In the summer of 2020, I had my nephew living with us for a few months, and one of the things that he loved to do was play with my old action figures. He didn’t like to play alone. He always wanted me to play with him. The things that I learned about him and about me and about the world by playing with him that summer sparked this whole Black Toys Matter project. (See my first posts about it here and here.) It also meant that I bought a whole ton of Black action figures for him to play with the next summer (2021). These are some of those 2021 toys that he enjoyed playing with the most and what I tried to teach him while we played with each.
With Killmonger, my nephew really got stuck on Killmonger’s plan for world domination. I explained it by telling him that fighting against the people that hurt us can be the right thing to do, but the problem is that Killmonger doesn’t want to just stop people from hurting others, he wants to be in charge of who gets hurt and who has the weapons to do the hurting. I think he got the lesson.
Usually, he had Killmonger recruit Luke Cage and Prowler because I described both of them as mercenaries. (This is more based on Luke Cage in a comic I read than the way he is depicted in the Netflix series.) I told my nephew that they both are only motivated to fight based on how much money they can get out of it. He could easily see that this was wrong. At the same time, he didn’t just write them off as “bad guys” because I would remind him that Prowler is Miles Morales’ uncle and they love each other.
Miles Morales was one of his favorite toys to play with. Usually we played with about 6 toys at a time and they’d be split into two teams. My nephew always wanted Miles to be one of the toys. I mostly just used Miles for Black representation and his self-image. I would remind him that he looks like Miles or that he’s smart like Miles or athletic like Miles. I think that worked well.
Even before I bought this toy, he had seen Into the Spider-verse. So he knew that Miles’ uncle gets shot and killed by the police. With that background, I was able to talk to him about gun violence before one of the protests that we took him to.
When he would play with Miles, I told him that Iron Heart is Miles’ best friend. Since I want him to value the abilities of Black women, I’d always pick Iron Heart as one of the toys we’d play with. I told him her back story. I shared that her real name is Riri Williams and she was a child genius who is really good with technology. When her Dad and best friend were killed in a drive-by, she was really hurt by that. With that story we were able to talk about some heavy stuff when I first introduced her. But, for the most part, we played with Riri without discussing her background.
In addition to Iron Heart, I tried to use Storm as an example of a Black woman superhero. More specifically, I treated storm as a leader. I emphasized that she is always the leader of the crew, and I added to her allure by pointing out how unfairly powerful she is. In some of my nephew’s comments, I could hear echoes of a patriarchy. So, playing with Storm was one way I was trying to correct that worldview. I don’t know that it was terribly effective because he never got into choosing Storm and wanted to substitute her out for other toys. But after Storm was no longer in the line-up, I at least could keep Iron Heart in the games for the whole time.
Black Panther was another favorite who he liked to play with as someone trying to stop Killmonger from becoming just like the people that hurt everyone. He liked the fact that Black Panther’s suit can absorb the impact from people he is fighting against. But I don’t think he learned much from playing with Black Panther overall.
If you are looking to buy a Miles Morales or Black Panther toy, chances are good that you can find a new one anywhere action figures are sold. Marvel keeps making different versions of the two of them, and I imagine they’ll remain their go-to Black toys for awhile. Storm is also popular, but not quite as common right now. If you wait a couple years, a new one always comes around. Killmonger toys are coming back with the 2022 Black Panther movie. I got some used ones on eBay for reasonable prices. Prowler and Luke Cage are only available used, as far as I know; you should be able to get a good price on eBay. As for Iron Heart, you’ll find her on eBay but there might be some places still selling new toys of her for a discount.