Things have recently been shaken up in the comic book universe. Marvel announced Thor is now female. Which isn’t much of a stretch in my opinion; all he’d need was a shave. But kidding aside, the change was welcomed, minus the sexists of course. And low and behold Cap’n Mer’ca was now black. A change also welcomed. Sort of.
And how about Fantastic Four reboot with Torch being played by Chronicle’s Michael B. Jordan. Oh and that Danny Glover / Spiderman twitter scenario? That was also welcomed with open arms… right?
If it’s okay for a black guy to play Human Torch in the F4 reboot then I guess it’s okay for a white guy to play Black Panther, right?
— Livia Tamara Widjaja (@liviatamaraliu) February 20, 2014
Oh internet, you are such a meanie. Truth is, race and sex are the final frontier in the comic universe. There has been a few characters that have adorned our comic stands that pushed the limits of what is accepted as status quo. From the influx of black DC titles like Black Lightning and the likes in the early 90’s, to independent publishers like (then) Image Comics thinking outside the box, to the few truly strong female archetypes that have dotted the graphic novel timeline (Wonder Woman…. for one), there’s truly a huge amount of ground to cover to see any change in the white male dominated comic universe.
But I truly understand to an extent why certain efforts from big wigs like Marvel are being chalked up as PC drivel. As new characters are not created, but every PC hot-button is being unloaded all at once on to established franchises. Like a bisexual(?) half-black half-latino Spiderman. So more organic stories and characters are not taking place, rather somewhat forced narratives in a sense. But, of course, this would be understood and noted if the first crutch ignorant people didn’t run to was the colour of a character’s skin or sex. In the same way, I felt Scarlet Johansson to be quite annoying as Black Scarlet in The Avengers movie; I was always expecting her to at least attempt a Russian accent, but I eventually got over it. But it seems I was the only one that took issue with the actor Johansson being used to portray Black Scarlet. I guess it’s never the accent that is the issue. As long as our heroine’s are shapely, endowed and look good in latex, we pretty much don’t care what comes out of their mouths.
Race obviously has significance with certain characters, for example, Superman. I personally felt he represents that period of Americana, sugarcoated and made ‘perfect’, where the future embodied by Metropolis would be this state-of-the-art sprawling city where skyscrapers gleamed and the world was ‘perfect’. This ‘perfect world’ thematically, born of that 40’s mind state, is why Superman for me should be portrayed as Caucasian, a representation of this ‘ideal world’ that has never existed. And never will. I didn’t say it was right. Neither did I say I was not open to change. Superman is a product of his time, and as such, ‘traditional’ stories will ultimately herald traditional hero representations. But the comic has always been about pushing the envelop, so those still clinging to the ‘great white hopes’ need to realise that there is a rich tapestry of stories out there with unique perspectives. Perspectives that are ignored because of bias and PC tunnel vision.
Even if a hero who is usually portrayed as white, as long as the character’s origin story does not have any strong connections to being white, I don’t see any real issues for making such a change. But by nature of things, heroes that are originally portrayed as black for example (the few there are) have the hero’s identity and origins deeply rooted in their race and it is hardwired explicitly in the character’s make up from the onset. Hence why you would not have a white individual playing Black Panther. Because then that would be digging in the ‘blackface’ barrel. No one wants that.
But having said that, there could be say a white Spawn. A simple guide, if the gift of super heroism is a title or rank, it is easier to see a replacement of said character. But if the gift of super heroism is more a result of a birthright / genetics, any ‘dramatic’ changes would be harder to swallow, or at least will take some convincing. Thor’s hammer is as much a title as it is a birthright, hence the welcomed change for a ‘female’ Thor. A black Torch, who’s sister in Fantastic 4 franchise is Caucasian, is a question of genetics, hence (partly) the reason for some backlash. Respect to those who didn’t start their observations on Twitter by saying “I’m not racist, but…”. The Torch ‘issue’ is of course a simple fix; maybe make them half-brother and sister, and think of the narrative dynamics this can create. BUT as it turns out, in this Fantastic Four, it is Sue who is adopted. TWIST!
White heroes, however, don’t have the problem when it comes to representation. Why? Because they aren’t called ‘White heroes’. They are just superheroes. But their collective appearance asserts a dominance in the manner of tacit, without ever explicitly saying ‘Heroes are White”. And we can go on length about other unrepresented and misrepresented races (and sexes?). Most misrepresentations are born out of who America is doing the 1, 2 war-shuffle with, or whatever stereotype is ‘popular’ in today’s vacuum of ignorance.
But honestly, a look into creating new ‘black’ and ‘other’ heroes, with their own origins and supporting said projects with the same amount of push given to ‘classic’ heroes would do a world of good alongside revamping a few already established titles. Not just pushing PC agendas, but crafting memorable stories and characters with actual thought. Comic book narratives and paradigms are always changing and shifting. “A character is dead… nope he was trapped in an alternate dimension and now he’s back”. Changing the recipe is how we keep things interesting, and furthermore, current. This writer welcomes the change. And as this change remoulds the landscape of the graphic novel, without a doubt, this will seethe over into film, creating a haven for great narrative and dynamic characters that represent the grand spectrum that is the human (and superhuman) race.