The DC TV Universe (the Arrow-verse if you will) features two, and soon to be three shows has been on a hot streak. Arrow is going strong in season four, the Flash is a hit, and later this year Heroes of Tomorrow will come on. Additionally, up till now, they have done a great job of introducing minority characters.
Arrow has John Diggle as a primary character, and featured Katana last year. Arrow smartly race shifted Iris West (and her Dad) to add diversity to the cast, and also has Cisco Ramon aka Vibe to bring a Hispanic character into the main cast as well.
I just spent two paragraphs praising these two shows and the characters which they’ve brought in already, and last night’s episode of the Flash actually does expand the diversity of the cast by adding an African American half to Firestorm (I refuse to write F.I.R.E.S.T.O.R.M. ever again after this.)
There is a catch though.
The character we get here is Jefferson “Jax” Jackson, a former high school football player who had his knee destroyed by the particle accelerator. This is where the racist streak comes in.
A little back story on Firestorm. Originally Firestorm was a merging of physicist Martin Stein and high school quarterback Ronnie Raymond (both white). In more recent years Firestorm has been a merging of former high school quarterback Ronnie Raymond, and super smart science student Jason Rusch (an African American).
So the folks at Warner Brothers have done two things here– first, they swapped Ronnie Raymond who in both the 80’s original Firestorm and the modern Firestorm is an athlete and made him a physicist instead.
Then they have taken the super smart Rusch and replaced him with an athlete– a character they invented out of whole cloth who has never appeared in the comics (and basically co-opted Cyborg’s origin story of bad thing happening at football game he is star athlete of.)
The implication is obvious– white people get to be superheroes because they are smart; black people get to be superheroes because they are athletic.
Yes, they went out of the way to say that Jax was smart, good grades, ect. They blundered through here as well– oh he’s smart, but not smart enough to go to college without a football scholarship. Never mind that the straight A’s and the commensurate ACT or SAT score that comes with that level of intelligence results in academic scholarships which, when combined with federal student aid, can finance college. Jax is black; no football no college.
But you might say, there was also the smart scientist black guy in this episode! So the racist implications can’t be intended, right? No, quit wrong. The smart, scientist black character immediately turns out to be a villain. If he can’t be Firestorm, he’s going to use his own abilities which he doesn’t have to combine with another person to use strictly for revenge/murder/evil. Hewitt is a caricature at best here, and doesn’t win them any points for seeing beyond stereotype.
We will be seeing a lot of Jax in Heroes of Tomorrow coming up later this year. There is still time for the character to grow out of stereotype mode and to be a fully developed character. I can’t help wondering, however, why the writers felt the need to create a new African American host for Firestorm and leave Jason Rusch, a character with 10 years history in the comics, on the shelf.