For those of you who have just gotten out of bed this morning, gotten through that first cup of coffee, driven into the office, logged on, and chatted around the water cooler. For those of you who have gotten the kids off to day camp, or just gotten showered up and ready for your day after that 3-mile run. For all of you who have just logged on to the computer, you should know that this is a historic day. Spider-Man is black.
Let me have a couple of other gentlemen bring you up to speed on what’s happening out there.
Ferrett Steinmetz talks about how the new Spider-Man is destined, ultimately, for second banana-hood.
Jim Hines talks about the less than flattering reaction.
I am a white ally. I have also read comic books since I consumed them rabidly in college (circa 1983 if you’re counting.) And while I have not been up on things like the Marvel Ultimate Series, or say, Blackest Night, I’m savvy enough about comics to still know what’s going on, and I still read the occasional comic from the main companies.
Here’s our new Spider-Man. Maybe I’m getting older and my maternal instinct is kicking in because he looks like such a little boy who needs a hug. And given some of the reaction to him, he probably does, although as an adolescent, he’d have to pretend not to like it.
What is the problem? With a good creative team behind the book, and a progressive concept, I’m delighted. I’m going to have my grouchy old comics guy add this book to my monthly haul, because Ferrett recommends Bendis, and so I’m happy to take a look.
But Jim’s article tells you what the problem is. And while Ferrett is right, that part of the problem is that Old Men of the Silver Age (TM) detest change, the links in Jim’s article go way beyond Superman’s Bootgate. This kind of unexamined racism (the only way we can fight racism, white people, is to look it squarely in the eye and ask ourselves important questions) is knee jerk and ugly. Anyone who is that afraid of the other that they have to slip in de-humanization mode has some serious issues.
But I’m really off topic here. I thought that it might be educational to talk about some other moments of comic fail that I can remember from my time reading Comics. Three things spring immediately to mind, and I’ll talk about these and more eventually. First I’ll have a chat about Heimdall in this summer’s Thor movie. Then I’ll move on to the reboot of Captain America’s sidekick Bucky as a black man (oy. They figured it out later, but they were none too smart to do this.) And then, there’s Babs Gordon’s recent return to the walking in the DC reboot of Batgirl.
Of course, if you like, I can refer you to some historical travesties with a little research, but I thought it might be more interesting to talk about those things things that have occurred in my lifetime. Because you know, we solved that whole discrimination thing in the 60s and 70s.
As many of you know from my glowing review of Thor, I’d been waiting for Thor for a long time. In general, all of the characters in Thor are white, with the possible exception of Hogun the Grim, whom some speculate may be Mongol. (What he’s doing in Asgard, I’ve no idea. However, Thor is really a redhead, and I’m not sure where he got the peroxide.) There was a fannish kerfluffle when it was announced that Heimdall, watcher of Bifrost, would be black.
Heimdall was played by mega-hunk Idris Elba. Elba is very popular in Britain, perhaps best known for his role as the lead in the television thriller Luther. I know him best from Ultraviolet, the British vampire series from 1998. Elba’s acting credits are versatile and prestigious. He played Heimdall straight and stoic, with a tiny bit of humor thrown in. It was one of the most riveting performances in the film.
What was the problem? I hesitate to use the word purists in this context, but you know, Norse mythology is full of Norse people, and they are white. The population of Norway is becoming more diverse, but the traditional stories are about Teutons and Scandinavians.
Of course, any story about the gods is imaginary. In Norse mythology, you have blue frost giants, red flame demons, and vaguely lavender elves. There is no rule that says a god must be made in the image of the people who worship it. None of the Egyptian Gods are, really. My imagination can extend to black Heimdall.
And so, as we continually struggle with these issues of difference, let us remember that in the realm of the fantastic, we can be better than we are in real life. Isn’t that what fantasy’s all about? I refuse to let my comics be hemmed in by your dangerous stereotypes and pre-conceived notions.
Next up: the Bucky mistake.