michael-b-jordan-portrait

Why an African American Human Torch is Important, or Comic Fans are Kinda Racist

Originally posted at BadAzz Mofo

Wake up world, Black actor Michael B. Jordan has been cast as Johnny Storm (a.k.a. the Human Torch) in the upcoming reboot of the Fantastic Four franchise. The hurricane of controversy, and all the requisite ridiculous and racist comments have begun, and will keep flowing, until, or course, the movie comes out, at which point people will go see it no matter how incensed or infuriated they are. And you know what? I don’t care if anyone is incensed, infuriated, or inconsolable about a Black actor being cast in a fictional role of a character that is known to be White. Really, honestly, and truly, I don’t care at all. That is not, however, going to stop me from addressing a few issues.

Your new Fantastic Four.

First, there are all the diehard comic book fans freaking out over the fact that one of Jack Kirby and Stan Lee’s creations is being changed from White to Black. Their protests and insipid whining are, to be sure, based primarily in racism. The complaints that are not racist are merely based in nostalgia, which is tied more closely to racism than even the most free-thinking, liberal, and, sad to say, people of color, can even begin to comprehend. The very real — and very ugly — truth of the matter is that if you’re upset that Human Torch is being played by a Black guy, you are in fact operating within a paradigm of racial ideology that is — in every way, shape, and form — tied to racism. This is not to say you are a racist, because you may not be. But that’s the soul-crushing and terrifying reality of racism — quite often we engage in racist ideology without realizing we’re doing it.

The most common statement we will be hearing in days, weeks, and months to come is that casting Human Torch as a Black man is akin to casting a White actor as Luke Cage, or even worse, Martin Luther King, Jr. Well, for starters, Human Torch and Luke Cage are both fictional characters. Martin Luther King was a real person, and I have already addressed the ugly reality of White actors portraying real-life people of color in another post (so I won’t repeat myself). Instead, I want to explain why it is of the utmost importance that Michael B. Jordan portray Human Torch, and why it is nothing like a White actor playing Luke Cage or Black Panther.

When we are talking about Black superheroes — and for the sake of what I’m getting at, I’m talking about characters that exist in the world of Marvel and DC Comics — there are only a relative handful of well-known characters. And even then, these characters are only well known to fans of comic books. Most people outside of comics have no clue who Mr. Terrific or Brother Voodoo are, and they don’t care. In fact, most comic fans don’t care either. Both Marvel and DC have a long history of killing off characters and resurrecting them (usually in ways that are completely ridiculous). Fans lose their minds whenever Superman or Captain America are killed (hell, Brian Bendis received death threats when he killed Hawkeye), but inevitably, these characters are always brought back to life, more popular than ever. brother voodooThat is, unless we’re talking about the death of a Black character. About a dozen people seemed to care when Black Goliath/Bill Foster was killed off in Marvel’s Civil War. Even fewer than that cared when Brother Voodoo/Jericho Drum bought the farm. And to the best of my knowledge, both are still dead, and no one is clamoring for their return.

The bottom line is this: Black superheroes get very little respect in comics, and other than a few characters — Luke Cage, Storm, Black Panther, Static Shock, John Stewart — with some devoted fans, the vast majority of Black superheroes are inconsequential to readers. At least they are inconsequential to the White readers that Marvel and DC cater to as a matter of course (this is all an extension of White privilege and racial ideology, which I’m not going to spend too much time discussing). The point I’m getting at is that Black superheroes don’t matter as much as White superheroes, and this is reflected both in the medium of comics and films. In comics, most people would be hard-pressed to come up with three significant Black superheroes introduced in the last twenty years with any sort of staying power or popularity. In film, we can literally count all the Black superheroes who’ve appeared in live-action films, and we don’t even need to use our thumbs, or all of our fingers. Likewise, the Black superheroes created specifically for the big screen are limited to Hancock, Meteor Man, and Blank Man.

hancock meteor blank
All three of which are enough to make even White people hang their heads in shame and disgust

Audiences of all colors need to start seeing superheroes of all colors, not just the same old White characters played by White actors. But here’s the key: for the time being, we need to see the same old White superheroes played by actors of color. Because to a very large extent, there simply aren’t that many Black characters for them to play. Sure, Falcon is in the new Captain America movie, Storm has been in four X-Men movies (including the new one coming out soon), War Machine/Iron Patriot was in two of the Iron Man movies, Blade had his own franchise, and Luke Cage is getting his own mini-series via Netflix. That’s all great. And maybe Black Panther will get his own movie.

falcon storm blade

But what other Black characters are there that can carry a film, or are even known enough to film audiences to make an impression? And compare that to Ghost Rider, Daredevil, Iron Man, Spider-Man, Batman, Superman, Hulk, Captain America, Wolverine, Green Lantern, Thor, and all the other White heroes who get their own movies. I mean come on! Can anyone really tell me that Green Lantern or Ghost Rider would’ve been that much worse with an actor of color in the lead?

The medium of comics does not have the best of track records for creating and cultivating characters of color. As superheroes move from the pages of comics to the screen, now is a perfect opportunity to reinvent many beloved characters in a way that is more reflective of a far less monochromatic world. It is important to do this if we as a society and a world are to ever move past the ideological constructs of race that continue to enforce oppression. Some people — especially comic fans — may have a problem with this, but ultimately, they don’t matter as much as they’d like to think. Sorry kids, but you are a tiny niche audience with delusions of grandeur.

avengers

There are more people going to see The Avengers than there are those buying Avengers comic books, and whether you want to admit it or not, those are the people that matter. Both Fantastic Four and its sequel Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer made a collective total of more than $500 million worldwide at the box office (and in both cases, the highest percentage of money came from foreign ticket sales). The best selling issues of a Fantastic Four comic currently on the market can’t even scratch the surface of 1% of those ticket sales. Amazing Spider-Man #700 earned an unprecedented $2 million in print sales, while the movie The Amazing Spider-Man earned $752 million at the worldwide box office (making it the worst performing of the four films thus far). For Amazing Spider-Man (the comic) to make what it made, it had to sell somewhere in the ballpark of 250,000 units. For Amazing Spider-Man (the movie) to make what it made, it had to sell in the ballpark of 75,000,000 tickets. The reason why comic fans aren’t nearly as important as they think — nor are their racist or quasi-racist nostalgia — is because actual comic books don’t make that much money. Film and merchandise based on comics rake in the loot, while comics are something of a financial footnote.

The world needs more superheroes of color. In the world of comics, Marvel and DC need to step up their game, as do the readers. Comic book readers must demand, accept, and support superheroes of color, and not come across as racist assholes every time there is a rumor of a Black actor playing a White character. And until the comic publishers (Marvel and DC), creators, and fans can do their part to bring greater diversity to the world of superheroes, we must all learn to accept — either eagerly or grudgingly — that some of our beloved White heroes are in need of an extreme makeover for the big screen. Personally, I’m looking forward to seeing Michael B. Jordan as Human Torch far more than I am looking forward to seeing the new Fantastic Four movie — which has the bar set exceptionally low as it is.

34 thoughts on “Why an African American Human Torch is Important, or Comic Fans are Kinda Racist”

    1. That’s going to mess up the whole story line. i love the F.F, but I won’t be seeing this new movie. It just doesn’t make sense

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      1. Um, it s a COMIC BOOK movie. Who the hell cares if it makes sense of not—it’s fiction anyway, so what difference does it make who plays Johnny Storm? Geesh!

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      2. I won’t be seeing it either, if your going to take liberties with the characters and change them then its actually not a CB movie then is it?
        People (stupid ones) keep saying, “its all made up anyway who cares?” well actually the history of CB’s is very real in a literature sense as it dates back to the 1950’s, we’ve grown up on these characters, if it is truly a case of “who cares” then that’s exactly it, I and thousands of other CB fans will have that exact attitude toward the sh*tty film and not care to turn up with our $$$, guess what pay’s to have these films made?

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  1. It’s cool but I don’t think that fans that don’t like race changes in the movies are racist or quasi racist….most people know it’s just a lame attempt to get more people in the movie theatre and they call it out…it’s like when the spawn movie made his best friend a white dude and Chapel and white woman instead of a black man….That’s why Ninja Turtles will always be the greatest comic book movie, it stuck to the script and is still a classic….like I said before why not just give the Black Panther a guest spot in the movie, then hell a spinoff later……But honestly Marvel movies have been pretty lame lately since Disney bought them out.

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      1. I’m a racist because, I would prefer the characters stay who they were in the source material? and racism exists only when one group holds a disproportionate share of wealth and power over another group then uses those resources to marginalize, exploit, exclude and subordinate the weaker group….I’m black, how could I be racist lol, I don’t side with corporate exec’s who want to make a quick buck changing the races of token characters in movies to fill seats. IE. Sam Jackson in Avengers lol.

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  2. Johnny storm is not a positive role model, making him black only makes things worse. Or he acts nothing like Johnny and FOX decides to get “creative” again. Because that always works….

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    1. But other FF members have their faults too. Mister Fantastic is too involved in his work to socialize. Sue Storm had confidence issues. Ben Grimm looked like a monster. Johnny Storm may be the most ‘normal’ character of them all because he fits in with the young male stereotype.

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      1. As I listed in the other post Johnny is a womanizing, impulsive, irresponsible, party boy, “flame brain”. And that’s AFTER graduating from high school and college. You can’t argue that his flaws are typical of young people because they chose a fairly young cast altogether.

        Sue hasn’t had confidence issues since the 70s. Not to mention she’s the most powerful member of the team with

        Reed isn’t really called out for his flaws in story. But he’s largely respected as the smartest person in the Marvel Universe. He has less competition in the FOX-verse.

        Ben’s ugliness is really Reed’s fault. But he’s also one of the most respected characters in the stories. Hard working and personable despite his appearance.

        Johnny’s only positive trait is his cool powers.

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    2. Another possibility here is that they might even change the team dynamics. They may no longer be the 1st Family of superheroes. There could be a love triangle involving Reed, Sue, and Ben. The Thing could evolve into the glowing form from the Ultimates comics. Beauty and the Brain or Beauty and the Beast? And Johnny could just be an overprotective brother who doesn’t want those guys messing with her.

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    3. Then you obviously don’t know jack about Johnny. He is one of the noblest members of the team sacrificing himself numerous times for his family. So you are wrong, he is a role model. Try reading an F4 book once in your life.

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      1. He sacrificed himself recently, I read the issue.

        About two years about in real time

        A few months ago in comic book time.

        When he returned he had the cosmic control rod and authority of the denizens of the negative zone. He used the negative zone’s forces to draw back the Kree invading Earth.

        A really good issue I might add. I especially like future franklin storm making Galactus his herald.

        All good things must come to an end I’m afraid as he
        and reverted back to his immature behavior soon after. In a Spider-man cross over not long after his return to life/earth he invited the negative zone people to a house party in Peter Parker’s place. Once again acting like a impulsive buffoon.

        Next time don’t make assumptions about people.

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  3. ^^^^Thankyou, Hollywood is only doing this to maximize profit….this isn’t something that we should praise, it’s not creative in the least, it’s strictly a corporate move. I’m opposed to get happy about a token black dude in a movie, a forced token black dude at that. A really good sci-fi movie with black leads that the critics in America trashed was After Earth because it contained not a single Hollywood stereotype.

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    1. Why does it have to be a “corporate move” to put in a” token black dude” for the role? Why does it never seem to occur to anybody that a good actor was cast for the part because because the director was impressed with him? I mean, dang it, white actors have played non-white characters (Indians, Asian, and Latinos) onscreen literally since the dawn of film.
      The reverse dosen’t even happen enough for anyone to complain about it in the first place–I mean for real, it dosen’t.

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      1. it’s like DC comics wanting more diversity and instead of hiring black artists and writers and creating some new comics and characters….it’s like DC just making catwoman or robin black to attract more black readers…and to me that’s lame…..and that’s what marvel has been doing for a while now.

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  4. It takes a good actor to make you see beyond the colours. I think this guy can pull of the ‘torch’. He’s “cool” enough…..So come on folks, it’s not like an Indian’s playing Superman!

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    1. What would be wrong with that? If Idris Alba is interested in playing Superman why can’t an Indian do it? The only thing WB is doing is rehashing Superman’s origins then zipping straight to the rivalry between superheroes instead of facing new threats. The Superman franchise definitely needs a change because it has nothing new to say.

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      1. I’m looking at that line-up above and I still can’t believe these guys can handle strange phenomenon like a superhero team. They look like the junior crew to the X-Files.

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      2. Maybe…It all depends on the point of view. No matter how dynamic a hero may be, he always stands for one thing mainly- JUSTICE. Superman is the icon of HOPE, and I doubt that any new direction can ever “change” that. What suggestions have you got for anything new the Superman franchise can say??

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  5. sure, comic book fans who hate changes made to their heroes with regards to their race are racists. I mean that is the only logical explanation. Does it make them racists if they hate when black characters are racebent?

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    1. Pretty much, because you and they are making way too much of a big deal about it—the sky won’t fall—clouds won’t crash to the earth because of the decision to cast a black actor as Johnny Storm (lol.)

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  6. let’s make the black panther a white south african. Why not? A white south African is more african than any black born in the US right??? Kinda makes you angry doesn’t? Look here are the comic and sci-fi rules. You dont change the damn characters. You dont make a major white hero black, or black hero white, you dont make Wonder Woman gay. YOu the leave the damn characters as they are. Comic fans, and I am one, hate when they do that bs. And we will punish hollywood when they do that. FF with a black johnny storm is such a lame pander. I mean shit, Torch and Invisible Woman are sibling for god sakes. Did they make her black??? No, which makes no freakin sense at all. This is just stupid of them.

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    1. I call BS—comic book characters change ALL the damn time,and have throughout the history of comics—they had to change with the times just like anything else, so to claim that you “just leave the damn characters as they are” is nonsense, because not all comic book characters stay as they are over the decades.. Just get over yourself. What’s so damn wrong about Storm being black? You act as if you wouldn’t be able to possibly relate to him anymore because he’s black. And,FYI, in real life, you have siblings of different colors and stepsister/brothers of different colors—it’s not some weird farfetched idea out of science fiction. Seriously, get over yourself—it’s not even that important outside of the comic book fan world anyway>

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