Thursday, June 03, 2010

The Asian Atom is Dead - Is DC Racist - Part 4 of 4

Matthew: First off, there’s only one race worth reading about (let’s put aside the fictional alien races for a minute), but it’s not the dominant race, it’s the sole race – the human race. Except for the gender differences, we’re biologically the same. Yes, we have varying degrees of skin pigmentation, physical characteristics, cultural backgrounds, and beliefs, which tend to divide us into distinct people groups. However, no single group is superior over another, because each of us as an individual was created in the image of God. That “image” or eternal soul is what separates us from the animals (while animals have intelligence and personality, they are finite). None of us are “accidents” as we each have a special purpose in the universe. It’s our IDIC (infinite diversity in infinite combinations [to borrow a phrase from Star Trek]) that makes us unique. So when you discuss changing a costumed super-hero from one people group to another, you have to focus on the person as a whole, not the just the change in physical characteristics. DC didn’t just kill the “Asian” Atom, they killed Ryan Choi, the unique individual character.

Some characters by their very uniqueness are irreplaceable or nearly so. I disagree with Jim’s statement that most of Marvel should have “new people in those roles”. How are you going to accomplish that change without throwing all reason and suspension of disbelief out the window? Is Peter Parker going to bite the Rocket Racer, so we can get a Black Spider-man? No one has the exact same powers as Cyclops or the Beast. Do you see anyone clamoring for a new face under Daredevil’s mask? No, because Matt Murdock is unique and his powers are specific to him.

I suppose you could have someone take the hero’s name and mechanically reproduce they’re powers in some fashion, but generally that’s not really what anyone wants to see. There have been occasions where a character’s powers are reproduced in another individual, but usually the results are not very appealing (She-Thing) or long lasting (Frankie Raye) with She-Hulk being the most notable exception.

One of the reasons She-Hulk works is the blood-ties (literally) she has with the Hulk. For one, she wasn’t created to be the new Hulk, just a female version to follow her own storylines. I can accept her origin (blood transfusion) as logical (for a comic book), but to have Sharon Ventura react the exact same way to cosmic rays as Ben Grimm did was ridiculous. The only way some characters can “move on” is to have children, which is why Spider-Girl works so well. It’s more believable to think that a character’s offspring might have the same powers. Tom DeFalco (Spider-Girl’s writer) has stated before that he views super-heroes like professional athletes, which after a certain number of years need to retire, because the strain on their bodies would be too much. In the Spider-Girl Universe, Peter stopped being Spider-Man because he lost his leg in a battle with the Green Goblin.

Now Marvel has actually done a lot of replacement stories over the years, which have worked for at least a little while. Here are some examples to refresh your memory:

  • We had various subs for the Invisible Girl over the years (Medusa, Crystal, and Thundra). Since the Fantastic Four is an actual family, not just a “club” you understood from the beginning that none of those changes would be permanent, but it certainly added a new dynamic for a little while. And of course, Power Man and She-Hulk have substituted for the Thing.

  • James Rhodes became Iron Man when Tony Stark was too drunk to care, eventually getting his own armor to become War Machine. There can certainly be multiple Iron Men – the world’s a big place.

  • Beta Ray Bill gains Thor’s powers. Additionally, you have Eric Masterson, who becomes Thor’s human host, then becomes a Thor look-alike, and finally becomes Thunderstrike. All of those changes worked naturally within the established Thor-mythos.
  • Danny Ketch as Ghost Rider was hugely successful in the 90’s. Whether it was the same demon possessing him as Johnny Blaze or not, it certainly seemed probable that it could happen to someone else.
  • Say what you will about the Clone saga, but developing the Spider-Man clone into the full-fledged character of Ben Reilly, was a very innovative idea. Peter and MJ could have stayed happily married and an entire generation of single-life Spidey stories could be told in the current day without resorting to devilish-tactics.
  • I don’t particularly enjoy seeing different people Hulk-out, but Marvel was able to keep the book fresh by changing the original Hulk’s personality.

The main problem is not trying out new people with familiar powers, but it’s what do you do with them if they’re not commercially successful. Did they really have to kill off Eric Masterson, just because his title ended? Why did Ben Reilly have to die? Similarly, Ryan Choi could still operate in the DC universe alongside Ray Palmer as their powers are based on outside sources. If you don’t want to tell Choi Atom stories than let him be off the radar for a while, but killing him is a waste (especially when you’re the size of an atom, the world is an even bigger place).

I also have to disagree that DC didn’t give Ryan or the Jason Rusch Firestorm a chance. Both have been around for several years and each had over two years worth of issues. How many of the people now complaining about the death of Ryan or the return of Ronnie faithfully followed those titles while they were being published?

Yes, DC gets credit for introducing some minority characters, but do they really need such “credit” as if they’ll engender additional public support for their diversification. Other than the initial PR buzz when the character is first introduced (where you may gain a few new readers), it’s the existing fans that have to “live” with those changes. Should a company change a character just to earn points?

“You know we really don’t have enough black characters in the DCU.”
“Well, lets ask for pitches from our writers.”
“They say creating a new character is too difficult, they want to change an existing character instead. Then they can rehash that whole ‘coming-of-age’ storyline again [great point Lee].”
“That’s a great idea, we’ll get a huge spread in USA today which will bump up sales. Who do we have available? Firestorm? Great.”
“I don’t care about the Ronnie Raymond fans, if they really love the character they’ll buy it regardless of who wears the mask. They have no will power to resist.”

Does anyone remember the ignoble way DC eliminated Ronnie Raymond? Didn’t he just blow up one day? Even the Ray Palmer Atom, you had to destroy his life first by making his ex-wife a murder. Hal Jordan was totally corrupted by Parallax for a very long time (at least Geoff Johns found a way to redeem him). How the company discards the original individual for the new should be scrutinized as well. Even though a character may have been published for decades (our time), they’ve usually only operated for 10 years or less in the comic world. Do we really want to see Batman killed off after 10 or 15 years of fighting crime? Because that’s what some of these changes really mean.

Once you’ve killed or corrupted a character, you’ve somehow diminished their previous history as that endgame is always in your mind now. Take the TV show Homicide: Life on the Streets and the character of Tim Bayliss, who goes from a new optimistic detective to a murdering vigilante at the end of the show and ends up going to jail. I’m still upset about that! Not that he went to jail (where Green Arrow should be right now), but that he became a killer. How can you watch the show again and not think about the person he eventually becomes?

With such a cavalier way of dispatching years of history, no wonder people want “their” favorite version of a hero back. I have a friend that only associates certain heroes with certain people. If Bruce Wayne is not Batman or Steve Rogers Captain America, he refuses to buy those titles – period. I sometimes will reject a character just based on a costume change (NOVA and the alteration of his shoulder fins for example). We want change for some things, but we don’t want change for others. Man, are we fickle.

I’ll sometimes support new directions (and for the record I did end up eventually embracing Jason as Firestorm), but I like the alternate reality option of accomplishing it whether it’s parallel-time (ala Dark Shadows) or future-time, but Jim would like that change to occur in the “regular” universe. Sure, it’s nice to see Dick become Batman, but does that mean we have to be done with Bruce Wayne stories? The best way to move the story along is to follow a new path outside of current continuity. Bruce Wayne is tough, he’s the best, he’s not going to be destroyed even with Omega beams, he’s going to keep fighting until he’s so feeble he needs to pick up a gun and then mentor Terry McGinnis as Batman Beyond. That doesn’t have to be the only future, but it makes more sense than having Batman die early.

I think Greg made a good observation about how DC sort of reinvents itself to update to “today’s world” every generation or so. However, you’ve got to remember that the original Silver Age was a complete reboot (except for Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman) from the Golden Age era. You didn’t have Alan Scott go bad, so that Hal Jordan could take the ring. You didn’t kill off Jay Garrick to make room for Barry Allen. They existed in a whole separate universe or more accurately didn’t even exist at all before the creation of Earth-2. With the exception of the Crisis on Infinite Earths and the New Earth reboot, the other changes to characters in the 90’s was not quite the same.

For one thing 50 plus years of continuity is too much. Marvel has always operated on a sliding timeline, but with their subtle reboots, retcons, Onslaughts, and resurrections it all doesn’t make sense anymore. Once they abandoned their original issue numbering (for a while anyway), it was much easier to see the changes they were making and realize this isn’t the same universe I grew up reading, so if I don’t like it I don’t have to buy it anymore. Apparently, I missed out on some great Spider-Man stories in Ultimate Spider-man, but at the time I was very fearful that the Ultimate Universe was totally going to supplant the regular Marvel U. Even though that didn’t happen, they ended up “Bendis-izing” the whole thing to the point that I don’t even recognize the characters or world anymore (I shouldn’t lay all the blame on Bendis though). To me Marvel is really stuck in a bad place with some of the changes they’ve made. They don’t necessarily have to eliminate the Quesada Universe completely (ala Crisis), but maybe they could continue to publish a few titles in the current mode, but launch some other titles independently (like Thomm said JMS Thor worked much better by itself).

There is no “real” universe anymore. This is why I really like the “Forever” series concept – you can even use the term “Elseworlds” if it helps make it more palpable or “First Wave” or “Noir” or “Ultimate” or “What If” or “All-Star”. You can start a whole new storyline and correct or ignore previous editorial mistakes or go in an entirely different direction. Would I like to see “Gwen Stacy Unsullied Forever” – ABSOLUTELY!!! I’d also love to see “Sensational Spider-Man Forever” with Ben Reilly wearing the webs. The X-men portion of the Marvel Universe is so convoluted, you almost have to go back to an earlier time frame where there was less continuity and more storyline possibilities.

DC isn’t racist or more accurately prejudiced against certain people groups, but they are shortsighted in thinking that some of their newer characters that happen to be minorities can’t still operate in the DCU. If you don’t have anything else to say about that character right now, just leave them alone until someone comes along with a good story idea. Marvel and DC both need to be more considerate of their fans when they force certain changes down their throats, especially if they tarnish or destroy an existing character in the process. How about creating some brand new characters for a change, not just new people under the mask but brand new heroes? I suppose some of the temporary replacements were designed to give that character experience and a following before they go out on their own eventually. Both companies should continue to develop their alternate reality universes (whatever they want to call it), which can have its own isolated continuity and just tell the best stories they can.

Jim: A lot of view points and a lot of ideas. It is a shame that even 10% of this type of thought seems to never go through the minds of the editorial powers at these companies. Thanks to one and all for making this a thoughful discussion and hopefully something a little different for our blog.


  1. Matt - while you are correct that race doesn't exist for human being on a biological level (essentially) it does exist on a cultural one. Cultural constructs often have more impact on our everyday society than biological fact and as such people often find it easier to relate to a character to whom they feel a cultural connection (whether that stems from ideas such as race, ethnicity, gender etc). So in reverting several characters to white men DC is appealing to a smaller audience on some level.

  2. Regarding Jim's conclusion, a more disturbing thought is that Marvel and DC editorial do put this level of thought into the process and still come up with the crappy conclusion that results in the morass each has now.