Combating Dystopia.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Superheroes Can Fight Anything- Except "fanboy" Racism. (Ult. Spiderman "Controversy" breakdown)

Long time no see. Due to excrutiating technical difficulties, I've been out of commission this week. Its sad how much internet withdrawal I've gone through. (I haven't felt this cut off from civilization since I moved to Eastern North Carolina the first time)

A lot's gone on in the world since the great crash, some more interesting than others.

On the ubernerd front-the (white?) Middle America lost its collective minds as Marvel Comic's Peter Parker was replaced with this guy. As far as comic book controversies go, its an amber alert, as the mainstream media got wind of it (via USA Today... yes, the bi-line is really "We have an African-American President, so why not an African American Spiderman Too?") and otherwise docile internet trolling racists commenced the freaking out. There has been a lot of clever introspection on how the "fanboy" freakout is much ado about nothing, as this sort of "icon" character death has happened in countless comics. They're subsequently replaced by an upstart that may or may not be a minority, more "EXTREEEMEEEE" or some hero in training. Seriously, its happened in Batman's stories at least twice. Wonder Woman got replaced by a wrathful redhead with a penchant for arrows and scorn. Captian America died and was replaced by his long dead (white) sidekick, Bucky Barnes.

None of it, in my memory, smacks of the absolutely disgusting sort of assumptions, and blatant racist rationalizations inherent in the "objections" here. Its the outrage !!111 that is so interesting here. Nothing about Spiderman's origin speaks to race or ethnicity. He's a nebbish science nerd with dead parents that got bit by a radioactive spider, tried to cash in off it and suffers from terrible guilt over his uncle's subsequent death. What about that origin speaks to him having to be some white kid from the bronx? Or be the same character for the themes of Spider-Man to be furthered? With great power comes great responsibility whether you're a white unlucky nerd or a brown bi-racial one, or at least one assumes.

Beyond that, when it comes to legacy characters- even the ones mentioned above- being replaced by other, perhaps minority characters, it never takes long for the original, "true" claimers of that heroic identity resurface to elbow aside the usurper (when they're not just killed off brutally, or turned evil). Just ask Jon Stewart, Dr. Voodoo, the Atom, or Cassandra Cain.

One of the most mindblowing aspects of this overreaction is that this isn't even the regular continuity for Spider-Man. In the real and regular Marvel Universe, Peter Parker is still in his mid twenties and a thousand places at once, making snarky heroism fun for the average comic reader. Marvel's Ultimate comics line has always been a retelling of the older stories with less conventional spins. Heroes who die (Half of the X-Men in the Ultiverse have), and others who are inspired to take up the mantle? Shocking stuff there.

In trying to come up with a real world analogy for the reactions here, I was thinking about how we valorize officers of the law. When a police officer dies heroically in the line of duty, and the surviving partner gets a new partner, does the public screech about the original being more important and the minority replacement being a "stunt" or an affront? No because thats about as ridiculous as writing a story where a hero dies and the story shifts to someone else only to have a bunch of people take issue with the race of the new focal character. There's something interesting about whats being said socio-culturally here. Is the dominant culture still only able to identify with someone "like them" when it comes to relating to a story, or valorizing a hero? Do we root for Superman because he's "different/alien" but not that different? If Wolverine were black, or half black half latino, or Muslim would he be remotely popular?

The short answer seems to be, no. the Real Peter Parker is perfectly fine, starring in roughly 8 comic books of his own at present, and amazingly the one series of comics that is less popular and redundant to a degree, does something other than tell stories about Peter Parker...and people react like this. I want to think that those flipping out about the race of one spider man character in one universe to the left haven't ever read the Ultimate Universe stories, and don't know what they're talking about in the slightest. I'd also like to have thought people aren't as stupid as the look, but the very fact that a lot of people have got their torches and pitchforks out over something this nominal says a lot about where we really are about race in American culture. Oh, to live in that Post-Racial world I've been told about. Sounds like an amazing place to be.

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