Marvel’s New Ultimate Spider-Man Miles Morales: A Significant And Safe Leap Forward

Columns, Top Story

There has been a lot written recently about Marvel Comics move to kill and replace Peter Parker with Miles Morales as Marvel’s new Ultimate Spider-Man.

Now, its not new in the main Marvel Universe to have Spider-Man replaced. Marvel did with the Clone Saga years ago and a blonde Peter Parker clone named Ben Reilly who everyone thought was the “real” Peter Parker for a while. So, that was a bait and switch, but using Peter clones that was met with mixed success.

What Marvel is doing in their alternate Ultimate Universe is giving a new character Miles Morales a go at being Spider-Man. What has been the source of much internet and mainstream chatter has been the fact that Miles is half-African American and half-Hispanic American.

Writer Brian Michael Bendis has two adopted African American daughters so we know, despite his many loyal acolytes and galvanized critics (both segments with pre-ordained views of anything he does) this is a personal tale for him wanting his own kids and other youth to be able to see themselves as an iconic titular super hero hero.

When I was a boy, and exponentially grew my comic book interest in the early 1980s after flirting with the medium in the late 1970s, I didn’t give much thought to the race of my comic book heroes or heroines. Its probably due to the fact that they were all like me, as in Caucasion.

I probably didn’t even notice race in a real way in comic books. That’s probably because I grew in a fairly homogeneous Caucasion suburbs. There were others of varied backgrounds their too, even a schoolmate of mine who was biracial like Miles, but the area and the city I grew up in was hardly cosmoplitan. The ethinicity of characters, heroes, villains, supporting characters, etc. in my comic books didn’t matter to me. All that mattered was the story and art in the book’s pages. Did the characters, whomever they might be, service the story? That was the key question for me.

Even though I just used the term biracial early, I am leery to use the lexicon of the race debate here: biracial, black, white, etc. As we’re all part of the human “race”, I don’t particularly like using the race term as something that differentiates us as its really something that unifies us regardless of skin hue.

All that said, I think it is courageous for Marvel to bring a new character under the Spider-Man mask that will allow young children of diverse family backgrounds see themselves in their hero.

Some have criticized this casting for being a politically correct and others have applauded it as being progressive. However, both of these speak to the motivation behind the creative team making Mile Morales the new Ultimate Spider-Man. Is it a public relations exercise to elevate a book that sold less than 40K books a year ago? Or is it a story-based concept that will enamor readers due to the likability and relatability of Miles Morales? Right now, today, what we don’t know is how good the new Ultimate Spider-Man book will be because it hasn’t shipped yet.

Comic books should be judged by what is within their pages. Whether that’s waiting to see what DC Comics’ 52 new September shipping books are really like before maligning the books, the sames goes for Marvel’s new Ultimate Spider-Man title.

To complain about or praise either Miles Morales or DC’s new 52, at this very early stage, is a superficial response to the “idea” behind them and not what product or comic book has has been released with them. The new Ultimate Spider-Man #1 and the new 52 have yet to hit store shelves. Informed opinions about the stories they involve will come after at least when an issue ships with them wholly in the title. Mile Morales appearance in Ultimate Fallout is very brief, but we do get a sense of his humility and his likability. When his new book ships, we’ll know more and be able to judge better, as we do with all comic books, whether his story is a compelling one or not.

Marvel deserves kudos for their diversity efforts. That is not even a question.

However, Marvel could do more to make its main universe diverse, not just its alternate “Ultimate” universe. A very Caucasian Peter Parker still anchors all manner of Spider-Man titles in the 616 main Marvel Universe. Miles will be Spider-Man on an alternate world. Is it a step in the right direction with Miles? Absolutely. Is it a safer move by Marvel? Yes.

However, with Miles confirmed as not being the Ultimate Spider-Man in the animated series (based on the images released by the studio to date) to be released soon under Brian Michael Bendis’ leadership, Marvel’s portayal of “Ultimate” Spider-Man is inconsistent. That is even more interesting because we are in a time when everything the Big Two does is about cross-platform brand building and consistency across comics, movies, tv, video games, etc. Now, it may be that the Ultimate Spider-Man animated tv series will mirror the comics with Peter eventually being replaced by Miles, or not. Time will tell.

By any measure, Mile Morales becoming Marvel’s Ultimate Spider-Man is a huge positive for comicdom. It is equally true, that Marvel is taking the safe route in this effort by having him in the alternate Ultimate universe. All that said, I’m eager to read and check out the first few issues of the new era of Ultimate Spider-Man, a book I have never read regularly before Miles.

Also, I should make a comment on racism as I’ve seen a lot of articles on this topic and read a few intolerant posts as well. There is no excuse for the kind of hateful comments we have read from a few posters across this anonymous internet. Whether ignorant, intolerant, and/or racist, hate is hate.

There is equally no excuse for progressive columnists to forget to include in their pieces that all criticism of the new Ultimate Spider-Man concept isn’t intolerant or racist. Many – not all though – of the articles I have read across the ‘net focus on the clearly racist or intolerant comments of a few posters without even an acknowledgement of how much of the commentary on a given website that they represent (minority, majority, what?). In my website visits, posts by racists, account for a minority of commentary.

To any objective observer, the columns written on the new Ultimate Spider-Man critics, lead one to believe the majority of critics are racist. However, I think this is less a deliberate telling of the story by columnists and more part of the overall rush to write a column while the emotions are still raw (the legitmate anger one feels when reading racists comments) and while the writer is still “in the moment”. I’m not commenting on any columnist here, at Bleeding Cool, Newsarama, CBR, etc. This is a general obseravation. There have been several intelligent articles on the ‘net too.

In the end, let’s not forget that there are some legitimate critisms of changing leading characters in comics even in this debate. If a fan is upset that Marvel killed Peter Parker in the Ultimate Universe and believe that changing the lead character is not true to the concept, that’s hardly racist. The latter part (the “not true” part) is also uninformed since we haven’t had an issue of the new series ship, but it is ok and isn’t racist for Ultimate Universe fans to be upset that the company killed Peter Parker.

I have tried in this article to provide an objective view of Marvel’s new Ultimate Spider-Man efforts. I hope I have done the topic justice.

John is a long-time pop culture fan, comics historian, and blogger. He is currently the Editor-in-Chief at Comics Nexus. Prior to being EIC he has produced several column series including DEMYTHIFY, NEAR MINT MEMORIES and the ONE FAN'S TRIALS at the Nexus plus a stint at Bleeding Cool producing the COMICS REALISM column. As BabosScribe, John is active on his twitter account, his facebook page, his instagram feed and welcomes any and all feedback. Bring it on!