First of all, I loved Jessica Jones. I am talking here of the Netflix series, not the comic book, that I, admittedly, never knew existed before the show. I binged like crazy over that show. Staying up until 1 or 2 a.m., even when I had to wake at 5:30 in the morning to get to my day job. I was really tired for… that… week. I guess when you binge, you can cut through a 13 episode season rather quickly. I wanted to get that out of the way early as this leads inevitably towards the fact that I will be making several JJ related posts, this just being the first.
And warning: I saw some stray SPOILERS about.
This week, I won’t be focusing on the obvious, rich topics of feminism, trauma, implications of rape, or even dealing with the consequences of free will and its removal. Instead I wanted to focus on the lawyer, Geri Hogarth. Even worse, I wanted to look at her in a very meta way. Patience, everyone, I’ll write all kinds of crazy things about all of that stuff in time, I promise. Carrie-Anne Moss takes on the role of the lawyer that fits the stereotype of a high powered, win-at-all-costs New York battle axe who gets her comeuppance and dynamic character change after she becomes indirectly responsible for her ex-wife’s death, fully responsible her near-fiance’s leaving, as well as jeopardizing her job (Wow, a 60 word sentence.) Her only redeeming quality seems to be that she throws some work the hero’s way every once in a while. Oh, and she’s a lesbian. I’ll eventually get to that last point, but for now, it isn’t particularly relevant outside of the character exposition (which is in-and-of-itself a point). However, the point of interest lies in the fact that Geri Hogarth was originally Jeryn Hogarth, man at law. Yes, I read your hearts and your fears have come true. I will be writing about the social-political implications of re-imagining an established character to include diversity attributes. In English, “when ‘They’ change the character”.
Moss as Hogarth is absolutely not the first character to take a walk around the social spectrum. Already in the Netflix MCU, Vondie Curtis-Hall, a black actor, was cast as Ben Urich, a white journalist for Daredevil. Michael B. Jordan as Johnny Storm in the newest Fantastic Four. Speedy on CW’s Arrow is played by Willa Holland, acting as his younger sister. Michael Clarke Duncan as King Pin in Ben Affleck’s Daredevil (side note: I always hear it called “Ben Affleck’s Daredevil” as though he was the creator of the movie. Is that because it was a horrible failure? What? New Batman? Ok…). There have been hits and there have been misses. The point of this post is to look at the motivations and fall-outs of those decisions.
As a fan, I’m biased, but the MCU in the Netflix world has seen so many more hits than misses when they decided to shift character backgrounds. I could easily add Vincent D’Onofrio as as a childlike Kingpin, but this post has a different focus. Ben Urich may have been a white guy in the comics, but, in my mind, he will always look like Curtis-Hall now. The character was done so well that I can see Marvel going back and retconning Ben into an African-American going forward, as they have done with much of their world the past few years (I don’t care what you write, Marvel, Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver are Magneto’s children and I- – – know it!) I feel the same with Moss’s work as Hogarth. Drastically different than the comic? Yup. Yet she pulls off this nearly unlikable, ruthless, ball buster role the team wrote in all the worst/best ways. In these two instances, I can almost see the writing happening first–maybe true to the comics–casting happening, the actors coming in, nearly unexpectedly, knocking the snot out of the audition and the writing team going back to the drawing board to figure out how to write around the differences to keep the actor. It is similar to what happened with Jon Bernthal on The Walking Dead. Hard working writers keeping an asset around as long as is possible, extending a character who lasted for six comics into two season of the show (can’t wait to see you in Season 2 DD, Shane.) Good moves all.
The other end of the spectrum involves choices made as a reaction to the outcry of the people for greater minority representation within the world of comics and comic movies. The reaction is no surprise. After the Avengers franchise grabbed hold, it was only a matter of time before someone noticed that the four primary members were all straight, white guys. What is interesting is that, while the MCU has that reputation, the actual Marvel universe tends to be rather inclusive. Usually, it just falls to the X-Men. So, since Fox owns the cinematic rights to them, and since the team of four white guys owned by a mouse became so much more successful, it obscures the fact that the actual Marvel Universe is populated by all peoples . Further, the X-Men, the biggest followed property by Marvel, were created to fill just such a void. It created a group of characters that were intrinsically unpopular, unfairly disliked, thought freaks, and cast out from society. Indeed, the comic book has long been the medium of those who are not readily accepted by society. Why the female, homosexual, or, let’s face it, not-straight-white-male crowd has not gotten a hold of this media source and churned out a mountain of copies is beyond me. Hey, look! I digressed. Back to the point.
Response casting winds up looking like the new Fantastic Four. It looks like the New 52–choices that are made not by the quality of the character but by the outward appearance they give off. Tacking some minority features on established characters to appease a mob makes for bad choices. I think Michael B. Jordan is a great actor. I’ve seen him in both The Wire and Parenthood, but the immediate feeling (as all the trolls were saying) is that the priority was first to find a black actor, then find a good actor.
In the comics, it took the form of reinstituting established characters or groups to better diversify. They added Cyborg to the founding members of the Justice League. They made Alan Scott gay in the Earth 2 counterpart. I, like most nerds my age, loved Cyborg in Teen Titans, which was an amazing animated adaptation of the comic. I think. I never really read those until after the show. I don’t really know anyone who had read them before the show, either. It seems like the reason for his inclusion into the New 52 founding team was his wider popularity than other, more qualified characters the casual readers don’t really know, like Mr. Terrific (the second one). Or Vixen, for that matter. Although, I guess they already had their token chick with Wonder Woman, so why double up? <—*Facetious
Alan Scott was the original Green Lantern. Originally straight. I have less than no issue with a gay character, but when you can tell it is a shallow decision, does it not feel disrespectful to the people you are trying to please, let alone to the craft at which you claim to be a professional? It takes no actual effort to stick a Post-it Note of Diversity on top of any character. See, watch: “Gay Flash”. I just made a gay Flash character. On top of that, of all the characters to reboot, they choose the one area where there are literally infinite options to choose from! Green Lanterns are a whole Corps of individuals that interchange whenever necessary, a setup ripe with diversity–male, female, neither, white, black, green, purple, beyond morbidly obese by human standards. I mean, one Green Lantern is a planet! Why retcon an established character to be a minority status when you can create one that actually has it as a intrinsic trait, allowing for a meaningful development. Instead, it’s “exactly the same as before, but, you know, gay-er.”
Now the comparison to prove the point. Vondie Curtis-Hall and the show runners took care of the character of Ben Urich. His purpose in the comics was never social awareness or diversity, and it wasn’t in Daredevil. He was a journalist with half a century of experience who picked up a thread and followed it to the end no matter what. By the end of Daredevil, Ben Urich feels like a black character to me. By this, I don’t mean that I expect him to embody any of the stereotypical qualities that are often associated with black people. What I mean is that when I think of Urich now, I think of Curtis-Hall. Likewise, if I say Moss’s portrayal of Hogarth now makes the character “feel like a lesbian,” I mean that what I see stems from Moss’s interpretation setting it as the canonical one. Similar to Heath Ledger’s Joker. There are other valid Joker’s out there, but his depiction is the ruler by which others are measured. These actors tapped into the core of their respective characters, perhaps even better than an actor of the original race/gender/style could have. Their portrayals grant definition, providing additional depth to a character rather than being simply different as a misguided attempt at originality.
Change of any kind should improve. We know this. It’s been the battle cry of every fan since the beginning. When the change is done for superficial reasons, it adds nothing to the character and even runs the risk of making the character itself superficial, and comic books have come too far for fans to be okay with that. Done organically, naturally, you create a lasting and important character that goes beyond the temporal “fad” issues of the day and persists indefinitely. To me, it seems like that is what the displeased American audience is calling for. It is a response for which there is no defense.
Oh! Final bullet points to cover things I missed. Michael Clarke Duncan as Kingpin: Good.