Before I start, I feel that I should recognize that what I am about to write, were I reading it, and were it written by a White person, I would probably find racist. But since I am writing it and, despite reports to the contrary, I am not White, I know that this isn’t racist. The truth of this discrepancy is something I should not ignore, but cannot account for. So I’ll ignore it.
A few days ago (February 10th) it was announced that Sony would be partnering with Marvel to include Spider-Man in the MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe.) There was much rejoicing, as Spider-Man is integral to the story that Marvel seems to want to adapt from the comic books (Civil War.) This is also wonderful news. Spidey is kind of the center of the Marvel Universe. He lives by the motto “with great power comes great responsibility.” Not only does he live by that model, he tries his best to make sure that people around him own up to the responsibility their power confers, so by default he is the moral compass of the Marvel U. He is the everyman-superhero which is an oxymoron, but is also what makes him so compelling. I’m a fan.
Being a fan I was greatly distressed to see a bunch of articles posted mere hours after the announcement with titles such as “Enough Peter Parker”, “It’s Time for Donald Glover”, and, most horrifying of all, “Kill Peter Parker!” It seems that the internet hates Peter Parker! Why! I truly felt the need to #WellActually all these bloggers and inform them of the errors of their opinions (yes I know that opinions can’t be wrong, but these guys are wrong.)
I saw several people on Twitter responding in a similar fashion, and as we all know, every one tweet represents 5,000 actual opinions* A virtual lynch mob has formed to get rid of Peter and replace him with Miles Morales. Let me say this; I hate the Ultimates Universe. Ultimates was a new line of comics Marvel started to tell what I guess were supposed to be “hip” and “edgy” versions of the existing heroes. I hate hip. I hate edgy. I like the things that I like, and I want the things I like to be like the thing I like. I am very consistent on this point; Transformers, Battlestar Galactica, GI JOE, you name it. All these reboots and hip, edgy versions of things I like that are almost entirely unlike the source material, I ignore. Dozens of people have tried to get me to watch BSG, or told me how great Ultimate Spider Man is; I don’t care. It could all be the most amazing fiction ever, but it’s not what I came for. Every effort to sell me on this new Fantastic Four movie has the opposite effect, mostly because their main selling point seems to be “It’s entirely different from the FF you know!” Well… I like the thing I like… why would I like something entirely unlike the thing I like? I like Peter Parker, I like Spider Man. Making some cheap knockoff Spider Man isn’t going to excite me just because he’s Brown. If I am going to see a movie adaptation of something I like, it better be the thing I like, not some warped, twisted, approximation of the thing I like (I’m looking at you Michael Bay.)
One reason people use to justify changing Spiders is that his origin story has been done to death; on this point I agree. We get it, we know, no need to beat that particular horse again. In fact I’ve seen various reports that Marvel will jump right into a new Spider story sans origins, similar to what they did switching Bruce Banners. Bam, problem solved, and quite easily at that. No need to freaking murder the guy because of that. I know he’s fictional. He’s important to me. You will deal.
The second, and more emotionally charged reason people are pushing for the change is that we, as PoC (Persons of Color), would like to see a major superhero who looks like us to further the cause of diversity in fiction. Great. Wonderful. I’m all-in on that. But why do you have to sacrifice Peter Parker for this agenda?
The prevailing feeling I have received from reading these blogs and seeing the reactions on Twitter is that people want a Black Character, and Spider-Man is as good as anyone, because it will make a “statement.” I can tell that people who feel this way were never fans of the comic books. If you read Spidey like I did you would never want to just casually toss him aside in the name of diversity. Yes I sound like That Nerd because I am That Nerd. I am going to proudly and unashamedly be That Guy. I don’t want Black Spidey because I grew up with Peter Parker. It is entirely possible that many of the White fans who are unhappy with these changes feel the same way. I mean, they can’t statistically all be racist. Maybe some of us just want the thing we like to be the thing we like. People who have never been invested in the source material (a large portion of current movie fandom, for good or ill) are fine with making sweeping changes to characters that make no sense contextually. I don’t want Black Johnny Storm. I want Luke Cage. Why in the blazes was Heimdall Black in the Thor movies? To shoehorn Idris Elba in there somewhere? Why couldn’t he have been the scientist who befriends Thor, Dr Selvig? Why have him as a NORSE GOD. You know, I think I can deal with a lack of diversity in the NORSE GOD PANTHEON. It made no sense, and is the prime example of pointless pandering changes. (Please don’t come at me with that “they’re aliens” thing. Just… don’t.)
The current trend is to cast PoC as existing heroes, which I am totally against. Don’t get me wrong I do of course want to see more PoC in movies, but not like this. In fact this trend annoys and angers me. Making an existing character a PoC is not a victory and it is not progress; it is the laziest kind of pandering I can imagine. It is never and will never be permanent. If you think Falcon is going to stay Captain America then you don’t read comics. No matter how PC people want to be he will never be Captain America, he will always be Black Captain America to the populace. Morales will never be Spider-Man, he will always be Black Spider-Man. Debbie will always be Black Debbie (OK, obscure reference there) but you get the point. No matter how good the intentions of the creative team, changing an existing character’s race or gender does not achieve the intended goal. Marvel needs to learn from DC, specifically from Dwayne McDuffie (rest his soul.) He was a huge influence on DC’s properties, and encouraged them to use DC’s existing character’s whenever possible. He was why the Green Lantern in Justice League was John Stewart instead of Hal Jordan.
I’m a big fan of this tactic. Creating new characters that are People of Color in important roles IS progress. They inhabit their own space and own their own story. Unlike a palette-swap character, there is none of the danger of them being retcon-ed away. This is the strategy Marvel should employ, and the strategy that we as PoC and women fans should encourage. Why insist on a Donald Glover as Spider Man when you’re sitting on Don-Freaking-Cheadle as War Machine. He’s ALREADY THERE. And he’s a great character played by a legendary actor. They could tell some gripping, dark stories with War Machine. I’m fine with a War Machine movie with a similar mood and tone to Captain America 2. I mean, he’s called War Machine.
The biggest reason why I’m against Ultimates Spider-Man and Fantastic Four is that they apply the dark, gritty, realistic crap onto movies that don’t fit it. Spidey and FF should not be dark and gritty. They can feature those elements, especially with villains such as Venom and Dr Doom, but the titular characters should not be that way. I read about Miles Morales; that story’s f***ing depressing. Spidey has been through some crap, but he doesn’t let that define him. Morales back story sounds like an episode of The Wire. I’m good, thanks. There is also the fact that if they did introduce Spidey as Miles THEY WOULD HAVE TO DO AN ORIGIN STORY AGAIN. I could go on. Peter needs to stay Peter for the good of everyone. Miles will always be alternate universe Spider-Man, which is fine. Marvel proved that it’s the story that matters, and if they made Guardians profitable what do you think they could do with Peter? Diversity will happen, it just can’t be shoehorned into places where it doesn’t make sense in continuity or context.
AND why aren’t people demanding Ms Marvel be portrayed by Kamala Khan!?!?!?
*May not be an actual fact.