2. Do Changing Times Warrant a Change in Character?
Character’s get “modernized” all the time, so why is it such a big issue when that process involves updating race or culture?
People keep reiterating that many of the comic book characters we know and love – created by visionaries like Stan Lee, Steve Ditko, Jack Kirby, Bob Kane, Joe Shuster and Jerry Siegel – were created in a time where social context limited what a comic character could be in terms of race, culture, or religion. As products of that cultural context, the creators themselves were lacking our modern (and still imperfect) views on what a character could or should be, as well as a character’s potential appeal to a diverse audience. However, take the wonderful imaginations of the godfathers of superheroes and place them in a modern context – in a world far more interconnected and diverse than decades past – and the question of whether the world’s most famous superheroes would still be predominately white males quickly becomes an uncertain one.
More to the point: adhering to a character design created in an antiquated social context is kind of like saying you don’t want the segregation policy of your local diner to change, because you’re familiar and comfortable with the crowd there. No, it does not make you a racist, necessarily – but it is a somewhat close-minded stance to take, if only because refusing to explore new possibilities is always a close-minded stance to take.
In the context of modern Queens, NY a character with Peter Parker’s background and story is just as likely to be black or latino as he is white. In the context of most metropolitan newspapers, Perry White has just as much chance of being a hard-nosed Editor who is black, as he does one who is white. Hell, even if the new Ultimate universe Spider-Man were still white, a modern kid from Queens would bear little-to-no resemblance to the classic Lee/Ditko version of Peter Parker – a problem facing the upcoming franchise reboot The Amazing Spider-Man, which has already stoked fan ire for its contemporary take on Peter Parker.
Times change, the world changes, and if you haven’t noticed, comic book characters don’t quite age like the rest of us. It’s why they sometimes lose relevancy: superheroes don’t always change with the times, and as a result, find themselves at odds with them. It’s also why comic book publishers constantly “update” or “modernize” their universes: in order to stay relevant to changing times. Sometimes that requires a new costume, or a new attitude, or even a new character – perhaps of a different race or gender – inhabiting an iconic mantle.
DC and Marvel both have created entire new dimensions and/or realities to keep their characters fresh – when you really think about it, changing race is small potatoes.