[Originally posted on Between the Stations, where you can find more Jamaal-y goodness about pop culture. I typically post these linkblog posts on that site (check out weeks 0, 1 and 2), but decided to reblog this one here because of the comics-related commentary.]
Another sleep deprived week with Jamie the Bean… This was supposed to go up on Saturday, but you know, life and all.
This week: links, a new playlist and a rambling rant. On a personal note, I’m still planning to run in the Run for the Wild 5k run held by the Wildlife Conservation Society. All donations are welcome and will help the WCS protect African elephants from the high demand for illegal ivory. If you can’t donate, please consider running in the race (if you’re in the New York area) or a race like it in your neck of the woods. Click here to support and here to participate. Now back to your regularly scheduled programming…
Songs of the Week
Rambling Rant of the Week
The Fantastic Four is an amazing idea from Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, a blend of adventure, monster and superhero comic that has endless story possibilities. It’s also a valuable piece of intellectual property owned by Marvel Worldwide, one of the strategic brand priorities of Disney Consumer Products, one of the five business segments of the Walt Disney Company. The Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation, a subsidiary of 21st Century Fox ( a multinational formed from the ashes of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation) purchased the film rights to the Fantastic Four from Marvel before it was purchased by the Walt Disney Company. The Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation released two movies based on the Fantastic Four property. Although the movies grossed over $600 million worldwide, Fox wanted to replicate the success of the Walt Disney Company, which had generated over $5.6 billion in revenue from the movies set in the “Marvel Cinematic Universe”, so they decided to reboot the franchise with a new director and a new cast (on an unrelated note, they also decided to extend the X-Men franchise of films (over $2.3 billion) with Days of Future Past and Apocalypse). The new Fantastic Four movie will be directed by Josh Trank, the guy behind Chronicle, the almost good movie about teenagers with superpowers. As you almost certainly know, the cast was announced this week and will feature Michael B. Jordan as Johnny Storm, the Human Torch. Jordan’s a young African American actor most well known for his confident, layered performances in the Wire, Friday Night Lights and Fruitvale Station. This announcement created a mild controversy on the internet, since the Human Torch has always been depicted as a blond haired, blue eyed white guy.
Does changing the race of a character like the Human Torch really matter? Of course, if only because making him non-white means that writers were obligated to tie him to a specific culture and background. Most of Marvel/DC’s characters/properties are white by default, but only in the most generic way imaginable – the vast majority are featureless WASPs from a culture that only exists in advertising campaigns. One of the problems with treating white people as some kind of default ethnic/racial group is that we forget that ‘white’ is a broad category that contains a diverse array of cultures and subcultures. We should expect writers to dig below generic racial designations to explore the rich diversity within a group for all white and black characters. Although there are a handful of white characters who are assigned a specific ethnic background, they typically tend to be little more than a collection of crude ethnic stereotypes or their background serves as a piece of trivia.
This is not accidental. It’s important to remember that these characters were originally designed as children’s entertainment in action-adventure stories and rooting the characters in a specific time, place or culture wasn’t a priority. They were archetypes, folk heroes for kids in post-war America. The details didn’t matter. Over the years, these characters have become valuable intellectual properties and brands designed to appeal to mass audiences, and preserving some ambiguity around a character’s background is useful, particularly when property owners want the character to appeal to a multi-generational international audience over an extended period of time. During the same period, writers and artists told hundreds of stories about these characters (many of which were considered ‘official’ parts of that character’s history), but at their core, they are still archetypes. Johnny Storm is the hot-headed younger brother who loves fast cars and faster women. A guy who doesn’t take things too seriously and is both brighter and braver than he knows. A guy who can look like anyone.
The bigger question is whether the casting decision should matter at all to audiences who want to see stories informed by a wide range of cultural experiences featuring people of different backgrounds on the silver screen. No. I’ll be excited when I see a superhero story about an original fully realized character from an underrepresented group developed by creators from diverse backgrounds. I’ll be even more excited if Mr. Jordan continues to get roles that are equal to his talent.
Images of the Week
via Nina Liss-Shultz at Mother Jones. Check out the Women’s Media Center’s bracing report on the status of women in the media here (pdf). This is something we should keep in mind every awards season. It’s hard to think of the handful of nominees as the best American film has to offer when the barriers to entry for women and people from diverse backgrounds are so high.
-Javier Pulido, with color art by Muntsa Vicente and lettering/production by VC’s Clayton Cowles, She Hulk #1. Words by Charles Soule. This is one gorgeously composed comic. Everything about this page is amazing – from the layout that makes the reader feel like they are trapped in a maze to the use of the text in the word balloons as a way to simulate the feeling of being buried in legal jargon. I also can’t help but love Soule’s capsule history of Tony Stark’s business concerns.
-Aaron Kuder, with color art by Wil Quintana and letters by DC lettering (really DC?), Action Comics #28. Words by Greg Pak. I love the way Kuder and Quintana depict emotion. Lana’s warm smile shows readers all they need to know about the relationship between the two characters.
Podcast of the Week
Jamelle Bouie (the Daily Beast) and Ta-Nehisi Coates (Atlantic Monthly) join NPR/Post-Bourgie‘s Gene Demby to discuss the Michael Dunn murder trial. Brilliant stuff. In a perfect world, the three would have a monthly (or even quarterly) podcast.
Trailer of the Week
The Hip-Hop Fellow, a documentary following 9th Wonder as he teaches a “Standards of Hip-Hop” course at Harvard University, explores the relationship between hip-hop and academia and the rise of hip-hop studies. via 2 Dope Boyz.
That’s all for now. See you next week! And let me know if you’re interested in seeing more of these on Funnybook Babylon!