Michael-B-Jordan

Future On!: Michael B. Jordan And The New Human Torch’s World

By Arturo R. García

The Human Torch (left) and Michael B. Jordan. Image via ScreenCrave.

After months of speculation, Thursday night brought confirmation: Michael B. Jordan will play Johnny Storm/The Human Torch in 20th Century Fox’s newest attempt to build a Fantastic Four film franchise. And while some geeks reacted as badly as you might expect, this iteration of Marvel’s First Family is worth keeping an eye on for far more interesting reasons.

So, yes, it didn’t take long for folks to catch feelings about the casting. Take this nitwit from the fine community at Comic Book Resources:

CBR comment: “Politically correct pandering and clearly aimed to a younger populace who have 0 knowledge about source material. Like soemone suggested they should turn Richards and Grimm into gay lovers to fill the quota. Teller and Bell are great actors, but Kate Mara could not act her way out of a grocery bag. Which means nothing if I do not want to see movie.”

There are also people freaking out over the prospect of Jordan playing a sibling to Kate Mara’s Susan Storm/Invisible Woman. It’s quite possible these people haven’t heard of James and Daniel Kelly:

(L-R) James and Daniel Kelly, interracial twin siblings. Image via The Guardian.


The two teenage boys sitting on the sofa opposite are different in almost every way. On the left is James: he’s black, he’s gay, he’s gregarious, and he’s academic. He’s taking three A-levels next summer, and wants to go to university. Daniel, sitting beside him, is white. He’s straight, he’s shy, and he didn’t enjoy school at all. He left after taking GCSEs, and hopes that his next move will be an apprenticeship in engineering.

So, given that they are diametrically opposed, there is one truly surprising thing about James and Daniel. They are twins. They were born on 27 March 1993, the sons of Alyson and Errol Kelly, who live in south-east London. And from the start, it was obvious to everyone that they were the complete flipside of identical. “They were chalk and cheese, right from the word go,” says Alyson. “It was hard to believe they were even brothers, let alone twins.”

The story of the Kelly twins is fascinating enough on its own, and one that, as a source of inspiration, could add some depth to a characterization of the Storm family:

Primary school passed without colour being an issue: but, says Alyson, everything changed when they went to secondary school. And at this point the boys, too, add their voices: because the racism they encountered there had a huge effect on them, and on what happened to them next.

It all started well, says Alyson. “The school was almost all-white, so James was unusual. But it wasn’t a problem for James – it was a problem for Daniel.

“The boys were in different classes, so for a while no one realised they were related. Then someone found out, and the story went round that this white boy, Daniel, was actually black, and the evidence was that he had a black twin brother, James, who was right here in the school. And then Daniel started being picked on and it got really ugly and racist, and there were lots of physical attacks. Daniel was only a little kid, and he was being called names and being beaten up by much older children – it was really horrible. We even called the police.”

“I was really bullied,” cuts in Daniel, his face hardening at the memory. “People couldn’t believe James and I were brothers, and they didn’t like the fact that I looked white, but was – as they saw it – black.”

Even in a flashback, it wouldn’t hurt for this new FF film to at least mention that the Storms overcame some of the same challenges that the British brothers faced. A multiracial family background could do as much for Jordan and Mara’s characters than the adoption explanation most are expecting right now. More importantly, how great will it be to see a multiracial sibling pair of superheroes?

But besides the race issue, there’s also been some questions surrounding the age of this core cast. Jordan, Miles Teller (Reed Richards/Mr. Fantastic) and Jamie Bell (Ben Grimm/The Thing) are all 27 years old. Mara is the oldest member of the ensemble at age 30. Also, given Jordan’s critical momentum from Fruitvale Station and Mara’s for the American House of Cards remake — no spoilers for that here, please — it’s the Storms who are packing most of the confirmed star power here.

The only legit stiking point here appears to be on Jordan’s end: with this film taking its cue from the Ultimate Fantastic Four series, Bell, Keller and Mara are within striking distance of their characters’ early twenties age. Maybe the thinking here is that Jordan can shave and play it really young, since Johnny Storm is a teenager when we meet him, informing his “hothead” sensibility.

But as ever, the story will be the key, and in this case, that means a shared universe’s worth of pressure on Simon Kinberg, who is writing not only this movie, but the upcoming X-Men: Days of Future Past. If this new Fantastic Four movie isn’t up to snuff, regardless of ethnocentric geek complaints, it could pose serious damage to Fox’s bid to build a link between both films to keep up with Marvel Entertainment’s multi-property juggernaut.

In light of this casting, seeing Jordan and Mara’s Storms eventually share the screen with Ororo Monroe, or maybe a film version of Warpath and the rest of Marvel’s mutants really is something to root for, just for the multiple layers that could add to a conflict (and ensuing collaboration) between the FF — whose exploits speak to a particular kind of privilege in heroics — and the X-Men, who protect our world despite suspecting they’ll never gain that sort of acceptance. Suddenly, we’re on the verge of seeing a whole new version of diversity in the superhero genre, much to the chagrin of the kinds of fans fandom was better off losing decades ago.

  • adam walker

    With all the attention focused on the racial aspects of having Jordan play Johnny Storm, perhaps it might also be worthwhile to look at the class dynamics.

    In the mainstream MARVEL universe, Johnny comes from a privileged, upper-middle class background as the son of Long Island surgeon. Can Jordan play that kind of character?* What accent will he assume for the film? Will he speak with the General American accent traditionally associated with the character’s class status, or will Jordan use his AAV accent?

    Of course, these speculations assume that the Storms will reflect their mainstream MU counterparts. If the movie Storms are depicted as lower class in origin, then Mara will, presumably, have to modify her General American accent.

    * please note that I am speaking purely in terms of class, not race. Kerry Washington, for example, displays a class affect that is entirely different from Jordan’s.

    • http://sidehustlestories.tumblr.com City Athena

      Jordan played a relatively upper class character in the sci-fi movie Chronicle and didn’t have any issues….. really don’t think he’s going to have problems with the class dynamic, if the director of the film chooses to depict the family in the same way as that particular MARVEL universe. He’s an actor, he’ll be fine.

      For that matter, many of us non-acting black folk switch up speaking styles on a regular basis with ease as a matter of adaptation & survival…. look up code-switching.

      • adam walker

        city Athens:”Jordan played a relatively upper class character in the sci-fi movie Chronicle and didn’t have any issues….. really don’t think he’s going to have problems with the class dynamic, if the director of the film chooses to depict the family in the same way as that particular MARVEL universe. He’s an actor, he’ll be fine.

        For that matter, many of us non-acting black folk switch up speaking styles on a regular basis with ease as a matter of adaptation & survival…. look up code-switching.”

        Yeah, I saw CHRONICLE, but I also felt that Jordan’s AAV accent seemed somewhat “off” for the character. Still, it was different from his accent in THE WIRE, so perhaps he is capable of going full-on General American. Does anyone know if he has done a General American accent for a role before?

        RE: Code Switching,

        Well, that’s far from a purely African American phenomenon. Many people have to modify their accents for professional reasons. For example, I’ve met quite a few White Southerners and White New Yorkers who have had to modify their accents to get ahead.

        • http://sidehustlestories.tumblr.com City Athena

          I didn’t think anything was “off” about how he spoke in Chronicle. But for what it’s worth – He’s in a rom – com in theater’s now: That Awkward Moment. I haven’t seen it but he sounds “general american” in the trailer.

          And I’m never said it was purely an African American thing. Just pushing back on the idea that a black actor wouldn’t be able to play a role representing “middle america” because of their manner of speaking. Plus, Jordan’s not from Baltimore – his accent on the Wire was presumably not his own anyway.

          Plus, there are plenty of Black American who grew up speaking in a “general american” way (which varies depending on where in the country you are), why assume that Jordan wasn’t one of them? Questioning if Jordan wouldn’t be able to switch up his accent (like most actors do…) is kind of odd.

          • adam walker

            “I didn’t think anything was “off” about how he spoke in Chronicle.”

            “Off” as in I thought that his accent seemed too AAV.

            “And I’m never said it was purely an African American thing. Just pushing back on the idea that a black actor wouldn’t be able to play a role representing “middle america” because of their manner of speaking.”

            Well, I’m not really talking about “representing “middle America.”" I’m talking about class markers. Someone from Johnny Storm’s background would almost certainly speak General American, not AAV.

            “Plus, there are plenty of Black American who grew up speaking in a “general american” way (which varies depending on where in the country you are),”

            When I say General American, I’m referring to a very specific accent, the “neutral” accent used by actors and newscasters.

            ” why assume that Jordan wasn’t one of them?”

            Well, I’ve listened to quite a few interviews with Jordan, and his normal accent seems to be AAV. Compare his accent to, say Kerry Washington’s. In interviews , she speaks with a General American accent.

            ” Questioning if Jordan wouldn’t be able to switch up his accent (like most actors do…) is kind of odd.”

            Well, lots of actors are not very good at altering their accents. Not everybody is Meryl Streep. Robert De Niro, for example, has never done a convincing General American accent (although he did manage a fairly good Appalachian accent in CAPE FEAR). Al Pacino is another New York actor who can’t quite get the hang of General American.

            For that matter. I’m curious to see how Jamie Bell handles Ben Grimm’s lower class New York accent in the FF movie.

          • http://wwww.twitter.com/cityathena City Athena

            –”Off” as in I thought that his accent seemed too AAV.–

            While I did make the point he was playing an upper middle class kid and wasn’t using, say, his voice on the Wire, you know there are upper class kids who speak in AAV right? and kids of all classes don’t hew to every convention of standard English when speaking casually? I still feel there was nothing off/inauthentic/out of character about how he was speaking.

            –I’m talking about class markers. Someone from Johnny Storm’s background would almost certainly speak General American, not AAV.–

            There’s no single definition for “General American” although, you say you equate “General American with -”a very specific accent, the “neutral” accent used by actors and newscasters.”-
            I admit I thought you were referring to Standard English, not Newscaster English/General American/Etc while I was responding.
            My rebuttal for that is more simple: Having done voiceover work & radio before, I’d say that most people, regardless of class/race, do not speak in this way on a casual basis and have to learn & practice it. Johnny Storm probably would have spoken in some flavor of Standard English, yeah. Newscaster English/”General American”, probably not.

            But I’m getting caught up in semantics & details.

            If they choose to make Johnny Storm upper class – I believe that Michael B. Jordan can play an upper class Johnny Storm. He’s been in roles that have spanned different social classes & experiences, he’s a capable actor and will be fine.

            HOWEVER, if the filmmakers decided to go a different way in how they depict his class, I am ok with that too. If the rest of the family speaks in a stereotypical upper class way and Jordan’s Johnny Storm doesn’t, I’d be irritated at that, but otherwise, I don’t think making him something other than upper class ruins the character.

            I’m not a big Fantastic Four fan, but I know those with a stronger connection to the Fantastic Four franchise may feel differently. I didn’t like the new Spider-Man reboot film and I hate the Superior Spider-Man storyline happening now! ( Primarily because I feel like Peter Parker’s awkwardness & humility is central to who Spider-Man is blah blah blah that’s whole different discussion, haha. ) But I get it. It’s not the same as what I grew up with! But it’s not hurting any flesh and blood people so I can’t be that upset.

            The lack of POC representation in media does hurt real life people, so honestly, I believe that striving for more and diverse depictions of POC groups in film is more important than strictly hewing to the source material every time. If the filmmakers decide not to follow ONE of the many Marvel timelines / Universes and don’t make Johnny Storm an upper class privileged kid*, I’m ok with that, plus I’ll be enjoying the bonus of a black hero sci-fi character in a media landscape that is woefully lacking in them.

            *which, i’m just taking your word for by the way. The Marvel Wiki doesn’t really seem to stress his class at all but you’re a fan of the comic and I’m not.

  • Delevan

    I would say that he either has a good agent or that he had one hell of an audition, that’s to shut up all those folks who think he got the job just because he was black or because of some affirmative action quota b.s. that the usual racist comic book fan wants to try to use as an argument.

    In my opinion, after the way that Alicia Masters went from being a significant character in the Fantastic Four Character (in the comics), a character who not only had no powers, but was also blind, went from helping them against the puppet master, to convincing the Silver Surfer to help the fantastic Four in stopping Galactus devour the earth, to just being Ben Grimm’s hot black girlfriend with very little screen time(in the movies), I take everything Marvel does when it comes to race with a grain of salt. I am not impressed by brown faces in public places, but I wish the brother good luck.