Black SpidermanPosted: August 5, 2011 Filed under: comics 5 Comments
I can tell you when I stopped reading comics with superheroes in them. I had finished the 8th grade and was getting ready to go to high school and I gave my comic book collection to a friend. In retrospect, I regret the decision to give the comic books away, but I don’t really miss superhero comics. But it would be nice to still have all those comic books.
Spiderman was never one of my favorite comics. I used to complain that Peter Parker always seemed too ‘whiny’… and everyone (his boss, his girlfriend and everyone else) was always shitting on him. The Superman/Clark Kent thing was, of course, totally unbelievable, but I think I accepted the Superman/Clark Kent thing because a)it seemed so silly that having Clark Kent take off his glasses and allowing a ‘kiss curl’ to fall over his forehead would so completely change his appearance, and b) from what I remember, Superman took place in “Leave-it-to-Beaver-land” where everything was all rainbows and unicorns until Mr. Mxpxylyx or Bizzarro showed up… my expectations for realism hadn’t been ratcheted up the way they were when I was reading Spiderman and being treated to Peter Parker worrying about paying his rent or picking up his dry cleaning or agonizing over whether or not his girlfriend loved him. Besides, “Clark Kent” wasn’t Superman’s “real” identity… Superman was his real identity… he only pretended to be milquetoast Clark Kent so he could hang with the earthlings. The problem with Spiderman (at least from my perspective in ~1978) was that Peter Parker’s life was too much of a soap opera.
Fast forward to 2011. I’m still not reading superhero comics. I don’t have anything against them; I’m just not interested. Recently, people have gotten into an uproar over the fact that there is a ‘new’ Spiderman and he is not Caucasian; he is a mixed race Latino/Black guy. Peter Parker apparently died and somehow this new guy stepped in to replace him. But all of this happened in some ‘parallel universe’… so in another universe, Peter Parker is alive and well (and probably old enough to join AARP). Now ‘another universe’ seems about as cheesy as the stories that end with “…and it was all just a dream,” but it’s a comic book so I accept that this kind of shenanigans goes with the territory. But the new race of Spiderman’s civilian alter-ego in another universe has some people pissed off. “Yet more PC bullshit,” they claim. Glenn Beck somehow manages to blame it on Michelle Obama…
I was initially confused because there was a Spiderman movie that I didn’t see where Spiderman wore a black costume… and when I started hearing that people were complaining about a ‘black’ Spiderman, I didn’t know they were upset about the race of the guy under the mask… I assumed he was the same Peter Parker worried about his Aunt May and wondering if he should tell MJ about his secret identity and the flap was over the color of his costume. Then I found out that the ‘black’ they were complaining about was race.
I don’t think I’ve bought a Superhero comic in 30+ years… so I don’t feel like I have a horse in this race… but it occurs to me that many of the people complaining in public about the change in Spiderman’s race probably haven’t read a comic book in 30 years either… so I guess I’m having trouble seeing why they think this is a problem they need to complain about (especially since, as far as I can tell, there is still a ‘white’ Spiderman in one of the many universes that they can cling to — I don’t know which one is supposed to be the ‘real’ universe, but, technically, I suppose one could argue that not every Peter Parker is dead and at least one Spiderman is still white under his mask…). I don’t know why the new Spiderman is of mixed race… but for young kids growing up now, maybe a white Spiderman who still works for a ‘Newspaper’ (whatever that is) doesn’t seem very interesting… maybe they don’t want their parent’s old and boring Spiderman who probably watches Leno and uses ‘Sweet & Low’ in his Nescafe.
My ‘spiderlore‘ is probably lacking, but I think Spiderman first arrived on the scene in the 60s (edit: Wikipedia says Spiderman first appeared in1962). By the time I started reading him, the ordinary people in the comic books were not still driving Ford Fairlanes or listening to Do-Wop records… and Peter Parker probably eventually got an iPod and a digital camera so he could email in his assignments at “The Daily Bugle.” The details didn’t stay ‘trapped in amber’ (although, clearly, time did not move at the same rate in comic book land — how many decades was Peter Parker a 20 something?). But I don’t know why, as someone who has not kept pace with Spiderman, my opinion about what happens to the character in 2011 or 2012 should matter. I suspect the original ‘Peter Parker’ character was created in order to seem sympathetic to whomever Marvel thought their readers might have been when Stan Lee and Steve Ditko originally created the Spiderman superhero. Obviously, a lot of time has passed since Spidey first showed up, so it should not surprise us that the idea of who might be a good / interesting / sympathetic comic book superhero might have changed as well.
And, really, fuck it, why not?
I don't see why it's such a big deal at all. It's clearly supposed to create a reaction, but Peter Parker's skin colour has never seemed important, so I'm not sure why this new guy's skin is. Perhaps it's because I've long lost interest in Marvel's constant parade of stunts, or that I just don't care about how much melanin someone's got floating about in their system.
This whole thing brings up the fact that Marvel should have let their characters age gracefully and die off – keeping with their 'real time' ethic they used in the 1960's. I think it would have kept them relevant. Things like this wouldn't be stunts but natural evolutions of characters over time.
Alas, the IP of these characters is too valuable (especially now for Disney) for anything like that to happen. It's just all gimics and BS and the same storylines over and over again for 50 years.
I suppose they could make up new characters… but a few years ago I worked as a commercial product photographer (doing mostly catalog work) and it seemed every other day we were asked to photograph more Spiderman or Batman or Superman toys, curtains, bedsheets, toothbrushes, etc. Part of what I wondered (at the time) was if parents who liked Batman when they were kids would buy Batman stuff for their own kids… so if you were an IP holder, no way you were gonna give up on that evergreen action.
I see three possible strategies:
1) Time does not exist in comic book land. Peter Parker is always young, Aunt May is always old. Clothing styles and other details change to avoid things looking 'dated.' No one pays attention tot he fact that years have passed.
2) Spiderman and Batman perhaps get replaced by similar but younger heroes. Someone else gets bitten by a radioactive spider. Batman trains his replacement (perhaps Robin becomes Batman and hires a new Robin). Or someone drinks from the fountain of youth or gets frozen in an iceberg (didn't that happen to Captain America?)
3) The franchise ends because everyone thinks it has gone on too long.
Realistically, I don't think #3 is ever going to happen simply because there is SO MUCH MONEY to be made from the more popular heroes like Spiderman, Batman, etc. I think there are merits to #1 but the more serious devotees of the superhero comic books are probably not going to accept that one. That leaves #2. And, technically, I think Marvel was lame for having apparently done all of this in the 'alternate universe' baloney.
The world of comics is…strange, and not in a good way. Would it be controversial if they made a new series of 'Friends' and had a black characters?
Would it be controversial if they made a new series of 'Friends' and had a black characters?
The race of the new 'Friends' would not annoy me as much as the fact that there would be new episodes of 'Friends' and I would eventually have to hear people talking about them. That would be unforgivable.