Growing up, I learned an important lesson: “A hero can be anyone and anyone can be a hero.” This meant that no matter your gender, sexual orientation, or appearance, you had an equal claim to becoming a superhero. Nowadays in toxic fan culture, it feels like you have to fit a particular look in order to become a superhero. This became abundantly clear when people body shamed Grant Gustin online for his thin frame in a Flash costume.

There is so much wrong with what happened to Gustin. This was a leaked image of an unfinished Flash suit. Even if the suit does look awful, there is no reason to lash out at the actor. These facts do not seem to matter to the body shamers on the internet. As more and more actors are harassed on social media for their appearance, it is essential that we fans take a stand and make clear that we do not stand for hate.

This has to stop before it destroys fandom altogether.

Michael Keaton: The First Body Shamed Hero?

Grant Gustin
Micheal Keaton as Batman in BATMAN. Courtesy of Warner Bros.

Still one of my favorite comic book movies of all time is Tim Burton’s BATMAN. Much of my love for that film stems from Michael Keaton’s portrayal of Batman. However, when Michael Keaton was cast as Batman, fans went ballistic. Many of these critiques were legitimate criticisms of Micheal Keaton’s acting chops as a comedy actor (despite the fact that dozens of successful comedians have gracefully transitioned to dramatic roles). However, a large number of the complaints about Keaton stemmed from his appearance.

For instance, nascent comic book writer at the time Beau Smith said in the Wall Street Journal:

“Keaton has a receding hairline and a less-than-heroic chin. He stands an estimated 5 feet 10 inches tall, weighs in at 160 pounds or so, and “looks like a hundred guys you see on the street. If you saw him in an alley wearing a bat suit, you would laugh, not run in fear. Batman should be 6-2, 235 pounds, your classically handsome guy with an imposing, scary image.”

The thing that bothers me about critiques like this is that they are written before even seeing Keaton in action. Much like the Grant Gustin situation, people are criticizing Keaton’s looks even before they understand how that might work for the finished project.

What was fascinating about Keaton’s Bruce Wayne was that he was the last person you’d suspect as Batman. His aloof and odd-ball nature made his turn as the serious and stoic Batman that much more powerful. If Smith had seen the finished project before lashing out at Keaton he would have spared themselves the retrospective embarrassment.

Excuse: “Accuracy To The Comics”

We now live in a world where comic book media dominates Hollywood and pop culture. Fans now have an embarrassment of riches of comic book properties. This means that fans feel like they can demand even more from these properties. If one thing in their Marvel movie does not conform to their preconceptions, some people will rant on social media. One of the main preconceptions people carry with them is the appearance of their favorite hero or villain.

Let’s face it, everyone has their own preconception of what a character should look like. For example, I don’t like Ben Affleck’s Batman despite his “comic accurate appearance.” The excuse people utilize to express their anger at the casting of actors is that their appearance isn’t accurate to the comic books. To that, I ask these questions: “Which Comic Book and How Are They Inaccurate?” Take the three SPIDER-MAN actors for example.

Reevaluating Peter Parker in AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #1

Tobey Maguire may have been in his late twenties when he was cast as a teenage Spider-Man. However, Tobey Maguire really captured the heart and nerdiness of Peter. Andrew Garfield may have been too cool and attractive for Peter but he was great at quipping and capturing the teenage rebellious aspect of Parker.

Tom Holland then gets points for actually looking like a teen and totally showing us the childlike innocence of Peter. All three of these portrayals of Peter are accurate to the comics in different ways. It depends which comic you are basing it off of and which aspects of Spider-Man you find most important. The choice is truly subjective.

“Accuracy to The Comics” As An Excuse For Racism & Misogyny

What riles me about the “accuracy to the comics” argument is that it is often used as a shield for racism and misogyny. Remember the FANTASTIC FOUR from 2015? Yeah, I don’t either. You might remember that there was some anger about Michael B Jordan’s casting as Johnny Storm in this film.

They argued that as a black man he did not resemble the blond Caucasian Johnny Storm. I really pity you if the most profound thing about these heroes is their hair color. Has anyone perhaps considered that there may be other ways to capture the portrayal of a comic book character besides in simple appearance?

 

Grant Gustin
Gal Gadot showing off her natural beauty on Instagram.

The case gets even more ridiculous with the casting of Gal Gadot. When Gal Gadot was cast people criticized that she did not fit their preconceived notion of Wonder Woman. Some voiced their dissatisfaction with Gal Gadot not being “tough enough” (despite that she fought in the Israeli Armed Forces).

Worse, some criticized her for not fitting their exact sexualized specifications for Wonder Woman. She wasn’t ‘busty’ like some fans wanted. Gal, Miss Israel for god sake, took the criticism in stride. “Oh, my God, seriously, you guys?” Gal said in an interview with Elle.

“I told them, ‘Listen, if you want to be for real, then the Amazons, they had only one boob. Exactly one boob. So what are you talking about here? Me having small boobs and small ass? That will make all the difference.’”

Obviously, when WONDER WOMAN came out Gal shut down her hates with her grace and strength. The film ended up breaking records for DC.

Back To Grant Gustin

So now let’s return to the Grant Gustin situation. I fell in love with Gustin’s portrayal of Barry Allen when he first appeared in Season 2 of ARROW. He was so dorky and awkward but there was a quiet heroic bend to him. Seeing Barry come into his own over these four seasons has been incredibly fulfilling.

Grant Gustin
Grant Gustin as The Flash. Courtesy of The CW

As I was a skinny and scrawny kid myself with a love for running, The Flash was always one of my favorite heroes. He taught me that I didn’t have to look as buff as Superman or Thor to become a hero. I could be attractive in an unconventional and nerdy way but still, save the day and get the girl.

That’s the beauty of Grant Gustin’s Flash. He’s not the classic hero in looks or personality. And honestly, if every single CW hero looked like Stephen Amell’s Oliver Queen (those abs!!!) that would feel repetitive. Now onto the suit. It’s no secret that the CW has a smaller budget for its episodes than a big budget Marvel movie. That’s why it means more when they go the extra mile to please the fans.

While the special effects and costumes aren’t always top-notch, you can see the work and passion the creators put into everything. The Flash suit from the CW show cannot compete with Ezra Miller’s JUSTICE LEAGUE Flash suit on a special effects level. The CW’s THE FLASH costume feels more real and it fits the character. I love what I’ve seen of this Season 5 suit. It’s a new design for a new era of THE FLASH.

End Toxic Fandom Now!

I don’t remember a time when fandoms have ever been so toxic. It’s truly upsetting because the comics and TV shows I loved as a kid always stood for love and acceptance. Now they’ve been twisted by a vocal minority as preaching bigotry and superficial superiority. If you are a member of a fandom, you should take your part to preach positivity.

Grant Gustin
Grant Gustin’s post on Instagram

You can do this by calling out body shamers, adding constructive criticism to things you don’t like, and complimenting people whose work you do like. I appreciate Grant Gustin because he has taken a step in fighting the toxicity. In a post on Instagram, he called out the body shamers and spoke on body positivity.

His post proves that Gustin is a hero both in character and outside of it. We should carry the torch that Grant Gustin has lit and use it to extinguish this hate that is corrupting the media we love so much.

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