I planned to talk today about the new issue of Ultimate Spiderman launching this week and give my thoughts and opinions on it and yet as they have now announced the casting of Storm senior in the latest Fantastic Four movie and reawakened the race talk I believe I need to give my opinion on this. Fortunately I believe I can combine the two topics into one ham fisted blog post so here I go.
Okay first up let’s make sure everyone is up to speed on the Ultimate universe. Very quickly, the Ultimate universe was an idea had at the Marvel offices one summer when they realised that with the popularity of movies like Spiderman and X-men people may just be picking up their books again. So as to not frighten these newbies off they created a whole new universe completely separate from their long running comics where whole new versions of their famous characters could run around and have adventures without dragging around a whole heap of back story.
Now generally these comics re told old classic stories with a general amount of updating and tidying up along with dropping some of the old clichés like heroes dying one week only to find out that it was in fact somebody pretending to be their twin brother pretending to be the guy who died and thus it was all a bit pointless. Now the comics sold quite well but soon ran into a few problems, people were coming back to life, the gritty and realistic nature was being out grittied and out realisticed by the mainstream comics which were having a massive crossover centred around the idea of secret identities and public protection and the heavily serialised nature meant that it was soon easier to get into the mainstream comics that were used to keeping a heavy amount of status quo on hand to mop up any stories than it was to get into these twisting, turning tales. To solve this Magneto flooded Manhattan killing off most of the major heroes and then a guy in a very silly hat turned up and tried to eat the planet. Oh and Spiderman got shoot somewhere in there and died.
Not to fear though for it turned out there was another slightly awkward teen living in New York who also had the proportional strength, speed and agility of a spider. Miles Morales a young Hispanic kid took over the mantle of Spiderman and that brings you up to date, sort of. While he has been knocking around comics for a while now this is the first issue in a new series for him and clearly intended as good jumping on point for new readers. With that in mind let’s start the comic shall we.
To keep it simple, the artwork is good making everyone easy to identify and tell apart though I don’t think it will be winning any awards. Even some of the more dramatic scenes come manage to come off as a bit bleh, standard fare, cookie cutter. The same goes for the dialogue and while there are some decent scenes that affect the characters deeply I don’t think any particular line or phrase will be sinking in tonight. That isn’t to say they’re bad by any means and I think it’s quite an accomplishment that we get not one but two scenes with people stood around talking about feelings and the like without either feeling plodding or slow.
The storyline manages a bit better than the other two points with the story running two tales side by side. The first sees Norman Osbourne, the green goblin, being transferred from a now discontinued S.H.I.E.L.D facility to another prison. I don’t think it’s too much a spoiler to say that this does not go well. The second involves Miles deciding whether to tell his girlfriend that he’s Spiderman whilst also dealing with the absence of his father who abandoned him when he found out that he was Spiderman.
I think that even if you’ve not read any other comics with Miles in or even many other Marvel comic books you shouldn’t have too much trouble following the story thus far as one of the highlights for me was the avoidance of Basil Exposition through natural dialogue that flowed from the characters we meet. You know that Norman is dangerous just from seeing his holding cell, we get the world has lost a number of its big heroes from two guys chatting in an alley and we here about Mile’s father from the way he talks to those around him.
All in all I think this is as good a jumping on point as anyone is likely to get, without digging up the ultimate back catalogue and while nothing in particular manages to stand out it eases everyone in and flows quite well.
Well except for *SPOILER* the guest star in the final panel. Now I won’t say who it is but I will say that it could be interesting to see it play out. My prediction is that it’s a curve ball and not to be taken at face value with my only hint being to look at the colour of his top and think. Now if I’m wrong and it’s not a curveball then this could be a bad move on Marvels part by bringing this character in but seen as, as I said, we only get one panel it might be a bit too early to see what they’re going to do. Either way it could overcrowd the upcoming issues and easily ruin the whole jumping on point that they’re going for.
Okay, now that we’ve got that out of the way let’s discuss race because there is one thing I didn’t mention about Miles and that is that he is black. You can tell because they handily gave him a black costume, something that we’re still ragging on Power Rangers for doing in the nineties but okay. Now there was a huge uproar when he was announced with major news stations and papers covering the fact that Marvel was killing off Peter Parker and replacing him with black guy. Now none of this was racist you understand and conveniently most didn’t bother to mention or learn that it wasn’t the mainstream Peter who we had been reading about for the past god knows how many years, they didn’t care about little facts like that all they knew was that they were replacing Parker with a black guy and that was wrong.
Jump forward a few years and Marvel did kill of the normal, mainstream, regular Peter Parker. They however had obviously learned their lesson and didn’t replace him with a black guy this time. Instead they replaced him with his killer who wore his skin like a Halloween costume. So it would seem that a young kid trying to live up to the legacy of a hero like Spiderman, who sacrificed himself in the fight against evil is wrong and a murderer wearing the skin of their victims is okay because Marvel was right and the story wasn’t run outside of comic book sites and certainly the people who had been complaining to me about Miles weren’t saying a word.
Now with Fox studios trying to make up for their fantastic four movies of yesteryear and more importantly hold onto the film rights we’re got this argument all over again because they have cast Michael Jordan as the typically white Jonny Storm. For the record by the way that’s Michael Jordan from Chronicle and not the Michael Jordan from Space Jam. Once more nobody is being racist in saying that we can’t have a black, woman obsessed, male, American teenager they just want us to stay true to the original character. Do they have a point though? Is Johnny’s skin colour a core part of his character that we can’t risk changing it? Well let’s take another character as an example here, a random Marvel character that’s been around a while, I know Nick Fury.
For those of you who don’t know of the character of Nick Fury I will try and give you a brief bio. Nick Fury ran around as the head of an elite commando unit during World War 2. After gaining effective immortality due to fairly nonsensical and non-important reasons he was selected to head Americas new elite counter terrorism unit S.H.I.E.L.D he ran around the sixties having adventures that would make James Bond both blush and groan before carrying on into the present day as a cigar chomping bad ass. Now could we get a black guy to play Nick Fury, of course not. The idea of America allowing a black man to lead an elite commando unit behind enemy lines during the war or select him to head their new unit would, it could be argued, push credulity and once people start questioning you on the little things you are going to have a very hard time swinging them on the big things like giant green monsters and gods falling from the sky with shiny flake free hair. If they were to cast a black man as a highly decorated world war 2 vet like Fury I believe there would be enough outcry to force Marvel out of the movie making business altogether.
To be serious a moment I believe that in some cases the colour of somebodies skin is important to the character. If we were to do a straight adaptation of one of Ian Fleming’s James Bond novels then we would probably have to agree that Bond would have to be white. But we’re not shooting Fleming’s novels anymore just look at Quantum of Solace for proof of that. No the Bond we’ve got on screen never saw service in the war and has instead come from Iraq or Iran and thus there is no reason for us not to have someone like Chiwetel Ejiofor or Idris Elba who could play the role as wrote easier than I could reheat a pizza. Or what about Doctor Who, according to doctor number nine upon his departure he can come back as anything, he could come back with no head and yet he always comes back as a white male it’s time to just pick the actor for the part and of course ensure they’re British which is why I have been banging the Paterson Joseph drum since Eccelstons departure.
To wrap up there is no reason we can’t get a black person to play a modern American teen interested in girls and fast cars nor a nerdy high school kid or a British field agent or an alien from across time and space. As for whether we can cast against history I believe the praise and box office of Marvel movies will speak for me on that one but if it doesn’t remember….
Sisko: We cannot ignore the truth about the past.
Kasidy: Going (to Vic’s) isn’t going to make us forget who we are or where we came from. What it does is reminds us that we are no longer bound by any limitations–except the ones we impose on ourselves. –DS9: Badda-bing Badda-bang