Monday, February 11, 2019

Black Superheroes: Spider-Man (Miles Morales)

So...did they make his costume black to be funny?
Name: Miles Morales

First Appearance: Ultimate Fallout #4 (2011)

History: On an alternate Earth (Earth-1610), Peter Parker is a teenager who has dedicated the last couple of years of his life to fighting crime as the Ultimate Spider-Man. At some point scientists with ill intent recovered some of his blood and were able to recreate the circumstances of that lead to Peter getting his powers; genetically enhanced spiders. However, before they got a chance to do much with them, career criminal Aaron Davis a.k.a. the Prowler stole the formula, not realizing one of the spiders had hitched a ride with him. Later at Davis’ apartment the spider bit his young nephew Miles Morales and the kid gained powers very similar to Spider-Man. Despite this, Miles had no intention to use his new found abilities in the same manner and was rather insistent that he wanted to live a normal live. This changes when Spider-Man is killed fighting the Green Goblin. Believing that he could have helped the hero if he had embraced his powers earlier, Miles makes the guilt-fueled decision to take up Parker’s mantle and become to new Spider-Man.

Beta Says: Created by Brian Michael Bendis and Sara Pichelli, Miles Morales was likely, with maybe the exception of Kamala Khan as Ms. Marvel, the highest profile creation of a comic book superhero in the 2010s. Not only was he the first person other than Peter Parker to regularly wear the mantle of Spider-Man in quite a few years, but he was both black and Latino and was created during a time when America was celebrating electing its first black president. Miles ended up becoming very popular in a very short amount of time, partially due to the marketing Marvel Comics applied to him. Today, he is the star of the film Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, which has only made him even more high profile. Some critics have suggested that the character was merely a big publicity stunt…and they’re at least partially right. Regardless as to how much of Miles' creation came from a good place to better represent the modern world, Marvel Comics were clearly motivated by the buzz of killing off Peter Parker would bring. Hence the reason they gave away the death of Peter before the issue where it occurred came out; to generate reactions from the mainstream media. Miles’ creation was more of a side effect of the publicity stunt, but that did not stop a backlash of negative and confused press decrying Marvel killing off one of its most iconic characters and replacing him based on “Political Correctness.”

Except Marvel didn’t kill off the iconic Spider-Man and, indeed, he was never replaced by Miles Morales and everyone crying about it on the news was being an idiot.

This may take a bit to explain.

The ultimate discussion of Miles Morales after the jump.

Spider-Man, channeling his inner Dark Knight
Before we can get into Miles himself and the controversy surrounding his creation, we must first discuss the experiment known as “Ultimate Marvel.” During the final days of the Dark Age of Comics in the late-90s, Marvel Comics was not in a great place. They had just managed to avoid closure due to bankruptcy and were in desperate need of a new direction. They had struck gold with the Marvel Knights imprint, a section of darker, edgier comics that revitalized several stagnant characters. Rejuvenated by that imprint's success, in the years that followed Marvel began pursuing the idea of starting a new, history free continue that would attract new, younger readers.

To that end, they launched Ultimate Marvel, an imprint that focused on classic characters re-imagined through a then-modern lenses, starting with the flagship title Ultimate Spider-Man (later joined by Ultimate X-Men, Ultimate Fantastic Four, and the Avengers-like Ultimates). During its existence the imprint had both high quality stories and also garbage stories that made everyone sad. However, even when the concept began getting a bit old and increasingly dull, the one title that was always relatively well-received was Ultimate Spider-Man. Considered a breath of fresh air when it was first published, Ultimate Spider-Man had been so beloved that many comic historian consider Ultimate Spider-Man #1 to be the official end of the Dark Age of Comics. Even as the rest of the line started plunging into the sea in terms of critical reviews and sales, USM stayed afloat.

But, indeed, the line started going downhill, mostly due to increasingly odd creative choices. Marvel decided to shake things up with a series of drastic changes to status quo in order to boost sales; things they’d never do in the main comics (like Magneto committing a culling in New York; Jesus…). This led up to the decision to kill off Peter Parker but NOT cancel Ultimate Spider-Man and rather replace him with a brand-new character. Once that decision was made the creators concluded that in order to be a realistic take of the average New Yorker in the modern times the new Spider-Man pretty much had to be a person of color. To that end they created Miles Morales, a thirteen-year old kid who was half African-American and half Puerto Rican.

Miles hanging out with a female clone of the guy he replaced
Yeah, comics are weird as hell...
The initial reaction was mixed, but the negative take ended up getting mainstream attention the likes I hadn’t seen for a comic book in years. Many fans were angered at the notion of a Minority Replacement situation, as was likely expected, but the 24 Hours news cycle also caught on, as very popular right-wing media personalities decried Marvel for killing off their most popular character to be politically correct. However, none of these personalities apparently read the comics because if they had they would have known that IT WASN’T THE REAL PETER PARKER WHO DIED!! Again, this was the alternate universe Peter Parker who had starred in the Ultimate Spider-Man comic who was killed and, yes, his comic had a legacy of its own as it had been on the newsstands for over a decade, but the Peter Parker who first appeared in 1962 was completely unaffected by this major change. While these guys were on TV being angry about this classic character being a victim of PC culture that same character was alive and kicking swinging in the pages of Amazing Spider-Man and probably at least four other books.

My question is whether these guys would have been making a huge deal about this if Peter had a white replacement. Again, since this wasn't the classic character being killed the anger seems out of place, especially when you consider that similar moves weren’t met with anything close to the same level of rage. Ultimate Reed Richards, leader of the Ultimate Fantastic Four, at some point went insane and became the Ultimate Universe’s final boss villain known as The Maker, completely turning the character on its head. But guess what? It wasn’t classic Reed Richards so, rather than it being this huge problem like Parker’s death, fans rightfully saw this as an intriguing and ballsy creative development. Also, the original Peter Parker did in fact end up dying a few years later in the Superior Spider-Man story and replaced by Doctor Octopus and while many people were upset, I don’t recall people screaming nearly as loudly as the folks crying “PC Police” when Miles came on-board.

Remember when Reed Richards murdered the president and Fox News got pissed?
No? The news cycle must have missed it.
Anyway, guess what? In the end Miles Morales ended up being a hit with comic book fans, despite the backlash. This is due to the high quality of the stories following Parker’s death but also because Miles very much so resonated with a large portion of the comic book fandom. In fact, Miles became so popular that his Spider-Man comic, which continued to do well in sales, completely eclipsed the rest of the Ultimate line. When Marvel finally decided to pull the plug on the imprint a few years later they opted to move Miles into the main 616 continuity.

During the events of the 2015 Secret Wars miniseries the Ultimate Universe was destroyed but Miles managed to not only survive its destruction but had his life and history integrated into Earth 616, meaning that he and the original Peter Parker now co-exist in the same continuity and shared the name Spider-Man.

Since his origin is directly related to people trying to recreate Spider-Man, it should be of no surprise that Miles possess most of Peter Parker’s powers, though since Parker’s abilities have been enhanced over the years it’s safe to assume that Miles' variants are not as strong. The younger Spider-Man also possesses two unique powers; the abilities to cloak himself and appear invisible and to emit energy blasts that he calls a “venom strike.” He is also, regrettable, often romantically involved with Spider-Gwen, an alternate version of Gwen Stacy. However, Miles starts out as being thirteen and is likely no older than sixteen at this point, and Gwen is clearly stated to be college age in the first issue of her solo book, so, yeah, that’s a little creepy.

That time Captain America became a Nazi and Miles acted appropriately
Unlike a lot of characters who I’ve written about Miles Morales has been high profile his entire existence as he currently stars in his own comic as well as is a member of a team of young heroes called "The Champions.” Miles is also the main character of the film Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse which has gotten immense critically acclaim (and is waaaay better than that fluke of a movie Venom), not to mention his various appears in cartoons and video games. At this point it doesn’t seem like the kid will be going anywhere anytime soon.

It must be said that Miles has been on the forefront on a fundamental and deliberate shift that’s been happening at Marvel Comics in the 2010s, as they have made an incredible effort to introduce more diversity both in their titles and behind the scenes as well. Along with Kamala Khan and Spider-Gwen, it feels like Marvel has for the first time in what feels like forever managed to create a batch of characters that seem like they could end up standing the test of time. 

The future of superhero comics is here!
For more info on Miles click here. Next time we’ll be taking a break from talking about the heroic side of things as we look at a villain whose hatred for their archenemy is so strong that even Lex Luthor would tell them to chill out.

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