treated as jokes, they had their moments to shine. In All-Winners Comics #7 for example, Slow-Motion figures out a Nazi plot, notifies the Whizzer (called “Jack Robinson” instead of “Robert Frank” for some reason) using state-of-the-art miniuratized radio technology, and even outsmarts Nazi agents in a fist fight.

(If you can’t tell from the poor quality image, Slow-Motion pretends to salute Hitler, forcing the Nazi to respond in kind – only to get a blow to the head instead!)

Whitewash also had a lot of smart moments, though like Slow-Motion, they were always tainted by the minstrel-show speech patterns.

Interestingly, even without a first name or human personality, Young Allies Comics #10 apparently introduced Whitewash’s father – something that never happened for the other Young Allies. (Let us know if you’ve read this issue.)

Abilities:

Both heroes were – at times – smarter than their costumed counterparts, but were never seriously acknowledged as such. Both were great fighters, but preferred to let others do the fighting.

Who knows, maybe they had powers the comics never mentioned.

Why hasn’t the character shown up again?

Well, the fact that they were horrible examples of racism might have something to do with it.

How could the character be brought back?

Despite all that, Whitewash is coming back, but he has a real name this time.

That’s right. Washington Carver Jones. Nice touch with the historical reference. Perhaps similar treatment could be given to Slow-Motion.

(Thankfully the writer was either unaware of or chose to ignore the fanfic-writer on Wikipedia who named Whitewash “Zachariah”.)

The thing is, these characters should not be forgotten. This means recognizing the wrong that was done before, and making it right (in some small way) by making them legitimate heroes.

If either (or both) Joneses could be brought back as real, active-in-the-modern-day, super-heroes, that would mean a lot in terms of progress. DC has done it.

The Distinguished Competition turned the yellow, slant-eyed, mustached caricature known as Egg Fu into this guy, a truly horrific villain. They even admitted to having a Green Lantern character named Pieface (something addressed head-on in the New Frontier graphic novel).

Whether it was intentional or not, Marvel seemed to reverse the trend of relegating minority characters to the background by taking two white heroes and changing their ethnicities to join the Kid Commandos. The Human Top and Golden Girl (spotlighted in a previous MMM) became black and Japanese respectively.

Hopefully someday soon we’ll see Slow-Motion again. Who knows, maybe he’ll have powers to match his old partner. Some fans seem to think this speedster is related to him. Time will tell.

One Response to Marvel Mystery Monday: Whitewash and Slow-Motion Jones, Marvel’s first black heroes

  1. darkmark says:

    I’ve read the YOUNG ALLIES comic with Whitewash’s father. Don’t recall the man’s name, but apparently he was a bush-league sorcerer who used pig-Latin versions of Timely staffers’ names to defeat an evil wizard. (Such as “Anstay Eelay! Inniway! An’ I know you don’t know any worse words than that!” Or words to that effect.) He was a page at the Capitol, I think, in Washington, D.C. I always thought that if you took the “White” out of Whitewash’s name and just left him as Wash Jones (like Wash Tubbs) and recast him in a more realistic fashion, minus the stereotypic jive, he might have passed muster…and it looks like they did just that in one of those 70th Anniversary Specials.

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