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Mad about Morales? Get over it.

August 4, 2011

Miles Morales will replace now-deceased Peter Parker in the Spider-Man costume in upcoming issues of "Ultimate Spider-Man."

The Internet has been abuzz the past two days over the reaction — or expected reaction — to the announcement that Peter Parker is out as Spider-Man and Miles Morales, a Latino teenager, is in. The character bears a shocking resemblance to Donald Glover,* who begged the Internet to push for him to land the role that eventually went to Andrew Garfield.

*If you haven’t listened to Glover’s side project, Childish Gambino, well, get on that. Start with “Freaks and Geeks” or his remix of Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep.”

Reaction to the move seems to be split into two camps, with most people praising the move and wanting to see where Ultimate Spider-Man writer Brian Bendis takes it and another group criticizing it because they don’t like seeing the Spider-Man role detached from Peter Parker (apparently they didn’t see Tobey Maguire chain Peter Parker to the back of a motorcycle and jump the shark in Spider-Man 3).

The problem with the second group’s thinking is this: Peter Parker has become stale, and so have his villains. The Green Goblin killed Parker, but how many times have the two fought since Stan Lee and Steve Ditko stuck Peter Parker in spandex in 1962?

More importantly, Parker is one of the best example of empowerment of the exile in comics. By putting on a costume, Parker is transformed from a nerdy teenager who is incapable of speaking up to someone who suddenly has the power to make a difference and, theoretically much less importantly, get the girl.

Maybe Bendis and the Marvel team are making a sociopolitical statement by putting that costume — and that burden — on a Hispanic teen. The whole idea of Spider-Man, though, is that the most unexpected people are capable of swooping in from the margins of society and making a major impact. Where the series writers have succeeded is in exploring the ramifications of that sudden increase in power.

If American society has an unheard (soon-to-be) majority ready to hop from margin to mainstream and assume a great deal of power, it’s the Hispanic population. Latinos are a group that will begin affecting major changes on all levels of society, from policy to sports, over the next 30 to 50 years, and it’s time for comic readers and writers to recognize that instead of sticking their hands over their ears and repeating “NaNaNa” over and over.

Morales represents a chance for Spider-Man to explore an entirely new set of political and societal questions in the recent future, and, in the process, is a chance for Bendis to move away from using the same familiar template to tell his character’s stories to shape an entirely new mold that belongs to the dilemmas and the complications of the new millennium, not the outmoded norms of the 1960s.

Someone other than Peter Parker deserves a chance to spin his own web, and Miles Morales is as good a choice as any. Hopefully Parker’s fans stick around to see Morales learn that “with great power comes great responsibility.”

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Alec permalink
    August 4, 2011 10:23 am

    “it’s time for comic readers and writers to recognize that instead of sticking their hands over their ears and repeating “NaNaNa” over and over.”

    Well said. I can imagine that phrase being spoken about almost any aspect of society.

    I’m wondering why Marvel didn’t just make Peter Parker black or Latino. I thought that was a cool option when Donald Glover wanted in. There is nothing about Peter Parker’s behavior or identity that suggests any particular race. I don’t know if that would have appeased anyone (it certainly didn’t seem to when Glover was campaigning) but it would give me hope that one day I could transcend my own horribly painful whiteness.

    • Adam Wagner permalink*
      August 4, 2011 11:34 am

      I was kind of thinking that they could just stick with the Peter Parker name and general identity, too, but then I realized that the entire point is that the character is just kind of old and ineffective at this point. I don’t think Bendis picked Morales’ ethnicity by accident and I don’t think it’s just a publicity stunt, so the only conclusion I can reach is that he thought Morales would be easier to tell the story he wanted to with than Parker would.

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