Monday, December 31, 2012

ultimate spider-man

I can't help it. I love the new Spider-man, and I can't stop defending him out in public.

Last year, Marvel Comics announced it was introducing a new character to fill the shoes Spider-man. This new web-swinger is named Miles Morales, and unlike Peter Parker, he's not white. He's half-black and half-Hispanic, and represents part of Marvel's overall shift at Ultimate Comics to increase the racial and ethnic diversity of their superheroes.

Predictably, people were upset about the change when it was announced. People complained that Marvel was getting rid of the traditional Spider-man, and accused the company of kotowing to political correctness.

A few things surprised me about this. First is that Miles is not replacing the Spider-man who Stan Lee and Steve Ditko created in 1962. He's replacing the Spider-man whom Brian Michael Bendis created in 2000 for Marvel's Ultimate Comics line.

Second is that even if he were, so what? It's not like there is a dearth of white superheroes, and death in comic books is about as permanent as a haircut. If Marvel can create a superhero who speaks to the experience of its readers of color, I'm all for it.

Spider-man as a character has grown stale because of his pop culture success. He's not allowed to age, to marry and have children or otherwise significantly change, because the editorial powers at Marvel would rather milk their cash cow until it goes dry than risk killing it. Reinterpreting the character as an inner-city person of color rather than as a white teen from Queens is bold and opens up new avenues of storytelling.

What amazes me is that people still are upset about it, more than a year later. Two people at the comics shop the other day criticized Miles when they saw I was buying my daughter a collection of Ultimate Spider-man that included Peter. A friend of mine complained about him last night. Hel-lo, people! Miles rocks.

Miles has a lot of the traits that have always made Spider-man a hero, aside from the obvious spider powers like strength, spider-sense and sticking to walls. In many ways he's every bit as reluctant and outcast a hero as Peter is.

Peter first tried to make money with his powers, and only realized how he was wasting his gifts when a burglar he had failed to stop earlier, later killed his Uncle Ben. Miles used his powers to save some children from a fire, but was so unsettled by the experience that he didn't use them again until after Peter had died.

But the defining characteristic, the one thing that makes Miles stand out from Peter and makes him worth reading is this: He's not Peter. The Ultimate Peter Parker is dead, killed in a battle with the Green Goblin, and remembered by the entire city as a hero.

Miles is trying to honor Spider-Man's memory, but it's going to be ages before he's able to step out from under the shadow of his predecessor and gains legitimacy in the eyes of the New York. (And from some comic book fans, obviously.)

And just as importantly, Miles knows that he can die. One Spider-man already has, and unlike in the mainstream Marvel Universe, the Ultimate Universe doesn't seem to have a revolving door on heaven.

If Miles were simply a case of brown-washing -- if he were from Queens and had the exact same origin story and personality as Peter -- I'd probably agree with my friend who dissed Miles before I explained his story to her. But he's not a black Hispanic superhero for the sake of having one, and when Marvel debuted him, they didn't just create a black Peter Parker. They created a new character, one worth reading for his own sake, and one worth starring in his own movie some time.

He's also a racial minority, a bright kid from a neighborhood a lot worse than the one Peter Parker grew up in. As far as I'm concerned, that's just icing on the cake.

Miles isn't just a black Spider-man. As far as I'm concerned, he is Spider-man, hands-down: fresher and more fun to read about than Peter Parker has been in years.

Copyright © 2012 by David Learn. Used with permission.

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