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Saturday, April 03, 2021 

How the emphasis on hand-me-down heroes winds up causing failure

A writer for Lotus Eaters makes an important case why all these race-swapped and gender-swapped superhero concoctions aren't leading to equality in a genre that's becoming extremely appropriated by people who otherwise have no respect for it:
When the announcement for a new Captain America was made, it didn’t lead with some exciting aspect of this Captain’s story - not an unseen trial or tribulation, nor a different origin and explanation for how they would get their powers, nor what will drive them to be a bearer of the heavy title and burden - the biggest, most interesting thing about this new character is that he’s gay, and goes out of his way to help those who “are almost invisible to society.” How does this make him stand out from other heroes? He isn’t the first hero to be gay, nor is he the first to help homeless and runaway kids. So why is this presented like it’s something novel and impressive?

Similarly, news broke out in late February of yet another Superman reboot, this time featuring a black Superman. It’s unclear at the moment if that character would be Val-Zod of Earth-2 (for those who aren’t into DC comics, numbered Earths basically represent Earths from alternate universes); or if he would be Calvin Ellis, who is based on Barack Obama and who’s story is nearly identical to Clark Kent’s (found on earth as a baby, raised by a good family), except he also becomes president of the United States.

These “new” heroes are just a superficially different person with no particularly unique origin, no major differences, and a big name attached to them; created in order to supposedly appeal to those who share the same superficial characteristics as them. Even if there is something else to them besides their immutable characteristics, the marketing around these characters is so centered around such characteristics, it certainly makes it seem like there’s nothing else.
It also underestimates the intelligence of the audience they've led themselves to believe exists, one that, in their narrow view, will only read the stories if it's tailor-marketed to their segment of society. But such a view only invalidates white and heterosexual protagonists, not the least being the characters Siegel/Shuster/Lee/Kirby worked hard to create in the first place. And it also invalidates the veteran black heroes, to say nothing of discarding merit-based writing in the process:
Superheroes continued to be a part of history, and played a part during cultural revolutions; Black Panther was the first black superhero, who made his debut in 1966. From there, more black superheroes emerged; The Falcon, Luke Cage, Blade, Storm, Jon Stewart as the Green Lantern, Black Lightning, Cyborg, Static, and Bumblebee - just to name a few.

Despite there being many original black heroes, there is this unrelenting need to swap the race of an already-mainstream hero
. Why should some hand-me-down hero be accepted, especially when Clark Kent will always be Superman, and when Steve Rogers will always be Captain America? No matter what, these origins have been solidified, and have been passed on for generations at this point. While there may be other versions of these heroes, the originals will remain and persist.

The celebration of the hand-me-down hero is insulting when plenty of minority characters have quality stories that are capable of standing on their own. Cyborg was a promising athlete, who’s life was derailed by a near-fatal accident. In order to save him, his scientist father replaced half his body with experimental technology, making him physically more machine than man. From there he would become one of the original Teen Titans and eventually a member of the Justice League. Another hero, Static, gained his powers from an incident during a gang war that he was forced to be involved with. With his powers, he chose to protect people - like his mother, who had been killed by a stray bullet while helping the victims of a riot.

There is far more to these heroes than just “Superman but black,” and they don’t need some big name in order to attract interest. Their stories are what is captivating, more human, and relatable about them. They explore themes like continuing on in a positive and constructive way, even after tragedy, and even when your life’s track completely derails into a different direction. The least interesting thing about these characters is their race, and it’s sad that they haven’t been explored or showcased in modern media.
Exactly. What must actually be done is prove you can market and promote a book based on talent and merit, title-by-title, something I'm not sure comic publishers did decades ago either. Otherwise, who knows, maybe the Silver Age Atom, Hawkman and Metamorpho would've done a lot better as solo books and lasted longer than they did. Of course, let's remember that Marvel too had books at the time that didn't last as long as they could've, like the satirical Not Brand Ecch anthology, which ran almost 2 years, the X-Men's initial run for 7, the Silver Surfer's first run for about 2 or 3, and the Sub-Mariner's solo book coming after his run in Tales to Astonish alongside the Hulk ran 1968-74, which was 6 years at most. Some of these titles were also bimonthly at best. IMO, these books are worth the read, and had about as talented and satisfying the results as you could expect for their time, but apparently, audience and consumer interest did not last long enough to sustain longer runs, and they were eventually canceled due to lower sales receipts, which is a shame.

And the way the newer stories are hyped up based solely on an allegedly big name writing them - such was the case when J. Michael Straczynski was assigned to Spider-Man for at least 6 years - is another serious fault in promotion and marketing, because it ignores whether the assigned writer has the skill and understanding needed for building a talented story around the shared-universe/corporate owned characters they're tasked with, and promotes the product based on the writer's name alone. And the cheap sensationalism involved in production also does more harm than good:
Touting the hand-me-down hero as the pinnacle of equality erases original black, female, or minority heroes, but it can potentially cause division, and do more harm than good.

There’s particular concern around the black Superman story. It’s being written by Ta-Nehisi Coates, who has been criticized in the past before by Cornel West. In reference to Coates’ book We Were Eight Years in Power, West said that Coates “fetishizes white supremacy”. West continued, “His analysis/vision of our world is too narrow & dangerously misleading, omitting the centrality of Wall Street power, US military policies, & the complex dynamics of class, gender, & sexuality in black America.”

The concern of fans comes from Coates seeing white supremacy everywhere, and perpetuating the belief that one can ‘act’ black or white - he’s gone so far as to accuse famous black celebrities of “dying to be white”, such as Michael Jackson, or “wanting to be white”, such as Kanye West. It’s reasonable to be concerned that his version of a black Superman would be political and divisive, especially when the hero has been built up to be neither of those things.
I think this pertains to the new movie in development, and it goes without saying that the ignorance on the part of the leftist executives in charge of these productions is stunning. Yet that's but one of the kind of Orwellian situations we've arrived at today, and even before Coates came along, Straczynski already injected at least a few annoyingly political moments into the Spidey stories he'd written. You could easily say he was an early precursor to the situation we're at now, with all sorts of writers mostly from Hollywood and outside comicdom whose talents are questionable at best scooping up jobs writing in a medium with characters and franchises whose best structures and interests they don't comprehend, don't study carefully to figure out how to write best as possible, and certainly couldn't give a damn what the audience thinks of their divisive approach. And Coates' comments about West are decidedly most unjustified. Does he also think West's marriage to Kim Kardashian, who's got Armenian ancestry, is wrong?

I have no idea how much longer the mainstream superheroe products will continue, but if the above is any suggestion, the worst part of the mismanagement they've suffered is that they'll likely come to a bitter end in the most politicized fashion possible. All because much of the corporate ownership decided over the years to become increasingly political in their approach to business, and sell indoctrination rather than pastime entertainment. Now, we're seeing quite a few of the results of this lurch to PC insanity.

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About me

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  • 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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