Why The New Spider-Man Matters

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”?

  • Premmmy

    Miguel O’hara is Half-Latino and Half Irish, no?

    • Juan

      Half-Latino, yes. Half-Irish… that’s debateable if you read the series or at least a particular reveal in it. But he is half-latino and half-white you could say.

  • 9jah

    Clearly from the variance of the comments and as an actual latino, you get to have your say in definining what is what. Besides, no matter the definition we should consider them somewhat perfunctory: a white looking latino, with actual bloodlines of color and heritage should be free to identify not simply as “white” IMO but as PoC. The label of white in such case, while true/relevant to issues around skin color, speak to only one aspect of ethnic/racial identification, which extends to experiences, tastes, similarities, world view. Much in the same way a black person, no matter how “white” looking is granted the luxury of blackness by virtue of association and claiming that identity.

  • 9jah

    Clearly from the variance of the comments and as an actual latino, you get to have your say in definining what is what. Besides, no matter the definition we should consider them somewhat perfunctory: a white looking latino, with actual bloodlines of color and heritage should be free to identify not simply as “white” IMO but as PoC. The label of white in such case, while true/relevant to issues around skin color, speak to only one aspect of ethnic/racial identification, which extends to experiences, tastes, similarities, world view. Much in the same way a black person, no matter how “white” looking is granted the luxury of blackness by virtue of association and claiming that identity.

  • 9jah

    Clearly from the variance of the comments and as an actual latino, you get to have your say in definining what is what. Besides, no matter the definition we should consider them somewhat perfunctory: a white looking latino, with actual bloodlines of color and heritage should be free to identify not simply as “white” IMO but as PoC. The label of white in such case, while true/relevant to issues around skin color, speak to only one aspect of ethnic/racial identification, which extends to experiences, tastes, similarities, world view. Much in the same way a black person, no matter how “white” looking is granted the luxury of blackness by virtue of association and claiming that identity.

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  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_FSDBM74EOSGNW7UJHRGMOGWHSY Adam Walker

    One thing that has annoyed me about the whole half-Black half-Hispanic thing regarding Miles Morales is that people seem to think that Black and Hispanic are mutually exclusive categories. Hispanic/Latino is a cultural/linguistic category; it is nor a race. There are Black Hispanics (Zoe Saldana), White Hispanics (Dayanara Torres), Asian Hispanics (Alberto Fujimori),etc.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_FSDBM74EOSGNW7UJHRGMOGWHSY Adam Walker

    One thing that has annoyed me about the whole half-Black half-Hispanic thing regarding Miles Morales is that people seem to think that Black and Hispanic are mutually exclusive categories. Hispanic/Latino is a cultural/linguistic category; it is nor a race. There are Black Hispanics (Zoe Saldana), White Hispanics (Dayanara Torres), Asian Hispanics (Alberto Fujimori),etc.

  • Stephen B

    There are a few things I can say about this move by Marvel.  Spidey has been my all-time favorite American super hero for a number of years; so to have a young black-latino male taking on the mantle, even in UMU…  HELL YEAH!  Brian Michael Bendis has been my favorite comic book writer over the last five plus years, and not just because he is that good, but also because of his handling of minority characters.  I have yet to meet anyone who hasn’t liked his take on Luke Cage; whom Bendis himself has mentioned was one of his favorite heroes when he was a kid.  And, finally, on a lighter note, LOVE  the new costume!!!

  • Stephen B

    There are a few things I can say about this move by Marvel.  Spidey has been my all-time favorite American super hero for a number of years; so to have a young black-latino male taking on the mantle, even in UMU…  HELL YEAH!  Brian Michael Bendis has been my favorite comic book writer over the last five plus years, and not just because he is that good, but also because of his handling of minority characters.  I have yet to meet anyone who hasn’t liked his take on Luke Cage; whom Bendis himself has mentioned was one of his favorite heroes when he was a kid.  And, finally, on a lighter note, LOVE  the new costume!!!

  • Maria

    It is entirely possible that Miguel O’ Hara is biracial, but not because he is Latino. Latinidad is an ethnicity but that doesn’t mean that the default race of Latinos is white. My Latino family is mestizo (historically mixed indigenous and white) and definitely wouldn’t be considered white in this country. Other Latinos might be black, white, biracial, indigenous etc etc but they are still Latino. If Miguel O’ Hara’s parent is from one of the non-white racial groups included in Latinidad, he is indeed biracial.

  • Julieta

    I am trying not to get my hopes up about this, because I want it so badly to sell. Of course it’s limited by the fact that Miles Morales isn’t the “real” Spider-Man, but if done right he could inspire other creators to follow suit.

    Brian Michael Bendis did a great job of crafting a sympathetic, interesting, realistic Peter Parker. He seems to genuinely care about the title, and I have no doubt he’ll put as much love into Miles as he has for Peter. Just from the initial pictures I’ve seen, Miles seems drawn with a sort of sympathetic and endearing air AND he doesn’t look like a white kid with a new color palette.

    I hope USM’s white readers are able to be open-minded enough to be pulled into the emotional side of this Spider-Man, even though he may no longer look like them. Moreover, I’d love to see black and Hispanic kids with Miles Morales lunchboxes. I mean, look at the mainstream success of Static/Static Shock. Comic book companies don’t seem to get that minorities love comics too! But we love them more if we can relate to them on a personal level.

    DC managed to do this to some degree also with the Jaime Reyes Blue Beetle, who’s been compared to Ultimate Peter Parker in many ways. I wish Jaime had come around when I was a kid, I would’ve killed for a lunch box with a superhero that came from the same background as me, and looked like me (only, y’know, a dude).

  • Julieta

    I am trying not to get my hopes up about this, because I want it so badly to sell. Of course it’s limited by the fact that Miles Morales isn’t the “real” Spider-Man, but if done right he could inspire other creators to follow suit.

    Brian Michael Bendis did a great job of crafting a sympathetic, interesting, realistic Peter Parker. He seems to genuinely care about the title, and I have no doubt he’ll put as much love into Miles as he has for Peter. Just from the initial pictures I’ve seen, Miles seems drawn with a sort of sympathetic and endearing air AND he doesn’t look like a white kid with a new color palette.

    I hope USM’s white readers are able to be open-minded enough to be pulled into the emotional side of this Spider-Man, even though he may no longer look like them. Moreover, I’d love to see black and Hispanic kids with Miles Morales lunchboxes. I mean, look at the mainstream success of Static/Static Shock. Comic book companies don’t seem to get that minorities love comics too! But we love them more if we can relate to them on a personal level.

    DC managed to do this to some degree also with the Jaime Reyes Blue Beetle, who’s been compared to Ultimate Peter Parker in many ways. I wish Jaime had come around when I was a kid, I would’ve killed for a lunch box with a superhero that came from the same background as me, and looked like me (only, y’know, a dude).

  • Julieta

    I am trying not to get my hopes up about this, because I want it so badly to sell. Of course it’s limited by the fact that Miles Morales isn’t the “real” Spider-Man, but if done right he could inspire other creators to follow suit.

    Brian Michael Bendis did a great job of crafting a sympathetic, interesting, realistic Peter Parker. He seems to genuinely care about the title, and I have no doubt he’ll put as much love into Miles as he has for Peter. Just from the initial pictures I’ve seen, Miles seems drawn with a sort of sympathetic and endearing air AND he doesn’t look like a white kid with a new color palette.

    I hope USM’s white readers are able to be open-minded enough to be pulled into the emotional side of this Spider-Man, even though he may no longer look like them. Moreover, I’d love to see black and Hispanic kids with Miles Morales lunchboxes. I mean, look at the mainstream success of Static/Static Shock. Comic book companies don’t seem to get that minorities love comics too! But we love them more if we can relate to them on a personal level.

    DC managed to do this to some degree also with the Jaime Reyes Blue Beetle, who’s been compared to Ultimate Peter Parker in many ways. I wish Jaime had come around when I was a kid, I would’ve killed for a lunch box with a superhero that came from the same background as me, and looked like me (only, y’know, a dude).

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_Q4U73S5QZQCK4UFPRAUEEBY4ME Frank

    Brian Michael Bendis:” His mother’s Puerto Rican. And for some reason the borough seems to be an issue for everybody, too: the borough is Brooklyn.”
    Odd comment from Bendis in his NEWSRAMA interview. The character has been explicitly described as “Half-Black and Half-Latino, ” which is a rather problematical statement, as it implies that there are no Black Latinos. Leaving that aside, since Morales is a Spanish name, does this mean that Miles uses his mother’s surname? Or is his father somehow  a  non-Latino Black man with a Spanish surname? Perhaps his father’s Latino ethnic identity has been lost over the generations?

    • Julieta

      This struck me as odd too. It may be an effort on Bendis’s part to remind readers that the character is multi-racial. But my first thought was “I really hope we don’t end up with Absent Black Father.”

    • Julieta

      This struck me as odd too. It may be an effort on Bendis’s part to remind readers that the character is multi-racial. But my first thought was “I really hope we don’t end up with Absent Black Father.”

    • Julieta

      This struck me as odd too. It may be an effort on Bendis’s part to remind readers that the character is multi-racial. But my first thought was “I really hope we don’t end up with Absent Black Father.”

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_Q4U73S5QZQCK4UFPRAUEEBY4ME Frank

    Brian Michael Bendis:” His mother’s Puerto Rican. And for some reason the borough seems to be an issue for everybody, too: the borough is Brooklyn.”
    Odd comment from Bendis in his NEWSRAMA interview. The character has been explicitly described as “Half-Black and Half-Latino, ” which is a rather problematical statement, as it implies that there are no Black Latinos. Leaving that aside, since Morales is a Spanish name, does this mean that Miles uses his mother’s surname? Or is his father somehow  a  non-Latino Black man with a Spanish surname? Perhaps his father’s Latino ethnic identity has been lost over the generations?

  • Anonymous

    His odds of surviving are already slim since he exists in the Ultimate Universe, a place where widespread character death is scene as a way to boost sales and create media attention, but I applaud the move.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_Q4U73S5QZQCK4UFPRAUEEBY4ME Frank

    “The first book in the line was, of course, Spider-Man 2099,which featured a light-skinned biracial hero, Miguel O’Hara”
    Miguel O’Hara wasn’t biracial. He was a White Latino. Unless, of course, you consider Cameron Diaz or Linda Carter to be biracial….

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_Q4U73S5QZQCK4UFPRAUEEBY4ME Frank

    “The first book in the line was, of course, Spider-Man 2099,which featured a light-skinned biracial hero, Miguel O’Hara”
    Miguel O’Hara wasn’t biracial. He was a White Latino. Unless, of course, you consider Cameron Diaz or Linda Carter to be biracial….

  • Maria Caliban

    This is cool. Here’s hoping he’s not killed off in the next shake-up or canceled due to low sales.