I found myself reading and getting into a very heated conversation regarding the recent changes in Marvel Comics. Now as a longtime comic fan I have grown up with a number of characters and their established history is something embedded in my mind. Change no matter how much we preach it is a hard pill to swallow for some. But I think what got me agitated about the conversation is that there were comments thrown around not your typical message board drivel but what I feel is more of what the true problem is: Perception. Marvel Comics this week has announced some major changes to some of their iconic characters (Thor, Captain America, & Iron Man respectively). While this is a common occurrence to move storylines along and keep readers interested, people immediately throw out the gender and race cards due to the changes (Thor is now a woman, Captain America is now African American, & Iron Man is still rich). A valid point made by someone I consider a friend is that it doesn’t matter as long as the story is compelling and good. Which I may add is all a true fan of comic books wants out of their favorite characters. Another person who commented on the post immediately made assumptions based on their perception of my friend. Now while their reasons were valid about gender and ethnic role models they basically lost me with their comments about a valid statement because they made an assumption based on a perception of my friend not knowing his background. Lesson learned should be simple don’t judge too hastily about people.
Now with that said the white-washing of characters is a current issue in many books today or shall I say what it really is: just a trend. White-washing is the practice of taking a well-established character and replacing them with a character of a different ethnicity or gender to increase readership. Both major companies have done this on a regular basis to some level of success or another. Characters like Mr. Terrific (DC), Ultimate Spider Man Miles Morales (Marvel) and Green Lantern John Stewart (DC) are successful attempts at such. While the jury is still out on Nick Fury Jr. (Marvel) and the new Earth 2 Superman (Val-Zod) over at DC. I wrote an opinion piece about this same subject a number of months ago when the multi-cultural cast of the upcoming Fantastic Four movie was announced. I have no inherent problem with ethnically diverse characters being brought to the forefront and if it is relevant to the story then I can stand behind it. But when promoted as it is and utilized as a gimmick by the major comic publishers it becomes a problem. While it is a fact that by doing this practice it can bring attention and provide some form of association between readers of different ethnicities to iconic heroes the fact still remains these characters with their iconic status should be left as such. Now one would say hold on aren't you contradicting yourself didn't you say there were successful instances of this? Yes I did, but you have to understand the whole picture.
Having a character of your ethnicity, gender, or any other label we can come up with to identify with is great but when there are plenty of characters out there that fit the bill that could be developed I feel it is unnecessary. DC comics are sitting on a plethora of characters created by the late Dwayne McDuffie that can provide a culturally diverse set of role models for young kids. The 99 an independent comic has a multi-cultural group which in the past has teamed up with DC Comics Justice League. Marvel has a ton of characters that could stand additional development to bring them to the forefront if written and managed properly. In today’s society we are finding more and more ethnically mixed households and diverse family types which necessitate a change in the portrayal of comics to reflect today’s society. Doing so with established icons is great but what happens when things revert back as it always does in comics what happens to the replacement hero? So is this an indication that the attempt ultimately fails? It has served its purpose and generated buzz and readership but for the overall purpose of generating characters kids can relate to the purpose is not served.
As a kid growing up my favorite heroes were Captain America and Superman but not for the reasons you would think. Captain America was a favorite because he never quit he was determined to win and do the right things. It did not matter that he had blond hair and blue eyes that wasn't even a thought in my mind. Cap was a good guy and good guys should win simple enough. I appreciated the stories because that’s where the entertainment really came from and where it should come from. Only as I got older did ethnicity become important about a character. Especially looking back on history and troubled times of the 60’s and 70’s with race relations in America. Stories like the ones done by Neil Adams on his Green Lantern/Green Arrow run or the portrayal of African American heroes in the 70’s as evidenced by the jive talking Black Lightning on the cover of Justice League #173.
Understanding and knowing that fiction is just that a fantasy story to expand thought and escape into imagination. It doesn't matter what the character looks like just how the character is represented on paper as a person and what they represent. So if Thor is a woman, and Captain America is African American or Green Lantern is Homosexual are they still not heroes? Yes they are and defending those who need defending is what they do regardless of the opinion of those readers. This is where a story has to have substance and be relevant to the audience and also the audience has to look at the story and decide for themselves what the point of the story really is.