Greetings, folks. I know I promised you an extra-long “Postal Apocalypse” after last week’s absence, but I caught a mutant technovirus (head-cold) during my wasteland wanderings (plane travel). So here’s a regularly sized mailbag for your enjoyment — load me up with questions and I’ll owe you next week.
Dear Mr. Postman,
I hope this Raven finds you well in our dark times. I wanted to ask you about a delicate matter.
Recently we found out that Iceman in the upcoming X-Men comics will be revealed to be gay. I don’t believe he was always gay, and the films certainly say otherwise, so this would indicate it’s a new change. This comes after Captain America is now black. Thor is a woman. Spider-Man is half black and half Latino. Ms. Marvel is Pakistani now.
These changes are all deliberately designed to make the Marvel Universe more inclusive and diverse and that’s only a good thing. Comic books have a history of being white and male. Obviously they can do better. But is changing the race, gender, orientation of an existing character an answer? Isn’t it better to leave those characters as they are and add newer characters? Wouldn’t it be better to add and expand the roster as opposed to changing it. It feels like they’re trying to turn the Avengers into a college pamphlet, with a checklist of character traits that need to be satisfied in order to ensure diversity. So ironically it feels less genuine. Wouldn’t it be better to have Falcon, and another black hero (new) fight along side the classics?
This is a sensitive issue and I hope it’s obvious this isn’t about exclusivity or the “dead before red” “don’t change a thing” mentality. I don’t have the answer, and I wonder if you do.
No, I understand. Look, I like to think of myself as a bit of a social justice warrior (a term whose use as a pejorative never fails to baffle me), and one who is trying to help people recognize and understand the inadvertent (and sometimes tragically overt) sexism and racism in our nerd world. But as a white dude, there are a lot of problems I still don’t see or recognize, so I’m still learning. All I can hope to do is continue to improve.
I mention all this because I want to help you guys understand these problems better, and that means you need a safe space to ask these sorts of questions. If nothing else, I hope my silly little mail column gives you and others that chance.
So, to your question! The problem with comics is that they are effectively telling stories that were created 50 or even 75 years ago — stories where all the characters were white and women could be belittled as a matter of course. Times have changed, of course, and the general consensus now is that hey, racism and sexism are bad. But these comics are generally still about the same white, male, heterosexual characters they were created to be originally.
Obviously, the first solution is to add new characters, to bring diversity to the casts. That’s a good start, but you’re still talking about comic universes where virtually all the leads are white dudes. Creating new characters is a good idea, but unfortunately they’re just a drop in the bucket compared to the ocean of white characters that have been created and accumulated in the last 75 years. Likewise, no new character can possibly match the narrative or cultural impact of a character that’s had 50 or 75 years of massive popularity, like a Batman or Captain America.
So the second solution is to somehow change the ethnicities, genders, and sexualities of established characters, so that diversity is increased while establishing them as characters of importance. The good news is that comic books are uniquely suited to handle that task, given that many heroes are more monikers than characters, that anything can happen, and that even death can be altered and erased. Suddenly turning the cast of NCIS into non-white people is tough; in comics, not so much.
The bad news is that many hardcore comics fan, even those who are not overtly racist, often hate change in characters and titles they’ve been following for years. So they complain loudly and vociferously, and even if they aren’t arguing out of (conscious or unconscious) racist motives, their somewhat more legitimate complaints about narrative allows cover for more overtly racist people to hide their racism.
I feel like Marvel’s tack of recreating its core characters like Captain America, Thor and others is the better solution. I can see your point about it feeling “less genuine,” in that it seems like Marvel isn’t creative enough to make new, diverse characters, but it’s tough for anyone to make a new comic character that sticks around nowadays, regardless of gender and ethnicity (it’s not impossible, but it’s hard). Marvel has had the most success when they create new characters and hide them under more familiar names; Kamala Khan as Ms. Marvel and Miles Morales as Spider-Man, just to name two of the most successful examples.
Anyways, I like the Falcon, but I find it far more meaningful when Sam Wilson shows up wearing the mantle of Captain America. Maybe it’s not the best solution, but I think it may be the best solution we have right now. But either way, I’m not of a mind to reject anything that improves this problem, no matter how small.
Dear Fake Postman of the Post Apocalyptic world,
I recently saw an io9 headline proclaiming that Chris Pine of Star Trek fame could be Wonder Woman’s love interest in her upcoming solo movie. At first I thought that Chris Pine was a part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe since Marvel seems to have laid claim to all the Chris’ in Hollywood. It seems that Pine has somehow escaped the Mighty Marvel Chris Vortex (which I think has something to do with your desert wasteland problem which I cannot apologize for.)
But seriously, this got me to thinking and I was wondering if the actors that are currently in Marvel or DC movies are locked in to that particular studio as superheroes until the end of their contracts. So Chris Pratt can’t suddenly go over to DC and play some character there while he’s still obviously playing Star Lord. It makes sense, but you never know, Hollywood is a weird creature. (I mean, the actors that portray James Bond have been contractually obligated to not wear a tuxedo in other movie roles they might be cast in while they continue to play Bond.)
I can’t say beyond a certainty, having seen very few Hollywood contracts during my sojourns across the wastelands, but I would bet any amount of money that this is the case. There’s no way Marvel or Warner Bros. would sign a star without a clause preventing them from jumping ship to the other team.
It’s probably only for the title characters. Like, supporting actors probably don’t get forbidden to take other superhero roles, so Ryan Reynolds could star The Worst Deadpool in X-Men Origins: Wolverine in 2009, but then star as Green Lantern in 2011. I can’t imagine that Marvel would or could ask Hayley Atwell to stay away from DC movies, or maybe even Tom Hiddleston. But for Thor, Iron Man, Captain America? I bet they have those dudes locked down. I’m sure WB/DC has done the same with Henry Cavill, Ben Affleck and Gal Gadot.
Here’s the real question: Do the X-Men stars have a clause in their contracts with Fox preventing them from being cast in Marvel Studios movies? And vice versa? I would assume Fox wouldn’t be any happier if Hugh Jackman was cast as the Hulk, for instance, as it would if he had been cast as Batman. But Chris Evans moved from Human Torch in 2007 to Captain America in 2011. Did this clause not exist? Or did it expire when Fox decided to shelve the FF franchise for a while? Hmm.
Dear Mr. Postman,
I’ve seen commenters pick up on this but would love to hear your take:
The Netflix Daredevil series was a lot of fun, very well made, and I am looking forward to season 2. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to share the experience with my kids (twelve year old twins that do not have superpowers or were fathered by Magneto). I understand that Marvel wants to produce something a little darker/more adult and to take advantage of the freedom afforded to them on Netflix, but it feels like nearly every episode features violence that wouldn’t pass muster in a PG-13. It’s not necessary and it’s keeping away an audience that loves the MCU movies. The moderation of language and adult themes/nudity is in the PG to mid PG-13 range, but the violence frequently hits mid-level R.
My question to you is: Do you think Marvel might make a (small) course correction with Jessica Jones and the other series to follow? My daughter is a huge Marvel fan, can’t wait three years for Carol Danvers to show up at the movies, and would be really upset if I said she couldn’t watch Jessica either. Yes, I get that Jessica has the creepy Purple Man backstory, but if Marvel can tone down the gore, we can work with this.
I would not hold your breath. Even if Marvel isn’t planning on making all their Netflix TV series in the same PG-13/R range as Daredevil — and I’m pretty sure they are, given that Luke Cage and Iron Fist also tend towards brutal violence (to say nothing of Daredevil’s success — why change what ain’t broke?) — I have the sinking suspicion that Jessica Jones will be the most adult of the lot.
Not necessary for blood, but because of the Purple Man storyline, which was intrinsic to the character’s relaunch in the Alias comic, from which the Jessica Jones TV series seems to be taking its cue. For those who don’t know, the Purple Man (who will be played by David Tennant in the show) used his mind control powers to basically imprison Jessica for eight months, and she develops a sort of Stockholm syndrome. The comic doesn’t spell out specifically if she was sexually abused, but given the whole mind control aspect there’s no doubt she was violated, and this ordeal was one of the defining aspects of her character in the comic — and presumably the show, too.
I sincerely doubt that you’ll be able to let your daughters watch Jessica Jones, and I’m sorry for that. All I can tell you is that Agent Carter may lack superpowers, but other than that it’s exactly the show you want, with a strong, tough heroine who kicks ass in an inspirational, ABC primetime appropriate way. Black Widow in the Avengers Assemble cartoon is regularly badass, often moreso than her fellow Avengers. As for heroines with superpowers, I know it’s not Marvel, but DC’s animated Wonder Woman movie is, well, wonderful, and it’ll at least be something to watch until Captain Marvel finally hits.
I am loving this season’s crop of genre TV, but watching the struggles of love interests like Iris from “The Flash” and Major from “iZombie” have got me wondering... Is there ever a good time to keep a secret identity from those closest to you?
I get the reasons behind the hero (or the hero’s stepdad) actions (i.e. dragging them into a world that could hurt them, making them a target for their enemies, etc.) but the love interests’ lack of knowledge seems to constantly PUT them in the path of the danger the hero was trying to get them to avoid.
Also, they seem to be the only one in their group of friends who doesn’t know. Not to mention the fact that (at least as far as Iris was concerned) the love interest’s motivations became a lot more interesting when the writers weren’t trying to come up with reasons they were looking the other way when the truth was right in front of them.
Is this just an over-used writing trope or should I tell my wife the minute I get super powers?
Do you love your wife? Do you trust her? If so, then you should definitely tell her you have superpowers. If you don’t trust her, then… well, your marriage has bigger issues that your secret life.
Look, there’s like one semi-valid reason that you can use not to tll your spouse and loved ones you’re moonlighting as a superhero, and that’s because you don’t want them to worry. As I recall, that’s the main reason Peter Parker didn’t tell Mary Jane his secret. But even then, that’s a betrayal — yes, hiding the fact that you dress up in a costume that looks nothing like a spider and run around town fighting supervillains is a more noble secret that hiding the fact you’re cheating on her with your secretary, but you’re hiding a secret in both scenarios.
The idea that keeping people ignorant makes them safe is complete nonsense, and this year’s TV proved it. Not telling Iris Barry’s secret on The Flash and not telling Major about zombies on iZombie either failed to keep them from danger or actually put them in more danger. For instance, several villains grabbed Iris during the first season of The Flash, and Iris would likely have been a lot better off knowing she technically had the Flash on speed-dial if she needed his assistance.
But really, it’s the keeping a secret thing that bothers me. How can we be expected to believe our heroes genuinely care about these people when they won’t share the most major aspect of their lives with them? It’s just not realistic, and I say that knowing full well I’m referring to shows about people who can run so fast they un-do black holes. That I can believe. That someone would lie so constantly to someone they purport to love? Not so much.
Do you have questions about anything scifi, fantasy, superhero, or nerd-related? Email the firstname.lastname@example.org! No question too difficult, no question too dumb! Obviously!