This is not my usual fare but it is a subject I have been watching develop for a while now and I think it warrants a discussion.
I was never much of a comic book reader but I know how to appreciate good storytelling when I see it; it doesn’t matter if it is found in books, games, movies, or comics – I can get behind good narrative and storytelling in a heartbeat. Every now and then writers of these media will do something to try push the envelope give audiences something new and exciting. Unfortunately this is often a hit-and-miss affair and has left the majority of writers too afraid to change things in fear of losing audiences. Controversial calls being made in the world of comic books & graphic novels is nothing new (I.E: DC Comics rebooting “The Green Lantern” and making him homosexual) but what happens when a controversial call cuts close to the bone but against all odds ends up being the right call after all is said and done?
I am of course talking about the replacement of Peter Parker (Spider-Man) with Miles Morales in the Marvel “Ultimates” storyline.
About a year ago Marvel decided it was time to honorably discharge Peter Parker from his role as Spider-Man and did so during an action-packed issue which saw Parker killed by Norman Osborn (Green Goblin) and several other villains. Although Parker succeeds in finally defeating Osborn he is mortally wounded in the process and dies in the arms of his girlfriend Mary Jane Watson. As Peter Parker left the stage his replacement entered it: Miles Morales, a young African American / Hispanic teenager who takes up the mantle of the iconic hero after much consideration. This is where the controversy began; the reaction was widespread with some people outraged at the audacious decision to kill off such a legendary popular culture icon and with some claiming that his replacement with a character with an mixed ethnic minority background was nothing more than a political correctness stunt. I’ll admit that I was a bit befuddled at first but when I decided to have a look into it and see what all the fuss was about I really cannot see how the cynical arguments can hold much ground.
Even most comic book readers know the origins of Peter Parker as Spider-Man; he is a nerdy quiet guy in high school who is bitten by a genetically augmented spider which gives him superpowers and after the death of his uncle becomes the superhero “Spider-Man”. Miles Morales on the other hand is an impoverished youth who by a stroke of luck is given a place at a prestigious charter school. Both of Miles parents are alive and he shares a healthy relationship with them both (a stark contrast with Parker), he also looks up to his uncle Aaron despite his shady past. When Miles is given his place at the charter school he rushes to see his uncle with the good news, it is during this visit to his uncle’s apartment that an enhanced spider stolen by Aaron out of OSCORP bites Miles. Shortly after being bitten Miles finds himself developing superpowers similar to that of the then-still-alive Spider-Man: incredible agility, superhuman strength, sticking to any surface, and a spider-sense that warns him of incoming danger. On top of these familiar powers Miles also gets the ability to turn invisible and is capable of administering a powerful ‘venom sting’ through his hands which induces severe paralysis in its’ target with a single touch. Initially Miles is terrified of his new abilities and does nothing with them, fully aware of his parents loathing of superheroes and what them discovering his powers might entail. Miles is finally spurred into action when he witnesses the death of Peter Parker. Again too scared to use his powers to help, Miles is wracked with guilt that he was unable to save his hero and as he kneels by the lifeless Spider-Man he resolves to step up and take his place.
This is an interesting development because through death Peter essentially becomes the spark that kick-starts Miles’ career as Spider-Man, which is the exact same thing that happened in Peter’s case when Ben Parker was murdered. The two origins are similar but diverge from each other in ways that end up making a huge difference in the bigger picture. This is not a case of “It’s the same story except this time Spider-Man is part African-American and part Hispanic!! Isn’t that awesome?”, this is a case of remarkably clever story writing and an origin story that is fascinating to watch unfold.
So there you have part of the origin, by what about the series thus far? The stories that have come from this new character have been met with widespread critical acclaim and have so far won over a lot of skeptics. Here is what has happened so far, as you’re reading this thing about whether or not this would actually make for an excellent movie adaptation!
During his first venture as a superhero Miles wears a Halloween costume fashioned after Spider-Man but is vilified by the media for doing so as they feel his use of the Spider-Man costume is in bad taste. To make things worse Miles is tracked down by The Avengers who apprehend and hand him over to SHIELD. Nick Fury, the director of SHIELD, informs Miles that he knows all about him and his family through the actions of Miles’ uncle Aaron who is revealed to be the notorious criminal “The Prowler”. Fury says that he knows that Miles did not mean to offend anyone and that he means well, deciding to give him a chance to prove himself worthy of Parker’s mantle. Fury also gives Miles a distinctive red and black spider-suit to help differentiate himself from his predecessor and to make him look like the “official” replacement.
Aaron, remembering the events that unfolded at his apartment, quickly puts two and two together and deduces that the new Spider-Man is really his nephew Miles. Aaron tracks down Miles with ease and offers to both train him and work with him to fight crime. In reality Aaron wants to use Miles’ powerful abilities in his own vendetta against the Mexican crime lord “Scorpion”. After several close calls with the syndicate and law enforcement Miles realizes he is being used and refuses to work with his uncle any further, despite Aaron blackmailing him when he threatens to inform Miles’ father of his secret. Miles is furious and confronts Aaron, a meeting which quickly escalates to an intense fight between the two. During the fight Miles inadvertently causes one of Aaron’s weapons to malfunction and explode, killing him in the process. Miles, believing that he has murdered his own uncle, is inconsolable and it is not until he is contacted and meets Parker’s family and friends that he starts to forgive himself. Aunt May gives Miles her full backing, happy that her late nephew has set an example, and gives Miles his web shooters – effectively passing the torch and completing the transformation of Miles Morales into Spider-Man.
The story is about to embark on a potentially fascinating ark where Steven Rogers (Captain America) is about to start training Miles on how to be a proper superhero. Initially Rogers, himself wracked with guilt for failing to protect Peter, was uneasy of training Miles but was won over to the idea after seeing himself reflected in the eager young man. The following is an extract from one of the recent issues,
Steven Rogers: If he’s too young to join the army he’s too young to wear a uniform, it shouldn’t be allowed.
Tony Stark: I kinda remember another story about someone else joinin’ the army even though they weren’t allowed…
Steven Rogers: I don’t want it to happen again, he [Peter] took a bullet for me and then fell at the hands of a criminal because I didn’t train him like I was tasked to.
Despite The Amazing Spider-Man only recently arriving and with its’ sequel in the works is there a possibility that this is where director Mark Webb might end up taking this rebooted story? Is it possible for Andrew Garfield’s webslinger to meet his end at the end of the next movie and for the follow-up to revolve around this character? I for one would be all for it, the ideas and developments I have read from this story so far have been fascinating to read and I am not even a ‘hard core’ fan of this media.
As I have said before “icons change, always have and always will”, this is just another example of such a phenomenon happening and thankfully succeeding. In my eyes this is nothing like an exercise in political correctness, this is a story that tells of a torch being passed and how someone no matter who they are can rise to a challenge.
Do you think Marvel made the right call in this case?
Do you think that too much attention has been drawn to Miles’ ethnicity? Has this clouded perceptions before people have even explored the character himself?
Would you like to see this character worked into a Spider-Man movie?