Friday, February 21, 2014

From Comics to Toons: The origin of the Fantastic Four (1967)

Pay close attention to the 1967 Fantastic Four episode, "The Way It All Began", which explains the team's origin for the first time on television. Considering the casting for a reboot of the feature film version of the series, comic book purists will have reason to be up in arms again.

In another example of casting to the attention of casual, non-comics-reading fans, Michael B. Jordan (no relation to you know who) was cast as Johnny Storm in the pending reboot, with Kate Mara as Johnny's sister, Sue. Jordan is African-American. While Hollywood has been able to succeed by recasting white supporting characters as African-American in the transition from comics to screen (Samuel L. Jackson was, in fact, the model for Brian Bendis' reboot of Nick Fury, and Marvel neatly explained that away a few months back in storyline), doing the same for a central player in this film may be a mistake. Ben Grimm aside, there is a reason why the FF is known as the "First Family" of superheroes. By the time the above episode aired, Marvel had already had Reed Richards marry Sue Storm, which makes Johnny Reed's brother-in-law. It's going to be a little difficult to explain that away in this new movie.

I get the rationale behind the selection of Jordan, having previously worked with either a castmate or the director on another project. I get that they are targeting, as noted earlier, the non-comics audience who may have some periphery knowledge of the long running FF franchise. However, it wouldn't surprise me all that much if this ends up backfiring.

"The Way It All Began" merits an A, by the way.


magicdog said...

This incarnation of the FF definitely deserves its A rating. In fact, I think it's the best incarnation of all that has come since! Scary that HB did such a great job but subsequent studios have been so hit & miss. If the violence restrictions hadn't come along after 1968, I can only imagine what great adventures we could have seen; and not just for the FF! The Superfriends show could have been closer to "Justice League" 20 years earlier!

Jonny Storm is BLACK now? I'm so sick of this race lifting crap!! I won't be watching the film reboot until the studio honchos get a clue.

hobbyfan said...

And so continues the curse attached to the FF movies.

I will be writing another dissertation on the subject over at TZ, and probably here, too, soon. They're even suggesting that Johnny was adopted to explain away the sudden change in race. If Marvel co-opts this into the comics, then there are problems.

Silverstar said...

Regarding the race swap for Johnny: I don't necessarily have a problem with casting Michael B. as Johnny if the man can act, but really Marvel goofed when it came to initiating the change. Back when Marvel launched the Ultimate comics line, they made all kinds of changes such as making Nick Fury African-American and redesigning him to resemble actor Sam Jackson, so when Jackson was actually cast in the role it seemed like a perfect fit, to the point where Fury eventually became black in the mainstream Marvel properties. But the Ultimate F4 were still all Caucasian, so now this out-of-nowhere racial shift comes off as so jarring.

Updating comic book characters and mythos for modern times and adaptation isn't in itself always a bad thing, but if one is going to drop such radical changes, there has to some precedent to them and you have to give your audience time to adapt to them.

Goldstar said...

I personally don't have a problem with Michael B. Jordan being cast of Johnny Storm. After all, there's nothing about the character's personality and origin that specifically states that Johnny must be Caucasian, and us non-whites would like to see ourselves being represented on TV and in films as well. I wonder why the film's producers didn't just make his sister Sue an African American as well? I guess the producers felt that the actress cast as Sue was the best choice for the role. I hope that's the case and it's not because they felt that having 2 African American actors in lead roles would be too much.

hobbyfan said...

Goldstar, you bring up an excellent point. If they're going to insist on Johnny being African-American, then why not Sue, as well? Whomever it was who came up with the adoption angle (which apparently will explain everything) didn't think everything through. Then again, Hollywood doesn't do enough research in general, anyway.

To your point, Silverstar, Marvel not only introduced a African-American Fury in their main line, but gave him a backstory as the son of the original, the product of, I guess, an extramarital affair. The story was collected in a 1-shot reprint, SHIELD Origins, a few months back.