When is it ok to change a character’s race?

28 04 2014

DC comics said that when Wally West would return to their comic books, he would have some changes. The change that stands out the most is his ethnicity. This is not the first time a character’s ethnicity was changed when they are reintroduced or adapted for a new media. The last few years we have seen a slew of characters go through ethnic changes. In the cases of Miles Morales becoming Spider-man and Samuel Jackson playing Nick Fury, the reception has been overwhelmingly positive. However, changing a characters ethnicity doesn’t always go well. Wally’s race being change, for example, has had mixed reviews to say the least. Rumor has it that Terry McGuiness from Batman Beyond was originally planned to be Black, but the network and DC comics didn’t feel audiences were ready for a Black Batman. In the new Fantastic Four movie, many fans are less then thrilled by the actor set to play The Human Torch.


When the comic book community is divided by a characters’ ethnic change there are two camps;


We need more diversity in comic books: This side believes not only are changes to the most iconic comic book characters good, but are in many cases needed. This side points out that when most of our iconic super-heroes were created, the comic book industry was overwhelmingly made up of white men. The idea of making a character like Batman black was unimaginable. This side agrees, and appreciates that while the industry has made attempts to rectify this, the outcomes overwhelmingly fall flat. The supporting characters created as minorities often feel rushed, under developed, or as off brand copies of the protagonist. The Batman family has had several characters of color, like the assassin Onix, but no one remembers these characters because they simply were not good. By changing the protagonists themselves, it forces stories starring minority characters, instead of making them after thoughts. This side believes changing a characters ethnicity or even gender is key to bringing in new readers, and should not deter current fans from reading the books. Wally will still be Wally, no matter his color.


Classic characters shouldn’t be changed: This side is often called racist for not embracing a characters change, and that view is seldom true. For the most part, Wally, Hal, and Bruce Wayne have been the same for decades, creating a strong sense of nostalgia. To change Wally is like trying to change a fan’s childhood memories. This side views the iconic characters as parts of history. No one is going to cast Will Smith to play George Washington, so why change The Human Torch? This side likes, even love, minority characters. They consider Cyborg, Black Panther, and Forge among the industries greatest heroes. They feel that changing a characters ethnicity is a rushed solution to a bigger problem. The industry needs to support characters of color, and that often rests on the fans. DC has put a lot of support behind Blue Beetle and Static Shock, but the books simply don’t sell. This side believes that you need to put your wallet where your mouth is.



So why is it that some ethnic changes are loved and some despised? What is the magical middle ground? I’ve looked over the industries successes and failures, and where is what I have found;

Same hero, different identity: Great Examples: Kaldur’ahm (Aqualad) Ryan Choi (The atom)

Young Justice hit a slam-dunk with their version Aqualad. Named kaldur’ahm, this character was so popular DC brought him into the main universe before the first season of the show was halfway done. What made him so great? Anyone who watched Young Justice will quickly tell you, Kaldur was not Garth. Garth was the original Aqualad and was one of the few Side-kicks never to be replaced. When Kaldur hit the scene many people said “They just made him black to have someone black on the show?” “Why didn’t they use Garth?!” But if the first episode didn’t make you a fan, his origin story did. Kaldur was the abandoned child of Aquaman’s greatest foe. This added an entire lair to Aquaman’s mythos that Garth didn’t bring. The character was also drastically different in personality. While Garth lack confidence, Kaldur was always cool and collected. Fans loved him, and his popularity outlived the show. As long as you give a reason for the change, fans will embrace it.


The legacy is passed on: Great Examples: Cassandra Cain (Batgirl) Conner Hawke (Green Arrow)

The only constant in Marvel’s Ultimate line is change. Because of the nature of this franchise, Marvel’s writes where given drastically more freedom then in the mainstream Marvel line. Brian Bendis, who has been the only person to write Ultimate Spider-man, killed Peter Parker off, with no plan to bring him back. Where fans upset? Sure. But they where far more interested in what was about to happen. To kill off a character that iconic and replace him was very rare. Brian soon replaced Peter with Mile Morales. A half-black half Puerto Rican teenager. The book has been a hot seller ever since. Peter’s death wasn’t a stunt, it was part of his story, and Miles has his own. If Miles was a clone or a long lost sibling, fans would have gone crazy. But he isn’t, which makes his creation feel genuine.


 Transitioning: Great Example: Samuel Jackson as Nick Fury

When Marvel launched the Ultimate comic book line, Nick Fury was given a bigger role in the universe and the character was made to look like Samuel Jackson. For a time, the Ultimate line was more popular then the main comic line and so when Marvel Began their movie franchise they chose this version of Nick Fury due to the popularity. Elseworlds are a great way of testing the waters with characters. When a comic book is adapted to a movie or a tv show, it’s generally a merger of past incarnations. So when they were picking a Nick Fury for Marvel’s movie line they chose the most popular version. If Marvel simply made Nick Fury Black, the fan base probably would have flipped, but Marvel showed a different Nick Fury in a different time line first, so fans had a chance to adapt. If the Ultimate version of Human Torch was black fans would probably be more accepting of Fox’s casting choice.


 Changing a team line-up: Great Examples: John Stewart (Justice League) Storm (X-men)

Most super teams go through so many line-up changes no one can keep track. Comic book team relaunches and retcons are a dime a dozen, so this lends the perfect opportunity to give minority characters a spot light. In the movie X-Men, Storm was a member of the team before Angel, and no one batted an eye. The Justice League Animated series made John Stewart their Green Lantern, and for an entire generation, that was the version of GL they knew.



Winter Soldier: Marvel’s most important film yet

20 04 2014




Captain America: Winter Solder, has been nothing short of a blow out success. The film pushed the Marvel film franchise into the Nations’ top Movie Franchise in history. What makes the film truly special is what it does to the Marvel film franchise as a while. Marvel says that “Iron Man 3,” began the phase two of their film line, but I don’t agree. If we were to view the films as comic book series, Avengers would have been a cross-over event. Iron Man 3 and Thor 2 would have had tag lines on them, establishing that these films were entended to be read along side or after the cross-over event.  Captain America: Winter Solider forces the entire Marvel Universe to take a shift. The next Iron Man, Avengers, and even the TV series Agents of Shield are all going to be forced into new directions after this film.


From the beginning of the franchise, arguably before the franchise, S.H.I.E.L.D was the glue. While as viewers we all knew the movies were connected, outside of Avengers, you didn’t need to watch Thor to watch Captain America. That is no longer the case. S.H.I.E.L.D is no more, or will take a drastically different form. Where does this leave Hawkeye and Black Widow? The agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are all fugitives. Characters like Iron Man will be forced to step up and take the reigns as earth’s guardians, while  characters like Thor, who now has no true obligation towards earth, will have their honor and loyalties tested. Remember, S.H.I.E.L.D has weapons to battle the Asgardians with. What makes Winter Soldier all the more excited a film, is the the twist with HYRDRA was unexpected. None of the trailers gave a hint of this twist. As a movie goer and comic book fan, this thrills me! This means any Marvel Film could change the course of the franchise in a single scene. Every movie has now become that much more important.