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.


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.

49 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

      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!

      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?

      3. I agree, it’s not racist to want to stick to the brother/sister dynamic
        of the “real” story of the fantastic four. why do we have to have everything “messed-with” in these films, and isn’t the main guy much older than the invisible girl ? what’s so hard about sticking to the story that we all fell in love with ? make an all black fantastic four, I would see that, but I will not see this new crap movie, ever !

  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.

    1. They are racist and so are you. Also, Fox can’t use Black Panther and the Disney Marvel movies have been great.

      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.

  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….

    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.

      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.

    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.

    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.

      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.

  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.

    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.

      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.

  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!

    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.

      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.

      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??

  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?

    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.)

  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.

    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>

      1. They’re not step-siblings. I’ve heard a few things.. the most common is that they’re half-siblings so they’d at least be mixed race. Another one I’ve heard is that Sue Storm is adopted. I’m okay with it but I feel people like the guy who wrote the article just use this to rant about how everyone who doesnt agree with him are racist. You’re not allowed to say otherwise these days.. we can’t say they should stick to the comics because thats racist.

        Name a character in the comics who’s changed once? Thor changed genders, they’re based on Norse mythology.. apparently that sort of thing is more normal. Other than that nobody changed. The ultimate verse has a black Nick Fury, but his whole backstory was changed to fit his race. When Sam Jackson was cast, nobody minded because he was already established in one of the realities. I’d really hate to see a white Luke Cage or most definitely a white Blade. I mean, it would be kinda silly. I feel they should’ve made Sue Storm black. Also Mr. Fantastic and The Thing older.

      2. and come on, the same fans whine about the size of Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine, it’s really not about racism but about staying true.

  7. People keep saying to “get over it, comic book heroes change all the time”. Yes they do, with explanation and through story lines that respectfully end the previous hero’s reign. The FF are iconic characters in the Marvel World, dating back to it’s beginnings. Guess what, not once did they change their appearances, sex, or identities. The fact that Fox is taking liberties to change something this established on seemingly a whim is what is pissing off us comic book fans. I think Michael B. Jordan is a great actor and after watching him in Chronicle, I have no doubt he could play Johnny’s character, BUT, his appearance doesn’t fit the character. This is an adaptation film. Adaptation film’s are made for people who want to see their books or comic books or stories they’ve read on the big screen. Not something kind of like it or something with familiar names but nothing like what they know. I wonder how successful the Harry Potter movies would have been if Chris Columbus was impressed by Emma Watson’s acting that he gave her the role of Harry and Radcliffe the bookworm role. Doesn’t work does it. What’s wrong with it? She can act. By what you said in your article, anyone who thinks this is wrong is sexist! And yes, it’s pretty close to the same thing. You don’t change iconic characters in an adaptation. Fox has over 50 years of story to work with and mold. Basing a movie off some of that material, but changing it slightly a la Avengers is fine. It still has the characters we read and fell in love with. But no, Fox failed. They change the one thing that would change the whole reason for adaptations. They changed the characters. All of them.
    I have no problems with black superheroes, or young ones. If you want to make a movie about it, and it isn’t already a comic, then make up your own story. Be creative Hollywood. Do something you haven’t done in a long long time. Write a story to fit your vision. Stop taking stories and molding them into something different. Oh…and…Honeymooners. -nuff said

  8. I’m sick of people whining about this. It is not as if Johnny Storm is a great character. He is not. He’s just an obnoxious, arrogant little putz. And hey folks, you can always go back and watch Tim Story’s FF when you really want to see a white Human Torch

  9. You just seem like a whiner who wont be satisfied until every character on every show or movie possible is black, I know you’ve used it as a random shrug off but you would feel very differently if any non fictional black guys get replaced by a white guy. Would you defend white actors when it comes to that sort of racism? No you’d still defend black people.

    I imagine you use it in every argument, you’d skip through the logic and reply “it’s cause he’s black.”, always playing that card. Claiming you don’t care yet ranting about it shows you care. I don’t exactly care if Miles Morales plays Spider-Man, Falcon takes over as Captain America, Rhodes becomes the new Iron Man, black men and women taking every role but only if it makes sense. I’d say no to a black Peter Parker because it has to stay with the original.. not some re-imagination, not some “creative” changes.. characters like these even though fictional should be treated like real characters. A retelling of MLK would still actually work with a white actor playing a white guy, otherwise you’re saying Michael B. Jordan is playing a white guy, he’s not, he’s playing a black guy.

    But like I said, all those black characters exist, no need to change the white characters too “just because“, which is more racist. You see it in a lot of movies and shows, they always have to have the main characters of each race to please the fans. It’s also racist when people rant about how *insert show* needs a black main character, why would that matter?

    Also, why Johnny Storm? Why not a new character who has the same abilities? Why not The Thing or Mr. Fantastic? Just looking at it, and remembering a readup. Johnny Storm is the half brother of Susan Storm, so shouldn’t she be black? Or Johnny be a little white? I guess for Sue, it could’ve happened that her mother who was white slept with a white dude, but to be half-siblings, the mother would’ve had to sleep with the father who is black so he should be half-cast at least. That’s not racist, although you would think so right? Because I don’t agree with you?

  10. This another great example of someone seeing racism where there is none. Is it racist to say that we want a character true to the source material? Is it racist to say we want an actor who we can believe is the character they are playing? No it isn’t! Its just sense! I don’t have a problem with a coloured actor playing a character who was once white, if they are true to the character and can portray them well. Just the same as I have no objections to a white actor playing a coloured character, but we should be concentrating on how well they play the character regardless of skin colour. I’m not really bothered about Jordan playing Johnny Storm as Chris Evans didn’t exactly do an incredible job previously, however I’m interested in seeing how they twist it as the woman cast as his sister is white. People are questioning the casting of him not out of any form of racism. They are questioning it because its different from previous renditions of the character. Whenever something has been done differently people question it, and it is there right to do so without being called racist. And on the point of more coloured superheroes I agree but not just for the sake of having them! We cant have characters just being replaced for the sake of having a more “diverse” cast, if you’re someone who watched the Avengers and at the end criticized it with “not enough black characters” is that not racist? Judging the film due to the colour of the actors’ skin?
    I know if a coloured actor was recast as Tony Stark in the place of Robert Downey Jr. i would be extremely upset, but i would be just as upset if they replaced him with a white actor because Downey Jr. is perfect for the role, just as I would be upset if Hugh Jackman was replaced as wolverine. Also just as if Samuel L Jackson was replaced by a white actor as Nick Fury(who may I remind you was originally WHITE in the comics) people would be outraged! These opinions don’t come from a place of racism, but just from common sense! Why fix something thats broken? The kingpin in Marvel comics was originally white. In the Daredevil film he was played by Michael Clarke Duncan, a black actor and although his performance wasn’t terrible, the actor didn’t really suit. In the new Daredevil the Kingpin is played by Vncent D’onofrio, a white actor who is much more suited to the role and portrays the character extremely well. Ask yourself, would you want a black Harry Potter? A white Uhura? An Indian James Bond? A Mexican wolverine? If you’re completely honest with yourselves no you wouldn’t. We can’t have progress for the sake of progress, otherwise its meaningless. Saying “oh there’s been to many white actors cast in this film, lets get a few coloured actors so we don’t look racist”, closing the door to a certain ethnic group, thats racist! People seem to forget that racism is a door that swings both ways… I also notice in this article that the author only talks about the fact that there isn’t enough black superheroes:
    “there simply aren’t that many Black characters”
    When was the last time you’ve seen a South American superhero on screen? Why is it that really the only parts for German actors in todays films NAZIs? I feel like for an article aiming to address the lack of equality in superhero movies, the author seems to miss out a large portion of ethnic groups that many would say fall under the umbrella term of “coloured”: I would love to see more actors of all different ethnicities in superhero movies, but not at the cost of quality. To question the choice of an actor who is a different colour from the original character is not racism, its just concern for the legacy of your favourite superhero. We pride ourselves in the west for having the ability to speak out against things like racism without fear of retribution, as is our right to free speech. ut just because we have the right doesn’t mean we should try to find racism in every little detail. You have a voice, in a world where there is so much hate, use it to its full potential. People are being beheaded in Syria, bombed in Israel, invaded by Russians and you’re whining about the fact that people are apprehensive about a black Johnny Storm? Yeah I bet Michael B. Jordan with his net worth of $1 million is crying himself to sleep because he thinks people wont like him as the Human Torch. These films are supposed to be enjoyed, stop trying to ruin them with your frankly racist anti-white actor propaganda.

  11. well as a white dude, I have to say that AFTER EARTH was fantastic,
    I wish they made more movies like that ! and as far as the new fantastic four, they can make it as goofy as they want, they can have
    Jack Black playing the human torch for all I care, just don’t call it
    Fantastic Four !

  12. What the actual fuck? Trying to compare comic’s audiences to movie audiences based on sales is like trying to compare ponds to oceans based on rain drops. Comic books don’t cost as much to make, cost anywhere from $2 to $6 per issue and you only have to pay for them once to read over and over again and and movies cost millions to make and cost from 8 to $15 per viewing.

    1. The dvd is now “free” at my local library and i wont even get it out for FREE, it’s just not what i want for the franchise
      i can’t bring myself to see it, i’m not crazy about the cast or the role changes or the re-hash of the story ! i’ll wait for a good version to be made someday, instead i’ll re-rent guardians of the galaxy and be at peace !

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