I’m a fan of the show and graphic novel The Walking Dead, and there is a character who appears in the both who harkens back to some ideas of John Henry. The character is Tyreese, a burly African American man who brandishes his weapon of choice: the hammer.
His character in the comic and show are somewhat different but have very similar characteristics. He is a strong and reliable in moments of danger. I’ve inclhan image of Tyreese from the show (played by Chad Coleman, who I think looks a bit like a John Henry figure).
I’ve also included an image of the Tyreese character portrayed in the comic, who I find to be very similar to some of the John Henry images we viewed in class. I would compare him to some of the images created by the Gellert brothers during the 1930s for posters.
Within both forms of The Walking Dead (TWD), Tyreese has a moment where the audience/readers expect him to perish. John Henry’s death at the end of his legend is unexpected. In TWD the audience is led to believe Tyreese has died while saving the rest of the group. But eventually we learn of his survival. Looking at Tyreese, I find he has some connections to John Henry and the legend then I had noticed before.
Shifting gears to the Nelson piece, I think they connect well to Tyreese’s image. Nelson points out how the John Henry image is used, almost repurposed, to fit a group’s agenda or position. American Communist Party used him as a way to bring in African American members into the Party in the 1930s. And since then his image has changed more and more. Nelson even attempts to make a connection to some of the original superheroes.
I feel the John Henry image and idea has created a basis for many African American protagonists that you might find in any media. The John Henry image is a strong, hard-working individual who may not choose to be in his current situation but proves his effort by persevering through impossible odds—only to die later. Perhaps we’ll find that Tyreese fits the John Henry story even more closely once we learn his fate.