In the modern age, comic book fans are extremely spoiled considering we have a new comic book movie every summer, along with several running television series, animated releases and video games. Comic books have become a part of our everyday lives in all mediums. Even websites solely dedicated to providing nothing but comic book content constantly and systematically release leaks, photos, and almost anything about a comic book character that generates buzz. It is clear that there is a demand for all things comic book related and there are passionate comic book fans that cannot get enough, myself included.
However, all that passion tends to breed anger about personal preference, favoritism and bias. One example would be the DC/Marvel debate. Vitriol tends to stem from changes that deviate from the source material, like costumes, abilities, etc. As such, race and gender swapping characters has generated a large amount of hate speech.
But there are creative ways to gender and race swap that do not infuriate certain fans, such as creating a character that is derivative from the original. For example, Sam Wilson, the Falcon, becoming the new Captain America. But that's not what I am referring to exactly, so let me explain. Falcon became the new Captain America, not the new Steve Rogers. Or the new Thor who has been revealed to be Dr. Jane Foster. In other words, these are characters who are identified as themselves in new roles. Jane Foster may be the new Thor, but she is not Odin's son, or daughter for that matter. Her power is derivative of the character that is given to her by the inscription on Mjolnir:
Whosoever holds this hammer, if HE be worthy, shall possess the power of Thor.
In contrast, characters like Jimmy Olsen or Perry White, who have both always been identified as white, are now being portrayed by black actors. Moreover, both Jimmy Olsen and Perry White, as portrayed by both Mehcad Brooks and Lawrence Fishburne respectively, are not an alternate timeline or storyline interpretation of the characters, unlike the Justice League: Gods and Monsters version of Superman, Wonder Woman and Batman, which clearly are alternate versions in an alternate timeline.
Now that I've narrowed down what I am really talking about, let me explain why it shouldn't matter. In cases like Jimmy Olsen and Perry White, both characters provide supporting roles for the protagonist. Their race shouldn't matter because the essence of the character was made to a more modern theme. A red haired, freckle face Olsen who uses expressions like "Gee Whiz Superman," or "Gosh" or "Golly," would have been so out of place in Man of Steel. Granted, DC didn't need to race swap Jimmy Olsen to avoid that characteristic, but the fact remains, the movie and television series do not suffer because of it.
In the Supergirl Pilot that was leaked, we learn that "Jimmy" Olsen is now James Olsen, a mature and charismatic character unlike previous incarnations. His introduction and role through the show allowed the character to develop. He is aware of Kara's identity and he helps her. His character also maintains a link to Superman. So although we won't see much, if any, of Superman in the series, Olsen's presence is always there to remind us that Superman exists in this television universe. Granted we have only seen the pilot, but I doubt this answer will change throughout the season. Did the actor's race have a detrimental effect on the episode or the series? Absolutely not. Whether you enjoyed the episode or not, and whether you're a fan or not, the fact remains that any criticism would likely be about the episode or its concepts, but definitely not the fact that Jimmy Olsen is now James Olsen or that James Olson is black. Ignorant racism aside, of course.
I rather enjoyed the new James Olsen and believe it to be a modern and rational take on the character. I'm not saying the character being black is modern. Any individual of any race could have been inserted into the role. I'm talking about the character's maturity and development. The fact that the character was portrayed by a black actor is irrelevant. The actor, IMO, did a great job of being charismatic and reinventing the character.
Now, let's talk about Perry White
Regardless of whether you enjoyed Man of Steel or not, and I personally loved it, any criticism towards the movie was undoubtedly not due to Perry White's race swap. Laurence Fishburne did an excellent job of portraying what an editor is supposed to be like. Very disciplinary when he docked Lois's pay for leaking her article after he told her not to. But still portrayed a father figure splendidly when saving Jenny from the rubble. And very insightful by realizing that Superman's story was not ready to be told because of the effect it would have on society if they knew that aliens were real, powerful and living among us.
I fully believe the movie was phenomenal and definitely gave us a modern Superman that is applicable to today's day and age. But again, whatever your complaints about the movie, they surely don't arise from Fishburne's take on Perry White.
Which brings me to my next example...
The character "Jenny" in MOS
It has recently been revealed that Jenny as portrayed by Rebecca Buller, was not Jenny "Olsen" according to an article I read recently, (can't remember where I found it but that doesn't matter for the purposes of my article), but rather she had an entirely different last name. But, for anyone who watched MOS, we believed her to be Jenny Olsen, who was either a replacement for Jimmy Olsen or a relative of his that would pave the way for him in the sequel.
Did it really matter that the character was portrayed by a woman or that her name was changed? No. Moreover, if she was intended to replace Jimmy, she did a great job at it. Jimmy Olsen's character was typically defined as a friend to Superman who is repeatedly in trouble and needs Superman's help. And although Superman didn't save Jenny directly when she was under the rubble, she nonetheless gave us a dramatic portrayal. What do I contextually mean by dramatic portrayal? Anytime Jimmy was saved by Superman, at least in live-action movies, typically, Jimmy was not hurt physically and was mainly at ease knowing that Superman would always be there. But Jenny, was injured. Jenny was crying and begging Perry not to leave her alone out of fear. These are EXACTLY the types of responses that are necessary when being rescued from a life-threatening event. So again, in my opinion, Jenny was perfect and not only did she not hurt the movie, she improved it considering the contrast to Jimmy Olsen.
Well, till now, all I have referred to were supporting characters or individuals who are a part of the main protagonist's canon, but not the protagonist himself. Unless there are Jimmy Olsen and Perry White comics out there that I don't know of.
But let's now shift to an actual superhero that has been race swapped
Alright, I'm not a Fantastic 4 fan although I have watched the first two movies and I enjoyed their animated series back in the '90s. Since then, however, I have not kept up with the group in any format. As far as the movies are concerned, I think we can all agree that they were horrible. Despite being great actors, including Chris Evans and Jessica Alba, I think we can all agree that Alba was definitely terribly cast for Sue Storm. Evans was a victim of terrible script. Even with the help of the Silver Surfer in the second film, the film suffered.
So, now the reboot is nearing its release date in August, I can't really comment on how well Michael B. Jordan will portray the character. However, that doesn't keep me from suggesting that the trailers looked good. In addition, if the trailer is indicative of how good the movie will actually be, then I can't see it suffering simply on the basis of Johnny Storm's race swap. Michael B. Jordan is a great actor and I'm sure he realizes how important his character is to the comic book community. I refuse to believe that his race will negatively impact the character. On the contrary, he might be an even better Johnny Storm than Chris Evans. Although I'll be honest, I'm not crazy about the suits/costumes for the reboot but I am a fan of functional designs with costumes. So the look of the costumes may or may not be a negative factor to me after watching the film. But again, any criticism of the movie will likely be substantive, meaning if the movie is bad, it won't be bad simply because of Michael B. Jordan playing Johnny Storm.
And now a favorite of anyone who loves the Flash: Wally West
Growing up watching Superfriends back in the '80s, Flash was one of the characters portrayed on TV but his identity wasn't. In other words, I didn't know, nor did I need to know which Flash was being portrayed back in the '80s. He was the Flash, and as a child, his secret identity wasn't a factor that the series played off of so I'm not sure if the Flash of the '80s television series was Barry Allen or Wally West. Again, it wasn't relevant nor necessary to enjoy that cartoon at that time.
But then, the Justice League graced our screens with more mature content with storylines that actually relied on alter egos/secret identities. And in that series, Wally West was just as important a character as The Flash was. And if you were/are a fan of the Justice League animated series, then there was no way you didn't love Wally. So in my opinion, Wally West was the greatest thing to happen to the Flash. The red/orange hair and his awesome comedic take on the character that was awesomely voiced by Michael Rosenbaum. Rosenbaum made Wally colorful and much more iconic with his sense of humor.
Also, in Young Justice, Wally West was Kid Flash. Before watching the first episode, I wasn't happy about having Wally as Kid Flash but that was completely forgotten within the first minute that he was on screen. And again, even in Young Justice, Wally West was the greatest thing to happen to the Flash.
Now the New 52 version of Wally West has changed his race as well. Again, I haven't read any comics with his involvement yet. But let's keep something in mind. First off, it would be unfair to compare a character who has only been depicted in a comic book to one who has been portrayed on two animated series. And in both series, Wally West was terrific. Will the race swap negatively affect the character? I doubt it. If going from adult to teenager had zero negative effect on how well received the character is, then race swapping won't hurt it either. Again, ignorant racism aside.
DC has done a terrific job with its properties in the animation department. And if they were capable of making a character loved both as an adult and as a teenager, then making him black will have no effect.
John Stewart, the Green Lantern
Now let me distinguish Wally West from another character that I was introduced to in the Justice League animated series: John Stewart, the new Green Lantern. Again, being a child in the '80s, I grew up to Hal Jordan. Bought his comics and loved him in the animated series back in the '80s. So, it took an episode or two to get used to John Stewart, but again, not because he was black. Just because he wasn't Hal Jordan. But the same conclusion can be reached here as well. Stewart filled Jordan's shoes very nicely as the Lantern on the team. That was evident with its tenure.
Stewart has even become the Lantern of choice with fans trying to recruit Idris Elba as Stewart for the Justice League movie. BTW, that would be AWESOME!! I love Idris Elba and he would be a terrific part of the DC Cinematic Universe. But back to the point, every character I listed to now was not negatively affected, nor was their involvement in movies, animations, series and comics.
Would race swapping be accepted with all characters? I don't know. If it were possible to keep all matters of ignorance and racism aside, would a black Superman/Clark Kent be successful? A black Batman/Bruce Wayne? Iron Man/Tony Stark?
Would Supergirl be as successful if she were the main character instead of Kal-El Superman? Let's hear some thoughts.