Monday, February 24, 2014

First Family Diversity

I read Joseph Philip Illidge's brilliant and insightful breakdown on the casting of Michael B. Jordan as The Human Torch, Johnny Storm in the Fantastic Four film reboot. Apparently, the casting of a black actor to play a white character is creating quite the (wait for it) storm.

I have a couple of opinions about this.

I'm a new dad. I have two sons. They are from India by way of Ukraine. When my wife and I found out that our option to become parents became adoption, one of my best friends pulled me aside and told me not to limit my options. My friend told me not to be hung up on what my kid looked like. When you become a parent, your child is your child. No matter what. It's like any relationship really. You accept all the baggage that comes along with your partner and spouse. You accept your kids. You accept your parents. I love both my boys.

More importantly, I want them to see something of a reflection of themselves around them. Not all heroes look like Harry Potter; or James Bond; or Doctor Who.

Not every villain looks like Darth Vader and has the voice of James Earl Jones.

Idris Elba

Some of them look like actor Idris Elba. He's Heimdall in the Thor films. He was in The Losers, an adaptation of a DC comic book, Prometheus, Pacific Rim and Mandela, among other fine films.

How do you pronounce this guy's name?

Some of them look like Chiwetel Ejiofor, star of Serenity, Salt and Twelve Years A Slave.

Others look like Samuel L. Jackson, not to be confused EVER with Laurence Fishburne.

You don't ever want to confuse Nick Fury with Morpheus.

So, as a dad, I want my kids to see something of themselves in the entertainment they enjoy. Just like when I was a kid, I identified with Peter Parker.

Now, as a comic book fan, it is always cool to see what I enjoy in comic books show up on television or in movies. I know that reading a comic book is a different kind of experience from watching a television show or a movie. It is amazing to look back on the comic books I've enjoyed growing up as a kid, and seeing just how white they are. I'm embarrassed that one issue of Justice League of America pretty much hazes Black Lightning under the guise of recruiting him.

Until the Justice League animated series debuted on Cartoon Network with John Stewart as Green Lantern, the team was pretty much WASPy. But then, so was every other comic book team or character. minorities have always been subordinate.

What Illidge points out, is that Nick Fury was re-imagined as black, and based on Samuel L. Jackson in The Ultimates, and then Samuel L. Jackson played Nick Fury on film. Remember when David Hasselhoff played Nick Fury. No? No one does, so don't worry.

The Fantastic Four has been re-introduced to new fans a number of times. As Illidge again points out, when Ultimate Nick Fury was introduced as Samuel L. Jackson, Ultimate Fantastic Four introduced yet another white quartet. Fantastic Four was re-introduced previously as "Heroes Reborn"; and twelve months later as "Heroes Return". There have been several all-ages iterations of the team. None of them introduced any diversity to Marvel's First Family.

Why don't we do that here?

As a new dad and a comic book fan, here's what I would like to see:

Corbin Bleu, from Catch That Kid, Jump In and the High School Musical trilogy as the brilliant genius leader Reed Richards. I want my kids to see that intelligence and brains are color-blind. Any one can be the guy that comes in and saves the day with the right gadget he just MacGuyvered. Most of the people responsible for creating comic books were adult white males. So what did they create? "Mary Sues". They created reflections of themselves. The reality is they saw a white world so they created one in comics.

High School Musical trilogy alum Vanessa Hudgens as Reed's girlfriend, and future wife, Sue Storm. She's the glue that holds Reed, Ben and her brother Johnny together. Remember those adult white males that created comic books? Not only did they not see a racially diverse world, they didn't any diversity in gender. There are either characters like Wonder Woman or She-Hulk, or what Sue originally started out as: window dressing. In the early issues of Fantastic Four Sue actually pined for Namor, the Sub-Mariner. Over time she's been developed into more of a working mother, kind of reflective of the real world around her.

I would not cast Michael B. Jordan as Johnny Storm. Let me tell you why. I can't see the rash, impulsive member of the Fantastic Four as black. To me, that's stereotypical. Let's make the "hothead" black. Either he'll be like Will Smith, Martin Lawrence, Chris Rock, Kevin Hart or Chris Tucker - you get the point, right? Or, he'll be mature, straight forward and serious, which won't work either. I would go Victorious, Rags, and Spectacular actor Avan Jogia. Why? Because Sue and Johnny are siblings. Brother and sister. Kate Mara and Michael B. Jordan could work as brother and sister. Mixed race parents. Adoption. Whatever. Avan Jogia and Vanessa Hudgens make sense as family. The Fantastic Four is about family. I know from experience that you can build a family; you can blend a family. That's what the First Family is all about: family.

Ben Grimm is just as important a character as the rest of the Fantastic Four. I liked the chemistry between Chris Evans' Johnny and Michael Chiklis' Ben. I'm not sure a guy like Dave Batista would fit with such a young group, but I do think that Ben needs some bulk; some build. If not Batista, then another WWE figure. Or, some one that can bulk up and put on some guns as Ben, so The Thing isn't such a drastic transformation. I would think that if any thing, Ben Grimm should be white, and Jewish like he is in the comic books. Ben should be the "token" white guy.

James Robinson and Leonard Kirk relaunch Fantastic Four with a new #1 issue on Wednesday. Jack Kirby and Stan Lee originally launched the team with a #1 in November of 1961. A lot has changed in 53 years, and yet, not much. As both a dad and a comic book fan, I think it is time comics reflected some things, like diversity. I want my boys to see that they can become any thing they want. The only way they can see that is if they do see it.

Change can be a good thing.


Saturday, February 22, 2014

All-New Invaders...?

I enjoy James Robinson's writing.  I just picked up the first two issues of All-New Invaders that he's written. I like The Invaders. Captain America and Bucky, The Human Torch and Toro and Namor, The Sub-Mariner. These five heroes fighting the Axis in World War II. After Batman and Spider-Man had introduced me to comic books, I started reading "history" through The Invaders and found I enjoyed World War II stories. That was the '70's. In the '80's, I followed Invaders writer Roy Thomas over to DC where he wrote All-Star Squadron, which was about every Golden-Age DC character together during World War II. In the '90's Robinson picked up where Thomas left off with his mini-series The Golden Age, Starman and Justice Society of America. Robinson built up so much on the foundation that Thomas laid.

I am cautious not to use the word "fan". As much as I would like to say that I am a "fan", I'm more likely to pause, take a deep breath and confess that I like both Robinson's and Thomas' writing. I once said I was a fan, when I was a boy in school and it was pointed out to me that I wasn't much of a fan because I didn't have the bed-sheets to prove it. I've always had a limit to my obsession, where others have gone the whole nine yards with either cos-play or a tattoo.    

I put James Robinson alongside New Teen Titans writer, Marv Wolfman; Kurt Busiek, known for Marvels, Astro City and Untold Tales of Spider-Man; Kingdom Come, The Flash and Fantastic Four writer Mark Waid; and, Paul Dini, who with Bruce Timm created the DC animated universe starting with Batman, then Superman and finally the Justice League. Dini then collaborated with artist Alex Ross to create a rich Bronze Age tribute through a number of stand-alone over-size graphic novels, Peace on Earth, War on Crime, Power of Hope, Spirit of Truth, JLA: Secret Origins and JLA: Liberty and Justice. I like reading these five writers. I put them together, and I would group them with Stephen King, Michael Crichton, Peter David - as a Star Trek novelist - Eoin Colfer, creator of Artemis Fowl; and Kinsey Millhone creator Sue Grafton.

When I say that there is a limit to my obsession, that means that there is a point where I draw a line. I like Marv Wolfman for his work on New Teen Titans. I'm not sure I would pick up anything else he's written. James Robinson has a unique voice as a writer when it comes to The Golden Age of comic books. But, I was never compelled to pick up his Superman or Action Comics. I read his Justice League: Cry For Justice and felt a little disappointed. When he took over from the late Dwayne McDuffie on the regular monthly Justice League, I wanted to like it. Unfortunately, it was a hybrid of the Justice League and Teen Titans; it was a Justice Titans. Dick Grayson had taken over as Batman; Diana Prince's younger sister Donna Troy was Wonder Woman; Mon-El was standing in for Superman along with Supergirl. I really wanted to like it. I still do.

That's the feeling I'm having after two issues of All-New Invaders. I want to like it. It's the characters I enjoy by the writer I enjoy. It just doesn't feel like a story I'd enjoy.

What Robinson has done is pretty similar to what he was doing on Earth-2 before he left DC. DC launched a reboot of it's entire comic book like branded The New 52. Robinson was re-imagining the Justice Society. As newer, younger characters. With no connection at all to World War II. Instead, the team came together in the wake and aftermath of a cosmic event involving Jack Kirby's New God's and Darkseid. Robinson left Earth-2 with issue #16, and now launches both All-New Invaders and Fantastic Four.

Here's what I'm thinking. Both teams have a Human Torch. Jim Hammond is the original Human Torch; Johnny Storm is the modern age version. I'm wondering if Robinson is planning an Invaders-Fantastic Four team-up crossover. I wouldn't be surprised. The first two issues of the new Invaders comic are cosmic in nature. An alien race called the Kree have come to Earth in search of something called God's Whisper. The Invaders dismantled it and hid the pieces to keep it from ever being used. They first encountered God's Whisper fighting Hela, during World War II.  It's a bit of a stretch, but that doesn't seem to fit the team. The most common Invaders stories have been against Axis despots. Like The Red Skull or Baron Blood. Now they are fighting aliens. That seems more within the Fantastic Four's wheelhouse. The Fantastic Four are more cosmic in nature.

I have to admit, I haven't read The Invaders since the '70's. The team was brought back not to long ago in an Avengers/Invaders team-up, and an Invaders Now! series.

I'm wondering why James Robinson is writing The Invaders like they are the Fantastic Four. Because, I'd like to see them fighting bad guys like the ones they faced before. Like The Red Skull, Baron Zemo, Von Strucker, or maybe Doctor Doom. They could be working with aliens. The Invaders are more soldiers. I have a hard time seeing soldiers fighting aliens.