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Who is Spider-Man?
If your answer is “Peter Parker,” you’re a bit behind on the most recent news from Marvel Comics: Miles Morales is Spider-Man.
Not the “new” Spider-Man. Not the “ultimate” Spider-Man. Not the “other” Spider-Man. Not the “black” Spider-Man.
Miles morales is… The Amazing Spider-Man.
As a comic book nerd, I’m pretty excited about this.
Diversity has not always been welcome in comics. It’s odd, though comics — superhero comics in particular — have often been about the underdogs, downtrodden and outcasts, the history of comics has not always been kind to minorities. As comics grew to popularity, they offered few minority characters and treated minority writers and artists horribly. Politicians in the 1950s would even attempt to use the Comics Code Authority to censor comics that challenged America’s racist culture.
At the comic shop I used to work in, my manager was Latino and my assistant manager was African American. Comic shops come in many shapes and sizes, some are hip and stylish, others belong in malls, some are dank caves, but few were staffed by anything other than white guys. Maybe it was this fact that made it so easy for our customers to dismiss diversity.
Not all customers, mind you, but enough to make a guy worry. We would discuss everything and anything in that shop, this is one of the few retail environments where conversing with the customer is an actual perk, and diversity was a reoccurring subject. Whenever a character was rumored to be changing race, sexuality or gender, there were many customers happy to rally against the possibility.
“But Colossus can’t be gay!” they exclaimed when an alternative version of Colossus — not even the main version of Colossus — was written to be homosexual.
Super strength? Sure. You can turn your body to steel? Believable. You like guys? Nope! That was just too far for some fans.
Back then, I felt that superhero comics had become increasingly dull, looking less and less like modern culture with each passing year. In my eyes, any diversity at all was welcome.
Also, we were definitely talking about a non-white Spider-Man in the comic shop ten years ago, before Miles Morales came into existence, and even before Twitter did its best to force Sony to cast Donald Glover as Spider-Man. The fervor of a specific group of hardcore fans, often baby boomers who grew up with these characters, was extreme. Spider-Man is Peter Parker, and Peter Parker is white, they would tell us as they slammed their fists into their palms for emphasis.
My manager and I perfected the “disdainful eye-roll” during these discussions.
Regardless of their wishes, Spider-Man is no longer Peter Parker. According to the New York Daily News, the official (Earth 616) Spider-Man will be Miles Morales when the new, main Spider-Man title launches in the fall.
Miles first made his debut in Marvel’s Ultimate line of comics in 2011. The Ultimate line was an alternate universe for Marvel, where the company could retell their classic stories to a new generation. A half African American and half Puerto Rican teen from Brooklyn, Miles was created by Brian Michael Bendis and Sara Pichelli.
“Our message has to be it’s not Spider-Man with an asterisk, it’s the real Spider-Man for kids of color, for adults of color and everybody else,” Bendis told the NY Daily News.
Of course, this is not the only recent change to a classic superhero: Thor is now female and Captain America is now African American.
What will happen to Peter Parker? It’s currently unknown, but it appears he will continue to exist in some capacity as Morales’ mentor. Maybe there will be two Spider-Men? Hopefully it doesn’t diminish Miles’ role.
Hopefully these changes in the comics will help the industry itself continue to grow more diverse.
And if we’re lucky, Marvel’s movies, which are currently lagging far behind when it comes to diversity, will soon mirror their comic counterparts.