Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Comic book racism?

With the recent announcement that Michael B. Jordan will play Johnny Storm/The Human Torch in the upcoming new Fantastic Four movie, there has been some who were not happy with his selection. Some mentioned that Storm was a white man in the comics, so a white man should play
Flame(suit) on!
him in the film as well. Instantly, some have jumped on those unhappy with a black Human Torch and branded them as racist. Maybe some of them are, but I think that most opposed are upset for less nefarious reasons.

The first and most obvious is nostalgia. Since the Fantastic Four was created in 1961, Johnny Storm has been white. They are used to a certain visualization of the character and are having an issue with that picture being changed. But for these long-time fans, it needn't be a race issue. They likely wouldn't like Peter Dinklage or Liam Neason being cast in the role either because to them, they're not Johnny Storm.

But is Michael B. Jordan the right guy to play Johnny Storm? That is another reason people could reject his casting of innocent terms. The answer to that is that I don't know. This isn't a case like Ben Affleck being cast as Batman. Personally, I don't see him as the right kind of guy to play Batman. Hell, most of the casting of that film is baffling to me. I'm not really familiar with Jordan's other works. But he looks like he could probably pull off Johnny Storm's joking, showboating and risk taking personality. So he will probably play his part well. But there are other implications in his casting.

Kate Mara (a white woman) has been cast as Sue Storm/The Invisible Woman. In the comics, Sue and Johnny are siblings. So this raises the question, if Sue is white and Johnny and African-American, how are they going to play that? They could have it told that the Storms have mixed-race parents. Or maybe they will be step-brother and step-sister this time around. Or maybe they won't explain it at all. So how they write and direct the storyline will dictate how well this will work.

Sam Jackson is a far better Fury that the Hoff will ever be.
Personally, I'm fine with Jordan being the Human Torch so long as he plays the part well and the story makes sense. It didn't matter to me that Marvel cast Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury even though he's white in the comics. He owns that role, so I have no complaints. Halle Berry played a decent Catwoman in my opinion, despite not being white as can be like the comics. Sony has morphed Electro from white (comics) to black (movie) by casting Jamie Foxx in the role. Yet from what I've seen, he looks like he's going to play the role well. I have no issue with his change of race, but actually did question how unrecognizable his costume is from the one Electro wore in my youth. And while we are talking Spider-Man, I still can't stand Topher Grace being Eddie Brock/Venom. Sure, his race was the same as the comics, but he was so wrong for that role in just about every way...

There is one case of race changing that didn't sit right with me was Abner Jenkins. Historically, he is the Marvel villain known as the Beetle. In the title Thunderbolts Jenkins took on the guise of the hero Mach-I, Mach-II, Mach-III, Mach-IV and Mach-V. When I was still a regular reader, he was still Mach-I, and shortly after i stopped reading his character turned himself in for the crimes he commited as the Beetle.

Before jail, after jail, and later still. Wait... What did I miss?
Years later I decided to take a look at the old title I used to read. It was at that time I was surprised to see that Abe was now an African-American. This was a rather surprising development. People don't just tend to wake up the next morning another race. I eventually found out that the storyline was that they gave him plastic surgery to give him a new identity.

This really didn't make great sense to the storyline and just felt like pandering. Hey look, we have a token black guy on the team now! Aren't we inclusive! But it didn't stop there. A few years later, and Jenkins is a white guy again. Maybe jail 'making' him black sent all the wrong kinds of messages...

So as for the race of a character in the comics being different in a movie... I don't think it matters at all, so long as they play the character right. And when someone says they don't like so and so playing a character, instead of screaming 'racist!', let's try to actually find out why they don't like the casting before jumping to conclusions.

-Brain Hulk

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