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Wednesday, April 16, 2014 

The history of race relations in comics

A writer for the Chicago Tribune spoke about how mainstream comics dealt with race relations in past history and how they introduced heroes of black background. Unfortunately, the article fumbles when he alludes to DC's lurch towards political correctness in the past decade:
...the 90s would see DC Comics pick up the pace as well with Firestorm, the Blue Beetle, The Atom and others.
Firestorm already debuted in 1978, initially part of what's known today as the "DC Implosion" since they'd cancelled several titles that didn't sell high enough, and the new Firestorm of black background, who was called Jason Rusch, turned up in 2004, at which time Brad Meltzer killed his predecessor, Ronnie Raymond, in Identity Crisis. It wasn't during the 90s all this happened but post-2000. If they hadn't gone such a nasty route, there wouldn't be any objections to replacing Raymond with Rusch. But they just had to do that for the sake of PC and a lack of creativity, and what they did actually embarrasses minorities more than helps them. The same goes with how Ray Palmer with Ryan Choi in the same repellent miniseries, and Ted Kord in Countdown to Infinite Crisis. How is that "picking up pace"? The silliest thing about those steps is that they adhered to a notion that minorities can only be introduced as superheroes, and not as co-stars, which could make it easier for writers to give them better depth as characters.

And it's already a moot point that none of these weird experiments in changing a character's race were successful as series. All 3 were cancelled at least two years after launching, and at least one of the characters (Choi) was killed off before the New 52.

The following has some good points to raise, however:
Samuel L. Jackson successfully played S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Nick Fury, a character who was previously white in the Avengers, as well as other Marvel tie-ins. Film characters that are traditionally of another race often cause comic book fans to lose their minds when a familiar character is re-colored for the purpose of casting the hottest new thespian. When Heimdall was played by Idris Elba in "Thor 2: The Dark World," nerds across the globe lost their minds. Some of it was just plain racism, while others were legitimately concerned with accuracy.

Honestly, when Michael B. Jordan was cast as the traditionally blonde haired, blue eyed Johnny Storm aka the Human Torch in the upcoming Fantastic Four reboot, I was vehemently against it. No offense, but comic book nerds like characters to remain as close to the original blueprint as possible. Any deviation is frowned upon. Both Terrence Howard and Don Cheadle played James "Rhodey" Rhodes, the best friend to Tony Starks who would become the similarly armored hero War Machine.
That's amazing and impressive to know he understands why all these changes in a character's race all for the sake of it can do more harm than good to the movie. But I'd appreciate this more than I do if I knew he understood what's wrong with DC's very own tactics back in the comics, which were an insult to past writers and artists and all the hard work they did to offer some decent escapism in the Silver Age. If they'd depicted the heroes retiring and offering their roles to the new protagonists, then there'd be no serious outrage. Towards the end, he says:
In 2011, Marvel introduced a black Latino character named Miles Morales to replace Peter Parker, who had been killed in that story arc as Spider-Man. Though the "real" Spider-Man was not dead because this took place in an alternate universe, the comic book world was up in arms because of what was deemed a blatant attempt at political correctness.
To be fair, mileage can vary, but in a way, it was. More to the point, it suggested another tired attempt to shoehorn a minority character into a role already played by a white protagonist instead of giving them their very own role. For Miles Morales, it could've been one with a different codename, and for all we know, that could've sold the character much more easily. But today's industry doesn't have confidence in new creations to sell, so they go the desperate route instead, only making things worse than need be. Their lack of interest in developing supporting casts with minorities - or even white co-stars, for that matter - is another serious detractor.

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About me

  • I'm Avi Green
  • From Jerusalem, Israel
  • I was born in Pennsylvania in 1974, and moved to Israel in 1983. I also enjoyed reading a lot of comics when I was young, the first being Fantastic Four. I maintain a strong belief in the public's right to knowledge and accuracy in facts. I like to think of myself as a conservative-style version of Clark Kent. I don't expect to be perfect at the job, but I do my best.
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