Adult In The Room

Good people indeed.
In the olden days of the 1980s/early 1990s, there was a subset of jokes about how "the black person is the first to die" or that a black best friend would die to inspire the white main character to level up. It was a common movie trope of the time and we have mostly moved passed it at this current moment in time. What I have noticed is another trope that still remains, that we at The Fifth World have discussed before and that has re-appeared in my radar last week.


Anthony and Joe Russo are architects of the MCU at this point and make films that I really enjoy. The last decade of Marvel films has been great and I was particularly pleased with Infinity War. The Russo brothers took the time out to break down the heroic characters in this film for Wired. It is an interesting watch but what I noticed is how they talked about James Rhodes, T'Challa and Sam Wilson (Sam starts at 11:56 and ties this together). The ways that these characters are described are as "noble", able "to rise above the fray" and understanding "how to put the common good ahead of any self interest". These are all great qualities, don't get me wrong, but it also feeds into a comic book trope and sometimes a larger trope in fiction where the black character has to be the adult in the room. They have to sacrifice their self-interest and any pettiness to make sure the job is done or to make sure the main character gets the job done by serving as a check. (T'Challa experiences this a little less in his movie since the cast is mostly black and, possibly, because the influence of Coogler although, his decision to reveal Wakanda to the world is this trope writ large) Their nobility is developed from the sacrifice of self and also as coming from their heart or "soul" in some way.

Which makes what happens to Gamora on Vormir more interesting.
The only reason I truly noticed this in such an obvious way was that in our discussion of what would be the ultimate Legion roster we had to discuss the characters of Invisible Kid/Jacques Foccart and Kid Quantum/Jazmin Cullen . Jacques was noted as being "the adult in the room" and Jazmin became the leader of the Legion for a time after she had to pull them together and focus them during the Legion Lost time period. There are exceptions to the rule of the black character stepping up to be the voice of reason, with Jazmin's own brother as a prime example, but it seems to be an easy go to give a black character these traits. Almost as easy as giving them electrical powers but that's another discussion for another time.

Or sometimes they happen in the same character.
Cyborg aka Vic Stone is the ultimate example of this happening to a black character. Vic was always the team player, even before he became Cyborg. He was a member of his football team and always tried to make the true adults in his life proud, like his father. After the accident that transformed him, Vic had to deal with the loss of large parts of his body and the affect that it has on his humanity. Despite that, Vic is the dependable backbone of the Teen Titans in almost all of its incarnations. He is also usually the member who first joins the Justice League. This may be due to his talents of cyberpathy and teleportation but it is also his maturity level that puts him on a higher level than his peers. Vic's role as the "adult in the room" is less obvious around Wonder Woman or Batman where he is used as more of a support system or alternates with Flash as the heart or soul of the team. When he is with the younger members of the Titans it becomes more apparent that he is the most mature even if he isn't the leader.

Diggs has a tough job.
Back to the Russo's description of Sam as a noble soul full of sacrifice is that he is oddly both the same as Rhodey and his opposite and that is probably because he completes the adult in the room position with the serious and/or mopey lead character. Rhodey had the man-child of Tony to deal with so he is the one to check his self-interest or unfocused ways. Sam has Steve Rogers, the ultimate Boy Scout made of self-sacrifice. His role is to give advice to make sure that the right choice is truly being made and, also, to make sure Steve remembers that life isn't totally always fighting Nazis. A character who plays a similar role is John Diggle on Arrow. Like Sam, Diggs is a former soldier and partner to a serious man in the form of Oliver Queen aka the Arrow/Green Arrow. Diggs is definitely the adult on that show and is used to give advice when Oliver's melancholy takes over or he is acting too cold. Diggs is the adult balance to the main character becoming to serious and brooding, which is tough work with Oliver. He gives up his time to sacrifice to make his friend and his city a better place.

I may be reading too much into this but the role of adult on a team seems to often fall onto the shoulder of the black person on the team. From the examples I've shown here to Storm on the X-Men crew, these characters seem to be the focusing, self-sacrificing piece to every team. This might be a comic book and science fiction specific trope at this point but it still exists. My question is is it as rampant as I think it it? I'm not sure if it is truly problematic or if it reflects the role that the world puts on black people in real life but it has definitely been something I have noticed recently. I don't think it takes away from the narrative and I take a little joy in the characters that look like me are the ones to get the mission back on track but it can become disheartening that these characters seem to HAVE to step into that role constantly.


Sean Fields is an aspiring writer and has been in the education field for more than a decade. He works mostly with teenagers nowadays which both keeps him well informed on pop culture and makes his hair turn grayer daily. He has a few blogs but is currently focused on this one and this other one. You can also find him on TumblrTwitter and Instagram, if you want to be entertained or infuriated.
Adult In The Room Adult In The Room Reviewed by Sean Fields on Monday, August 20, 2018 Rating: 5
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