What makes a hero? The question is definitely one that calls for a subjective answer: To me, a hero is someone who is selfless, brave, and deserving of respect — a figure for children and adults to look to as an example of a human who exhibits exemplary behavior. By extension, comic book movies should be tasked with two important jobs: telling a good story and casting actors who can carry the weight of playing heroes. That doesn't mean they have to be perfect, but they need to understand iconic roles carry a certain amount of responsibility. Case-in-point: when Michael B. Jordan, who's starring as Johnny Storm in the new Fantastic Four film, penned a letter to all those who believe he should not play the role simply because he is not blond-haired and blue-eyed like the character is in the pages of the comic books, he proved he is up to the task of playing a hero — because he already is one.
It is not unusual for fans of any sort of source material for movies to become upset when directors and writers change characters they love. Fiction is deeply personal, but when people become outraged because a character's outward appearance does not match what is in their imaginations (or even on the page) there is a problem. Of course, this issue can get complicated — whitewashing characters who were originally a different ethnicity in the source material is sadly a huge problem in Hollywood, and it's right to get upset when this happens. However, whitewashing happens all the time, without much backlash on the Internet — whereas when the opposite happens, like Jordan being cast in a role originally written to be for a white actors, it seems everyone has a opinion. This is ridiculous, especially when you consider how few complex, starring roles there are calling for diversity in Hollywood.
Luckily, however, Jordan has some wise, wise words for the naysayers — and his essay actually speaks right to the heart of why there was no better choice for the role of Johnny Storm.
1. Johnny Stands Up To Bullies
Way back in the '60s, when the Fantastic Four comics first debuted, Johnny was a high school student. Even though he was conventionally handsome, he faced bullying, especially from one student named Mark Snow. Johnny stood up to Mark, and ultimately turned him into a friend.
After reading some of the vitriol against Jordan being cast in this role, it's clear that some of his naysayers are definitely bullies. However, in his essay, Jordan does not insult or attack these people — but he does stand up to them. "I can see everybody’s perspective, and I know I can’t ask the audience to forget 50 years of comic books," Jordan wrote. "But the world is a little more diverse in 2015 than when the Fantastic Four comic first came out in 1961."
2. Johnny Leads With His Heart
Johnny is often described as the "hot-headed" member of the Fantastic Four. He makes rash decisions, but that is because he lets his emotions guide him. He leads with his heart, and when he sees injustice happening he cannot let it stand. Kind of like how Jordan could only take so much of the internet's silliness before he responded with a killer essay defending progress and diversity.
3. The Fantastic Four Is About A Family Of Choice
In the comics, Sue and Johnny Storm lose their parents at an early age (their mother dies in a car accident, and their father ends up being sent to prison). Sue raised Johnny, later fell in love with Reed Richards, and then they all became friends with Ben Grimm. The First Family of comics is, in fact, a blended a family. It is not blood that binds them, it is love.
Jordan has a keen understanding of just what it is that makes the Fantastic Four as a group so special: "This is a family movie about four friends — two of whom are myself and Kate Mara as my adopted sister — who are brought together by a series of unfortunate events to create unity and a team. That’s the message of the movie, if people can just allow themselves to see it."
4. Johnny Embraces Living In A Diverse World
The Marvel Universe is all about embracing differences and fighting against inequality. Just look at the X-Men: what are they, if not an allegory for the pain caused by fearing people who're different than the rest of us? Within the Marvel universe, the free-spirited Johnny teamed up with She-Hulk, he fell in love with a Skrull, and he formed his own team to defend a world that often does not want superheroes to save them.
In his essay, Jordan is quick to point out the world has changed since the '60s and that it is still evolving. One of his best quotes is: "Sometimes you have to be the person who stands up and says, "I'll be the one to shoulder all this hate. I'll take the brunt for the next couple of generations." I put that responsibility on myself. People are always going to see each other in terms of race, but maybe in the future we won’t talk about it as much."
5. Johnny Is Willing To Take One For The Team
Johnny is occasionally the wildcard, but there is nothing he wouldn't do for his team, including sacrificing himself. In the real world, Jordan spoke out on behalf of himself, his director, and a movie he is clearly proud to be a part of. He believes in the Fantastic Four and the power of heroes, just like Johnny does.
6. He Has The Stan Lee Stamp Of Approval
Stan Lee created Johnny Storm, and you know what — he loves that Jordan is taking on the role. In his essay, Jordan mentions that Lee took the time to actually email director Josh Trank and let him know he was happy to have Jordan on board. You know why? Because Lee created one of the most progressive comic book universes out there, and he recognizes talent when he sees it.
7. Jordan Has a Sense of Humor
Johnny's defining quality is that he is hilarious. He is a quick-witted, joke-cracking kind of guy. He can be serious when he needs to be, but most of the time he finds a way to keep the mood light. Similarly, Jordan took on an intense subject matter with grace, eloquence, and yes, wit. "To the trolls on the Internet, I want to say: Get your head out of the computer. Go outside and walk around. Look at the people walking next to you. Look at your friends’ friends and who they’re interacting with. And just understand this is the world we live in. It’s OK to like it."
Johnny Storm could not possibly be in better hands.
Images: Giphy (7)