In Response to “I’m Not Racist, I Just Want a Black Superhero”
by Randall Lotowycz
The core argument of the issue with the casting of Johnny Storm is whether or not race is a fundamental element of a character. This argument isn’t an easy one. Both sides are going to have valid opinions. Is it racist to say Johnny Storm should be white? No. It isn’t. I’m sure this author isn’t racist. However, the statement in this particular context is still racially charged. When you take the stance that race does matter, you have to be prepared to explain: how would Johnny be all that different if he was black?
An intractability exists among many comic book fans, a need for “canon” to be preserved, continuity maintained, and little room for deviation or adaptation. They maintain an ownership of these characters and assume they know what is best for them. Sometimes they can be right. And sometimes they make a fuss over nothing.
The prospect of Johnny’s race change prompts the author to ask:
Holy comic book continuity, does this mean he and Invisible Woman won’t be brother and sister? Is he going to be adopted? How does this affect the team dynamics?
What would change if he were adopted? How does that mean they cannot be brother and sister? True, they can no longer be biological siblings, but that in no way precludes a loving and connected relationship. Doesn’t that marginalize adopted and step siblings? And if so, isn’t the concept of what makes a family continuously evolving? Johnny and Sue Storm’s new family connection can be explained away in a single line of dialogue, and their long-standing relationship still has the potential to remain completely faithful to the comics. There’s no reason to suddenly doubt that, or question the team dynamic.
What if Johnny remained white but was adopted? Would that make a difference at all? Not just in the film, but if tomorrow Marvel announced a new storyline in which Johnny went to search for his biological parents, how would the author and other like-minded fans feel?
This film is obviously a year or more away and we know very little about it. But based on the casting, suddenly people are assuming the dynamic has to be different. I’m not expecting every one of Johnny’s wisecracks is going to be along the lines “Is this because I’m black?” I don’t think they’re going to make him sit in the back of Fantasticar. His name isn’t going to change from Human Torch to Hot Chocolate.
The author likens his stance to his feelings about Lois Lane’s hair, Bruce Banner’s body type, and a certain Affleck as Batman. But did those castings provoke him to speak out like he is now? He’s not campaigning for Hollywood to feature a ginger character instead of making a brunette character into one. (Note: Noel Neill in The Adventures of Superman was also a redhead). And did Mark Ruffalo’s body type in The Avengers fundamentally change his character? I’m certain most think it was the best portrayal of both Banner and the Hulk since the old TV series, if not surpassing it.
But race becomes the line in the sand, and using the valid argument of “We need more comic movies featuring black characters instead” is not the most solid way to discuss this issue. Michael B. Jordan was cast because he was the best person for the role. And the truth is, now that (in the film) he’s black, it doesn’t prevent the other aspects of his character from being possible at all.
Recently, IGN posted an interview with Kate Mara (the new Sue Storm) in which she states, “I think we’re making a very grounded version of the superhero film.” Grounded? Last I checked, the Fantastic Four were supposed to be fantastic, as in fantastical. Unstable molecules, the Negative Zone, Galactus, the Mole Man, Doombots, Skrulls being turned into cows! “Grounded” is the antithesis of those things. I’ve yet to see any impassioned fan express outrage over this statement. No one is raising alarm bells. No heads are exploding à la Scanners. If fans want to be worried about something with this film, start there.
Fortunately for those dissatisfied with Johnny Storm’s casting, there’s 50+ years of comic books featuring a white Johnny, along with a bunch of cartoons, a few dozen action figures, and two live action movies (three, if you count the Corman flick). None of these things are going away with the new film. Retcons happen in comics, but not in the real world. We don’t have to worry about white Johnny disappearing from existence, even if the movie is a runaway success (is anyone expecting that?).
I’ll stop myself before I get into a psychoanalysis of the OCD-like urges found in comic book fans–grouping myself in there–and stop here. That’s always an article for another day. For now, let’s unclench and take a wait-and-see approach to Johnny Storm’s portrayal in the new film. We all could be surprised.
Randall is an I&C contributor and is most recently the author of The Mini Book of Mini Darts: The Book, the Boards, the Darts, and 43 Games
You can find more info on Randall and his other killer works HERE