Okay kids, we’re going to talk about race.
There has been a lot of noise about the cast of the upcoming Fantastic Four reboot, which features – gasp! – a black actor as the Human Torch. The internet, being the throbbing hub of forward thinking and reason that we’ve all come to know and love, is in a Giant Fucking Uproar because of this. In the comics, Johnny Storm is not black: he’s a big ol’ white dude. Casting Michael B. Jordan as the Human Torch is making internet racists – you know, the ones who threatened to boycott Cheerios over a commercial featuring a biracial family and said the most awful things about Amandla Stenberg for playing Rue in the Hunger Games – foam at the mouth. How dare they! They’re ruining the character! I’m nostalgic for the days of dysentery and leeching! I am poorly educated, largely illiterate, and spend my days festering in the bile of my hatred! And so on and so forth.
I think the change is a great one, and here’s why:
There was a time in my life, between my all-consuming Transformers love and my blossoming career as an internet pervert, that I was wholly into comic books – specifically, Marvel Comics. I lived and breathed those stories, and spent hours reading and researching facts and data and backstories. I read Marvel comics voraciously, and to this day I remember where I was and how I felt when I realized there was no one like me in the stories I devoured. I fully admit to being a pedant through and through, but that doesn’t mean I was expecting to find a major character who was also Malaysian/Canadian, overdeveloped, and shaped like a potato .. but it would have meant a lot to me if there had been Asians.
Other than Jubilee*.
Look, I’m glad Jubilee existed. She was spunky! And Chinese! And she had powers: she could create fireworks!
Yes, they gave the sole Chinese character the ability to create FIREWORKS. There was also a Japanese character, Lady Deathstrike. She was a ninja assassin, and often appeared in a kimono. Because she was Japanese, you see. But why stop there? Where was the Mexican character who could control chihuahuas? The Swedish character who could flat-pack anything item? The Australian who lulled people to sleep with a didgeridoo? The fiery Latina who dances a passionate salsa .. of teleportation? That’s the thing about people of different races: we’re all people. We go through the same milestones, the same Very Special Episodes, the same CRAP as everyone else. I don’t need a Chinese character to walk around dressed like a rickshaw driver talking about how much they love rice and fish sauce to prove they’re Chinese: there are a thousand ways to depict different races without having to rely upon stereotypes.
So, to sum up: female Asian superheroes. Asians, at all. Asians who weren’t an exaggerated racial stereotype, but faced the same – comic universe and Degrassi variety – problems as every other character, just in different skin. When I was reading comic books, there weren’t very many of them. And if I noticed this lack at a tender age, how many others felt the same way I did?
My point (and I swear I have one) is that why SHOULDN’T comic book fans be able to relate to characters who are JUST LIKE THEM? Yes, casting the Human Torch as a black man is different than the origin story written in 1961 (when race relations in the US were just super). Can anyone picture Nick Fury as anyone other than Samuel L. Jackson? The original Nick Fury was a big ol’ white man, to the point where he was once played by David Hasselhoff on TV.
I don’t know how my life would have been different if I had more to look up to than just Jubilee, but it would have been nice to have options. I’m not saying that every character should be black or Asian or Hispanic so people don’t feel left out, but there are an awful lot of white characters in comic books, and drastically fewer characters of colour. Would it really destroy the universe if a character is rebooted to make a change like this? I know the Internet Racists aren’t going to be swayed by my words (or logic, or reason, or decency) one way or another, but think about your life. Think about your family, and your job, and your home, and your hobbies. Now think about the Fantastic Four, and the Human Torch. Does the colour of his skin REALLY matter? It shouldn’t.
.. if anything, you should be worried about how they’re going to write the Human Torch and Invisible Girl into being brother and sister. That can easily be explained away by adoption (or not part of the story arc at all), but personally my entire day has been ruined by the news that Mr. Fantastic will be played by the 27-year-old Miles Teller. Mr. Fantastic is supposed to be a middle-aged scientific genius who has enough science-clout to invent, build, and pilot a starship into hyperspace while bringing along his buddy, his girlfriend, and her kid brother. Is that something you can accomplish by the age of 27? I DON’T THINK SO.
Ed and I had an animated (get it) discussion about this last night, and one of the things he said really fuelled this entire rant for me. When talking about various Marvel characters and their backstories, Ed mentioned his looking up to Bruce Banner as a kid, and how weird it would be to have an Asian Hulk. Ignoring the Asian Hulk angle (except for a brief mental image of the Hulk using chopsticks), why couldn’t Bruce Banner be Asian? There is nothing in his backstory; nothing in the past 52 years of Hulkdom that would be adversely affected by his skin having more melanin. Hell, there’s even a potential story arc where the Asian Bruce Banner starts dating Betty Ross, and how her Ultra American father General Thunderbolt Ross deals with it. Hire me, Marvel. I gotcha covered.
A black Human Torch will be different, but different is not bad – it’s just different. I like the inclusion of other races and cultures in comics and movies, and I think we should embrace it .. if not because the world is far more than just 7 billion shades of white, but because EVERYONE deserves to have an awesome superhero to look up to, regardless of their colour.
“look out for those gamma rays, bruce banner!” is that really so hard to believe?
*: There are many Asian characters in Marvel comics now – here’s a list. However, in 1989 I was a girl, and specifically wanted more Asian girl superheroes. In that list:
- Itsu (Japanese, debuted in 2006)
- Surge (Japanese, debuted in 2004)
- Opal Takana (Japanese, debuted in 1990, superpowers listed as “Attractive Female”) – there are many superpowerless Japanese characters stemming from the 70s, all of whom are linked to Wolverine and are powered as “Attractive Female”
- Sway (Chinese, debuted in 2006)
- Nico Minoru (Japanese, debuted in 2003)
- Armor (Japanese, debuted 2004)
.. and so on. Yes, Asian characters have mostly come a long way baby. That isn’t the point of this post, but I wanted to give props where props were due (and also have an excuse to read more Marvel character bios).