Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Iconography

Recently there has been a metric ton of controversy over the recent Idea from Andrew Garfield about Spider-Man being bisexual.  There also was quite a bit of hubbub over the casting of Laurence Fishburn as Perry White and years earlier Michael Clark Duncan as Kingpin.  The question has come about whether changing a character’s race, creed, gender, and sexuality takes away from the character.  Does it even matter?  This type of stuff has been done; it is interesting when it becomes evident how bad our collective memories are.   DC has their Elseworlds imprint.  It was an anything goes idea.  They re-imagined DC’s Iconic characters.  They had all the superheroes in World War Two were O.S.S. Agents, Civil War Batman and Superman, Victorian Era Wonder Woman and the list goes on.  The DC Multiverse includes a Gender reversed world.  One pre-Crisis of the Infinite Earths world had a racially diverse Justice League. 

The controversy all seems to begin with the introduction of the second Spider-man in the Ultimate Marvel Universe.  He is Miles Morales, who is of Hispanic and African-American descent.  There were rumors he would be gay as well.  Some people were upset a person of color was Spider-man.  Some people thought why change an Iconic character.  First they did not make Peter Parker African-American.  Second this not in the main Marvel Universe, but the Ultimate Marvel Universe.  They were treating Spider-man as a Legacy character.  That means many people become that hero passing it down from on generation to another.  There were a number of folks who said why not make a new character all together instead of try to make Spider-Man politically correct.  I understand the reason to use an existing character to do this.  The case example is Nick Fury.  How many folks know that he originally was Caucasian?  In the Ultimate Marvel Universe he was introduced as African-American.  His Original appearance was more like Will Smith, which was until Bryan Hitch drew him in The Ultimates, and then he resembled Samuel L. Jackson.  When Marvel started their big Film push they hire Mr. Jackson to play that role.  In the regular Marvel universe they introduced Nick Fury, Jr. That character looks an awful lot like Samuel L. Jackson too.  It can be done.  Mind you Nick Fury is a second tier A-list Marvel Character.  The mainstream is not as familiar with him. I think that making a fictional work more diverse is a good thing.  Using already established Icons instead of creating new characters from scratch is the issue sometimes. 

Some folks are too attached to their fictional heroes.  Superman has been African-American in some Alternate reality stories.  In one version of the Squadron Supreme Marvel’s DC Stand in characters, their version of Batman, Nighthawk was Black.  With Erotic Lives of the Superheroes by Marco Mancassola has become big news among comic book folks. This is due to its portrayal of Batman and Robin as a gay couple. I do not have a problem with that. I have a problem that based on the ages when most Robins started as his partners that would make him a pedophile. The Geek community is freaking. They forget that Dr. Fredric Wertham leveled this accusation back in the Fifties. Even Rick Veitch satirized this in Bratpack with Midnight Mink and Chippy. People are upset their favorite is portrayed as gay. Mind you this is an independent writer and it is a book of prose. Disney and Time-Warner have yet to do legal battle; I would not be surprised if they do. I think it is funny everyone is looking at the homosexuality and not the child abuse angle of this. I have not read the book and may not. To me at first sight seems to be written for shock value although the author denies this. 

The reason why there is the idea to do it with the bigger icons instead of create newer characters from scratch is profile.  Newer characters do not have the history or the name recognition.  Publishers can also bury lesser characters.  The Mexican-American Blue Beetle has lost his title twice.  This is due to sales not quality according to DC Comics.  This was also a Tier one B-list character, but a popular one.  Mixing up the cultures of characters, having more high profile female character, even more LGBT characters would show how really diverse our world really is.  Here is an example that upset people: since 1988, Barbara Gordon AKA Batgirl has been a paraplegic.  She became the superheroes hack extraordinaire Oracle.  Although she was physically challenged she still was contributing to the Superhero Community.  She also still kicked ass.  In the fall of 2011, DC revamped their world, and cured Ms. Gordon of her paraplegia.  Many in the disabled community were upset.  She had become a symbol of self reliance and capability to those in wheelchairs.  DC had other characters become Batgirl; heck, Ms. Gordon was not the first to have that Moniker.  Barbara was the most visible and memorable of the Batgirls.  Still her life as Oracle had become very popular as well. 

An example of successful re-imagining was the Modern version of Batwoman.   The original was created in the Fifties to battle Dr. Wertham’s theories about Batman.  The character was recreated for a Modern era in 2006.  This time she was a lesbian as well as Jewish and a socialite.  Greg Rucka wrote the character in many of her earlier exploits, he is credited with fully flushing out a complete character.  Initially the character was received with mixed reaction.  After seven years, it is accepted as part of the character.  During this time they also present Batman supporting character Renee Montoya as Lesbian as well.  Not just Lesbian, but in an on again off again relationship with the Modern Batwoman.  Montoya later became the second vigilante character known as the Question.  That part has changed post New 52, Montoya is not the Question.  As far as I know Montoya has yet to appear in the New 52.  Once again these were not any major big name characters.

In the late Seventies early Eighties Roy Thomas suggested that the Earth-1 version of Captain Marvel/ Shazam be African American.  They were going to go with the name Captain Thunder which was the originally proposed name of the character.  They dropped because another publisher, I believe National Periodicals (DC’s name in the thirties and forties), had a character with that name.  Honestly I think it would have been nice.  A Major Tier 1 A-Lister being African American would have been cool.  In various Elseworlds books they have went back to that.  Here is an interesting thing.  We have had a Black Green Lantern; Heck there is a generation of people thanks to the Justice League Animated Series who see that character as their Green Lantern.  It difference is they did not make Hal Jordan Black; they introduced another character with a Green Lantern Ring.  This is much like what was done with the Ultimate Spider-man or the Jaime Reyes Blue Beetle.  They did create a new character, but the used the Superhero persona of a previous character.  That seems to be a compromise.  Still some people claim political correctness. 

One fact pointed out in various articles, when Peter Parker was created in the early Sixties a White kid from Queens was not unusual.  Today based on that area’s ethnic make up he would stand out.  A higher percentage people of color are affected by crime than their Caucasian counterparts.  It then would be more likely for a vigilante to be a person of Color based on that.  I am not saying there are not economically challenged White people.  I am saying if you go be percentages.  That is partly due to the difference in socio-economics between the various racial and ethnic groups.  When these characters were created America did not seem as diverse as it appears to be now.

Here is my final point.  Does it really matter what Race, Ethnicity, Gender, Sexual Orientation or other defining characteristic these characters have?  Does it need to stay static?  Honestly I do not believe so.  As a culture changes so does its heroes as villains.  It is nice when I see that reflected.  Is this new? No, it is not things change to reflect where we, human being, are in a certain point in history.  Are some people too attached to their Pop Culture Icons?  Definitely, in time the change will be part of the main culture.  Nick Fury, John Stewart (Green Lantern) and Jaime Reyes (Blue Beetle) show us that change can become part of the culture at large.  That Is My Not So Humble Opinion.



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