That’s Not What He Looks Like! : Ultimate Spider-Man and Perry White

I am just going to go right ahead and jump into the deep end. This is going to be about the new Ultimate Spider-Man and (to a lesser degree) Laurence Fishburne being cast as Perry White. I am not going to search the internet for people spouting crazy, reactionary statements to these decisions, as you can search for any topic on the internet and find crazy, reactionary responses. Yadda, Yadda, Yadda…Political Correctness…Birth Certificate. You get the idea. I have a hard time believing that the strongest reactions actually come from people that go to stores and buy comic books. More likely, it is the work of trolls that live under our newspaper websites. They simply react like lunatics to everything.  Nor do I think that everyone who does not like the changes is racist. Every time a movie still comes out the entire community turns into Michael Kors on speed. Heavy criticism of minute details is the name of the game on the internet. Instead of a rebuke of silly comments or straw men, I want to explain why I find both of the decisions to be exciting.

You are not going to find too many people that love old super hero comics as much as I do. I love the sense of reckless abandon that they contain. They often jumped all over the place trying to find a foothold. Personally, I see a lot more chances taken in old super hero stories than new ones. Yet, for all of that wild-eyed energy, there is one lingering fact that grounds them firmly in the stodgy past. THERE IS A LOT OF WHITE PEOPLE IN THOSE STORIES. A. Lot.

White was the default setting. The characters were not Caucasian because it was integral to their backstory. They were white because that was standard. There is nothing in Spider-Man’s character that tells me that he has to be white. He has just always been white. Yes, Peter Parker is white but it does not mean that the heart of what makes Spider-Man a great character is tied into any color.

Spider-Man is all about feeling like an outsider but pushing through your problems to do what is right. That is certainly a challenge (and accomplishment) that could apply to anybody of any background. Now we have the potential to see stories that truly express that universal truth. (Only potential at this point as it is up to the creators, Bendis and Pichelli, to follow through.) If people of all colors could relate to Peter Parker, then everybody can relate to Miles Morales. We might just get a fun new perspective on a well tread character in the process.

There will be those that raise the cry of PANDERING! (By the way, did you know that pandering not only refers to politicians expressing views for the purpose of gaining votes, but can also refer to pimping.) To which I say, “Welcome to comics, you must be new!” The Big 2 have been pandering to a shrinking audience for a while now, so it might be a good idea to try something to both bring in new eyes and generate excitement. The history of comics is filled with huge progressive changes made to generate sales in books. Do you think they had Spider-Man deal with Harry Osborn’s drug problem solely because they felt a social responsibility to do so?  Everything they do is at some level an attempt to sell books. That is ok. You can make money and do interesting things at the same time.

That is why I am excited about Miles Morales as Spider-Man. It is a new twist in a universe where new twists are supposed to be the rule. The Ultimate universe should be a place where, “That is not how it has been done in the past” is not a legitimate line of reasoning. (I am also excited by the idea of Spider-Man becoming a legacy hero. I am required to mention the Justice Society in all of my columns.)

As for the Perry White casting, I believe Laurence Fishburne is a potentially awesome choice. He is a good actor who is completely capable of portraying all the qualities necessary to play the role of the hard-edged, but golden-hearted editor. It will provide diversity to a woefully monotone set of supporting characters.

The world around us is changing and diversity has become a reality. You are going to hear me say this very often; Comics need that type of reality injection. If they do not have that reality injection, the fantasy halts. The fantasy aspects of comic books have always been a draw for me. I can travel to the future, the past, beautiful utopias, and grungy alleys. Comics can allow you to escape the problems of the real world or they can let you jump into the mess from a different perspective. They are paper diving bells letting you peer into alien worlds. The tether for those bells is the emotional truth in a story. I can let a writer take me anywhere, as long as he pays me back with some feelings. Those feelings all stem from lessons about the human condition.

Superhero stories can teach those lessons by combining the best of reality with flights of fancy. An African-American/Hispanic kid as Spider-Man (or Laurence Fishburne playing Perry White) does not reflect some wish of how we would like the world to look. It reflects the actual world around us, and combines it with the fanciful flair of spider powers. You cannot jump into the unknown if you are not standing on something solid.


Tom Katers thinks Steve Lombard is pretty damn caucasian.




  1. This article is absolutely brilliant. Seriously i hope this gets picked up by a wire service or mainstream news media…its just the most reasonable and objective take on this conversation that i’ve seen. <slow clap>

    I agree with everything you’re saying and i think you’ve summed up and expressed everything a lot of supporters have been trying to say.

    i’ve always loved Peter Parker as a character, but i’m really excited to see what this new Miles fellow can do and i’m excited about a legacy character like Spiderman getting re-interpreted like this for the 21st century. 

  2. That second to last paragraph right there. That’s the stuff.

    Well said, Tom. 

  3. Is there really a backlash again Fishburn as Perry White?  I mean hell, with his acting, I’d love to hear his version of Great Ceasers Ghost!  I think he’ll be great.

  4. @HomeTeam790  Yes there is.

  5. You know, for some reason, when I heard rumors that Spider-Man was going to be black, I didn’t care one way or the other, but when I heard he’s half black and Puerto Rican, that actually got me pretty interested.  I’m curious what his family dynamic will be like, how much of the hood he has in him, things like that.  This could make for a really fun, new take on Spider-Man.  I just hope he doesn’t joke all the damn time, then I’ll be happy.

  6. Nice article.  I really like the line: “You can make money and do interesting things at the same time.”  I’ll be using that this fall when we welcome a chunk of liberal arts majors into our new MBA program.  These changes might be cash grabs (in part), but that doesn’t preclude them from being excellent stories.

  7. “…paper diving bells” – what a wonderful metaphor.

  8. Great article. I remember when Daredevil came out and I found out that Michael Clarke Duncan was playing Kingpin. I was peeved about him playing that character because he didn’t match the character in the comics and cartoons because of his race. But that wasn’t the only casting peeve that I had. I also didn’t think Jennifer Gardner looked like Elektra. However, I was pleased with the movie and Duncan’s role (Gardner’s…not so much). Since then, I’ve been more open to any casting in any movie that was different from what I knew. A blonde Bond? Sure. Pretty boy Heath Ledger as the Joker? Why not. Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury? We alreayd so this change to the character was great in the Ultimates. Now, it doesn’t what the character looked like, what their race was, or who played them, as long as they got the essence of the character right and what made me love the characters in the first place

  9. @wallythegreenmonster  “its just the most reasonable and objective take on this conversation that i’ve seen.” that alone is enough to make the mainstream media stay away from covering it

  10. it was ok, doesnt people read comicbooks that make these statments? i read paul popes books and they have diversity, plus his Batman 100 looked brown which i loved me being Perto Rican, i just wished Bendis went either one or the other i chose spanish sorry thats how i feel i read comicbooks for 30 years

  11. It’d serve the point better to create new characters of color, organically, than to simply take a long established character, change his or her color and just say ‘well, nothing in the character’s story says they have to be white’ besides every appearance of that character. Growing up I never looked at the race of any character in hopes of having a role model. It never bothered me that my comics and cartoons were filled with white people and Mexicans weren’t ‘represented’ and until we get a white Blade or Luke Cage this whole ‘look at our progress’ discussion is a joke.
    Marvel would have been better off if they hadn’t given the reveal of the new Ultimate Spider-Man right away. I’m sure the story works fine but it would have been great to go about a year before revealing who it is. The questions that seem to have been comepletely ignored here is does he have any Spider-Man powers? And if he does how did he get them? Seriously, this interest me more than anything else, does anyone know the answers yet? Ultimate Universe is SUPPOSED to be different. It’s better this way. They needed to move it further away from the Established Universe and it’s smarter than taking everything established and starting it over because some people are afraid of higher numbers. 

  12. I don’t think Tom Katers is real. He’s just… too awesome to possibly exist.

  13. @RapidEyeMovement  He’s probably half Hispanic, half Lawrence Fishburne.  That would explain a considerable portion of his awesomeness.  Or he could be a Brewers fan.  That could also explain much of it.

  14. @stuclach  Tom Katers transcends race.

  15. I’m still upset about making Blue Beatle Mexican. (N.B., Much sarcasm here.)

  16. I would hope that we as a country have progressed enough that people wouldn’t be passing on comics simply because Peter Parker was white. How criminal of him.

    If I was a fan of the Ultimate Universe (which I’m not), I wouldn’t be a bit mad that Miles Morales was a minority. I would be mad because they killed Peter Parker, a wonderful character, just to garner attention to Marvel’s “diversity”. Is there no way that writers can create new and excited minority characters and inject them into the two bigger continuities?

    This just feels like a Marvel ploy to pull some of the diversity conversation over to their side. They certainly didn’t mind tooting their own horn when first announcing it.

  17. @Zarathos81  simply take a long established character, change his or her color and just say ‘well, nothing in the character’s story says they have to be white’ besides every appearance of that character

    This is what drives me crazy about this topic. This is not what they’re doing. Nobody made Peeter Parker black or gay or hispanic or half, a third or a quarter anything. This is a brnad new character who will be wearing a costume and calling himself Spider Man. That’s it.

  18. Hate to be this guy but

    Do you think they had Spider-Man deal with Harry Osborn’s drug problem solely because they felt a social responsibility to do so?  Everything they do is at some level an attempt to sell books.

    Yes, that’s actually why they did that. Nixons secretary of health asked Stan the Man to come up with a comic detailing the evils of drug abuse. Not that that changes your point at all but I just watched that Stan Lee Marvels and Mosters thing with Kevin Smith on Netflix. Good stuff.
    Great article once again Tom

  19. @MikeG  Interesting, but I am sure it didn’t hurt the bottom line.

  20. @MikeG  I see what you’re saying. But actually it looks like they are killing off Peter Parker in order to plug in a minority who they hope will ride the success created by another character. They aren’t building something that feels original.

  21. @Zarathos81  Most of the current comics audience don’t buy books with new characters from Marvel and DC. They die on the vine almost every time.

  22. i want to start a slow clap, who’s with me!

    like others have said, great article tom. I know not everyone will look at this, and it’s unfortunate that anyone who has been negative towards this conversation and reads this, probably won’t have their mind changed.

    And the notion of Spider-Man now being a legacy character is fantastic!

  23. @ThomasKaters  Definetly not, garnered a ton of publicity for Marvel and that issue became a staple of the anti drug stuff of the 70’s and 80’s. I remember everyone was given the issue in school.

  24. Brilliant piece. Simply brilliant. Insightful, honest, and full of truths, this is easily among my favorite of all the pieces you have written. Thanks for sharing it with us.

  25. Thank you Thomas, you’ve been a good boy. I will join you in the kicking in the balls of the so called “comic book” fans that are just unable to think deeper than their puddle of pee. Glad to see there are “cool” comic book fans out there, not just the usual whiny stereotype that usually trolls around complaining bout shit that has nothing to do with shit. Thank you cool fellas! you are greatly appreciated!

  26. @keith7198  who they hope will ride the success created by another character. They aren’t building something that feels original.

    Right, cause this has NEVER happened in comics before. Good thing they’ve never made additional Bat books or X books or Superman books to ride the success of another character. Goodness gracious people, this is not some major conspiracy!!!!!

  27. @MikeG  Calm down brother. Not crying conspiracy.

    To your example, Bruce Wayne is still Batman. Kal is stil Superman. The X-Books…well, anything goes there. Adding a character to the universe is different than killing that character off and replacing him based on some self-imposed quota.

    DC is introducing a Batwing book and it looks great. Notice they didn’t kill off Bruce Wayne and use the established persona as a crutch to build up a minority character. I’m supporting the Batwing book and hope it’s a high quality and a success.

  28. @RapidEyeMovement That’s true.

  29. @keith7198  To your credit you used the word ploy instead of conspiracy. But then you go on and say killing that character off and replacing him based on some self-imposed quota.Is there evidence of this quota you speak of? I doubt it but if there is please point me to it.
    I also will support the Batwing book and I will also support the new Spider Man book. Looking forward to both.

  30. Nobody says it better than Mr. Katers. I’m booking marking this article to help quell future nerd rage over things that make no difference.

  31. @ElFurioso  A blue beatle? Did they choke Ringo again? ;P

  32. Well said Mr Katers. I’m consistently impressed with your articles, despite your Brewers fandom.

  33. @MikeG  Marvel isn’t going to come out and say a quota was in play. But they did say that they “knew” the character had to be one that showed diversity. Why would that be?

    My beef is with the avenue Marvel is taking and not the diversity of the character. There’s certainly nothing wrong with people supporting it. Heck, it’s your money and you can spend on what you want. I don’t care about the Ultimate Universe so I’m not buying it even if it was still Peter.

    Good discussion though bro.

  34. So @Josh I guess you are predicting that I vampire and batwing are going to fail miserably right?

  35. @IroncladMerc I, Vampire isn’t a new series. It ran for 2 years in the early 80’s. But yes. I’d be very surprised if either of those lasted that long. This is a shame, because I really like the writers on both series.

  36. I’m not in support of the move. It has nothing to do with a new spiderman as it does with killing off Peter. I’m a Peter Parker fan and I’ll miss his story.

  37. I’ve read a good number of Ultimate Universe related comment threads over the last couple years. From multiple websites. And the question always comes up. How will Marvel keep the U.U. as a place for new/limited number of series readers/etc readers? Particularly with Ultimate Spider-Man nearing the 150 mark. This question has now been answered. And in the only way Marvel could realisticly do it. Anything else would have ended up with a combination of regurgitated mainline continuity stories of ever dwindling relevance; and/or long strings of filler serving no purpose whatsoever. Which, from what I’ve heard, is the opinion held by many who’ve been reading post Ultimatum Spidey. Peter Parker had to go. Permenantly.

  38. @supertrackmonkey but what about the 616 Peter and all of his adventures, and you have 160 issues of peter in ultimate Spider-Man.

  39. @weaklyroll: I am still following the Amazing Peter, and I have every issue of Ultimate Peter, from his origins to his death.

  40. One of my most recent favorite issues of Peter was in Amazing when he was hunting for Betty’s attacker. Which ended with Aunt May deciding to move to Boston.

  41. Angelicafey-
    regurgitated mainline continuity stories of ever dwindling relevance; and/or long strings of filler serving no purpose whatsoever”

    Leaving a casting change out of it for a min- If you have been reaidng Ultimate Spider-Man you know that even after a decade it didn’t suffer from any of those things you listed as potential pitfalls.

    A good writer who gets the character and is fully engaged can always find ways to key the stories fresh and intriguing.

  42. @supertrackmonkey I guess what I’m asking is that are those issues enough to give you Peter Parker stories. And, are u interested at all in miles’ story?

  43. @weaklyroll:

    My interest in the ultimate universe dies with Peter. I might of latched on to miles’ story if he was teaming up with Peter in the Ultimate Universe, like I did with the ultimate x-men after they crossed over into peter’s story. I am even thinking about following kitty, Johnny, and Bobby’s story.

    As for Peter Parker stories, I guess the Amazing is all I’m going to have for a while.

    I feel like this argument people are having is similar to Kyle v. Hal or Dick v. Jason/ Tim. Except this time people are throwing out the race card (similar to a white Hal v. a Hispanic Kyle).

  44. Avatar photo Paul Montgomery (@fuzzytypewriter) says:

    @supertrackmonkey  Do you only read books with Peter Parker in them? Do you only read Green Lantern stories featuring Peter? 

  45. @paulmontgomery:

    No, I read quite a few books. But like I mentioned above, when and new character takes over there is usually a divide between the old and the new. For instance, I’m a Tim Drake robin fan and not a dick Grayson or Jason Todd fan. I also prefer Hal to Kyle and the other earth green lanterns. (I really dislike guy as a GL.)
    When Hal died, I stopped reading Green Lantern books. With Tim Drake (and Stephanie Brown) not featured in a bat-family book in the upcoming reboot, I’m not going to buy any bat books.

  46. Avatar photo Paul Montgomery (@fuzzytypewriter) says:

    @supertrackmonkey  Weird and sad. I’m a big fan of Dick Grayson, Tim Drake and Damian Wayne. I love Barbara Gordon, Cassaindra Cain and Stephanie Brown as Batgirl. Pluralism is cool. 

  47. From the headline I thought Fishburne had been cast as Perry White in the Ultimate Spider-man tv show, and was like “okay, he’d be a good voice for……wtf?! did i trip into amalgam universe?!”
    but i’m not excited because i don’t rate fishburne that highly and i thought he was in his boring voice over section of his career. i would’ve cast dennis haysbert personally.

  48. I got into a pretty long discussion with my brother-in-law about this topic.  I figure that if a characters race, ethnicity, or religion is integral to their development (Magneto is the first that springs to mind), then that aspect of the character shouldn’t be messed with.  There’s nothing that I’m aware of Perry White’s back story that makes his race integral to the character and I’m all for making sure that as many people as possible can open a comic and see a character that they relate to.  I’m off to sing the “Rainbow Connection” now.

  49. I would like Tom Katers to be a legacy character.