Ultimate Spider-Man: It Doesn’t Matter if He’s Black or White

The news that the new web-slinger in the pages of Ultimate Spidey is 13-year-old Miles Morales, a half-Latino, half-Afro-American teenager, has caused an uproar in some circles. Comics Worthologist Matt Baum says that in reality, it’s no big deal, for reasons he details below.

Last Tuesday, Ultimate Spider-Man writer Brian Micheal Bendis dropped a bomb on comic nerds everywhere when he revealed the identity of the new character to wear the Spider-Man costume in the pages of Ultimate Spidey: 13-year-old Miles Morales, a half-Latino, half-Afro-American teenager is your new Ultimate Spider-man.

For the first time since the character’s debut in the pages of Amazing Fantasy #15 (Marvel, 1962), Spider-man is not a white a guy. Or a man at all. This is also the first time we’ve seen a Spider-kid. Spidey creators Stan Lee and Steve Ditko created Peter Parker as an awkward 16-year-old to appeal to younger comic readers and give comic fans a character closer to their age than the other heroes of the ’50s and ’60s. Since that time, Peter has grown and is generally accepted to be in his late 20s. In that time, he’s dated, been married, given up the job of Spidey, worn armor, was granted a de-facto divorce by the devil and was even the most powerful character in the Marvel Universe for a short while. The only thing he hasn’t done is died. Which brings us to the part of the story that media seems to be missing: Peter Parker is not dead.

Peter Parker, as we’ve come to know him since 1962, is very much alive and still web-slinging in the pages of Amazing Spider-Man every month, and he will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. Presently, Pete is dealing with a strange outbreak on the island of Manhattan that gave the population similar spider-powers in a story-line called Spider Island.

So why is the media reporting that Marvel killed Spider-Man and made him black and—possibly—gay, according to the Drudge Report? Well, they’re half right. Marvel did kill Peter Parker and it was tear-jerker that no Spidey fan should have missed out on. What most media outlets that reported on the story failed to tell you was that the death of Peter Parker took place in the pages of Ultimate Spider-Man, a title that takes place in a completely separate universe and continuity. Did I just lose you?

How about a little history before we go on?

Writer Brian Micheal Bendis is famous for shaking things up, and there can’t be a better way to both grab fans’ attention and that of the media than killing Peter Parker and replacing him with a new character.

Back in 2000, Marvel Comics decided it was time to update the origins of some of its major characters to bring them into a more modern and less-muddled continuity, starting with Spider-Man. Now, rather than restarting its entire universe—like DC Comics is doing next month—Marvel created a separate line of comics called the Ultimate Marvel line, the first of which was Ultimate Spider-Man #1. Bendis was given the task of modernizing Spidey for a new generation of readers by telling his origin in the year 2000, where heroes had just begun to spring up in this new Marvel Universe. It was an instant hit. Ultimate Spider-Man shattered sales records for that year and was one of the highest-selling titles from Marvel since 1991’s relaunch of the X-Men by Jim Lee and Chris Claremont.

Since 2000, Ultimate Spidey has continued to examine the life of young Peter Parker in a modern-day setting, has been nominated for several awards and received critical acclaim with each new story arc. So why kill this alternate Spider-Man now? Bendis has given several reasons, none of which were that Michelle Obama demanded a black Spider-Man, as Glen Beck surmised during one of his maniacal rants last week (but that’s what he does best). For as long as Bendis has been writing Marvel Comics, he’s been famous for shaking things up. I can’t think of a better way to both grab fans’ attention and that of the media than killing Peter Parker and replacing him with a new character. And what better place to do it than the Ultimate Marvel U? There’s just no way a story like this would see the light of day in the regular Marvel U. Ultimate Marvel, however, was created to give creators a chance to tell stories that couldn’t be told anywhere else.

Which brings us to Miles Morales. Why a mixed-race, inner-city 13-year-old? Why not? Comics have been sorely lacking in diversity since a white (albeit a white alien) Superman first leapt a tall building back in 1938. Comics are dominated by white characters and Bendis is looking to tell a different type of Spider-Man story, which he says requires a very different Spider-Man.

In an interview with Newsarama, Bendis said the idea first came to him two years-ago when he saw Afro-American “Community” star Donald Glover climb out of bed wearing Spider-Man pajamas. Later, Glover launched a sarcastic Internet campaign to land the role of Spider-Man in the new Sony Spidey movie expected to hit theaters next summer. Bendis said he found himself thinking, “I want to read that story upon seeing a black Spider-Man.” In the end, Bendis and editor Axel Alonso (who is half-Mexican) settled on the bi-racial character of Miles Morales (the alteration was intentional), because they wanted to tell a wholly new Spider-man story.

Ultimate Spider-Man relaunches with a new #1 next month.

Needless to say, a very vocal minority of people lost their minds. The comment section under a USA Today story broke the news had commenters screaming accusations of everything from extreme political correctness to downright racism. Right-wing news outlets and pundits ran similar stories, some of which all but accused Marvel of reverse racism for “making Spider-man black.” Notice no mention that Peter Parker died in a story that took place in a separate continuity or that he was replaced after dying and not suddenly transformed into a black man.

As a fan of Spider-Man for more than 30 years now, and as a calm, reasonable member of society, I can tell you that THIS IS NOT THAT BIG OF A DEAL OR ANY KIND OF ATTEMPT OF RACIAL POLITICAL CORECTEDNESS BY MARVEL COMICS. Phew . . . No more screaming, I promise. Miles Morales is the new chapter in the Ultimate Spider-Man mythos. Peter Parker is still alive and well in the regular Marvel U. If anything, the death of Ultimate Peter Parker has got people talking about comics at a time when comic sales are at an all-time low and that is a very good thing.

Since the reveal of Miles Morales in the pages of last week’s Ultimate Fallout #4, there has been no backlash by white comic fans feeling the pains of racism. On the contrary. At the comic shop where I work, the story has brought new interest to Ultimate Spider-Man, which relaunches with a new #1 next month. On the Back Issue front it’s impossible to guess whether what will happen with this new Ultimate Spiderman #1 but it’s a safe bet that the first-printing will sell out pretty quickly. I wouldn’t be surprised to see it as the highest-selling title next month after the amount of media attention Miles Morales has received. Currently, Ultimate Comics Fallout #4, the first appearance of the new Spidey is selling for upwards of $6 and seems to be going up from there. I would guess retailers will be ready for the new Ultimate Spidey series after the media blitz and this first appearance of Miles will probably be the comic to watch in the future.

Those who have been following Ultimate Spidey know that when it comes to quality Spidey-stories, Bendis delivers. The true test of the character will not be what the race of the person wearing the suit, but is the identity of Spider-Man itself enough to propel the story, regardless of who is doing the web-slinging. That is why Bendis killed Peter Parker and introduced us to Miles Morales. To challenge us to (and himself) look at Spider-Man in a completely different light. I for one am very excited.

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Matt Baum is WorthPoint’s comic book Worthologist. If you have any questions about these books or anything else in the comic book world feel free to contact Matt or post your question below in the Comic Book Forum in the WorthPoint Forums, located in the Community tab. You can also reply to this article in the “leave a reply box below. If you need more comic-nerd in your life, you can follow Matt on Twitter, where he’s always screaming about something nerd-related. Thanks to all Matt’s new followers and keep the comments coming!

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  1. Willie King says:

    Great article Matt. I will pick up a copy this weekend.

    Willie King