Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Black History Month Heroes - Nick Fury in "Iron Man"

"Why read comics book?" is a question tossed at those who read them frequently. For one reason: comics have been on the cutting edge of popular culture for the last 20 years.

If it happens in comic book (or graphic novel) chances are, you'll see a movie, television series, video game or even a theme park following in its footsteps.

Thus, the reason Walt Disney shelled out a heroic sum of $4 billion to acquire Marvel Comics:
The Walt Disney Company has agreed to acquire Marvel Entertainment in a stock and cash transaction, the companies announced this morning. Under the terms of the agreement and based on last week’s closing price of Disney, Marvel shareholders would receive a total of $30 per share in cash plus approximately 0.745 Disney shares for each Marvel share they own.

Based on the closing price of Disney stock on Friday, August 28, the total transaction value is $50 per Marvel share or approximately $4 billion.

Under the deal, which has been approved by the boards of both companies, Disney will acquire ownership of Marvel including its portfolio of over 5,000 Marvel characters. That portfolio includes many familiar names like Iron Man, Spider-Man, X-Men, Captain America, Fantastic Four and Thor.

Says Disney CEO Robert A. Iger in a statement: “We believe that adding Marvel to Disney’s unique portfolio of brands provides significant opportunities for long-term growth and value creation.”

Comics are a huge business, and the characters drawn and created largely by gentlemen of Jewish ancestry have kept Hollywood afloat for the past 15 years, at a time when creativity and originality seem to be in short supply:
It's been 10 years since the film version of The X-Men hit theaters, kicking off a decade in movies that was heavily influenced by comic books and the geeks who love them.

And as Hollywood begins a new decade, the growing relationship between comics and movies shows no signs of slowing. Unlike the disaster films of the '70s or the high school films of the '80s, comic book movies appear to be more popular now than ever before, despite dominating the Hollywood landscape for over a decade.

"Comic book movies are here to stay," said Jeff Katz, the movie producer and comic book publisher who worked on films like X-Men Origins: Wolverine. "I would say, even though they technically fall into a lot of different genres, they’re actually like a genre unto themselves. And it's one of the most desirable genres in Hollywood."
Iron Man, the Fantastic Four, Daredevil, Spider-man, The Punisher, Batman, Superman, Flash, Green Latern, the X-Men, Sin City, 300, Watchmen, Hulk and countless others have brought in billions upon billions in box office receipts (see here for Box Office Mojo's list of most profitable comic book movies), with Thor, Captain America and a forthcoming Avengers film prepared to only add to the growing largess made from comic book movies. Not to mention DVD sales...

Share holders of Disney stock take notice, as your gains and dividends will be derived from the exploits of radioactive enhanced superheroes.

However, Black History Month has to take a somber approach to comic books and the cultural force they represent as Black characters are routinely missing from the superhero teams and tales of adventurous crime fighters are performed in a state of near solid whiteness:

While Savage Dragon is an overly muscular green humanoid, Spider-Man is a real, live human being. And, like Superman and Batman and Captain America and Flash and Wonder Woman, the Web Crawler has a common trait among comic strip superheroes:

He's white...

The first black superhero was Marvel's Black Panther, who showed up in a 1966 Fantastic Four story and has gained some popularity. Another Marvel character, Blade, earned big-market attention when Wesley Snipes personified him in a film version of the comic. Some characters have vacillated between races — both Spawn and Catwoman were black in certain iterations, white in others. And characters like Storm, Luke Cage, Static, and Bishop have enjoyed a certain level of celebrity, but not the kind that has netted others their own big-budget Hollywood films.

But with Obama establishing a new role model for blacks in America, traditional depictions of blacks in popular culture could get a makeover, said culture critic David Horowitz.

"I think having a black president will have a positive impact on black images in the popular culture and will move that culture away from some of its politically correct absurdities," he said.

Naturally, white people (individuals of the Jewish ancestry primarily) created the comic book characters we know, love and cherish. Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Bob Kane and many other Jewish gentlemen created comic book characters in the 1950s and 1960s that reflected the overwhelmingly white population of the time (America had a 90 percent population of white people in 1964).

Black people have had ample time to create story lines, draw and distribute comic book characters of Black ancestry for quite sometime, yet oddly, this has not transpired ( is a great website to learn about Black characters in comics).

Spawn, who in his life was a Black man, is a popular character created by the incredibly white Todd McFarlane. That character was the first Black superhero to garner his own film (an under-rated one at that), followed soon by a Black Marvel Comics character, Blade.

Yet, the majority of comic book movies are painfully devoid of Black characters, largely due to the lack of Black characters drawn by the Jewish writers of comics in the 1950s and 1960s. Attempts were made to rectify this major oversight, but the white characters were so popular that any attempt to "color" a superhero was met with a lot of negative publicity.

Billy Dee Williams was set to play Harvey Dent/ Two-Face in the original Tim Burton interpretation of Batman, but was replaced with the white actor Tommy Lee Jones (Two Face is a white guy in the comics).

The lack of Black characters in comics was changed forever with the unveiling of the Barack Obama comic that garnered massive sales (primarily driven by the Black community, who saw the image of Mein Obama gracing the Spider-Man comic a sign of the changing times).

Yet, superhero movies continue to be shockingly all-white affairs. Hardly a Black face is seen in Superman Returns, the Fantastic Four, the Spider-Man trilogy, Iron Man, the two Hulk films and rare is the Black actor in the insanely popular Christopher Nolan Batman films.

Barack Obama-less comics
aren't as popular in the Black community, yet the movies based on the white characters are beloved by Black people even they contain oh so precious few Token Black's in the scripts.

Fictional Black History Month has changed all of this, as Samuel L. Jackson has magically morphed the traditionally white Nick Fury character into the ultimate manifestation of coolness - himself:
General Nicholas Joseph "Nick" Fury is a fictional character published by Marvel Comics. A reinterpretation of the character Nick Fury, one of the most notable differences between the two is that the mainstream Nick Fury is a Caucasian colonel with greying brown hair, while this Nick Fury is a bald African American general, specifically tailored after actor Samuel L. Jackson with his permission.
Jackson appeared as Fury in a post-credits scene in the 2008 film Iron Man. Fury has a substantial presence in all the Ultimates comics, appearing first in Ultimate Marvel Team-Up and Ultimate X-Men and later reappearing regularly in Ultimate Spider-Man and finally securing a regular, recurring role as the General of S.H.I.E.L.D. and the leader of The Ultimates, a re-imagining of the Avengers..

The similarity is even noted within the comic itself, in a scene in which the Ultimates discuss who they think should play each of them in a hypothetical movie about the team. Fury's answer for himself is "Mr. Samuel L. Jackson, of course, no discussion." Such is the popularity of the Jackson-inspired version of the character that Jackson was contracted to portray Fury in
Iron Man despite the film being an adaptation of the mainstream Marvel Universe version of the character, rather than choose a Caucasian actor to play the matching classic version of Fury.
Reinventing traditional white characters and putting popular character actors in their place is the only way that people will accept Black people in these roles. Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury in Iron Man and Iron Man 2 (and the subsequent sequels/team-ups it is spawning) is the perfect inclusion into the fictional Black History Month we are celebrating at Stuff Black People Don't Like.

Lacking any popular Black characters in comics, the only solution to this monochromatic problem is to "color" secondary characters and supplant their banal whiteness with cool Blackness. When you need a cool Black character, the obvious choice is Samuel L. Jackson.

Another famously white comic book character got the Nick Fury treatment, as Kingpin in the 2004 film Daredevil was played by Michael Clarke Duncan. Kingpin is a villain that possess an incredibly corpulent frame, yet a curious lack of melanin. In the comics, he's a huge white dude.

In the movie, he's played by Duncan, a huge Black dude (a great interview with Duncan where he is asked about playing a white character):

UGO: So what is it like playing a character that has been white for forty years?

MCD: That was my biggest concern. When Mark Steven Johnson sat me down, I thought he wanted me to be a thug or something, the usual. I said, "OK, I don't mind being the Daredevil." He said, "No, I want you to be the Kingpin." I said, "Oh, wait a minute. That guy is white. He has always been white, in the comic book he is white, and I know he is white. He's cool, but he is white." He said, "People at FOX have already confirmed that you are the best actor for the job." It's a little pressure, because people have these comic books and they keep them and they want it to be what they see in the comic book. They don't want you changing it all the way around and changing colors, and so I was really worried about that. Mark said, "Just go in there and do the best job that you can," and so once he told me that, I just went in there and tried to do my best.

Fictional Black History Month has to include Nick Fury, for Black people have so precious few comic book characters that they can relate to, that it is absolutely vital that traditionally white characters be remade in heroic Black actors images. Thus, Sam Jackson in a white role to add some semblance of diversity to the overwhelmingly white comic book movies.

In 1989, people weren't prepared for a traditionally white character to be replaced by a cool Black actor (Williams as Two-Face), but Samuel L. Jackson and Michael Clarke Duncan have used the powerful, leveling force of fictional Black History Month to change minds and attitudes.

If only Will Smith could be Captain America, then we'd truly realize the importance of understanding Black Run America (BRA). The dearth of Black comic book characters can only be remedied by 'coloring' popular white characters and replacing them with popular Black actors.


NC17 said...

I loved this blog, and not because i'm a comic book geek, that's only half the reason. You hit the nail dead on it's head when you talked about jewish artist and writers. I think Stan Lee did the best he could during his era to incorporate a sense of racial diversity, jack kirby is another story. The DC universe is the olders and most segregated of them all. Growing up I thought Image Comics would change all of that, but other than Spawn there was nothing. Changing the race for a movie is cool, but it doesn't solve the problem we need REAL black superheros... sorry Dwayne McDuffie.

Steve said...

Ive often said why do we have to change white characters to appease the fragile sensibilities of the blacks? If the blacks don't have a super hero make one! Stop begging for whitey to make everything for you, create your own. In this age of black empowerment Im sure any number of black directors, producers or businessmen would love to be involved in the project.
Its not the job of the whites to create your comic book heros.

Steve said...

Ive often said why do we have to change white characters to appease the fragile sensibilities of the blacks? If the blacks don't have a super hero make one! Stop begging for whitey to make everything for you, create your own. In this age of black empowerment Im sure any number of black directors, producers or businessmen would love to be involved in the project.
Its not the job of the whites to create your comic book heros.

Anonymous said...

How about black super-villains? There really seems to be a lot in real life why not in comics too!