Saturday, February 22, 2014

POW! BLAM!: Superheroes and Judgement at the Speed of the Flash

I recently discovered a new superpower. I have an uncanny knack for giving people, in most situations, the benefit of the doubt. It’s apparently a rare gift, especially online but also on our roads, in our churches, and in our superhero movies.

Call me: Slow Judge. I’m sketching out what my costume should look like. The world needs me now more than ever. For the non-Comic Book Nerd out there, here’s the latest reason I had to go change in a phone booth to protect the world from the Legion of Snap Snarks.

Talented young actor with a sculpted bod Michael B. Jordan has been announced to portray The Human Torch in the upcoming reboot of Marvel’s Fantastic Four. Comic fanboys across seven star systems have raised a stink about it because Jordan is African-American, but Johnny Storm has been portrayed as a honkey since Fantastic Four #1 back in 1961.

Next thing you know, every perturbed fanboy has been deemed a Racist. With the capital R.

If the original storyline is followed, Johnny Storm and Sue Storm are siblings. Sue Storm in the movie will be portrayed by Kate Mara, a beautiful if pasty white girl. The apoplectic and judgemental mob, buttressed by pop culture “journalists” like Noah Berlatsky at The Atlantic have decided that anyone who has even a moment’s pause that Michael B. Jordan and Kata Mara might be bloodkin should be reported to the Southern Poverty Law Center and placed on a watch list.

Johnny Storm was white for 53 years. Isn’t it even a teensy bit reasonable for a person to need more than 53 seconds to adjust to his getting a new skin color?

When Denzel Washington and Keanu Reeves were cast as half-brothers in Kenneth Branagh’s version of Much Ado About Nothing, I confess to having an initial guffaw. It seemed a bit odd. But there was no Twitter account through which I could instantly share this reaction. So instead, I just watched the dang film, and five minutes after my first guffaw, I was past it and onto just laughing at how the frick Keanu Reeves got cast in this AND Dangerous Liasons while sounding like he’d just hung ten on a wicked killer wave off the coast of Hawaii. (I hope that doesn’t make me Surfist.)

When Long Duck Dong stays with the Baker family, I'm apparently a Racist if I don't instantly assume he's blood-kin.

Yes, given a few minutes and a reasonably open mind, most rational people can work through casting that doesn’t match up with their preconceptions of a character. If Bob can do this with Tom Cruise and Jack Reacher, anything is possible.

But what if Wonder Woman was played by Johnny Weir?
Or Anna Kendrick was cast to play Spider-Man?
What if Denzel Washington was cast to play Bruce Lee?
Or Rush Limbaugh hired to portray Queen Latifah?

If Danny DeVito and Arnold Schwarzenegger can be Twins, and if Edward Norton and Brad Pitt can be the same person, and if Cate Blanchett can be Bob Dylan, then surely there are more things in Hollywood and earth than are dreamt of in our philosophy. Zack Snyder obsessed to make Watchmen an almost frame-for-frame homage to the comic and created a lesser product for it, so I get how fanboys miss the point... a lot.

Hollywood is about make-believe and suspension of all kinds of disbelief. But can’t we have a minute to adjust to the unexpected? Does needing a moment to think of Michael B. Jordan and Kata Mara as having emerged from the same womb make someone Racist?

I would initially blanch if Matt Damon were cast to play The Falcon, or if Willie Robertson were cast as The Black Panther. I’d get over it, but it would take me a few sips of water first. Can’t I be a little bit flummoxed, for a tiny slice of time, without being a Racist?

The real moral of the story here is two-fold: (a) Ninety-plus percent of Twitter stream-of-consciousness rants are incredibly foolish and can boomerang on the ranter with unpredictable consequences, and (b) people who use the insta-rants of a few handfuls of goobers on Twitter as some sign of dangerous cultural opinion -- or as anything at all, really -- are desperate to remind themselves how superior they are to mere mortals.

And no superhero in the world is fast enough to protect you from either of these evil forces.


G. B. Miller said...

Unfortunately, the majority of comic geeks hate change. Of any kind. In their beloved comics.

To be honest, this might actually make me go see one of those comic adaptations for the first time in my life.

Robert Berman said...

Celebrated 80s Fantastic Four writer/artist John Byrne took heat when he noted that Jessica Alba, cast as Sue Storm in the previous FF movies, looked like a brunette who dyed her hair blonde, which suggests a different sort of character than the Teutonic natural blonde Sue Storm (like her brother Johnny) was supposed to be. Silver Age comic books were really into blonde characters to allow for easy cross-artist identification in four-color art: Captain America, Supergirl, Power Girl, Saturn Girl, Liberty Belle, Element Lad, Braniac 5, Marionette, the Flash 2.0, Green Lantern 1.0, Henry Pym, Thor, Angel, Val Cooper, etc.

Conversely, when Michael Clarke Duncan was cast as mob boss Kingpin in the Daredevil movie, one heard howls of, "Oh, so you think black people are criminals?!" Sometimes you just can't win for trying.