Wednesday, August 3, 2011

In case you didn't hear, the new (Ultimate) Spider-Man is a black/ hispanic dude. Cue the worst in humanity.

Several years ago now, Marvel Comics launched a line called "Ultimate", and it was intended to give Marvel writers and creators more space to play while also giving new readers a chance to jump onboard.  If you weren't around in 1962, this was you chance to see Spider-Man gain his powers as dorky high schooler Peter Parker.  If you wanted to see a (sigh) teenaged Fantastic Four, this was your chance!  If you wanted to see the Avengers as an elite military squad operating off an island right off Manhattan, well, here you go...

The movies of Thor, Iron Man and even Captain America owe a lot of their current look and feel to the work out of Ultimates rather than the mainline Avengers book.  It was a lot more in line with modern and/ or more mature sensibilities and not as mired in the 50 years of Marvel history.

The line failed to draw in new readers the way Marvel intended, but it sold well enough, and writers really liked taking chances with familiar characters.  I more or less lost interest about four years ago, and right after that, they had some event where a whole bunch of major characters got killed in some event or other which I didn't read.

And then, I guess a month or so ago, in a storyline fittingly called "The Death of Spider-Man" in the Ultimate books (again, NOT the mainline books), Peter Parker was killed while acting as Spidey.  Killed dead.  Sad stuff, I'd guess.  In the Ultimate line, I don't think Parker ever got out of high school, so it was a kid who'd spent his sophomore and junior years fighting murderous adults and whatnot.  Tough way to go.

This week, it was announced that while Peter Parker was dead, someone else would be in the Spider-suit, and then it was revealed it was a young man named Miles Morales.  Miles will not be a white kid from Queens, but a kid who's folks are Black and Hispanic.

Prior to the official announcement, fans were speculating about the new Spider-Man, and the infamous Larry of Larry's Comics had his (racist) piece to say, tossing around some old school, inappropriate "jokes".  Apparently Larry is unaware that saying something pretty clearly racist and ending it with "but I'm just kidding" doesn't actually NOT make you a racist (helpful pro-tip if you're currently doing this around the office or at church.).

Back around 2006, DC introduced a new Blue Beetle, one Jaime Reyes, to replace the all-anglo Ted Kord who had taken a bullet.  Jaime was supposed to not just live in Texas, but in El Paso, a city with a majority hispanic population.  While written by a couple of white guys, I certainly appreciated the effort to make a teen-ager look like the teen-agers I see outside my door and who go to the high school I drive past when I head to work.

Jaime's creation was the first time I'd had opportunity to realize that a whole lot of people out there most certainly do not take kindly to change or to an Hispanic getting the name of an existing superhero.  Boy, howdy.

I won't repeat the names thrown at the fictional Jaime Reyes here, but it wasn't kind.  In fact, I was pretty darned shocked that in this day and age, anyone would think the sort of "humor" I was seeing was okay, or the little racist temper tantrums some commentors were having were, you know, rational.

The first I heard that something was up with the new Spider-Man was that the comment section at The Beat had gone cray-cray with some ugly comments that moderators were forced to remove.  Some of it stayed up.
Political correctness run amok. Kill off whitey. Replace with multiculti. As a white person who has read and loved Spiderman my whole life, I am out. Will no longer buy Spiderman or Marvel.
Pretty awful, irrational, petty stuff (and, by the way, were you to stumble onto this blog today and you want to complain that "PC" has somehow made your life harder or more uncomfortable, that sound you hear is the world's tiniest violin playing for you).

Ultimate Spidey writer Brian Michael Bendis has already acknowledged the failed campaign to get Community star Donald Glover cast as Spider-Man in the upcoming Amazing Spider-Man as his inspiration.  And that's kind of cool.

Once the Larry's Comics comments made the rounds and I heard about the issue at The Beat, I had flashbacks to the Blue Beetle debacle, and it finally occurred to me:  this is going to get ugly.  Blue Beetle is a minor character that a handful of people ever knew existed.  Spidey is a character billions of people recognize.

Some folks will mask it with jokes and comments about tradition or whatever, but some people are going to lose their minds over Spider-Man not looking like a white dude when he takes off the mask.  Or what his household looks like when he goes home at night.

Flashforward to Tuesday's USA Today story (thanks for the help on this one, Jake), and Bleeding Cool has rounded up some of the choicer comments.  Its pretty ugly stuff that you can't believe someone's mother didn't slap them across the head just for thinking would be okay to type.

Today, former Fox News employee and guy-who-clearly-never-saw-Network, Glenn Beck, somehow decided this was Michelle Obama's fault (the man is an enigma).

And, somehow popular websites and outlets decided that the character was gay (misreading a statement about from a creator about the possibility of anybody becoming a superhero).  Marvel has states that Miles Morales is not gay, but that horse is already out of the stable.  And, people, its not like Marvel and DC haven't had gay characters since the 90's, so the only people this would "stun" would be folks who haven't picked up a comic in 40 years.

Its never fun to play thought-police, but you hope ugliness and hatred of this sort are a thing of the past.  And if there's one thing that storytelling in comics, TV and movies can do, its show all kinds of people from different walks of life and their story.  Yeah, its important for both marketing and basic goodwill reasons to have superheroes who aren't all a bunch of white dudes (see:  any line-up from DC or Marvel pre-1975), but if we believe part of the magic of superheroes is that it can be you, or me or that weird guy in the copy center who puts on a mask and is out web-slinging and doing good, then I like to think that's exactly true.

That belief that it can be anyone shouldn't be any different whether its someone putting on a Spider-Man mask or a fireman's helmet, or a cop's badge, or a soldier's uniform or a nurse's, uh...  scrubs, I guess (yeah, I was gonna make a crack at how many nurses I see wearing Crocs).  Since Clark Kent, the nebbish coward, ripped open his shirt and saved Lois from a carload of thugs, its been the fact that anyone can be superhero.

If there's any issue, its that comics have such a hard time with launching any new characters that weren't seen by 1975 that in order to diversify their current offerings, we're recycling the same hero-names and costumes (but even that, from what I hear, is being handled well in-story).  But the vitriol still smacks me across the face as a comics fan and as someone who is much more used to seeing the historical effects of racism (I live in Texas, and the history here is 95% pretty ugly) and the subtle side-effects of ingrained ideas and "the way it is"-ness that will take genuine and strenuous effort to overcome.

I don't know.  I don't know what it is about this sort of thing that leaves me so utterly confused about my fellow humans on this rock we live on.  Why is this a problem?

If you want my Truth, Justice and American Way, that includes ideas like all men being created equal.  And you either believe that, or you don't.  I sure as hell do.  And just as much, I believe that justice can served by anyone and should be something we strive to see for everyone.   At their best, this is what superheroes can and should be about, as wild icons and emblems of perseverance and the best within us.

I don't see just the generic white guy living in a basement at my comic shop.  I see all kinds of folks of races, backgrounds, what-have-you.  And I know comics fans of all sorts of backgrounds and make-ups, and the make-up of the professional body in comics may be largely male, but its certainly ethnically diverse.  Its just always been odd to me that the characters are still so mired in a version of America that never really existed but which acceptable entertainment of the 20th Century wrestled with as we moved into true mass-media. And I hope that creators, publishers and most of all people spending money will give Miles Morales a chance in the suit.  And then lets see what kinds of Spider-Man stories Bendis tells as we get the first genuinely new Spidey since the web-slinger debuted in Amazing Fantasy 15.


Gerry said...

The whole thing is sickening really. But I think aside from the racists, there's also a large section of people who are automatically viewing the whole thing too cynically. What I mean is black and Hispanic readers who see it as exploitative right away. As a Hispanic myself, I almost find that more offensive than the racists. And really, the whole thing is just a continuation of the typical fan-boy rage every time a change comes along. It's just that this time, the race thing was an easy thing to pick at. At the very least, I wish people would wait for to read the damn story or watch the movie before going on their childish rants about them.

Anonymous said...

The comments are some of the most depressing, saddest I've ever seen.

First, it's the Ultimates line from Marvel. Why are people wigging out? This is the comics line where the Hulk ate the alien head of a Skrull in Ultimates and Ant Man was an even worse spouse abuser.

I live in a very diverse city and the biggest comics store is has some of the most diverse comics buyers I've ever seen. It's not the typical white guy living in his mom's basement. It makes sense that minorities will also probably become superheroes in each respective universes. Frankly, most of the commentators I think don't even buy comics they're just having a hissy fit because somehow they think the world screwed them again out of something in their delusional minds.

This world is nuts. I hope the Apes take over this weekend.


Simon MacDonald said...

Seriously though WTF is wrong with people. Ryan I think you've got it dead on when you say anyone can be a hero. In real life we have cops, firemen, soldiers and doctor's of all skin colours so why not have a high profile black/hispanic superhero.

I applaude Marvel for trying this out and it appears that it is being handled pretty organically though the story telling. I just wish Marvel would stop having press conferences to announce key plot points in a book that is not even released yet.

Jake Shore said...

I don't know what to say. It's ugly stuff. Is it racist? Some of it, yeah, for sure. But I suspect that a lot of this crap is comes from just plain ignorance.

For example, I know several people, some of them friends and family, who hold what I consider to be racist views. However, these same people treat everyone they meet, regardless of color, creed or lifestyle, like gold! Does it make sense? Of course not. Are they racists? I don't know. Their inconsistency vexes me, but I wouldn't call them bigots.

I know ignorance is the seed of racism, but I suspect a lot of these people are just knuckleheads who don't realize or care that some changes are for the better, and not a surrender to political correctness.

I don't wanna seem like I'm defending bad behavior. And we should never hesitate to call things what they are, but I think we can be a little cavalier throwing around the words "racist" and "hate."

I suspect there are a lot of people whose first reaction to this stuff is "What the hell? How come they changed it? I liked it the way it was." And in their frustration, they spout off with little or no context. Then after they understand it, or get used to it, they no longer care.

I wouldn't get too down on the human condition for this. But maybe I'm being too optimistic.

The League said...

Some comments are definitely in the "I have no understanding of how comics work and I don't know what's happening and that scares me" category. But there are also comments along the lines of "More politically correct stupidity! If the Spider Man series I read in the Sunday papers EVER changes from good ole white Peter Parker, I’ll simply cease to read it. If the PC nuts want to have super heros who represent other ethnic groups along with various sexual perversions then let them create new ones from scratch and leave our time cherished traditional heros alone!"

If you're saying that, you just might be a racist.

or: "What will he say when he runs into a criminal? “Sup Foo? Dis is MY ‘hood!”"

If living in Texas has demonstrated anything to me, its that many, many people are comfortable with casual racism. I'll admit, unless its Cranky Ol' Great-Grandad at Thanksgiving dinner spouting off, I'll call my peers on it. If I'm the guy they think they need to bite their tongues around, then I'm going to be that guy.

If its unthinking, then why not ask people to think about it?

No doubt people bring their own baggage to something big and iconic as Spidey. I do it myself. And I've made it a lifestyle with Superman.

But if people are just driving by, and their reaction to seeing something they didn't expect such as a Black/ Latino Spider-Man is to start throwing out racist jokes, it seems no less unreasonable to ask "what the hell is wrong with you that you think that's an appropriate way to react?" If they really don't feel that way, why stand in the town square of the public internet and suggest that's exactly how they feel?

Jake Shore said...

I'm not saying we shouldn't call people out on it, or put things in context for them. I do it with people in my family. I think you do a fine job of that on this blog.

All I'm saying is that a lot of these people who say the idiotic things you mention aren't necessarily bigots. They might make a stupid racist joke or ignorant remark in response to these changes, but do they really hate minorities? Do they think blacks or latinos, etc. are less than them or not worthy respect?

I don't know.