Wednesday, July 31, 2013

What Do You Fight For? — The Wolverine Review

Ask me things! à

The next two posts for the blog have been giving me some trouble, so I’m going to experiment with something new while I work those out. To the best of my knowledge, there’ve been no “controversies” surrounding this movie yet, and since I’ve already done three mini-movie reviews here already, I figured I’d try my hand at a real one before the window of its cultural relevance slams shut.


The Wolverine is the sixth film in the X-Men film franchise, but in a way, you could also say that it’s the fifth film in the Wolverine franchise. Despite being billed as ensemble pieces, what with Sirs Ian McKellan and Patrick Stewart heading the opposing factions of the cast, the story of the original trilogy was very much centered around Hugh Jackman’s James Howlett, better known as Logan, best known as Wolverine. From his joining the team in the first movie, exploring his forgotten past in the second, and becoming the de-facto field leader in the third, this was very much Wolvie’s show to run. The only film so far to reduce his role, all the way down to a twenty second (albeit hilarious) cameo, was 2011’s First Class, and as for the fourth film you only need to read the title to see who the focal point is going to be.
Hint: It ain’t
Pictured: brilliant casting.
So while this is ostensibly only the second solo Wolverine movie after the train wreck that was Origins, this is a character we have seen a lot of over the past thirteen years since Jackman first donned the claws. At five films, not counting the cameo, that’s more than any other comic book character on the silver screen over the same period, be they a Justice Leaguer, an Avenger, or a fellow X-Man (insert joke about seeing a lot of Rebecca Romjin and Jennifer Lawrence’s Mystique here). That’s quite a lot of Wolverine, and what we’ve seen of the character hasn’t always been solid. There was considerable pressure was on director James Mangold to nail this one.
For the most part, I think it’s safe to say that he did.

The set up: chronologically, this film set after the original trilogy, so turn back now if you haven’t seen the previous films. While the Xavier Institute is presumably still open after Magneto’s ultimate defeat, Logan is no longer a teacher there, and the X-Men themselves seem to have disbanded. He’s now living in seclusion in the Canadian wilderness, tormented by nightly nightmares stemming from his being forced to kill Jean Grey, the (second) love of his life, at the end of The Last Stand, and the biggest threats he stands up to these days are hunters who get too far out of line. He’s not in a good place.
Enter Yukio, a Japanese woman (no slouch in the realm of combat herself) who has tracked Logan for the express purpose of bringing him to Japan on behalf of her elderly dying employer, Ichiro Yashida. As it turns out, Yashida was an officer in the Japanese military overseeing a POW camp in Nagasaki, and when the second atomic bomb hit the city in WWII, he only survived thanks to some improvisational heroics by a prisoner with a remarkable healing factor— none other than the Wolverine himself.
Aware that Logan considered his own immortality a curse, and forever grateful for the second chance at life Logan gave him (which he has used to become a technological titan in Japan), Ichiro’s final act is to offer to take away Logan’s healing factor so that he can live a normal life and die a normal death. Understandably, Logan’s not exactly thrilled with the offer. To go much further than that is to dive into the realm of spoilers, but if you’ve seen the trailers you know that somehow, someone manages to considerably nerf the mighty Wolverine’s powers anyway, meaning that for the first time since Magneto was whipping him around like a rag doll by his metal skeleton, Logan is truly vulnerable. And it’s not the best time to be, as Ichiro’s death ushers in an explosive power struggle that sucks in Logan, Yukio, and various members of Ichiro’s family as various shadowy parties seek to take control of his empire.
From this point, the movie rushes forward like a bullet train, taking only brief pauses here and there to let the characters breathe. And speaking about bullet trains, which I in no way deliberately used as a metaphor in the last sentence to force a clumsy segue into this one, the action sequences are great, particularly the one set on.. a bullet train. They’re not big, mind you. This isn’t Avengers or Man of Steel or Dark Knight, and there’s nary an explosion in sight. But they’re well paced despite their inherent frenzy, and as an absolute sucker for sword fights, especially using katanas or other Japanese swords, the movie easily drew me in.
Reintroducing Wolverine’s mortality gives those scenes a tension that they wouldn’t have had if he could just heal from every wound short of a decapitation. It keeps the story grounded, and it helps that whereas the other X-Men movies had more mutants than you could shake a stick at on either side, this one only has two aside from Logan. And while this may come as a surprise considering his uber-violent nature, the movie may actually be at its best in between the frenetic action, when it’s just the characters talking to each other. Jackman has played Wolverine for over a decade now, and while I think everyone would agree that he’s always played the character incredibly well, the scripts haven’t always been up to his ability. It finally is here, and while the X-Men aren’t as predisposed to the analysis of character duality as much as Batman or Superman might, it seems to be the first time we see the motivations of Logan as opposed to the simply the combat capacities of Wolverine.  He seems as comfortable talking to Ichiro’s family, trading quips with Yukio, or softly pleading with his nocturnal hallucinations of Jean Grey as he is screaming, stabbing and slashing Tokyo’s criminal underbelly.
There is a lot of screaming, stabbing, and slashing, as you might expect when Wolverine is involved.

(Very mild spoilerization: Speaking of Yukio, she’s great. Most of the supporting cast is solid, from the textbook Yamato Nadeshiko that is Ichiro’s granddaugther Mariko (played by Tao Okamoto), or the sultry mutant villainess Viper (played by Svetlana Khodchenkova), but Rila Fukushima blows them all away here despite relatively limited screen time. Seeing how well developed she is outside of "look how much ass she can kick" provides a refreshing counterbalance to Logan. Of all the characters Wolverine’s interacted with over the course of the franchise, I don’t think a single one comes close to matching her as someone Logan truly respects and connects with as an equal, with the possible exception of Halle Berry’s Storm or Anna Paquin’s Rogue from the original trilogy. She’s as fearsome a combatant as he is, maybe even better despite her lack of healing factor, but their personalities couldn’t be any more different, and it’s great fun watching her calm cheeriness play off Wolverine’s perpetual grump. Their (refreshingly non-romantic) chemistry is one of the best aspects of the film, and while I don’t know if Fukushima is going to be able to come back for future installments in the franchise, I sincerely hope the executives can find a place to squeeze her in.)
For me, the best part of the movie is the smaller scale that the filmmakers aimed for and thankfully achieve, especially in comparison to recent comic outings in movies. A cursory look at the major superhero films of the past few years all show that they are fighting against some major threats. To wit: Green Lantern has to save the world from a smoky fear monster, Superman from a massive terraforming dubstep machine, and the Avengers from an interdimensional alien invasion. Iron Man fends off three potential terrorist attacks, Thor has to prevent a genocide, Captain America has to effectively win World War II by himself. Hulk has to save New York from being destroyed, Spider-Man has to do the same twice, and Batman has to do it three times in Gotham, assuming the Joker wasn’t done blowing things up. In the comics, the X-Men have never been superheroes in the traditional sense as opposed to just people with kickass powers who get into a heap of trouble because of it. But in the movies they’ve stopped a genocide against humanity and against mutantkind, a worldwide nuclear holocaust, potential planetary disintegration, and the mass murder of all of the world’s leaders. The only thing even remotely close to a small-scale movie threat in recent years (not counting Daredevil because it’s Daredevil) would be in Spidey’s first and third films, where the Goblins, Sandman, and Venom are seemingly only out to take the wallcrawler down.
Although if you can call a living elemental, a Green Power Ranger, and an alien slime monster with all of your powers gunning for your head on a pike a small-scale threat, I’d hate to see what you consider a real problem.

By comparison, The Wolverine has none of that. The villain isn’t a kaiju looking to floss his teeth with Tokyo’s skyscrapers, he’s just looking to… well, that would spoil things. Suffice it to say, the world isn’t in danger, nor is the country, or the city. Logan doesn’t have any personal investment, and the second things settle down a touch, he could simply head back home. As easily as a man with metal coating his bones can move through airport security to head back home, anyway.
But he doesn’t.
One of the themes at play in the movie is the concept of a ronin, which a cursory knowledge of Japanese history via pop cultural osmosis and hasty Wiki-walking tells me is tantamount to a samurai without a master, a warrior without a war, a wandering rebel without a cause. By all accounts, Wolverine is more or less a ronin now; a soldier stripped of all of his motivations. He has no team, he has a home but he can’t bring himself return to it, his master (if one could call Professor Xavier that) is disintegrated and deader than dead, and the woman of his dreams has become the specter of his nightmares by his own hand. In his eyes, there’s not much to live for, and even less to fight for. So when a fight does break out, a fight with relatively low stakes compared to the threats he’s used to yet somehow more dangerous than ever, showing not only that he will still fight, but why, is an incredibly revealing, unprecedented, and unexpected insight into the character.
That’s not to say that the movie is without its flaws. Trying to keep track of all the film’s villains, their motivations, and their alliances was incredibly difficult. I was never familiar with the Japan arc from the comic miniseries that this film drew inspiration from, and maybe it would have been easier if I had read them, but on its own merit the bad guys are not the clearest bunch to understand, even after all of the cards have been shown and all the secrets ostensibly revealed. You can probably chalk this up to the editing or the writing or both, but they’re not deceptive in the way that leads to a eureka moment at the end, it comes across more like there’s something that’s just missing. If you thought Spider-Man or Batman suffered from villain overload at times, having fun juggling the antagonists this movie's got in store. A few minutes fleshing them out would’ve worked wonders. And the final act of the movie, while not outright bad and still plenty entertaining, is at odds with the pacing and the tone of the preceding two acts; it's much more flurried and "comic-booky" than the comparative gravity of what came before. A lot of new information is flung at you insanely quickly, a lot of characters come into play, and you scarcely have time to process it because Logan is trying to stab things, and by the time things settle down the film’s just about done.
And I’m sorry, but the lack of the X joke in the 20th Century Fox opening titles is inexcusable. Inexcusable, I say!
But on the whole, it’s still good. Not great, but the Japanophile in me might drive it so far as to say very good, if not great. Best superhero film of the year so far by my count, with only Kick-Ass and Thor to go. The editing and pacing, as said, is uneven, as are the effects sometimes. But the acting is solid, with Jackman again bringing Logan to life, and the aforementioned action is great. Marco Beltrami’s score, while not exactly the type of thing you’d probably recognize outside of the context of the movie, works incredibly well too. As a complete film, it isn’t the best of the X-Men movies. I still think First Class is the best of the series so far and that X2 would come in second, and X2’s first as a movie that actually features Wolverine. But strictly as a character study, I’d say that no other movie has dived into the character as well as this one. The thrust of the first and third film seemed to be about the amazing capabilities of Wolverine, and the second and fourth dove specifically into the events that refined him into the metal-clad character he is today. It isn’t until now that we really get to see what drives the man known as Logan to embrace the animal called the Wolverine, that we actually get to see the toll that it takes on him, and understand why he would do so anyway.
Is that a recommendation? You bet your sweet hot-cross buns it is. Give it a look.
Just make sure that if you do see it, you set through the first half of the credits after it’s done, especially if you’re a fan of the X-Men movies in general. Because if you think you’re excited for the next Days of Future Past now… hoo, boy howdy, you ain’t seen nothing yet.

Mickey D., signing off.

Monday, July 15, 2013


Ask me things! à

Part of the trouble with being a vengeful asshole whose actions, good or bad, tend to be fueled by negative emotions is that when the well of my fury finally runs dry, deep though it may be, there's nothing to fall back on.
It ran dry Saturday night.
The aftermath of the verdict in the trial of George Zimmerman left me feeling utterly defeated and drained. Instead of throwing on one of my many hoodies and getting out to a rally or protest or vigil or demonstration, I stayed at home all day in a t-shirt and boxers. I said I would have this piece done in a day. It has taken me three.  Instead of being productive in some other manner, or channeling my emotions into getting some words down, however badly or briefly, I spent the day replaying Heavy Rain and watching Futurama reruns.
(That said, the entire "death by snu-snu" bit remains one of the funniest things I've ever witnessed. It's even better when you're high on the natural drug of sleep deprivation and fatigue.)
But like anyone, if you know where your fuel lies, you should also know where to go to refuel. And even though in the immediate aftermath I made a point to avoid like the plague comment sections and message threads where I knew that I was going to hate what I saw, and urged others to do the same, the next day I bathed in it. I hit them all. Yahoo! comments. Facebook comments. YouTube and CNN comments. Fox News, Reddit. Against my judgment, I even visited Politically Incorrect UChicago Hyde Park Maroon Confessions, a page that, among other things, has facilitated the mockery of one of my classmates' death, a bevy of personal attacks on members of the student body, including some of my friends, and just about given voice to every strain of racist or sexist opinion harbored by members of the student body who feel too prosecuted by people with standards of decency to voice in person. Sure enough, there was a defense of the verdict, as well as a bit of commentary that undermined the poster's claim of rational objectivity. Fellow students, that’s post #849, if you’re keeping track.
Like a demonic phoenix (heh, UChicago humor), I bathed in their hatred and reignited the fires of my own. Once more, I was flowing with scripturience.
(Note: that word, scripturience, to be seized with a violent desire to write, is my new favorite word. The specificity, the flow, the rarity. The... me-ness of it all. To quote the Great and Powerful Mack, it is fucking awesome.)
Of course, many people beat me to the punch. Better, smarter, stronger writers than I have risen in the wake of this. You can see but a small sampling on the right side panel. One of the best responses I've read was written by Tim Wise. If you don't know who he is, I didn't either before this year began, courtesy of a visit to my school. He's an author and activist who deals mostly in anti-racist studies… whose words tend to be given a bit more weight because Mr. Wise is white. I spent a significant portion of my time this year pushing back against some the arguments he makes in regards to anti-racism, much though I appreciate his effort. In fact, my final political science paper of the year was written as a direct deconstruction and rebuttal of some of his arguments as they pertained to President Obama (he's due a post of his own soon, methinks). It was somewhat of a surprise, and wholly refreshing one, to see that I stood by virtually everything he had to say.
But I said I would write this. And so I will, even if only to fill in the gaps that other men and women like Wise have left in their own writing. And looking back, it's surprising to see that even though it feels as though I've written twenty, I've yet to write a single post solely about Trayvon Martin. I haven't done him justice.
Which, you know, is funny, because no one else did either.
The verdict stands as it does. And having followed the actual proceedings of the case, it's not that much of a stretch, unexpected though the finale to this farce may have been. I'm not a lawyer, although I'm strongly considering it after this, but I know enough to know that the prosecution sucked. Hard. The witnesses were all over the place, the easy evidence and arguments that were right fucking there were skipped over in favor of chasing convoluted lines of logic and reasoning. Say what you will about the defense, from the gall it took to open the case with a knock knock joke and show just how serious this was to them, to a lawyer's daughter gleefully Instagramming a picture with her father eating ice cream and preemptively declaring a victory for justice in the trial, to their treatment of Rachel Jeantel (although in all honesty, she didn't exactly help herself in that regard), to the sheer audacity it takes to make a closing argument that Trayvon Martin was not actually unarmed because he used the sidewalk in a fight against a man with a gun (I shit you not, they said that), say what you will about any of that and more. They had a job to do, and they did it, and they did it well. A damn sight better than the other side did, anyway.  
In sports terms, the defense had to... well, defend. The oft-mythical presumption of innocence showed up for Zimmerman giving the defense the lead, and all they had to do was run out the clock. People will say what they will about the evidence or lack thereof, but there was enough there for the prosecution to score a conviction, at the very least for manslaughter, but they were done in by their own incompetence.
The jurors made their decision, and based on the length it took them to make it, they did not make it lightly. The strictures of reasonable doubt do not apply equally to all people. With a different jury and competent prosecution, and perhaps a less zealous initial charge from the state, George Zimmerman may well have been found guilty. With this jury and this prosecution, he was not.  So be it. In the eyes of the court, the state, the law, George Zimmerman was not guilty. But by his own admission, and by the incontrovertible evidence, George Zimmerman was not innocent, either. Perhaps it is nothing more than my newfound obsession with third options, middle ground, and the color gray, but there it is. He inhabits the space between innocence in the eyes of some and guilt in the eyes of other. In the eyes of the law, it has been and will continue to be said that justice carried the day. But what happened Saturday night was not justice.
It never will be.
Of course, there will be some that say otherwise, that there is a system put in place, a system that is blind, a system concerned with facts, not emotion.
A system so concerned with facts, in fact, that would not permit the words "racial profiling" to be used in the court.
A system so concerned with facts that the inherent inconsistencies of one man's word in his own defense ruled the day against the silence of another man's word in his.
A system so concerned with facts that it routinely ignores evidence and testimony on the basis of various technicalities of admissibility.
A system so concerned with facts that it still will execute innocent men clamoring for a trial with DNA testing, claiming that to do so would be a waste of time.
This is the system we stand by to determine what is right, right? To those who firmly stand by that system, more power to you.
I wonder, though, if you will be as dispassionately adherent to the system when Pvt. Bradley Manning is inevitably convicted of treason, and either executed or locked away for life for his actions exposing the United States' war stratagems. When the clock runs out on Julian Assange and Edward Snowden, and they are charged with breaking the law to expose illegality on the part of those cloaked in much more power. I wonder if the next Supreme Court decision you don't like, be it DOMA or healthcare or the VRA, will be a symptom to you of a strong system. In a country founded by law breakers, and whose strongest sculptors throughout history have those to push the boundaries of the law, should you choose to do what is right rather than what the system proclaims lawful, I wonder if you will stand by the system if it prosecutes you. I wonder what your stance will be if the tables are turned.
 It will be the system, yes. But I wonder if you will call that right. I wonder if you will call that justice.
I wonder.
And speaking about those three men, there is this popular idea that this case has been driven solely by the media to get us to ignore "larger" issues like these. There are those saying this case was fueled by liberal media histrionics to fan the flame of racial resentment. And of course those who say that every day, a black person is killed by another black person in Chicago. That it is only when a black person is killed by a white person, or a white Hispanic, or a Hispanic, or whatever the hell George Zimmerman considers himself to be because I honestly don't care, that it is only then that people will complain.
Listen closely. I am only going to say this once.
Get that bullshit the flying fuck out of my face. If you're saying this, seriously, stop. Stop. Stop insulting my intelligence, and your own.
You may have noticed over the years that media tends to fuel a lot of stories, and a lot of cases go high profile. Do the names Casey Anthony, Scott Peterson, Jodi Arias, Amanda Knox, Drew Peterson, Michael Vick, or Lindsay Lohan ring a bell? All high-profile, media saturated cases. None of which, if I'm perfectly honest, I cared about. What was the narrative attempting to be fueled there? Who were they trying to divide? Humans and dogs? Falcons and Saints fans? Men and women? Nickelodeon and Disney? 
The media, much like the government, is not some monolithic robotic entity that lives somewhere in the aether. The media is comprised of human beings, who decide what to discuss and broadcast based on what they believe other human beings need to or want to hear, and limited by what other human beings will allow to be shown.
This case didn't go viral because the media handpicked it to be the Black vs. White story of the year. This case went viral because of the racial circumstances surrounding it, yes, but because for weeks, there was no indication that there would be a trial or an investigation. That's why there were protests, and demonstrations, and talk show spots for Al and Jesse. An unarmed black teenager was dead at the hands of a non-black neighborhood watchman with no evidence that the aforementioned teenager was breaking any crime, and there was going to be no investigation. Truly, it was an ouroboric situation; without the circus, there would have been no trial. Had there just been a swift trial, there would have been no circus.
But I didn’t care about this trial because the big bad mainstream liberal media told me to.
The media does not influence what I find to be important. I decide what is important to me. I am the one who knocks. You'll notice that my Facebook news feed, so wildly rampant during the NBA playoffs, was silent during the Stanley Cup Finals when my hometown's Hawks won the Cup. That's because I'm honestly not that fussed about hockey, or any other sport that isn't soccer or basketball. They can put it on the front of ESPN all they like, but they can't make me care about horse racing or the Indy 500. News or political media can’t make you care about a single thing happening in Washington or Moscow or Beijing or Benghazi or Syria or Cairo or East West Manchestershireham. Entertainment media didn't make me care about a single awards show that wasn't the Oscars this year, and the tabloids can't make me care about a single factoid about a single celebrity that I don't have a particular affinity for.
(Seriously though, Kanye... North? Dude. DUDE. That's your daughter. This has got to be considered a form of highly sophisticated child abuse.)
I cared about this trial because it meant something to me, because it meant something to every black male who is tired of being treated like the boogeyman for everyone who cannot disassociate an individual from their own prejudices. And while there were some inexcusable moments throughout it all (the editing of Zimmerman's initial 911 call by NBC to make it seem as though he offered up Trayvon's race unprompted, the near-salivation for race riots), the facts of the case as reported by the media that held up and were agreed upon by both sides in the courtroom meant something very real to a lot of us.
Maybe you were manipulated, or maybe you know someone who was. But don't tell me about what is or isn't, what should or should not be important to me. Take your conspiracy theories and shove them up your own urethra. Especially with those fucking pictures. I don’t care if the pictures shown initially were a Zimmerman mugshot and of a younger Trayvon smiling, while the ones people wanted were a smiling Zimmerman in a suit and a scowling Trayvon. Not everyone is as weak-minded as you think they are, or, perhaps, as you may be because the implication that somehow, Trayvon was more deserving of what happened and Zimmerman was less culpable because of their facial expression would be laughable were it not for how many people believed it to be true.
I'd like to remind you that if it weren't for the oft-maligned media, a girl who was raped in Steubenville, Ohio would have suffered in silence while her rapists walked free. If it weren't for the media, she could've gone the rest of her life being blamed for what happened to her while her rapists walked around with shit-eating grins at getting away with taking advantage of a drunk, borderline-unconscious girl, the same type of scum that could only apologize for having taken and spread around pictures of the deed instead of actually committing it when they were finally convicted. The outcry that led to their arrest and incarceration was fueled by that selfsame media.
So suddenly, a story that makes you uncomfortable breaks out, and there’s a conspiracy? There’s a hidden agenda afoot? It’s race-baiting?
And similarly, don't try to play other types of crime as some manner of argumentative trump card. I'm from Chicago, dammit I am Chicago, and I will not have Chicago turned against me as a weapon to suit your ill-formed logic. Black-on-black crime is a real scourge in my community, yes. People are dying and will die every day, especially now that the sun's out and the weather's hot, yes. Not many, if any, will receive the same outcry that Trayvon did, yes.
But don't you fucking dare tell me I don't care. Blair Holt. Hadiya Pendleton. Jonylah Watkins. I know their names. I know their stories. And I found out about them through the big bad race-baiting liberal media, as I have countless other black faces and names who were killed, as I have countless other black faces and names of those who killed them. Every morning when I open a Sun-Times, there are more. I care. They won’t receive a national outcry, but it’s not because the people in those communities don’t care. It’s because the people outside of them don’t, because crime in Chicago is a foregone conclusion and a laughing matter for those who don’t have to deal with it, who have never had to deal with it. Don’t you dare turn around and point to Chicago's woes all of a sudden because you don’t like that the conversation is being turned elsewhere. You never have before, and you never will again until it’s convenient for you. 
You think, maybe, I don’t know, if we had an honest examination of gun saturation in America, we could curb this type of thing from happening? Like so many people in these communities have been fighting for for years? Much has been made of how Trayvon Martin was so much more physically fit that George Zimmerman, and how poor unathletic George never stood a chance against the fury of Martin's fists so he needed to go for his gun. You think maybe if Zimmerman had been unarmed, he’d have never have had the courage to go after Martin in the first place?  And Martin would still be alive? And the case that has so inconvenienced you by blowing up your news feed and your Twitter feed and your TV would never have happened? But no, that’s your precious unassailable, inalienable, and inalterable right to have the power to kill someone at your own discretion I’m calling into question now. And we can't have that. That’s unpatriotic, that’s un-American.  Here I was thinking that we wanted to have an actual discussion. And just like this wasn't about race, it surely wasn't about the qualifications of this citizen's judgment to wield a firearm. How fucking silly of me to insinuate otherwise.
And now we have race. That mastodon just chilling in the corner. 
When I’m done writing these words, my best friends on the face of the planet will still be a Peruvian man who speaks to the darker side of my nature and a Chinese woman who speaks to my brighter side. I will send a message to a Mexican man about going to the movies to see robots beat the shit out of Japanese monsters. If she’s awake, I will give an Indian woman a call to talk about her day. I will text a black man about a potential basketball trade, another about going to play basketball at the park someday, and perhaps another still about comic books and his escapades in New York. I will steel myself to brave the North Side to visit a white woman, a dear friend who I haven't seen in over a year. I will likely post a link I found online to the Facebook walls of a white man and an Asian man who I lived with for this past year. The next woman I have the misfortune to fall for has as good a chance of being black as she does of being white or Asian or Hispanic or quarian or elven or any combination of the above.
(Well, given the racial demographics of the University of Chicago, that’s not entirely true, but still. It’s a crapshoot when it comes to my love life.)
I know race. I hate to break it to you folks, but most black people don’t go around, sniffing for anything remotely off so they can play the much ballyhooed over-hyped "race card". We call a spade a spade. I am acutely aware of race, and how the race of myself and others will factor into our interactions. And there is no trial, no event, no media figure or hype or story that can ever manipulate me to the point where I will ever resent a group of people for the actions of an individual who looks like them, that can ever force me to change the way I see the many people of different races in my life. Even if they can’t bring themselves to disassociate me from my race, or to give me the benefit of the doubt upon our initial encounter. It doesn't matter. My actions are not predicated on anything or anyone but myself. The race riots that so many were gleefully anticipating? I’m sorry to disappoint you. It appears as though they won’t be happening any time soon.
I don’t hate white or Hispanic people now that George Zimmerman walks free. My opinion towards all races that aren’t my own are the same as they’ve ever been: I don’t care about it. It is not your race that matters to me. It is, has been, and always will be the people.
(Except when it comes to cuisine, there’s a definite racial hierarchy there. And black people win in a landslide guys, sorry. Still a Haitian boy at heart.)
And to those saying that George Zimmerman will still face justice… I do hope you mean in the legal sense, in a civil court. Double jeopardy (again, that system) prevents him from being tried again, I don’t exactly believe in divine retribution or recompense anymore, and anyone who takes it into their own hands to harm him is as great a fool and as worthy of my contempt as he was on the day Trayvon Martin died, if not more so. For whatever else Zimmerman did or did not do, I don't think he set out with the intention to kill Trayvon, at the very least not at first. Let the man walk, freely and unmolested. Let him live with himself forever as the hero he believes himself to be, and may there always be people to reinforce that notion. May the shit-eating grin I saw, the grin that tore my heart into pieces, when he heard of his innocence, remain plastered on his face. May the gun he claims that he needs now “more than ever” make him feel safe and secure.
And may it all come crashing down some day. May he wake up and realize what exactly transpired, what conditions encoded into the fabric of America he and his legal team were able to exploit to secure his release. May he realize that the fear and revulsion and judgment he will face from so many for the rest of his life is the same fear that he associated with Trayvon Martin’s black, hooded, form in the darkness of a rainy Floridian suburb.
May he realize that unlike Trayvon Martin, their emotions are justified. May he realize, that unlike Trayvon Martin, that judgment is rooted in something he has actually done. I keep hearing how the high profile of this case has effectively ruined Zimmerman's life, that I should feel even the slightest modicum of sympathy for him. I do not. No, Zimmerman did not deserve to have a bounty placed upon his head by the New Black Panther Party, nor did he deserve to have his address (wrongly, I might add) tweeted out by Spike Lee (seriously Spizike, I love you man, stop doing things to earn the ire of the blog, for I must dispense it equally). But I will not weep for the other hardships George Zimmerman will undoubtedly face. Not when he tells Sean Hannity that there wasn't a single action he took that night that he would walk back, that his only words to the Martins were that it was unfortunate that he was in a position where he had to take Trayvon Martin's life, and that the events of that February 26th, 2012, were all part of God's plan. When Sean Hannity, Sean freaking Hannity, is offering you a way out, and you don't take it, then you're on your own. You have to work at being in the same room as that man and commanding less of my respect. When Zimmerman's family and friends, when his legal team and the talking heads of the faux-victimized conservative media are posthumously dragging Trayvon Martin's name through the mud in an attempt to defend Zimmerman's actions, and he does and says nothing to stop it, then I will not weep when others do the same in return. I will not weep for him or his "ruined" life, nor will I ever understand those who do. Let him run into the arms of a community that embraces his actions, as I am sure there are many. Preferably some place where there are no hooded black teenagers afoot to bring an itch to his trigger finger. Let him go to law school to "help people like him." Much good may it do him. But I will not weep for him. I will weep for the life he ended, a ruination beyond the purview of any media firestorm. Like I said, I'm a vengeful asshole.
Don’t tell me this had nothing to do with race. You don't get to tell me that. Not anymore. If you truly believe that justice was served, that Zimmerman’s hands were entirely clean of any crime, and that Trayvon Martin being black had nothing to with what happened to him, then I have a few questions I’d like you to consider.
If Trayvon Martin were white (although let's face it, it's unlikely he'd still be named Trayvon), and you changed nothing else about the events of that night, would George Zimmerman have thought him a "fucking punk" who looked like he was on drugs, another of the teenagers who had been burglarizing his area of late, the kind of hoodlum who "always get[s] away"?
If George Zimmerman told the truth in saying that he only shot Trayvon Martin after a struggle over Zimmerman's gun, but it had been Zimmerman who had been shot and killed, would Trayvon Martin have had the benefit of the doubt had he been tried for Zimmerman's death? Would there be as much credence lent to his testimony that he acted in self defense against an armed man following him in the darkness?
If someone had intervened and stopped the fight from taking a lethal turn, or if one or both of the combatants had backed off before the fatal moment, and both had been taken into custody facing battery charges or some such other lesser crime, would Trayvon Martin's words in his own defense have made any more of an impact that his echoing silence did in his death?
If George Zimmerman was black, and Trayvon Martin was anything but, and events unfolded precisely as they (allegedly) did, would it have taken a media outcry for him to have been tried? Would his testimony have held as much weight, with the same evidence? Would the outcome have been the same?
Had Trayvon Martin been white, would there have been people scrounging his academic and social media records, and would any marks on the record of his life have been taken as concrete evidence by the worst of us that he was a thug? An animal? A gang-banger, a monster? Would a white Trayvon Martin, for the high crimes of school suspensions for truancy, graffiti, and marijuana possession, have been someone that a significant portion of this country would say deserved to die?
If you can honestly, concretely, and with anything resembling certainty, answer any of these questions "yes," then I envy you.
I say this without a trace of animus, bitterness, or sarcasm. I say it with a profound sense of sadness and pain. I envy you. I envy you so much.
I envy that your experiences have not hardened you to the ways of the world, that you can believe that this country and its laws are as likely to protect you as anyone else within its borders. That you have faith that you, or anyone else, will not be judged for something that is, was and always will be out of your hands, and that your life cannot spiral out of control in the blink of an eye for something that empirically was not your fault. 
I envy you. And I hope that the walls never crack, that your sense of safety never falters, that from here until doomsday you walk through all the days of your life with that belief intact.
Come see me if you have trouble coping if that dome ever shatters. It is not a pretty moment, and I worry that you will be ill-prepared for it when it comes.
Because I don't have that luxury. I haven't had that luxury since I was fourteen years old, and life showed me in no uncertain terms how the remainder of my days would unfold. Countless people in this country do not, did not, and will never have that luxury. Trayvon Martin did not have that luxury, in life or in death.

I am not Trayvon Martin. I understand the sentiment for those who say otherwise in protest chants, in Twitter hashtags and signs, but I wish they wouldn't. None of us were, none of us are. None of us will be.
Trayvon Martin was Trayvon Martin. Only he. Nothing more, nothing less. Were his troubles in school the sign of something to come in his adult life, or commonplace indiscretions of a seventeen year old? Was his possession of marijuana evidence that he destined to become a vicious drug lord, or that he was a kid experimenting with a natural substance that many in this country, from the people on my campus who have the fucking audacity to condemn him or brush his case aside to the President of these United States, have also used? (Setting aside of course, the draconian drug laws in this country and their disproportionate skewing towards black males.) Was Trayvon Martin a good kid? A bad kid? A mischievous kid? Or just that, a kid, with his flaws and shortcomings like any one of us, including the man who killed him, the man who some are lauding as an American hero for standing up to a grossly misperceived threat?
Trayvon Martin may have been any of these things, or none of them. But for whatever he may or may not have been, he was alive. He was alive. He deserved the opportunity to live and define for himself, on his own terms, who he was and what he stood for. He did not ask to be the avatar of the black experience to some, the figure embodying the injustices that this nation has and continues to perpetrate to those who look like him. He did not ask to be the embodiment of evil to others, to the extent that people would look for the slightest flaw in his character to drag the name of a killed teenager through the mud in order stave off any hard analysis of the racial dynamics still at play in this country. He asked for, and deserved nothing more, than the opportunity to simply be.
Trayvon Martin was alive. And because of George Zimmerman's actions that night, Trayvon Martin is dead.
Trayvon Martin is dead because George Zimmerman identified him as a threat, had the courage to confront him with a gun by his side, felt that courage suddenly evaporate when got in over his head, and killed him out of fear for his safety. A fear that, ultimately, it was decided he was allowed to have against the unarmed figure unaware of his presence in the darkness. A fear that Trayvon Martin was not allowed to have. In the end, the circumstances surrounding the event made it the word of one man against the words of a ghost, and the failure of those elected to speak for him to speak well on his behalf.
Perhaps the failure is mine as well.

I am not Trayvon Martin.
But what happened to Trayvon Martin could easily have happened to me.
And now more than ever, I'm acutely aware of the possibility that it will.
And as mewling and maudlin and emotionally infantile as it might seem, all I can say with any shred of conviction right now is that I wish Trayvon Martin was still alive.

Mickey D., signing off.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Andrew Garfield’s Masterful Trolling: Spider-Man and Identity

Ask me things! à
Note: My finals words on Trayvon Martin are coming tomorrow.

I’m not sure how obvious this is, considering both my last post’s gushing over the awesomeness that is Superman and my lifelong struggles with a deeply-rooted sense of arachnophobia; just typing the word describing my condition has me clutching a shoe and looking in the corners of my room for any signs of those demonic hellspawns waiting to descend upon me and nom upon my flesh. But for as long as I can remember being a superhero nerd, my favorite character has been Spider-Man. Others have come close to dethroning him over the years, like the Runaways’ Alex Wilder, the X-Men’s Nightcrawler, the Teen Titans’ Cyborg, the first and third Robins, the fourth Green Lantern, the second Aqualad, or perennial runner-up Static.
(Apparently I relate especially well to black guys. Who knew?)
But always and inevitably, it comes back to Spidey. I don’t know what it is; the everyday teenager persona of Peter Parker, a far more relatable cry from billionaire playboy Bruce Wayne or mild-mannered Clark Kent? The humanity that tends to ground his stories with a dosage of realism not often seen in comics? Is it the hilariously sarcastic quips when he fights his enemies? The sartorial glory of the black suit? The web-slinging, a form of transportation whose inherent exhilaration is matched by no other in fiction, be it super speed or flight or teleportation or a really nice car? The fact that his powers are relatively low-end, but he has consistently established himself as one of the most powerful figures in the Marvel Universe? The supreme irony that as much as I wanted his powers as a kid, I’d have probably died from fright if I had to go through the same experience in order to get them? Perhaps it is all of these things. Perhaps it is none of them. All I know is that when it comes to superheroes in my eyes, there is Spider-Man, and then there is everyone else.
I was never big on the actual comics as a child; to this day, the only superhero comics I own are the collected issues of Runaways and Watchmen. I know what I know of the greater Spider-Man mythos through diligent internet research, wiki walks, and browsing of . But I did grow up on the animated series and the toys, and absolutely devoured the original Sam Raimi film trilogy, the hokeyness of Emo Peter in 3 notwithstanding. To this day, I stand beside Spider-Man 2 as one of the greatest superhero movies ever made. It seems as though they’re a dime a dozen these days, superhero flicks, but I’ve currently got it slotted at #3 behind last year’s Avengers and 2008’s Dark Knight. Unless The Wolverine turns out to be amazing, those rankings are probably safe for another year. I rather enjoyed last year’s reboot despite some initial skepticism, and as much as the decision to cast Jamie Foxx as Electro is throwing me for a loop, I’m pumped for the sequel as well.
Michael B. Jordan
What’s the purpose of writing all that, you ask? Well, aside from the fact that I can’t seem to open blog posts without easing into them with a five-hundred word anecdote, and my ongoing quest to convince my female readership that my twentieth birthday has failed miserably to foster even an iota of maturity within me, Spidey’s back in the news again, courtesy of the new film and its leading man Andrew Garfield. In an interview with Entertainment Weekly promoting the sequel due out next summer, Garfield spun a tale (heh, spider humor) of how he approached the producers of the film about the possibility of inserting an arc with Peter questioning his sexuality in the sequel. Not content to leave it there, Garfield also suggested that the long-established character of Mary Jane Watson be reworked into a male character and suggested actor Michael B. Jordan (who happens to be as black as the man Olympian who shares his name) as a perfect fit, gleefully noting that they could kill two birds with one stone by casting a black actor.
This… did not go over well. Allow me to paraphrase the backlash.
Make Spider-Man gay and in love with a male Mary Jane Watson? What would they call this gender-bent abomination? Martin John? Marvin Jack? Who cares?! And to have this new character be portrayed by a Negro, no less? It’s not enough that we have to deal with interracial romance and same sex-romance, but now we have to deal with them at the same time! Oh, the humanity! The political correctness! The progressive agenda being forcefully ram-rodded down our throats! Listen! Can you hear it? That’s the moral fiber of America being torn apart at the very seams, and the wails of the righteous as they fall into the yawning chasm left it in its wake! Welcome to Obama’s America! Stock up on non-perishable goods and bottled water, the end times are upon us all!
…alright, some editorial exaggeration on my part, I confess. But the thing is, on so many levels, I’ve seen this before. With these movies, with this character, and hell, even with the actors involved.
To wit: before Andrew Garfield was cast in the reboot, there was a push to get Hollywood renaissance man Donald Glover, aka Childish Gambino, aka Troy “Buttsoup” Barnes of Greendale Community College cast in the role of Peter Parker. It was probably never going to happen, but you wouldn’t have guessed it by the backlash. Glover made light of the incident during a stand-up comedy special (seriously, the guy does stand-up, he acts, he raps, and he writes for some of the better comedies on TV; it’s insane), but it wasn’t a laughing matter for fans who would’ve been fine with his casting having to witness the rest of the fanbase work itself into a lather over the possibility of a black Spidey.
Similarly, the actor in question that Garfield suggested play the genderbent and race-lifted Mary Jane, Michael B. Jordan, has been rumored to be in talks to play the Human Torch in the inevitable Fantastic Four reboot. For the non-nerdy among you, the Human Torch is white. In the original two FF movies, he was portrayed by Chris Evans, who’s now the new Captain America, oddly enough. At any rate, white character+black actor+ Internet dwellers= unnecessary controversy. The equation never fails.
(Jordan has some good superhero street cred in my books, though. Go check out Chronicle, which, funnily enough, also stars the new Harry Osborn, aka Spider-Man’s best friend-turned-foe, in Dane DeHaan. Gee, the casting decisions of Hollywood superhero movies are mildly incestuous, aren’t they?)
And two years ago (and if you’re really against nerddom, grit your teeth for this one), the character of Spider-Man himself got hit with this… kind of. I briefly touched on this story last year in my ParaNorman post, but I’ll dive in a bit more here. You see, in the clusterfuzzle that is the world of comics, there tend to be multiple alternate universes. Marvel has quite a few, but the preeminent alternate universe is the “Ultimate” realm, launched at the turn of the century to be a modern reimagining of their most popular characters like Iron Man and the Fantastic Four. In the Ultimate Universe, after 160 issues as Spider-Man, the Ultimate Peter Parker was killed in a climactic battle with his archenemy the Green Goblin. And even though resurrections are par for the course in superhero comics, (hello, Jean Grey), this one was apparently intended to stick. Peter was dead dead, killed to death, deader than dead.  In the mainstream Marvel universe, he was alive and kicking, but the Ultimate Peter Parker was not coming back. Still hasn’t, although again, it’s s comic book. Who knows? In any event, there couldn’t very well be a Marvel Universe without a Spider-Man. Someone had to assume the mantle… and that someone turned out to be a biracial teenager from Brooklyn, the half-black half-Hispanic Miles Morales. And again people predictably, people lost their shit.
Admittedly, whether or not Glenn Beck ever had his shit is debatable.
Now, here’s the thing. It’s almost impossible to read vocal inflection, intention, or sarcasm through text alone. Lord knows I’ve screwed up more than a few chats online or texts over the phone by misinterpreting meaning, either by reading too deeply or not deeply enough. But I have a huge, Quasimodo-esque hunch that Garfield knew exactly what he was doing by saying this. All signs point to him being a massive Spider-Man fan, and such, there’s no way that’s he’s unaware of the passions that the character stokes in the fanbase. He knows the history. He knew the shitstorm it’d launch, he knew the headlines he’d create, and he knew the backlash his words would summon out of the dark corners of the media. I wasn’t present for the interview, but I can see the smirk on his face as he said this, and hear the easy mockery in his voice. This was no earnest supplication to actually make the change.
No, this was trolling. I’ve spent too much time on the internet to not know a troll when I see one, and there’s no doubt in my mind that Garfield is absolutely reveling in the outrage he’s created. This was some good ol’ fashioned Grade-A prime unadulterated black-belt level trolling, executed beautifully by Mr. Garfield and very worthy of Spider-Man himself. And as I’m sure he knew it would, it worked, so very well. I can see him now with in a penthouse apartment somewhere with Jordan passing around a bottle and laughing their asses off as they scroll through the articles and comments parsing his interview, probably reenacting some of the more histrionic ones in a high pitched voice. 
Probably smiling just like this, too.
And I friggin’ love him for it. It’s easy to say something to piss off or offend a lot of people, entire pockets of the internet have been dedicated to doing exactly that. Couching that offense that in seemingly innocuous intent, all while airing out the ugly and illogical ways in which people think in the process? That’s a delicate process, and knowing when to do it and how to do it well is a lot harder. Garfield pulled it off with aplomb. The responses were predictable. There were the usual tired and forced jokes. Fans swore they would boycott the film and the entire character if it happened. A character so entrenched and so popular in American culture shouldn’t be changed. Garfield was pushing an agenda, probably because he himself was secretly gay too. The comment sections on IGN and Yahoo tend to be breeding grounds for some pretty terrible stuff on a good day, but they turned out in full force for this one. Enter at thine own risk.
(Let’s just take a moment to say that if rumors about Garfield’s current girlfriend are true, that last one is patently hilarious. I’m pretty sure being dating Emma Stone is about as far from being attracted to men as it’s possible to be.)
Yeah, the overwhelming response to a gay Spider-Man has been a resounding “NO,” much like it was with the black Spidey before him. But to answer Garfield’s question honestly, the truth is that there’s really no logical reason why Spidey couldn’t be gay.
Think about it; how has Peter Parker been defined over the years? Even before the spider bite? A nerd, an outcast, a pariah. Someone continually picked on and ostracized by his peers. A kid with few, if any friends. An orphan, soon to be robbed of the only father figure in his life. Someone who consistently swings and misses with his romantic pursuits. A teenager desperately confused about who he is, who he wants to be, and who he can be. Throw in the wrinkle of being a superhero in secret and everything just gets murkier. You could even argue, and screw it, I will argue that some of these issues only become more poignant if the kid in question is gay. I’ve been in American schools, I have seen this shit firsthand. In my younger days, I may have even been responsible for it. But there’s really nothing at the core of Peter’s character that is especially tied to him being attracted to women.
No, not even Mary Jane Watson, iconic love interest though she may be. At this point, she may even outstrip Lois Lane in that department. Part of me thinks that the original trilogy is to blame for this; Sam Raimi’s gone on the record multiple times as stating that his movies are at their core, a love story, and the romance between Peter and Mary Jane is arguably given a greater focus than any other pairing in any other contemporary superhero films. But the idea that this couldn’t work with two men is ludicrous. Last I checked, gay men weren’t frothing lust machines being dragged forward by the gravitational pull of their dicks anymore than straight men, despite the popular stereotypes saying otherwise. The potential for a lasting and genuine emotional connection is as present in homosexual couples as it is in heterosexual ones. It’s certainly going to bear a lot more battle scars.
Now even though I’m pretty sure Garfield wasn’t serious, my defense of the idea shouldn’t be taken as an endorsement. I wouldn’t especially care if they decided to make this change, it’s still freaking Spider-Man, but I’m not a huge fan of change for change’s sake. The problem, as I see it, is more that the backlash seems predicated on the notion that a change would radically redefine the character. And I’m not so sure that it would.
I’m going to posit something crazy, and I say this fully aware that the biases of my own identity may be coloring my attempts to be objective here. This is not intended as a woe-is-me-I’m-a-minority, check- your-privilege-you-oppressive-oppressing-oppressor type of shtick, even though I’m fully aware that this may well be read as such. But here it is. In stories that feature main characters that tend to belong to mainstream demographics, it’s incredibly rare for either the narrative or the character to be defined to any significant extent by those categorizations. A male character isn’t defined by his gender as much as a female character would be, just as a white character wouldn’t be as defined by their race if they were black, brown or Asian, or a straight character by his orientation as much as a gay, lesbian, or bisexual one. And the realm of fiction, like many realms within this country, is largely dominated by straight white men. That’s not a complaint, not necessarily but merely a recognition of the reality of America’s long-standing cultural power dynamics.
            And this transcends fiction too, in a lot of ways. Look at sports, not on the amateur or collegiate level, but in the pros. The major professional sports leagues are populated entirely by men, but you wouldn’t know that just from looking at the title. National Football League, National Basketball Association, Major League Baseball. But the women’s leagues let you know that they’re women’s leagues. The National Women’s Soccer League, the Women’s National Basketball Association, the Western Women’s Hockey League, the *shudder* Lingerie Football League. The only exception is professional softball, adventurously titled National Pro Fastpitch.
Or look at the world of hip-hop. It’s an industry almost exclusively dominated by black men. No black male rapper is ever going to see a significant amount of pushback of their work on the basic of their gender or race, and no black male rapper will ever be actually defined as a “black male rapper”. But for women, like Lil’ Kim or Nicki Minaj? They can’t escape that definition, and no matter how well or poorly they perform, they’ll always be seen as women first and rappers second. The same goes for white guys, like Eminem or MGK or the current (and well-deserved) flavor of the month, Macklemore. They have to consistently bring it in a way that people of other races (I’m looking at you, Keef) don’t have to in order to avoid being dismissed as some white wannabes. There are still some who’ll never take them or their music seriously because of their race. And while I personally can’t stand Kreayshawn’s music, I don’t envy her for trying to break into the rap game as a white woman. Unless she’s harboring the spirit of Tupac within her (and all signs point to her decidedly not) her race and gender are an albatross around the neck and cement block around the feet in her attempts to stay afloat in the burgeoning ocean that is the rap game
…I think I forced that metaphor a bit too hard.
The common counter-argument with this, of course, is why not work it in reverse? Why not make black characters white, or gay characters straight? Why was there so much criticism of the Mandarin being played by Ben Kingsley in Iron Man 3, or M Night. Shyamalan casting white actors to play Aang, Sokka, and Katara in The Last Airbender? Why not make Black Panther white, or Storm? Why not make Northstar or Karolina Dean straight?
Well, it’s rather simple. Just as majority characters tend not to be defined by their race, so too are minority characters inextricably tied to them, often solely by the nature of their underrepresentation. The pushback against making a Wonder Woman, Black Widow, or a new Catwoman solo film isn’t in the inherent difficulty of their characters, it’s because they’re women, and executives are well aware that it’ll make them a harder sell. Black Panther, Black Lightning, and Black Manta are so defined by their races that it’s in their goddamn names. In the case of Panther, it would be a bit difficult for the narrative of him being an African king defending his country from encroaching imperialism if he wasn’t African, or Storm being worshipped as a tribal goddess prior to joining the X-Men if she wasn’t. I’m not that familiar with Northstar but I’d imagine his development as a character is very much tied to his sexuality and not incidental. It’s certainly a huge deal when it comes to Karolina in Runaways. I’ll set aside Iron Man 3; that casting actually works brilliantly in the movie, but to discuss it would be a heavy spoiler. While race doesn’t play a huge part in the original Avatar series, multiculturalism very much did, and that multiculturalism was present in the motley nature of the core cast, from their skin tones, powers, mannerisms, clothing, and names. Along with so many other things, the casting of the Last Airbender washes that away.
If you change these aspects of these characters, then in this case, you are changing the characters, and radically. Some will undoubtedly call that a double standard, and maybe it is. But I think it’s a simple truth that Straight White Male tends to be the default and lowest difficulty setting in the game in that is life in the United States, and of the many perks that come with that is an abundance of fictional representation. Similarly, I don’t think there’s much suffering from tweaking SWM characters to fall in with characteristics of less represented demographics over time.
            One of the best examples of just how overblown this whole thing is the head honcho of the new Marvel Cinematic Universe, Col. Nicholas Fury. The current pop culture impression of the S.H.I.E.L.D. Director is of him as a black man, an impression helped along by dint of being played by Samuel L. Motherf***in’ Jackson in Marvel films for the past few years. It doesn’t seem that very many people ill-versed in comic lore are aware that the original Nick Fury is, in fact, white. Again, the Ultimate universe strikes again; apparently Jackson allowed Marvel to use his likeness in the redesign of the character a decade ago on the condition that they cast him in any live-action roles starring the character. Cue the stinger of 2008’s Iron Man, and we now have the image of a black Nick Fury, despite the white version of the character still apparently going strong in the mainline Marvel universe.
So why did it work when it came time to introduce the character to mainstream audiences, albeit under literal cover of darkness? Because the original character of Nick Fury was never defined by his race. He was a white character, yes, but he wasn’t a white character. Nothing about his history as a World War II vet turned spy turned government agent turned overseer of all things superheroic in the Marvel universe was intrinsically tied to him being white incapability, and when it came time to rework his history for the Marvel Universe, his race was essentially a non-factor aside from a few instances early on in his backstory. In the movies, he’s now a black character, but he isn’t a black character, that is to say a character defined by his blackness. Not even being played by Samuel L. Jackson, perhaps the blackest man in America, changes that. Daredevil may not have had much staying power as a comic book movie, but Michael Clarke Duncan’s take on the Kingpin (rest in peace, big guy) was as solid as it would’ve been if they’d gotten Michael Chiklis to do it. It really didn’t matter what race he was.
So back to Spider-Man. Like I said, there are a lot of black heroes I’ve grown to love over the years, but Spidey still holds sway over them all. And a lot of that has to do with the fact, more so than anyone else, he represents the everyman. Superman doesn’t wear a mask, and Bats’ cowl leaves his chin exposed. A lot of other heroes, from the members of the X-Men, Avengers, and Justice League have enough showing to narrow down the list of who they can be. But with a full body costume and mask, Spider-Man can be anyone. Swinging through the skyscrapers of New York, it would be impossible to tell anything about the person behind the red and blue, be he named Peter Parker, Miles Morales, Ben Reilly, or Miguel O’Hara. Subconsciously, that may well be why he’s so relatable to so many, how a black nerd from the South Side of Chicago grew up idolizing a white nerd from Queens more than anyone else. When the mask is on, who he is, what he looks like, who or how he loves… none of those things really matter anymore. What matters is that he’s a flawed, troubled, ordinary person who still makes the decision every time he puts on the costume to do extraordinary, spectacular, and amazing things.
And even if the Amazing Spider-Man 2 is complete and utter shit, it’s good to know that we have a man behind the mask who understands that.
Mickey D., signing off.