It’s no small understatement to say the Internet was agitated to learn Michael B. Jordan had been cast as the Human Torch in Josh Trank’s upcoming reboot of Fantastic Four. In May 2013, upon discovering the character — originally conceived in Marvel’s early ’60s comic series as a hot-headed, blonde-haired, blue-eyed teenager who can burst into flame at will — would be updated by an African-American actor, fan outcry blazed across social media with super-heated vitriol. “The Human Torch can’t be black!” tweeted @ZackosaurusRex, echoing the common sentiment at that time.
But in a personal essay for Entertainment Weekly, “Why I’m Torching the Color Line,” Jordan pointed out that if Stan Lee, the prolific writer and comic book kingpin who created the Fantastic Four (in addition to a host of other immortal characters including Spider-Man, the X-Men, and the Avengers), was okay with him portraying the character, the rest of Fanboy Nation should be too. “[If] Stan Lee writes an email to my director saying, ‘You’re good. I’m okay with this,’ who am I to go against that?” Jordan said.
Contacted by EW, Lee — who shattered comic-dom’s unofficial color barrier during the Civil Rights era, penning such characters as the Black Panther and the Falcon — took pains to make ensure there is no uncertainty regarding his stance on Jordan’s casting in the new Fantastic Four. “It was more than okay,” says Lee. “I thought it was a great idea!”
As the indefatigable 92-year-old superhero conjurer and Marvel Comics chairman emeritus sees it, fan backlash up until this point hasn’t so much been spurred on by racism as much as unyielding fealty to the source material. “They’re outraged not because of any personal prejudice,” Lee says. “They’re outraged because they hate to see any change made on a series and characters they had gotten familiar with. In Spider-Man, when they got a new actor, that bothered them, even though it was a white actor. I don’t think it had to do with racial prejudice as much as they don’t like things changed.”
He adds: “But I think they’re gonna get to love this character. So I’m not the least bit worried about it. I always tried to pepper these groups with as much racial diversity as possible because that’s the way the world is.”
The Fantastic Four opens Aug. 7.