Changing the racial identity of characters has become a contentious issue amongst fans of superhero comics and their adaptations in other media. The awful practices of casting white actors to play people of color, or of turning previously non-white characters into white characters, is all too common in movie adaptations of books, cartoons, TV shows, or even real life stories -- but rather surprisingly, superhero comics and their adaptations have mostly avoided this problem.
In comics, the controversy takes a different direction. Several white characters have become non-white, mostly in movies, and sometimes in reboots. Michael B. Jordan as Johnny Storm in the new Fantastic Four; Helena Bertinelli aka the Huntress in the New 52; Nick Fury in the Ultimate Comics line and on screen. These are changes that agitate some readers -- but realistically, the changes don't go far enough. Superhero comics have a cultural bias towards white characters that has everything to do with their institutional history and nothing to do with what makes sense to the stories.
To say that I've been a pretty vocal critic of a lot of the stories that Geoff Johns has written over the past decade is putting it pretty mildly, but I was holding out a lot of hope for what he and John Romita Jr. would do on Superman when they took over the book with this week's issue. I mean, the last time Johns was the writer of a Superman book, it was with a run on Action Comics that had a thrilling cross-time adventure with the Legion of Super-Heroes; one of the best Brainiac stories ever; and a story where Superman briefly got the power of Superman Vision, a red-blue-yellow beam from his eyes that turned whoever it hit into Superman. It was fun, exciting and new in a way that Superman stories are always criticized for never being, and if Johns could return to that kind of storytelling alongside an artist that I love as much as I love Romita, I wanted to be there to read it.
With Superman #32, Johns and Romita have in fact captured a little bit of that magic. This inaugural issue is loud, it's bright, it's honest in the way that Superman needs to be, and it's definitely exciting.
The only real problem is that while it does its level best to be new, a lot of what this first issue does feels like it's going back over ground that we've already been walking on pretty recently.
Influential Marvel Comics artist John Romita Jr. begins his run on Superman with writer Geoff Johns this week, and while you'd expect this would just be another notch in the incredibly accomplished artist's belt (he's drawn popular runs with virtually every major Marvel character you can think of) he's apparently pretty intimidated by the prospect of taking on the very first comic book superhero.
When people think of the backlash against comics in the 1950s, one name often springs to mind: Fredric Wertham, the author of the 1954 book Seduction of the Innocent, which linked comic book reading to illiteracy, sexual deviancy (by his definition), violence and drug use.
While Wertham's book was certainly a catalyst for a lot of changes and censorship in comics, it wasn't the first domino that fell toward the development of the stringent Comics Code Authority. Criticism of comics had been growing to a fever pitch for years before that, and io9 has uncovered one example that came a full two years before the publication of Seduction of the Innocent: a full-on United Nations condemnation of Superman. And guess what: It isn't entirely wrong.
Conservative comics creators Chuck Dixon and Paul Rivoche have written a piece for the Wall Street Journal titled, “How Liberalism Became Kryptonite for Superman: A graphic tale of modern comic books’ descent into moral relativism.” While beating familiar conservative drums like jingoistic nostalgia and referencing a lot of incorrect information, these two experienced pros manage to paint a picture of an industry tottering on the edge of moral collapse to an audience that knows little about what’s actually going on.
The goal here, of course, is to sell comics. By complaining to a conservative audience about how liberals have taken over the medium, Dixon and Rivoche attempt to persuade non-comics readers to buy their new book, an adaptation of Amity Shlaes' The Forgotten Man, as a bit of political activism.
Like many conservative comics fans, Dixon and Rivoche bemoan the lack of conservative comics being published today, and a perceived liberal bent of the industry, while limiting their definition of comics primarily to super hero books published by Marvel and DC. The problem is not with their politics; it’s with their misrepresentation of the industry and its history to an outside audience.
Q: Is it ever worth it to change comics canon to match the canon from other media? -- @firehawk32
A: This is a really interesting question for me, because I always think of myself as someone who doesn't really get excited about superheroes showing up in movies or TV. I mean, obviously, that's not actually true -- I mean, I cowrote what was essentially a full-length novel about The Dark Knight, Batman: The Animated Series ranks alongside oxygen and pizza as my favorite thngs in the universe, I could not have been more stoked about seeing Arnim Zola The Bio Fanatic in two major Hollywood films, and there will never be a time when I'm not still mad about Man of Steel. But at the same time, and at the risk of sounding like even more of a hipster elitist than usual, those aren't the "real" versions of those charactesr to me. I like TV and movies just fine, but when it comes to the superhero genre, I'm in it for the comics. Everything else is just a bonus.
That said, what's considered "canon" in comics changes literally all the time, and often for a lot worse reasons than because there's something out there that's resonating with a mass audience.
Q: What do you think is the essence of making a great iconic costume? -- @thenoirguy
A: With comics being a visual medium and all, especially one that's dominated by a genre marked by its own goofy language of symbolism and iconography, I think about superhero costumes pretty often. I mean, I cannot count the number of times I have written the words "Batman's Batman-Shaped Kneepads" over the past three years, but that said, I'll admit that I might not be the best person to answer this question. As Erica Henderson (artist of Subatomic Party Girls and the Ask Chris logo above) pointed out, I'm not an artist. Then she went ahead and answered the question, telling me that "It's pretty simple, iconic is something that's quick and easy to recognize. that's why nobody talks about Cable's costume."
Listen, Erica, I don't know what circles you run in, but I talk about Cable's costume a lot.
If you saw The LEGO Movie a few months back, you may have noticed that it posits a pretty interesting world, where all of LEGO's licensed characters -- well, all the characters not currently owned by Warner Bros.' corporate rivals, anyway -- coexist as blocky little mini-figures. This is pretty cool, since it's not often that you get to see Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Michaelangelo, Dumbledore and Gandalf all hanging out. But it does present an interesting story problem. How exactly do you present a problem that all of those characters can't solve? Which, of course, is exactly whatThe LEGO Movie does.
The folks behind How It Should Have Ended have taken a slight bit of exception to this, and in order to address it, they've kicked out a pretty awesome two-minute stop motion animated video featuring the World's Finest. Check it out!
If our weekly Ask Chris column isn't enough of definitive comic book (and pro wrestling) opinions for you, good news: ComicsAlliance is proud to present Here's The Thing, a series of videos where you can join our own extremely opinionated senior writer, Chris Sims, as he sits in his living room under a framed portrait of Destro, drinking a cup of coffee and sharing his opinion on comic books.
This week, Chris takes a viewer question from someone curious about Cadmus Institute, a fixture of the DC universe created by the legendary Jack Kirby that has its roots in the Golden Age and continues to operate in the background of comics all the way to the 21st Century.
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