Russell Simmons, Common
team for animated hero series
Russell Simmons says he has October’s New York Comic-Con circled on his calendar for the first big reveal of The Harlem Shadow, a new animated online superhero series that will be set in the Jazz Age and features hip-hop star Common in the title voice role.
The series is an adaptation of the indie small-press series of the same name from RavenHammer Comics and the creative team of Brian Williams and Christian Colbert. (That version of the hero is shown in the poster image above.) After the Javitts Center debut, some early content will be online by year’s end at All Def Digital, the YouTube channel from Simmons and Brian Robbins of Awesomeness TV.
“The Harlem Shadow not only brings to life the rich culture, art, fashion, music and creativity of the Harlem Renaissance through the first black superhero of the era – but it also exposes the same grittiness and glamour that heavily influences the modern-day hip-hop community, ” Simmons says. “The Harlem Renaissance scene set the style with the music clubs, cars, all of it from that era – and the fashion, absolutely.”
Simmons also perceives a “white-out” when it comes to black heroes in the animation sector that should be as varied in its heritage and hue as its audience. “There has been a lack of cultural diversity in the world of animated heroes,” Simmons says, “but we’re about to change that.”
That lack falls short of being a complete void, however. There have been some notable successes for black heroes in animation led by the remarkable 1990s adaptation of Todd McFarlane’s Spawn and (for a younger and more mainstream audience) the Justice League cartoons from 2001-2006 that established Jon Stewart as the definitive Green Lantern iteration for a generation of television viewers (many of whom were put-off when they saw a white hero on the posters for the live-action feature film.
Simmons said a foundation presence in the new venture is Common, the Chicago-born music star and now-veteran actor. Simmons said Common has the talent, gravitas and sense of history to connect to his character battling the underworld in the era of Duke Ellington and Paul Robeson.
“Common and I have a long history together,” Simmons says. “There couldn’t have been a better person to embody the voice and energy of The Harlem Shadow.”