The Importance of Race in Comic Culture
Thoughts of a Geek Burrito.
The color palate of our heroes today is mostly white, and it’s been that way for a long time.
As a 1st and 3rd generation Mexican born in America, I did what most kids do: I watched American cartoons and read American comic books without knowing that these where “American.” I just saw them as cartoons and comics. Peter Parker being white wasn’t a big deal to me, I just wanted to get bit by a radioactive spider too. It’s as I got older, I did start to see and question the lack of color in our superheroes. As I soon discovered, comic books really took off just before WWII and were a favorite of GIs serving overseas. The writers for these comics, who were predominately white males, drew and wrote what they knew. So Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, and Captain America were all white. As our county’s social conscience grew, so did the inclusion of non-white super heroes. With names like Storm, Black Panther, John Stewart, Falcon, Blade, and most recently Miles Morales and Kamala Khan, we are seeing more non-white heroes in the forefront.
Recently, Michelle Rodriguez has been linked to a rumor that she could be up for a DC role as a Green Lantern. She has responded with a denial and was also quoted as saying:
“Stop stealing all the white people’s superheroes. Make up your own.”
She later stated she had “put my foot in my mouth again” and apologized. She then went on to say:
“It’s not about taking Catwoman or Superman or Green Lantern or whatever these characters are and trying to make them fit to whatever cultural background you are… It should be more creative than that.”
I for one am glad she made the distinction between coming up with relevant characters whose background better matches our growing county and simply recasting established characters with a new ethnicity. I also couldn’t agree more.
Now Nick Fury was white for a long time but I’m guessing most people can only picture Samuel L Jackson playing the part. This update to the character was done in the comic first and not at the end of Iron Man. The writers felt that with a new/alternate Marvel Universe, we could see updates to characters that were major but left the core essence of who they were. They even went so far as to ask Mr. Jackson permission to use his likeness, and I can only imagine he responded with “Fuck yeah, you can!” Now the idea of alternate worlds in comics is another article all its own, but this new era of comics has allowed for Spider-man, one of the most popular heroes in comics, to be updated. Peter Parker is still white in the original storyline so don’t freak out, but we are hearing rumors that Marvel may go with a non-white Spider-man in upcoming MCU movies, meaning we may see Miles Morales coming to a cinema in the near future.
To me, things like this make Michelle’s comment more relevant. We can either see the cinematic birth of a new non-white hero or the a bastardization of a beloved character covered in blackface. Now, I would love to see future movie story lines take advantage of existing heroes of color and maybe throw some new ones into the mix, but not at the cost of “trying to make them fit to whatever cultural background you are” as Michelle stated.