Why are comic book fans so darn mad when a comic book character gets the racebending treatment?
For the most part, comic book fans are so very predictable when it comes to race.
Nothing pisses comic fans off more than a historically white character being racebent and therefore turned into a character of color or when a character of color takes over a legacy title (Like Superman, Spider-Man, or Ms. Marvel).
I’m talking about these fans throwing fits.
They go straight for yelling, tweeting racist comments at the crew, generally acting as if it’s their right to be over-represented in comics and related media.
The outcry is so very funny because when whitewashing in comics happens (like with Christopher Nolan’s heinous casting in his Batman trilogy), they’re the first people to say that it’s not a big deal.
These “fans” are so predictable.
They throw around words like “iconic” and call for “canonical accuracy”.
They constantly talk about how the white versions of the character being racebent is the one from their childhood, never once thinking that maybe people of color would like to be represented for a second. The idea of racebending scares them because finally, people of color can see themselves in roles and they can be powerful heroes, but of course, we’re not going to get anyone outright admitting that it’s their fear and their racism that drives them.
They couch their dislike in coded language and long-winded essays about how it’s “disrespectful” to the original comic creators to give people of color representation. It’s wrong of current creators and casting people to shake things up a smidge by casting, writing, or drawning one or two actors of color in a role that counts as racebending.
Never mind that characters and actors of color get a lot less page and screen time than white characters and actors. Never mind that these racebent roles don’t often last and that they’re not always guaranteed to be permanent.
No matter what, the second that DC or Marvel puts out an announcement of racebending or rebooting a historically white character as a character of color, fans lose their collective minds.
When Miles Morales was first announced as the replacement Spider-Man in the Ultimates universe of Marvel – a Universe that was popular but not like super popular considering most of the characters were Assholes-In-Overdrive versions of the 616 characters – people lost their shit. There was so much commentary about how Marvel was ruining Spider-Man. How Miles wasn’t the real Spider-Man.
It was so bad that the creators had to shut down the racist crap in early issues of the book.
The backlash against Michael B. Jordan playing Johnny Storm in the new Fantastic Four movie was so bad (he was constantly being attacked over it) that he wrote a letter addressed to the detractors.
Back in 2011/12, when DC fans found out that Helena Bertinelli was effectively dead in the DCnU, they were rightfully upset. Helena B is a great character and the way that she’s been treated in shows like Arrow leaves you longing for her comic greatness. Flash forward to 2015 and the Grayson solo series (with the plot by Tim Seeley and Tom King while Mikel Janin Jeromy Cox handle art and colors). Helena Bertinelli shows up as Matron, top agent working for SPYRAL under Minos.
She’s the same witty badass who is a great shot with a crossbow. She still has the delicious sexual tension between her and Dick. And of course, she’s still gorgeous.
The only real change in her character – the thing that had fans flipping – was that Helena Bertinelli was now a Black Italian woman.
There was an article on CBR (that I’m not linking to) that was basically a hot mess the choice to racebend Helena B a bad idea. I feel like it also decided that Seeley and Co were doing “diversity for diversity’s sake” and was generally very dismissive about the idea that hey, maybe racebending is a good thing. Seriously, do you know how pleased I was to see Helena B back in action but as a Black woman?
One of the comics forums, I don’t remember which because it’s been months, had a thread about the new Grayson series right when it came out and the panels with Helena came surrounded by disgusting comments about Black women from white and/or male nerds. Black women weren’t sexually attractive. Black women couldn’t be spies. They didn’t want to fuck a Black women so Helena B’s new appearance wasn’t working for them.
The Flash‘s Iris West is another character who gets a lot of flack for being racebent to a Black woman.
So called “fans” of the Barry/Iris relationship call for Iris’s death on a regular basis.
They tweet to the cast and crew asking when she’s going to die.
Iris’ actress Candice Patton gets the most disgusting tweets every single day.
She’s minimized in promo materials and the same people that once claimed to ship and support the Flash family heads are falling all over themselves to rewrite canon now that there’s a beautiful Black woman playing opposite their precious Grant Gustin.
I’ve seen messages sent to Iris West fans telling them that she’s useless in the show. Posts in the tags on Tumblr asking when she’s going to die or praying that she’ll be killed. She’s been called “useless”, “stupid”, “nosy”, and “a bitch” on a regular basis by people who claim to be fans. They also claim that they’re not racists but –
If it looks, talks, and thinks like a racist… well…
How about how over a decade later, Samuel Jackson’s portrayal of Nick Fury in the Marvel Cinematic Universe gets brought up as a reason why we should be okay with whitewashing. After all, if Nick Fury is Black now, that’s it. We’ve defeated racism and there’s no reason to care about any further representation in comic books or comic book related media right?
We’ve come along way from barely being able to tell the male Avengers apart because they all kind of look like the same white blond guy (or in DC’s case: the same guy with black hair and blue eyes). Sure, the image above is absolutely satirical but it’s funny because it’s so true. For the longest time, the roster for these superhero teams was an unending line of whiteness and white guys specifically.
Centering white guys in superhero stories isn’t good. It leads to Rick Remender’s weird m-word thing where it was obvious that no thought about the intersection of race and mutanthood happened at any point. It leads to stories about white guys as the ultimate oppressed. It leads to characters of color and women being minimized for men to take center stage.
It leads to white fans thinking that they own the industry.
Few things suck more than getting into a conversation about race and comics with unenlightened fans.
Unfortunately, talking about race and comics is sort of my thing so I’ve gotten trapped in some of the most uncomfortable conversations ever. There’s no way to know if someone’s a raging racist until you mention Miles Morales or Kamala Khan and they go off on a racist tangent blaming racebending for everything from flagging comic sales to the fact that the Daredevil movie sucked ass.
I once went to a South Florida comic store where upon finding out that my friend and I were history majors who loved comic history, the cashier went off on a racist anti-Black and anti-Asian rant out of nowhere. I’ve had to sit and seethe while listening to white comic fans easily explain away cinematic whitewashing or laugh at stereotypes for POC (like the ones in Ant-Man). I’ve had people yell at me in public for gently pointing out their racism where comics and casting were concerned.
And that’s not even mentioning the horrible experience I’ve had as a Black comics fan discussing racism online. On an old (now deleted) blog I used to use, I complained about how white the first Avengers film was the day after I saw it. Within a few minutes I had half a dozen messages demanding that I shut up or that I explain or that I just quit complaining because “Nick Fury’s black now, why can’t you be happy?”
Whenever I see someone complaining about racebending, I assume that they’re probably a racist. I don’t care who you are. I don’t care what you’re selling. You could be my mom and I’d still bite my bottom lip and go “well… maybe she’s a racist.”
Because what you’re saying isn’t what you mean and I can read between the lines.
What you say: “Canonical accuracy is important to me”
What you (probably) mean: “I like my shows full of white guys and change, especially change where there are no/few white guys (because women and/or POC have been added to the new plot) scares me. Stop doing that.”
This is what you sound like.
This is what you probably mean.
This isn’t okay.
Racebending wouldn’t have to exist if 90% of the characters in media weren’t portrayed as white. It wouldn’t have to exist if real world populations of people were represented. Los Angeles, Manhattan, and Miami are all places that people of color exist at. We live there. A whole bunch of us live there.
And yet you wouldn’t be able to tell that from comics and television shows.
Really, I don’t care if you hate racebending. I don’t care who you are or if you seethe with rage every time a comic or film company announces that one of your white faves (or more likely, a supporting character you’ve never thought much of before that day) is going to be portrayed by an actor of color. I don’t care that white Wally West is “iconic” to you or that the Silver Age versions of heroes are your favorites.
I don’t give a damn.
Clear and simple.
Because comics are still pretty damn white and they’re still pretty darn awful about race.
Comic spaces are still unsafe for people of color.
People high up in comic publishing still dismiss the thoughts of people of color when it comes to what is/isn’t racist (here’s looking at you, Axel Alonso for your “A small but very loud contingent” comments when asked about the Hip Hop variant and the response it got from Black fans and creators).
Tilda Swinton was cast as the Tibetan Ancient One in the Doctor Strange film, thus solidifying my lack of desire to see that hot mess of a movie when it comes out.
Ra’s al Ghul has never been played by an actor with even a passing resemblance to his comic ethnicity.
Danny Rand will probably be played by a white character in the Netflix series because everyone just loves to stick with the stereotypical and frankly racist trope of a white guy learning mysticism and martial arts from Asian people before swanning off to never interact with Asian people again (unless he’s saving them or lusting after them in a fetishistic way).
People of color are still terrified to talk about race in comics because it might mean being blacklisted for life for questioning the status quo.
In our year 2015, two white guys worked on a book called Strange Fruit and were surprised when Black people were like “what the hell is this crap?”
Hell, yesterday Keiynan Lonsdale was cast as Wally West on The Flash show and people have been showing their white racist asses since then. Not because they’re not “racist”, no. They just want to see their familiar, iconic Wally with red hair. That’s who they were expecting. (And apparently, they can’t just give him a red tint because no Black person in the history of Black people has ever had natural red hair… right?)
So when I see anyone on the internet or offline complaining about racebending or asking racist questions, what I’m really witnessing is a complete lack of awareness along with a complete lack of care.
You’re not really asking “Why is Iris West/Helena Bertinelli/Wally West black because I feel like it’s not something the creators would be okay with?”
You’re not really striking a blow for social justice by calling racebending “pandering” and saying that slow-paced diversity (that may take years to come with publishers waiting for the “right” book or story) is the only acceptable kind.
You don’t care that official racebending by comics creators is often the only way that people of color will get to see themselves on screen or in the pages of their favorite comic book.
What you’re asking – what you’re saying as a comic fan – is that you’re comfortable with how little representation there is for people of color. You’re saying that you’re fine with how the MCU is largely dominated by white men with only a few (less than a dozen) heroes and agents of color appearing in its shows and films. You’re saying that you’re fine with Ant-Man being the MCU’s most diverse film yet – while most of the people of color in the film appearing as criminals.
You’re saying you’re fine with crumbs being tossed to POC who want to be represented. You’re saying that since you’re fine with the existence of a few characters of color that don’t threaten your power or sex fantasies, that we should be too.
You’re saying that we should all be okay with how the racebent character is usually one of the few major characters of color in the film/show/comic.
But what you’re not fine with, what comic fans as a whole show themselves to be NOT OKAY with on a regular basis, is anything that takes away your right to open a comic book or turn on a superhero film or show and see yourself represented. Even if it’s just in one character racebent per show/film/comic, that’s too much.
That’s one less toy for you to have.
One less character that you can claim.
And that’s so very messed up.
If you hate racebending or if you dismiss racebent characters/legacy characters of color, you might want to think about why. You might want to think about the fact that you’re probably a little bit racist and that even a little bit of racism is too much.
You might want to grow up and shut up.
And please, don’t #NotAllComicFans me. If this post doesn’t apply to you, then it doesn’t apply to you. But if it makes you mad and liable to argue with me about the merits of racebending in comics well…
It probably applies to you.
ETA 8/10/2015: I’m interested in talking with people about this post. I’ve been talking with people on twitter and will be talking responding to comments on this post once I’m free in the afternoons. Disagreeing with my post is fine. It’s a thing that happens and I’ll probably approve those comments if they’re not insulting or actively racist because I do want to talk about this and share opinions on how we can make comics welcoming for everyone.
However, certain words and phrases will automatically cause your comment to get stuck in my spam filter. I won’t even see your comments in that case so perhaps think twice about what you’re writing before you send in your comment.