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Race + Spider-Man: Sony Confirms A Glass Ceiling For Miles Morales

By Arturo R. García

(L-R) Peter Parker and Miles Morales, as shown on the cover of “Spider-Men” #1.

Sony Entertainment might be pleased right now about the opening-weekend performance from Amazing Spider-Man 2. A $94 million domestic take isn’t a Marvel-level success, and the film has gotten middling reviews, but it’s been a decent start.

But the company should be concerned about the arrogance exhibited by executive producers Avi Arad and Matt Tolmach late last week, as they effectively rejecting the possibility of seeing a Spider-Man who is not cis-white het male Peter Parker inhabit Sony’s Spider-film realm. As The Mary Sue reported, Arad and Tolmach put the kibosh on that talk in an interview with IndieWire:

IndieWire: Are Miles Morales (“Ultimate Spider-Man”), Ben Reilly (clone Spider-Man) or Miguel O’Hara (“Spider-Man 2099″) on the table? If you want a Spider-Man movie every year why not bring in some of the other variations?
Tolmach: No.
Arad: No. The one thing you cannot do, when you have a phenomena that has stood the test of time, you have to be true to the real character inside – who is Peter Parker? What are the biggest effects on his life? Then you can draw in time, and you can consider today’s world in many ways. But to have multiple ones… I don’t know if you remember, but Marvel tried it. And it was almost the end of Spider-Man.
IW: So Spider-Man in the cinematic realm will always be Peter Parker?
Arad: Absolutely
Tolmach: As far as we’re concerned. The guys who take it over after us … Who knows …

It’s true that Sony runs the ASM brand independently of Marvel’s operation, but if movie!Spidey were truly independent from his comics counterpart, Otto Octavius’ stint assuming Peter Parker’s identity in Superior Spider-Man might not have wrapped up just in time for the new movie.

It’s also possible that Arad’s statements, in particular, are part of a bigger dispute: Latino Review reported that Arad — a former Marvel exec — was upset by a BusinessWeek profile calling his ex-employer’s current president, Kevin Feige, “The Man Who Saved Marvel,” while also making light of Arad’s own role in pulling the company out from bankruptcy, so much so that he emailed the person who wrote the piece, Devin Leonard:

You should reach out to Merill Lynch and Ambac Insurance and to our international partners that came on board based on my track record. Our financial partners counted on my reputation. I had to work very hard to convert the doubters. They trusted me and without Iron Man this article would have not been written. Iron Man was not even in the original slate. I knew that we needed it so I set out to get it back from Newline and the rest is history.

Our financing would have never happened without me reaching out to Brad Grey to make a distribution deal that will give you a corporate guarantee. Other people in Marvel worked for many months with Universal and could not reach a deal. I got tired of waiting and went to Brad. The deal was done in days, successful for both companies. The big presentation to financial institutions and insurance companies took place on the Paramount lot. I was the presenter and it worked. Does this sound to you like someone who disagreed with the strategy to make our own movies?

Panel from “Miles Morales: Ultimate Spider-Man” #1.

So Arad shutting Morales and O’Hara out from his budding Spider-brand might also be a case of sour grapes. But the fact is, ASM2 didn’t do as well as the latest Captain America film in terms of box-office performance, and Cap’s reviews were, on the whole, more positive. So it won’t take too much for both the latest X-Men film and Gareth Edwards’ Godzilla reboot to shove ASM out of the spotlight.

Not only have Arad’s comments been criticized in fandom media, but writer Brian Michael Bendis, who created Morales to assume the mantle — and the title role — of Spider-Man in Marvel’s Ultimate universe, unwittingly pushed back against him in an interview with Vulture:

Hopefully, whoever’s in charge of movie and media rights will realize that they’re sitting on a goldmine and that they should pursue it as quickly as possible. I can’t imagine why they wouldn’t. We made Miles because we wanted to make Miles, but once you make Miles, you realize it was kind of an obligation to make Miles. Y’know? It was the right thing to do.

Cover to “Miles Morales: Ultimate Spider-Man” #1.

On one level, the timing of the remarks by ASM‘s producers also undermines their case: not only is Miles still around in the Ultimate universe, but his share of the spotlight seems to be increasing. He’s gathered many of the young heroes in his orbit to form a new incarnation of that realm’s signature team, the Ultimates, and his own title has been relaunched under the name Miles Morales: Ultimate Spider-Man. So Bendis, at least, seems to be ready to continue featuring Miles as much as he can.

The downside is, Arad and Tolmach’s remarks suggest that one key issue we’ve discussed at Racialicious in the past — the conscious limiting of opportunities for non-white heroes — is still accepted at the executive level, despite an upswing in data and activism showing that more members of our fandom communities are ready for that to change. In an effort to have this conversation on another platform, I put together some thoughts on Twitter not long after Arad and Tolmach’s comments became public record, which are collected below with some additional notes.

We covered Kamala — the new Ms. Marvel — shortly after her series was announced. I would also recommend this roundtable regarding her by our colleagues at The Nerds of Color.

Marvel editor Tom Breevort infamously demonstrated the Mighty Marvel Mindset on that issue way back in 2011.

As we’ve also discussed before.

No, seriously, HOW IS THAT NOT IN ALL THE STORES? This is also a good point at which to recommend you pick up Mighty Avengers, which features her on a team that is virtually all-POC in stories that are fun and not as bogged down with Event Fallout as the rest of the A-line.

Araña in her most recent appearance during the “Spider Island” storyline.

If you haven’t heard of Araña, no one would blame you: it’s been about a decade now since her solo series debuted to relatively great fanfare, with Marvel patting itself on the back for introducing a Latina heroine. Unfortunately, that series was canceled and the character has been shuffled around the periphery of the New York superhero scene in the “proper” (non-Ultimate) Marvel universe. After trading in the Araña name for the “traditional” moniker of Spider-Girl, she was last seen in a supporting role in the Spider Island crossover that closed out the Superior Spider-Man maxi-series.

Another character seemingly in limbo at this point is O’Hara, who actually predates Miles as the first biracial Spider-Man; Miguel — the son of an Irish father and Puerto Rican mother –  debuted in 1992 under the company’s short-lived 2099 brand, which attempted to chart a future for Marvel’s “Heroic Age” that wasn’t the type of dystopian nightmare featured in X-Men storylines. He remains trapped in Peter Parker’s era thanks to machinations by his corrupt employer, Tyler Stone. 

We also highlighted the problematic aspects of Hardwick’s Nerdist channel not long after it was announced.

But then, we’ve seen for awhile that the X-Men have been kept, one might say, separate but … sorta the same as compared to the Spider-Man or Avengers brands.

SPOILERS for ASM 2 here: Even as Sony seems intent on stonewalling a Miles movie, it’s apparently moving forward with a film featuring Spider-Man’s rogue gallery, the Sinister Six. So, yes, that company apparently sees villains as being more marketable than heroes of color.

What, you thought we forgot?

  • http://thecomicalibrarian.wordpress.com SaoirseRonanTheAccuser

    One thing worth noting: a dip from 50k to 38k is actually EXTREMELY good for a new comic not based on a pre-existing character. It’s a dip of just shy of 24%, and she picked up reorders on issue 1 (due to sell-outs) to the tune of 6k more. The last two Wolverine books lost 50% of their audience between #1 and #2, Uncanny X-Men lost 46%, Guardians of the Galaxy lost 60%, Punisher lost 42%.

    A 24% drop between #1 and #2 is almost legendary these days. If the book evens out in the mid 20ks, then we’ll likely have a book that runs for a good long while; if it stabilizes in the 30ks (an almost impossible feat these days), it’ll run indefinitely.

  • NinjinSteve

    Seeing Miles Morales in a Spider-Man movie would be beyond awesome but I doubt it will happen because of MONEY. Peter Parker/Spider-Man has been around 50+ years. He’s had THAT much time to build up a fan base. People love that character from the comics and the cartoons that have been in the public eye for decades.

    Miles Morales has been around, what? 2 years? 3 maybe? He’s getting popular with comic book readers but the general public has no idea who he is. Almost 0 awareness. He’s never even been in an animated show or anything else besides a comic, and an alternate universe version comic at that. Get him on tv! Get him in the public eye!

    It’s all about the built in fan base which equals a certain guaranteed box office result. Miles Morales doesn’t have that yet and that is VERY risky to a big movie studio. To put that much money at risk into an untested character is a big deal. But he’s a young character, give it time. Who knows what the future will bring.

    Look at Kick-Ass! Super new character. Not one movie studio would touch it because of the risk. They had to make it independently on a low budget and then find a buyer.

    Now why Black Panther or Luke Cage haven’t had their own movies yet is ridiculous. I would watch the HELL out of a Heroes for Hire movie any day of the week! Sweet Christmas!

  • Osvaldo Oyola

    Thanks for including my tweet. Araña was a decent all-ages book with a lot of potential that never got enough support, but did have a decent representation in terms of number of Latino characters (even if it relied too heavily on some immigrant stereotypes).

    As I also said on Twitter, while I do like Spectrum’s new uniform, I was taken aback by how her hair was straightened and her skin lightened to give her more of a Halle Berry look – not to knock Halle Berry – but there are as many different looking kinds of black and Latino (and Asian and other groups) people as there are white people, and it is time that comics started representing that a well.

    Finally, if you;ll forgive a little self-promotion. My blog, The Middle Spaces (www.themiddlespaces.com), frequently tackles issues of race and gender (among other things) in comics (and sometimes music).