Sunday, October 02, 2005

Back in Black

You may be forgiven for thinking that DC's Black Alice, who first appeared in Birds of Prey #76 and recently took part in Day of Vengeance is not the most original of comic characters. But you don't know the half of it.

Black Alice comes from a long tradition of characters who have the ability to copy or steal the abilities of other characters. As far as super powers go the only thing to distinguish her from the Super-Adaptoid or Rogue is her super ability to create a cute goth belly-shirt version of the costume of any character she copies. In her first appearance in Birds of Prey #76 she appears to be simply tapping into other people's magical abilities (it's hard to tell since we never see anyone whose powers she is using) but by Day of Vengeance this has been altered to actively stealing magic powers for limited periods.

But even her name is far from original. The earliest reference I can find to someone called Black Alice is in an old Australian poem (it may have originally been a song) called Ballad of Queensland.

Oh! don't you remember Black Alice, Sam Holt -
Black Alice so dusky and dark -
That Warrego gin with the straw through her nose,
And teeth like a Morton Bay Shark;
The villainous sheep-wash tobacco she smoked
In the gunyah down there by the lake;
The grubs that she gathered, the lizards she stewed,
And the damper you taught her to bake.

And then there is the novel Black Alice written by Thomas M. Disch & John Sladek published in 1968 (under the name of Thom Demijohn). A thriller and social satire about a little white girl who is kidnapped and disguised as an african american on the basis that nobody takes any notice of little black girls. Here the "Alice" reference is to Alice in Wonderland and there are parallels to Alice's adventures woven into the story.

There was even a previous comic character called Black Alice. Kind of. Way back in the mists of the 1980's Grant Morrison wrote a series called Abraxas with art by Tony O'Donnell. Two prologues appeared as backups in comics from the british indie publisher Harrier Comics and an Abraxas comic was advertised prominently cover-featuring a character named Black Alice but the comic was never actually published. I am a little hazy on the details here as I've been unable to find any current record of this Black Alice, so I'm relying on some rather vague memories.

The one major difference between the earlier characters and DC's new cute Black Alice is that the original Black Alices were actually black.

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Anonymous Andrew Perron said...

Don't forget Black Alyss, the legendary witch-gone-bad from Terry Pratchett's Discworld books.

10/02/2005 03:21:00 PM  
Anonymous thekamisama said...

I can see the Marvel/DC crossover with Typhoid Mary already!

10/02/2005 03:45:00 PM  
Anonymous Kelson said...

"The one major difference between the earlier characters and DC's new cute Black Alice is that the original Black Alices were actually black."

Last I looked, Green Arrow wasn't a little green man from Mars either!

(Of course, after Infinite Crisis, who knows?)

10/03/2005 01:10:00 AM  
Anonymous Phil said...

Ah, but all the "Black Alice/Alyss" characters actually modernise the name of the legendary British monster Black Annis

10/03/2005 09:03:00 AM  
Blogger Marionette said...

Ahhhh. Thank you. I was sure there must be some original source that was being referenced but I couldn't find what it was.

10/03/2005 02:37:00 PM  
Blogger Spencer Carnage said...

I thought they called her Black Alice because she's a female knock off of Black Adam...?

10/03/2005 04:24:00 PM  
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