Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Fear of a Black Superman

Very, very few characters reach out and touch people in a profound way.  Life-changing or life-affirming when we get one of those characters then we tend to be fairly protective of them.

So in way, I understand the...well lack of a better word...anger surrounding the rumor (and that is all it is at the moment, rumor) that Michael B. Jordan would be cast as the next Superman. 

Frankly, I would love to see DC/Warner be so bold as to do this.  Plus if you have seen Creed you know that MBJ is a talented actor and he could pull this off.  He has the physique for it to be sure at 6'1" and only 31 years old. 

That is all fine.  Until you get online.  Then the so-called fans begin their bitching, whining an complaining.  Yes, it is overwhelmingly white and male that are doing the loudest wailing.

Superman/Kal-el/Clark Kent was created by two Jewish immigrants who wanted to tell the tale of another immigrant and how he could hold up the ideals of Truth, Justice and the American way.

So why then does he have to be white?

Well originally I am sure it never occurred to them he could be anything else.  And there is the practical reasons that a black superhero would have never sold comics back then.  Plus I am sure they wanted to see themselves in the comic.  We all do.

But to hear the "fans" you think this was a travesty, a crime worthy of a mob rule.
Or in other words, the masses being a bunch of dicks again.  More to the point a bunch of dicks who have never read a Superman comic before.

I mean we have had Val-Zod.

Calvin Ellis,


And President Obama,

Ok. Maybe he doesn't really count here.

There are plenty of precedents (not just Presidents like Ellis and Obama) for a black Superman.

It's time for the fandom to grow up.  We as geeks are accepted like never before in mainstream society. It is time now for us to show mainstream society that we are still not a bunch of basement dwelling adolescents.


Tim Emrick said...

I recall Steel's debut during the original Death and Return of Superman arc. I haven't followed him since, but he struck me as the most straightforwardly "heroic" of the multiple new Superman that appeared post-Death. (I still recall Pa Kent's "That's my boy!" upon seeing Steel on his hospital room TV.)

JB said...

Huh. Lots of thoughts on this.

There is no excuse for being an asshole. But I can understand why fans of a character are disappointed/upset by changes to a character's iconic appearance. The idea of recasting Superman or Spider-Man or Bat Man or one of the X-Men as a different ethnicity or gender or sexuality doesn't poke my buttons in the same way...but I'm not a super-fan of these characters (I actually think a black Batman in an urban environment has the potential for a lot of new and interesting stories). But I was irritated as hell when folks suggested one of MY favorite comic characters (Iron Fist) be re-written as an Asian American. It's irrational, sure...but when you're a FAN you're not always rational when it comes to deviations from the thing you've come to recognize and love (I'm sure there are non-white fans of Superman who've flown off the handle about this, too).

So...understandable? Sure. But as I said, definitely not an excuse to be an asshole.

However, that's my second thought. My FIRST thought is: is THIS what stands in for originality? Damn it DC, another Super Man film with a different actor...and now an actor of color? Is this some sort of half-assed attempt to catch up with Marvel's success with Black Panther and Luke Cage? Is this the best you can do? The new Black Lightning series has an interesting premise, but is hampered by some poor writing and (sorry to say) action/direction. And Cyborg may be the blandest superhero to hit the silver screen in the last decade. So now you're going to take Supes and reboot him to make up for your inability to innovate? Hell, why not reboot Steel in a non-Shaquille O'Neill vehicle?

[I actually thought we'd see Steel after Batman vs. Superman, but...ugh, DC is sooooo dumb]

I can perfectly imagine the stereotypical Hollywood powwow/production meeting that brainstormed this idea.

Anyway, my third, and final thought is this: I will be very curious to see how this plays out. Gender-bending and color-bending most heroes is pretty damn easy: there is nothing that says Spider-Man has to be white for example. Poor, half orphaned chemistry nerd gets bitten by a radioactive spider and acquires amazing powers...that could be a story that happens to ANY color (and any gender/sexuality) kid. There are only a few characters are written as being tightly tied to their ethnicity (it would be tough to make a male Jessica Jones or a non-black Luke Cage, for example).

But while Superman is an extraterrestrial and, thus, theoretically a blank slate for his color palette, there's quite a bit of the character's background that feels like a strange fit. Is he still going to be named Clark Kent, small town farm boy from Kansas? I suppose it's all fantasy anyway (the superhero genre) so growing up in Smallville a young, black outsider might find the same idyllic life and/or minor bullying as the original...but that's a pretty simplistic film to make considering out 21st century perspective on the issues of racism and rural America (not that there isn't racism and discrimination elsewhere, but Kansas has some troubling history in this regard). And if they DO just plan on making a simplistic film...um, why are they bothering to reheat the same leftovers? Again, is this just a marketing ploy? Lame, DC.

Anyway, interesting...I hadn't heard/read any of these rumors (or backlash). However, for the foreseeable future, I think I'll continue to Make Mine Marvel.

Greyhawk Grognard said...

Part of the whole reason they're recasting Superman in the first place is that the latest incarnation was dissatisfying to the fans, who felt it did not capture the real essence of Superman. In Cavill's case, it wasn't physically per se (although he didn't have the characteristic forelock, and the suit was sort of dark compared to other, more iconic, incarnations), but the fact is he just didn't feel as the familiar character the fans loved and wanted to see.

It seems the height of folly, then, to recast the character so radically different than the familiar. Of course, this is just a rumor and probably won't happen, but if they do go in a very different direction with the character, they will have learned absolutely nothing from their earlier mistakes.

Given the DCEU's track record so far, that would not be surprising at all.

Want to see a black Kryptonian? Then do a Val-Zod movie. But do it after you've re-won the trust of the fans by giving them the Superman they want, and not trying to make some sort of political statement (or, more likely, trying desperately to scramble and get some of that sweet sweet Black Panther money - see above about not learning from their mistakes).

Doctor Futurity said...

I don't think it's necessarily a flaw in my character to feel that a black Superman is essentially a marketing stunt, and a failure of imagination. DC could (read: should) make a movie featuring any number of other black heroes in their roster, and go hard on it like Marvel did with Black Panther. Not merely Black Lightning or Cyborg, but Val-Zod (a favorite of mine), Batwing, the new Kid Flash, Mr. Terrific (I would love a movie featuring Mike Holt), Vixen, The Signal (imagine the next Batman movie with the Signal in place of Robin), the new Power Girl (although I think she died? Not sure), etc. etc.

As is pointed out above, a problem with reframing the character's ethnicity is ultimately that once you are done you now have a new character, and you can't just force race into the image of a super hero. Yes, you can alter that image over time, but I think it is unfair to characterize all people who dislike this as inherently wrong for questioning whether it is really a good idea or not. It is a problem that some people react to this idea for the wrong reasons, but it is not inherently bad to suggest that a black Superman might be a great idea, and a great character....but maybe deserves to be something more than just a second fiddle color swap, you know? The next great black hero in cinema deserves more than just being a reskin of someone else. Black Panther proved that can work.

Ruprecht said...

Comics constantly change characters like this, and then change them back when its obvious the fans are not buying the way they used to and the folks they are pandering too are not actual comic book fans so their support is paper-thin.

Having said that they seem to be lost when it comes to the DC Extended Universe so maybe pandering a bit in the films will pick up a new market that pandering in the comics never could.

Cross Planes said...

Back when Bryan Singer made his Superman, there was talk of casting Will Smith, then the biggest actor in the world.

I think the biggest actor in the world should be considered for any role.

I've only Seen Michael B. as Killmonger, but I enjoyed his screen time. A customer told me he is the biggest actor in the world, thought I think the Rock owns that this year. The Rock should be considered too, BTW.

It's tough. I have black customers who have no interest in seeing their favorite characters reimagined anymore than a white customer. I do think we need to reach a point where the actor who captures the character should be cast. I mean should a black actor never star in a Shakespeare play?

However, what I do worry about is casting stunts. Look at the last FF. They cast a black actor in the roles of Mr. Storm and Johnny Storm, but overlooked any number of talented black actresses for the role of Sue. That's crazy.

I think what gets lost amongst the assholes is that fans love these characters and much like Stephen King's Misery, that love is not always healthy.

But what do I know? I liked Man of Steel and Henry Caville.

Timothy C. Schenks said...

I was a Superman fan since the mid-70s as a small child, but I don’t really care who plays him anymore. But...didn’t they just have this same conversation about James Bond 007?

Jonathan Linneman said...

I didn't keep up with comic trolls at the time, but I don't know that anyone batted an eye when our Superman was part Asian during the Lois & Clark days. Maybe Dean Cain is just close enough to "American standard" to pass the eye test? At any rate, it seems like if any character is suited to being played by ANY ethnicity, it's Superman. He's an alien who just needs to be a quintessentially wholesome American, and that can look like any of us.

I will also note that cases like this remind me that pretty much everyone who claims they "don't see color" is full of crap.

Ruprecht said...

What might be fun is a "What if" Type comic in which superman is black and shows up in America back in the 30s (or whenever the first Superman comic came out).

Silverlion said...

See, I get it to some degree with say Spider-man, Peter Parker will always be Spider-man, but Peter Parker could be a black teen, and as long as the key notes: Aunt May, Uncle Ben (unfortunate as the name is in context.) Then I don't care if they're POC. But so long as you are true to the spirit of the character, I'm good.

The same goes for Superman. Hit the keynotes: He's helpful, he's hopeful. He will risk as much as required to do the right thing as possible. This is where recent movies blundered. They didn't make Cavill, Superman. They didn't lean on him as an inspiration to others, on the power of hope, on preventing harm to others at HIS own cost, not cities, not people. HIS. This is one thing I got from Superman Returns, maybe it leaned on the "first" film's lore too much. But it showed one thing, Kryptonite or not, HE WILL save people. At the expense of his life.

DC just has a hard time showing us villains who CAN and do threaten him (Mongul, Brainiac, The Man with the Kryptonite heart, Lex Luthor in a battlesuit, who is out to be a mortal god, at ANY expense not just make money as a real estate mogul on crack.)

One of my favorite "recent stories:, is him and Captain Marvel (the original one), who's young teen friend gets killed, and Superman is upset and confused until he learns that Shazam laid the power on another "child" where he takes the fight to the wizard, and the wizard tells him, it HAD to be Billy, but that he could USE a teacher, a mentor, a parent who could help him.) Then he shows up as Clark to Billy Batson's apartment and shares the truth with him.