It's been a week. Donald Glover's desire to be Spider-Man came and went, a sad and typical burnout for an Internet meme. But this meme was one that raised some prickly, uncomfortable questions that I don't think should be swept away so cleanly. As we get close to officially casting Spider-Man, and assembling the Avengers, I think it's worth wondering just when superheroes will begin to reflect our world a bit better.
I think it's legitimate to ask, as Drew McWeeny and Devin Faraci did, why Spider-Man is white. There's nothing in his origin story that's racially specific. As Faraci pointed out, Spidey comes from Queens where whites are becoming a minority. It would currently make more sense for him to be of a more diverse background. But I also understand where fans are coming from. Peter Parker has always looked a certain way, and they want their tried-and-true continuity and accuracy. I recognize my own biases this way as well, believe me.
But this is the day and age of the reboot, and it happens in comics and movies with alarming regularity. Oh, let's go back and tell that origin story again. And again. And again. No character is allowed to mature, change, or suffer the consequences of life because we simply make a deal with the Devil and put Parker back at Aunt May's house. That's the Spidey fans liked best, so that's what they want to see again. And this is despite Marvel starting up Ultimate versions that did reboot the stories of X-Men, Spider-Man, and other assorted superfellows so fans could hear it all again with a slightly different tune.
I get being attached to these characters, and being fond of one particular incarnation. They're the friends we make in our formative years, and just like our real friends, we want to see them stay exactly the same. It's hard to see Peter Parker leave high school and become a married man with kids. He only marginally resembles that carefree webslinger you used to know.
So, why don't we get a new one? Why is the only answer to reboot the same exact character, and play the same storyline over again? Why doesn't Spider-Man, Captain America, and Batman hand over the mask to a new kid? This happens once and awhile -- Bucky became Cap, Dick Grayson became Batman -- but things inevitably return to normal. The old hero resumes the mask and cape. The sidekick goes back to being a sidekick. His sidekick becomes some third-tier hero with his own book, or a villain who is dispatched to keep things tidy. When it comes to movies, we just recast it, and pretend the other series of films never happened.
Why don't comics and comic-based movies honor their diverse audience, as well as their original characters, and simply hand off the job to someone else? I think it would be a fantastic and moving story if a top superhero (pick one, any one) handed the job off to a new man or woman, and retired. I would actually love to see something similar to Carrie Kelly's story in Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns -- a kid of a rocky background and rough neighborhood who longs to do what they see Batman, Spider-Man, Captain America or Daredevil doing. Miller chose to give that desire to a young girl, and it worked beautifully. I see no reason why a superhero comic or movie can't do the same. It doesn't always have to be an white man who decides to become a crimefighter, and it doesn't always have to stay a white man. Look at The Green Lantern. That's a series that has diversified the roster, and done it well. It's not pandering, it's not a separate-but-equal version, it's simply another chapter in the history of the Lantern Corps. I don't see why it wouldn't work for other Marvel and DC characters. It just needs a good story.
Many of the commenters pointed out that the answer isn't making Spider-Man black or Latino, but creating a new character who is. And I couldn't agree with that more. But I also know how powerful the existing trappings of current characters are, and I feel like those icons and uniforms could and should be worn by a variety of men and women. I don't think that's being politically correct and touchy feely, as some huff, puff, and insist that is is. I just feel like it would make for some good stories. Having Batman die, and Batwoman replace him is interesting. It's new. It's not Bruce Wayne again, and again, and again. And if she's a lesbian? Well, that's new too, and it acknowledges that there are people of all shapes, sizes, colors, and orientations in our universe.
To me, the appeal of these outlandish stories isn't hearing the same one over and over again, but seeing each hero struggle and triumph. I don't want to see Wolverine become Wolverine over and over. I want to see how he reacts to the stuff that's thrown at him. If he died and his son Daken (heaven forbid) took over, I would want to see how he would fit into the role, and how his background would shape his decisions. Isn't that the point of storytelling? Twists and turns?
In an ideal world, we could cast a person of color as Spider-Man, Batman, or Wolverine without the need for extra commentary or explanation. As I said last week, I love the way Idris Elba was simply cast in Thor because of his ability. That was it. End of story. (Ok, I'm sure it won't be the end of the story. It will inevitably come up in a junket.) I would have loved to have seen this with Spider-Man, though I would have been happy just to see Donald Glover be an actual contender. But since we don't live in an ideal world, the least we could do is acknowledge that we live in a cultural melting pot. If you're going to start all over again, why don't we introduce a new origin story and a new face into the Marvel and DC universes? Apparently, we can't ask that current characters be color blind. But I'm perplexed as to why we can't have a new ones who are.