By Arturo R. García
Nope, that’s not Peter Parker in the picture above. Which makes this Vote With Your Wallet time again for Marvel Comics fans. The appearance of this new web-slinger isn’t just a potential turning point for the comics business, but it’s the biggest in a series of moves over the years by Marvel to build more diversity into its’ highly-lucrative Spider-brand. Spoilers under the cut.
As you might expect, there’s a caveat to throw out there right off the bat: this Spider-Man is not part of “regular” Marvel continuity; he’s part of the more “contemporary,” more diverse Ultimate Marvel Universe. This is where the bulk of the characterizations for Marvel’s film canon have come from – most notably, Nick Fury being played by Samuel L. Jackson.
As USA Today reported on Tuesday, today’s issue of Ultimate Fallout will feature Miles Morales, a half-black, half-Latino teenager out to fill Peter Parker’s shoes. Parker died after fending off several of his enemies in Ultimate Spider-Man #160 two months ago.
Brian Michael Bendis, who wrote both Peter’s death and Mile’s debut, told the paper Morales’ “casting” was inspired by actor Donald Glover’s social-media campaign to play Spider-Man in the upcoming film series reboot, a role that ultimately went to Andrew Garfield, a white Englishman.
“It’s certainly long overdue,” said Bendis, who also orchestrated Luke Cage’s rise to prominence and co-wrote Takio, which centered around a multi-racial adoptive family. “Even though there’s some amazing African-American and risnority characters bouncing around in all the superhero universes, it’s still crazy lopsided.”
On a slightly more disconcerting note, Ultimate artist Sara Pichelli was also quoted as saying, “Maybe sooner or later a black or gay — or both — hero will be considered something absolutely normal,” which, as David Brothers points out, doesn’t do Marvel any favors:
What she says works directly against Marvel’s marketing. (Spider-Man is black now!) She’s saying that this sort of thing should be par for the course, rather than an aberration. I like that she slipped that in there, whether my understanding of her statement is what she intended or not. The big deal about Nightrunner, the new Aqualad, and… who am I forgetting? Batwing? Blue Beetle? The big deal about all those guys should’ve been no big deal to us. I don’t get hype when an ill new black character shows up in One Piece (word to sleepy old Admiral Kuzan) or in a new movie. Why should I when it happens in the comics I’ve been reading since I was a child? If anything, these books should be the ones blazing trails like they used to do.
Brothers is right when he notes that overall, Marvel’s efforts to be more diverse have reached a bit farther than those of its’ competitor, DC Comics. In fact, Morales is the third Latino to adopt the mantle of the Spider.
In 1992, Marvel attempted a sort-of Beta version of the Ultimate line, with the Marvel 2099 comics, originally set in the far-flung future of “present-day” continuity. The first book in the line was, of course, Spider-Man 2099, which featured a light-skinned biracial hero, Miguel O’Hara. Like the original Peter Parker, Miguel’s scientific prowess was remarkable, but Miguel had a cynical streak that initially underscored his black costuming.
More recently, the company introduced Anya Corazon in 2005, first under the name Arana, later graduating her into the role of Spider-Girl, with her own series. And, while O’Hara had his own crossover with the first Spider-Man, Anya not only interacted with Spidey, she also got his endorsement to continue on as Spider-Girl, and was even name-checked by him in his own title.
Unfortunately, both Anya and Miguel’s series would end up cancelled. And that spectre is already hanging over the gamble to introduce a POC in one of Marvel’s most marketable characters, even if it is an alt-universe variant. Hopefully, the same-day digital release for Miles’ adventures in Ultimate Spider-Man will attract readers and retailers who won’t either live up to the most vile stereotypes of comic-book fans, or just won’t follow a hero of color because they don’t find him or her “relatable.” But, what kind of sales numbers – digital and hard-copy – will it take for Morales’ book to continue its’ run? And if it does end up cancelled, will Marvel keep Miles in the mask, or hot-shot a resurrection of Ultimate Pete for the sake of “tradition”?