Feb 12, 2014

A Human Torch for Modern Times

A Human Torch for Modern Times
Ben Smith

Michael B. Jordan is a terrific young actor that has managed to play key roles in what I consider to be two all-time pantheon must-watch TV shows, The Wire and Friday Night Lights. He has since moved on to movies, most recently and notably starring in Fruitvale Station, which earned him some early Best Actor Academy Award buzz before eventually getting edged out by movies that were released later in the year (award voters traditionally have short memories).

Michael B. Jordan is heavily rumored to have landed the part of Johnny Storm, aka The Human Torch, in the upcoming Fantastic Four reboot. The only problem, as some would see it, is that Johnny Storm is Caucasian, and Michael B. Jordan is African-American.


In an interview with Access Hollywood, the actor said:
“It’s not just about that role — I think times are changing. It’s 2014. Comic books in general were established when we didn’t have civil rights, for the most part. So there weren’t a lot of comic book characters who were geared towards us, period. We weren’t the market that comic books were made for in the beginning. But as times change and things move on, I think us as a people need to evolve as well in our thinking and not be so narrow-minded. So, if not me, if not this project, [if it’s] someone else in another character, I wouldn’t be mad at that at all.”

I happen to agree with him, so I’m not even going to bother debating whether this should or should not happen. Michael B. Jordan is an excellent young actor and the Fantastic Four movies would be very lucky to have him (especially considering how terrible the original ones were). My focus is going to be on the comic books and how they’re going to address this change in the character. Marvel Comics, despite what they may or may not say publicly, is all about synergy across their multiple media platforms. As well they should be. The Avengers movie made billions of dollars with Samuel L. Jackson playing the role of Nick Fury. So, more than likely there are far, far more people that recognize a Nick Fury of that race, than they would if they opened up a comic and saw the David Hasselhoff version.

With synergy and equality in mind, I’m going to offer up the best ways for Johnny Storm in the comics, to be updated to reflect the upcoming (possible) movie.

At this point I’d like to offer a disclaimer that I mean no ill will and sincerely do not wish to offend anyone for discussing what may be a sensitive topic for some individuals. If you know that this is a sensitive topic for you, you have been duly warned to stop reading now. If you’re still reading at this point, you have no one to blame but yourself.

Method #1 – Create a brand new Johnny Storm

With the growing popularity of the Samuel L Jackson version of Nick Fury in the movies, it was only a matter of time before the comics felt they needed to follow suit. Instead of erasing the history of the current Nick Fury and starting from scratch, they introduced his son of a different race, Marcus Johnson. Marcus eventually lost his eye, started wearing an eyepatch, got a job with S.H.I.E.L.D., and is now running around the Marvel universe going by the name Nick Fury (his actual legal birth name was revealed to be Nick Fury Jr.).

It would be much too hard to create a new Johnny Storm and insert him seamlessly into the family dynamic of the Fantastic Four comics, so this method isn’t really going to work. Plus, I don’t really like losing the entire history of the original character by creating the new one.

Method #2 – Image Inducer

One of the great imaginary devices of comic books, is the image inducer. If I was tasked with matching the comic Nick Fury up to the movie Nick Fury, this is the route I would have gone. Nick Fury, frequently undercover, would be up against a threat so dangerous that he has to constantly hide his appearance using an image inducer (there was a scene in an old issue of New Avengers where he did just that, and he had many of the same features of Samuel L. Jackson). Eventually, you stop explaining the image inducer part of the look every time he appears, and you just continue on with the new look moving forward.

Something very much like this could potentially work for Johnny Storm, but then you get into some potentially tricky areas with “it’s not real” or “he’s a white guy on the inside” that wouldn’t be worth the bad feelings they could create.

Method #3 – Reboot the Fantastic Four

We’ve all seen how screwed up Superman has gotten over the years from the constant reboots, so I won’t even entertain this one.

Method #4 – Weird science

Reed Richards is the most famous big brain scientist in the Marvel universe. There could easily be some mishap in his lab that alters Johnny Storm’s appearance to match that of the movies. But you pretty much run into the same potential problems of method #2, so that’s not ideal either.

Method #5 – Alternate universe

Building off of the previous method, there could be a situation where Johnny switches places with a Johnny from an alternate universe, and they never switch back. Either by necessity or accident, the alternate universe Johnny is stuck in the regular Marvel universe, and everyone eventually adjusts accordingly.

Probably the best option so far, but then you still lose a little bit of the history of the character (unless you go the route of everything happened the same in the other universe) and you have the awkwardness of the alternate universe Johnny having to become comfortable with this different Fantastic Four family around him, and vice versa.

Method #6 – Just do it

The best option, and the one I would enjoy the most on a personal note, is to just do it. One issue, without warning or explanation, the character has been changed to match the appearance of the movie version. No complicated back story or convoluted storyline to make it work. Just make the change and move on from there. If they really need to, they can do a retroactive miniseries showing all the changes to the character’s back story and the different life situations he had growing up. That’s the way I’d do it.

Hopefully you enjoyed this discussion for the intent behind it, and I offended as few people as possible. I truly do believe that comics should be more diverse and more accurately reflect the world around us. I don’t think it should only fall upon the movies to make these types of changes, comics should be doing it too. And not just for villains like Electro and Kingpin. I don’t think creating new characters is as effective either, because in a shrinking medium like comics, new characters have a much tougher time establishing themselves and sticking around up against characters that have 50-75 years of history. The most effective way to do it, would be to update the biggest and best characters that are already at the forefront of popular culture to match the world around them. The world of the year 2014, not 1938 or 1961.

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