Until we actually see the movie, Fantastic Four is going to be a source of debate this year. Michael B. Jordan offered an excellent retort to anyone opposed to his casting here. But then on the flip side there was a factually challenged piece in the Daily Beast about minorities in superhero films. This stuff is more complicated than it appears to people who haven’t read the comics, and even to some who have. I’ve written about this topic before, and I’ll stick with my largest point. There are three ways to diversify comics: create new characters, move existing ones up the totem pole, or retcon previously white characters as something else. And while all three methods have their drawbacks the most controversial one is the retconning.
Why? Because people don’t like change. Period, end of story. Most of the big name comic book heroes and villains are at least 30 years old. Batman and Superman go back to the 1940s, as does Captain America. Marvel’s first big creation wave of it’s signature heroes (Spider-Man, Iron Man, Fantastic Four, Thor, the X-Men, etc) came during the 1960s. Marvel had another big wave of new entries in the 1970s with Storm, Colossus, Wolverine, and several others. That’s 40 years ago. And given the makeup of society from 1940s to the 1970s, it’s not hard to imagine why the vast majority of comic book superheroes were white. So most direct translations that are true to the print material are going to have white actors.
But Fox went a different route and cast Jordan in a role for a character that has been a blonde, blue eyed white guy for 50 years. And they did so without waiting for a similar change to be made in the print version to give them any cover (Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury, for example was preceded in print by the Ultimate Marvel version of Fury that looked like him and not Fury had looked for decades). So they’re catching it from all sides here. This is the ultimate debate between print material purists and those who aren’t concerned about that at all, with a special racial element thrown in for good measure. So is a debate worth even having or are the comic book readers blowing this way out proportion? I’d say yes on both counts.
The folks opposed to it (leaving out the ones who are just racist) are coming from a place of not just being sticklers for every detail but one of loyalty to a product over years, sometimes decades, dating back to when it was flat out not cool to do so. And now when the thing they supported from day one is being offered up for the masses, most of whom didn’t care until it became cool to do so, it’s being changed. And if blonde haired, blue eyed Johnny Storm was good enough for over 20 years of comic book reading, why change it? And that’s where the other side comes in. You change it because the world, and the audience, is not what it was in 1965. Everyone wants to see themselves reflected in pop culture, so whenever possible steps should be made to fulfill that. And after all it’s Johnny Storm, one fourth of a superhero quartet whose book was recently canceled. We’re not talking about Superman here.
Where do I stand? On the fence. If no one else cared, I probably wouldn’t either. But people do care and I have my own favorite characters that I want left alone in perpetuity so I can see both sides of it. As far as this particular casting, it felt like a stunt to me. Jordan had worked with the director, Josh Trank, before on the very underrated Chronicle so Trank wanted to hook up with him again so this was killing two birds with one stone. Johnny Storm isn’t a character I’m all that enthused about anyway so I’m not going to be upset about it. Had it been Bruce Wayne I’d be firing off angry comments. But so far it’s taken away from what looks like is going to be a good movie judging by the trailers. I’d have left well enough alone this time.