The Faceless Reality Of Geek Heroism

Ultimate Spider-Man and X-Men #41, from Panini...

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I got my attention called to a link posted by someone I follow on Twitter that talks a bit about how the new Ultimate Spider-Man is African-American and Latino, and the bit of a boat-shaking it’s caused in the comics community. Now, admittedly, when it comes to comics I am fairly weak, and really only have fond memories of 75-cent X-Men comics as a youth to provide any real context. But it was interesting to note that no matter what side of the debate people fell on, and no matter how extreme the viewpoints were (from disturbing borderline-racism to purist zealotry, and everything inbetween), that there was nevertheless a concern about the appearance and face that a hero presents. Add to the fact that Peter Parker has been a staple of the comic book industry’s look, and you have the makings of a volatile issue. It’s like a powder keg with a bunch of overeager pyromaniacs surrounding it with matchbooks in hand, with the only thing holding them back from blowing each other up worse than Wile E. Coyote being their own choice.

To someone who deals in, is friends towards, and forms connections with people who don’t immediately show you their face, I don’t know why faithful representation of a hero is such a huge deal. The whole issue with a change in the appearance of a hero – even one as iconic and familiar to geekery as Spider-Man – is one which after a certain point, becomes irrelevant. Not surprisingly, the reason I believe this to be is because of the unbridled optimism I share about heroism in general, and how it inspires us, touches us, and drives us to be more than just a time-clock puncher when it comes to how we spend out lives.

Heroes – including those revered by geeks – come in all colors, shapes, sizes, and appearances. A hero is a person who to others presents a strength and depth of character that causes reverence, respect, and inspiration. When you read about a tragic event or a disaster, the heroes could be firemen, police, the one guy who decides to run back into the burning building to save a family. When you enjoy a favorite piece of media, whether that’s a music, or a book, or a movie, the heroes are either the ones being depicted, or the ones who created the media in the first place. When you’re at work or at home, the heroes are the co-workers who get you out of a jam, or a parent or significant other who gives you love an support when you need it. Heroism is in many ways formless, and therefore faceless.

The facelessness of heroes is all the more apparent among geekery, most importantly in how we interact. How many times have you read or watched something that got you respect, admiration, and good feeling about what was being written or said? How many times have you been primarily concerned with what that looks like as opposed to what you experienced? On the internet, where anonymity is the default and words depict personality, a perceived hero carries no stock appearance, no iconic look, and no standard – yet there are people we consider to be heroic online every day, writing or posting, or creating content that we like.

So if the reason we like heroes is because of their traits, ideas, and creations, and Super Heroes are just heroes with a little something extra that helps them be heroic, why then are people worried about how a hero like Spider-Man looks? You could make an argument for longevity and the fact that “it’s always been that way”, but I challenge you to A)find any comic book hero who hasn’t changed costumes, looks, or style in some manner and B)really think about why you like the hero. Like I said, I have the capacity of a thimble when it comes to my comic book knowhow, but I think that Spider-Man specifically is beloved and seen as heroic primarily for a character that is not mutually exclusive to his face. He’s the geek-turned-superhero, a fictional calling card for the physically weak yet intelligent geek that can only dream of lifting twice their poundage, fighting crime, and scoring the romantic love of someone outside of their league. He uses what he’s been given and acts accordingly, and he carries a whipsmart wit that has been matched by few. Those are the qualities that construct the real face of Spider-Man – not the way he looks, but the way he is. And that goes for heroes everywhere, regardless of race, gender, creed, orientation, or any other surface quality you can judge by.

When you think about that, the only thing that loses face is the idea that our heroes need to look a certain way to be our heroes.

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2 thoughts on “The Faceless Reality Of Geek Heroism”

  1. Bronte says:

    Frank. You are my hero!

  2. Shadow War says:

    I don’t think the act of heroism immediately disjoins the person from the deed either. To talk more specificlly about comics, the characters background can and does often affect the core of their character, especially in the more social-conscious pages of Marvel. Orroro’s (Storm) childhood in Africa as a worshipped goddess to a thieving urchin. Jonathan Starsmoore’s (Chamber) is from England, and his attitude and speech is all a product of that. When you change the ethnicity of a character, you potentially change more than just the color if their skin. Outlook, perceptions, motivations, and so on could be radically shifted.
    I remember reading am Amazing Spiderman comic, and Spidey was talking to a “super” tailor. The tailor called out Spider Man on his accent, and the area he grew up in. It was a very subtle reminder to me of the importance and depth of character background. Consequently, I don’t think the ethnicity or culture of a character in any fiction should be diminished into being considered minor. It trivializes the importance of character background and of embracing the wonderful differences in people everywhere. Is it possible for Peter Parker to be the same character no matter his background? Anything is possible.

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