Whether in film, television series, or even the source material, changing a character even a little bit can be tricky. Though most fans claim to want a shake-up or major differences in their stories, when confronted with the kind of actual sweeping change they’re asking for, many fans can become quite irate. And sometimes, not even sweeping changes are necessary to cause a ruckus — simply changing a character’s race is an easy way to result in the most vitriol from fans, even though most of the time everything else about the character from their look to their personalities and power set remain identical. The reasons for this can vary: sometimes fans don’t actually want real change, and sometimes a darker, more unfortunate reasoning is behind the rage.
Still, this list is for all the major times fans raged over a character having their race changed. For this list, we aren’t exclusively using changes from source material to other mediums, either. If the person behind the superhero identity changed in the comics, that counts too — so many of the changes that have occurred over the last couple decades in comics counts as well. With that in mind, let’s examine 15 times characters have changed race (and it angered the fanbase)!
15. INCREDIBLE HULK
This example is strictly from the comic books. Bruce Banner had been the one, true Hulk since the character’s first appearance back in 1962. Sure, there’ve been variations on the idea, but they almost always existed in the background while Bruce Banner was still the star of the main comic.
But in 2015, Marvel launched the Totally Awesome Hulk as part of their All-New, All-Different Marvel relaunch following the end of their “Secret War” event, and suddenly we had an all-new version of everyone’s favorite rampaging monster. After Bruce absorbed a massive, deadly dose of radiation, super-genius Amadeus Cho saved his life by using nanites to remove all the energy from the Hulk and transferring it into his body. This version of Hulk retains much more of Cho’s cocky, self-assured personality, and the smashy Hulk we’re used to is nowhere to be found. Well…usually.
In 2010, a much younger Donald Glover campaigned to become Spider-Man for what would eventually become 2011’s Amazing Spider-Man film. It didn’t work, but his efforts were still rewarded in a rather unexpected way. When Ultimate Spider-Man writer Brian Michael Bendis finally decided that version of Peter Parker’s story had come to an end, he introduced a Spider-Man for a new generation: Miles Morales.
Miles gained his powers from a genetically altered spider that crawled into his uncle Aaron’s bag while he was stealing from an Oscorp facility. Miles would have several adventures as the main Spider-Man of that universe until the Ultimate Earth came to an end, and he was brought over to Marvel Prime Earth, where he’s currently struggling to find his place in a world that already has a well-known Spider-Man.
13. WALLY WEST
Wally West’s claim to fame as a DC character was always that fans got to see him grow up. He started out as Barry’s sidekick, but took on the role of the Flash when Barry died fighting the Anti-Monitor during the first “Crisis”. From there, writers guided him into his long-term relationship with Linda Park, marriage, and eventually children. But when DC rebooted in 2011, the character disappeared for quite some time while the “main” DC heroes were de-aged.
While he was gone, the CW’s Flash series made an inspired change by making Iris West (and her father Joe) both African-American, meaning when Wally was introduced in the second season it was a given that he would be the same. Though fans have mostly warmed up to actor Keiynan Lonsdale, the comic version is a bit more up in the air, particularly with the original version back in action.
12. MARY JANE
Mary Jane is a bit of a surprise courtesy of the latest movie, Spider-Man: Homecoming. After Sony was granted several bites at the apple to make the perfect Spider-Man trilogy, finally a deal was worked out where everyone’s favorite Wall-Crawler would be able to come to the MCU.
During the film, we meet a young girl played by actress Zendaya. She’s smart, quiet, and a little awkward — but she’s part of some of the best moments of the film thanks to her constantly teasing Peter. We’re not really sure who she is though until the very end though, when she explains that her name is Michelle Jones, but asks everyone to just call her “MJ”. Supposedly she’s not meant to be an exact adaptation of Mary Jane, but she definitely fills that role, and so far as we know there aren’t any plans to actually introduce a more traditional version.
11. CAPTAIN AMERICA
Steve Rogers is no stranger to seeing someone else behind the mask of his Captain America persona. Over the years several people have taken over the identity, usually without his permission or while he was otherwise incapacitated. But the most recent costume change is by far the most divisive.
After an experience in another world, Steve Rogers started to see the Super Soldier Serum finally wear off. In addition to losing his peak human-plus abilities, his body aged to the point where he could no longer serve as Captain America. And for the first time ever, he was able to hand the position over to someone of his own volition, choosing his best friend and longtime partner, Sam Wilson. Usually the Falcon, Sam combined elements of his own costume with Steve’s and took on the role of Captain America for several years before returning to his original identity in 2017.
10. JIMMY OLSEN
Most famously known as Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen first appeared as himself in Superman #13 in 1941, just a few years after the Man of Steel’s creation. His closeness to Superman and constant willingness to place himself in danger for stories eventually led to Clark giving him a signal watch to summon him whenever he was in trouble. In the Silver Age, Jimmy got to do everything from have his own comic book to gaining a wide variety of superpowers himself!
The character is so inseparable from the Superman mythology that it made sense when he was made a part of the main cast for CBS’ new Supergirl series. There the character is played by Mehcad Brooks, and he’s quite the departure from the usual Jimmy, being several years older and much more mature, no longer needing to be rescued. Well, at least not all the time.
One would think no one would care about who was playing Heimdall. The all-knowing eyes and ears of Asgard have been a part of the mythology of Thor since his first appearance in Journey into Mystery #85 by Stan Lee, Larry Lieber, and Jack Kirby…but that doesn’t mean he was ever that important. The character made a handful of appearances across the first 400 issues (and 40 years) of Thor, so when legendary actor Idris Elba was cast to play the role one would’ve expected no one to care.
Yet care they did, as many fans tried to argue how this fictional group of gods and goddesses could all only be Caucasian. Still, that didn’t stop Elba from elevating every Thor film he was in, and getting some of the best scenes in the awesome third installment of the franchise, Thor: Ragnarok.
By the time Iron Man 3 came to theaters in 2013, fans were champing at the bit to see the Mandarin. Already well-known as Iron Man’s most dangerous and most popular villain, the films had been hinting at the Mandarin’s presence in the background of the Iron Man universe from the very beginning. The terrorist organization known as the Ten Rings had played the background role for the last two films, and it felt like this would finally be their time to shine as the Mandarin took center stage.
Still, when Sir Ben Kingsley was cast as The Mandarin, people had their doubts. Director Shane Black claimed they changed the Mandarin’s race in order to avoid any nasty Fu Manchu stereotypes, conveniently ignoring all the times Mandarin had appeared as a perfectly modern character in the comics.
No one thought a Dragon Ball Z film was a good idea. While the series is easily the most popular anime of all time, it’s also one of the most “anime” anime of all time, too. It’s ridiculous fight scenes, expensive-looking alien races, and outlandish hairstyles all place it in the category of IPs that should remain firmly in the realm of animation and manga.
Nevertheless, director James Wong brought fans the Dragon Ball movie they weren’t waiting on with 2009’s Dragon Ball: Evolution. And even though the series is clearly based in Japan, lead character is somehow Goku is played by Justin Chatwin. And somehow Goku feels more like a super-powered version of the Karate Kid’s Daniel LaRusso with his girl problems and being teased by fellow high school students than he ever does the dim-witted, food-loving Super Saiyan fans had grown to love in the series.
In 2005, Avatar: The Last Airbender took Nickelodeon’s airwaves by storm, growing to massive levels of popularity for its complex storylines, deft characterization…and one of the most memorable openings in cartoon history. The series’ rabid popularity meant it was no surprise when it was announced the show would be adapted into a live-action film by director M. Night Shyamalan.
Fans were skeptical, but remained largely optimistic…until the casting choices were revealed. Avatar is a world that’s literally drenched in Asian-inspired influences, from the philosophy of the various nations to the obvious wuxia inspiration in its fight scenes, and yet somehow Noah Ringer was cast as Aang, a character clearly meant to be a Tibetan monk. The other abysmal casting choices aren’t forgiven either, but to fail at even getting the main character right feels particularly embarrassing.
5. JOHNNY STORM
Casting Michael B. Jordan as Johnny Storm might be one of the only good things the 2015 Fantastic Four film even did. The film was a mess, garnering no less than three Razzies for Worst Director, Worst Picture, and Worst Prequel, Remake, or Sequel. For this film, Sue Storm is actually Johnny’s adopted sister, becoming the daughter of genius scientist Franklin Storm, director of the Baxter Foundation.
Fantastic Four has always been about a group of strangers that were a family because of circumstances rather than blood relationships, so arguably this choice makes even more sense than the two of them being blood-related. Plus, any film with Michael B. Jordan in it is automatically better for it, so while it didn’t save the movie, just think about how much worse it could’ve been without him.
The Kingpin has been a thorn in the side of Marvel’s street level heroes from the moment Stan Lee and John Romita Jr. introduced him in Amazing Spider-Man #50 in 1967. Boasting absolutely zero powers, what made the character a threat was the control he had over the criminal underworld, ruling the mob scene of one of the biggest cities in the world with an iron fist.
Though the character had been a noticeable part of the 1994 Spider-Man cartoon series, it wasn’t until the 2003 Daredevil film that the character made his live-action debut. Rather than strictly going for someone of the same race, director Mark Steven Johnson instead chose to cast actor Michael Clarke Duncan in the role, believing he was the best person for the job due to Duncan’s imposing physique, standing at over six feet and weighing over three hundred pounds.
Valkyrie’s a change that really shouldn’t have upset anyone. The character was originally known for being chosen by Odin to lead the Valkyrior, a team of Valkyries meant to lead slain heroes to Valhalla. She also spent a significant amount of time as a member of Steve Englehart’s Defenders team throughout the ’70s and ’80s. Still, aside from a brief appearance in the short-lived Fearless Defenders comic book in 2013, the character hadn’t exactly been in making the most high profile appearances.
At least, not until Tessa Thompson was cast to play the character for director Taika Waititi’s Thor: Ragnarok. The last remaining member of a special army of Odin’s that went down in a battle against his daughter Hela, Tessa’s Valkyrie abandoned Asgard to become a slave-trader working for the Grandmaster.
Firestorm has actually experienced the unique phenomena of annoying fans due to a race change twice. The first time happened over a decade ago, when the original Firestorm, Ronnie Raymond, got into a fight with the villain Shadow Thief and got his containment matrix ruptured. Sacrificing himself in order to keep everyone else safe, the matrix would pass to a new teenager, Jason Rusch. Jason would serve as the primary holder of the Firestorm Matrix until “Brightest Day”, when Jason and Ronnie were combined to become the new Firestorm.
Then later, when the CW decided to introduce the character into its superhero universe, they led things off with Robbie Amell as Ronnie Raymond and Victor Garber as Martin Stein. But as the character soon found a place on Legends of Tomorrow, they would quickly change the dynamic by introducing Franz Drameh as the TV original character Jefferson Jackson.
1. NICK FURY
The story of black Nick Fury is probably one of the most complex changes on this list. The character was introduced as black in Marvel’s popular “Ultimate” alternate universe, and resembled Samuel Jackson as a part of Mark Millar’s trend of casting celebrities as comic characters. This version of the character was particularly popular, so when the MCU needed a Nick Fury, they made certain to cast Jackson in the role in a surprise appearance at the end of the first Iron Man film.
But Marvel Prime still had a white Nick Fury, until they introduced a character named Marcus Johnson, who looked like Ultimate Nick and turned out to be Fury’s son. Then the events of Original Sin turned original Nick into a new version of the Watcher, and his son Marcus took over. Then he started using “Nick Fury” as a code name, because brand recognition is important.
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