The Guardian • Issue #2062

Streaming/TV review

I’m a Virgo

If you’re in the market for an absurdist African-American superhero story with lashings of Marxist-Leninist theory, I have just the thing for you, provided you’re not totally jaded with superhero stories.

I thought I was one of the jaded ones. It’s been a long time since Alan Moore became famous for being clever about realistic superhero characters. Moore’s 1986 Watchmen book, showed superheroes who got older and had a lot of unpleasant vices. More recently, Garth Ennis’ The Boys was a rip-roaring success both on the page and on TV both for action and for having a solid shot at the military-industrial complex, but overall a new take on superheroes seems impossible.

I’m a Virgo however, shows that there is something new in the world of ironic/dark takes on comic heroes. For a start, the cast are almost all Black. The world of superheroes has tended towards erasure, with thrilling adventures taking place in an all-white middle America, or tokenism (exhibit A: Marvel Comics introducing the Falcon to give Captain America, that icon of American liberal niceness, a Black friend who can be grateful to him).

Cootie, the hero of I’m a Virgo grows to be 4 metres tall for no good reason, and is hidden from the world until just before the age of 21. When he gets out, he falls in with a group of young people who smoke weed, eat burgers and show off cars. Cootie’s unworldliness drives a lot of the comedy and gives the rest of the cast the chance to tell him what’s what with relationships and life in Oakland.

His foster parents warn him that there will be in trouble – “you’re a 13-foot tall Black man. Of course they’re going to be scared”  says his foster-mother. Sure enough, when he’s in the outside world, Cootie has run-ins with a Steve Jobs-impersonating cult who all wear black skivvies and carry cups of coffee, as well as with The Hero, an evil narcissistic billionaire who runs a comics company and is solidly pro-police. The rest of the cast aren’t pro-police, referencing the huge number of Americans, especially Black ones, in jail for minor drug offences. Once Cootie gets on The Hero’s bad side, the media swing into Fox News-style demonisation mode.

Especially anti-police is Jones, a very right-on community activist with the super-power of being able to do brilliant speeches about Marxism with background animations. I just checked out I’m a Virgo to pass the time, but stayed for Jones saying stuff that’s straight out of Lenin’s What is to be done? and using her super-powers to explain surplus value and why capitalism needs mass unemployment. There’s also feminist awareness from Flora, a super-fast character who finds everyone else too slow, especially men.

Animated Marxist fun aside, I’m a Virgo has a nice line in absurd humour. Cootie and his friends are addicted to a TV cartoon show called Parking Tickets which is a stream of Samuel Beckett-like misery interrupted by a baby who makes silly noises. They think it’s hilarious.

Creator Boots Riley, a former hip-hop artist who used to be in the Progressive Labor Party, leaves a lot of room for a sequel, and after only 7 episodes of Marxism, superpowers, housing protests, and fish-out-of-water comedy, you’ll be up for more too.

I’m a Virgo is streaming on Amazon Prime.

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