The New Ultimate Spider-Man! Someone’s listening!

Have you heard about the new Spider-Man featured in Marvel’s Ultimate line of comic books? If you haven’t yet, I’m impressed. It was reported by various news outlets before issue 4 of Ultimate Fallout hit the newsstands. In fact, that’s a bit unfair to readers who want to be surprised with each issue. It’s just continually interesting that the happenings of Marvel comics are regularly reported in the news. DC fanboys weep because Time Magazine will never report on the fact that Sinestro is now a member of the Green Lantern Corps. and Hal Jordan has been kicked-out for pushing his ring to attack and kill a rogue Guardian.

This isn’t about me bashing on DC, though. (I love their characters, I swear!) This is about my somehow continued coverage of the “Death of Spider-Man” and Ultimate Fallout storylines. I didn’t expect the new Spider-Man to be introduced so soon, although nothing has been revealed about him in the comics except for this:

Yeah, he’s black. News outlets revealed a bit more. His name is Miles Morales, and he’s half-black, half-Hispanic. Not only is the new Spider-Man a minority – he’s mixed! Aside from that, no one outside of Marvel knows anything about the character. This was enough to get people to start fussing again, especially on the internet. You just can’t have a black Spider-Man for some reason. Even though they didn’t go as far as making Peter Parker black, they made the man/boy behind the mask a minority. Sacrilege!

To be frank about it, what I care about is the character’s proper integration into the overall story. I’m reserving full judgment until I see happens. You’ll notice that this news item has been available for over a week, but I didn’t say anything because I wanted to read the issue for myself and figure out how I feel about what they did. They’ve done fine so far. Everyone this Spider-Man has saved so far has just said that putting on the costume and fighting crime is in bad taste immediately after Spidey’s death. He then unmasks himself to the audience and agrees. Beyond that, I can’t say much of anything. It seems like a bad move to bring the character into the fold so soon, but aside from that there’s nothing to say.

Then there’s the race thing…

There are people out there who take offense to this new Spider-Man because Spider-Man has always been white. Even though this is a brand new character, people are bothered because the man under the mask has always been white and somehow should always be a white guy. You can go around the internet and find complaints about this or that, including blaming the Obama administration. If this character lasts for a while, my fear is that people will say he’s not the real Spider-Man. Granted, this is Ultimate Comics, but having a singular character interpretation in mind just stinks of provincialism to me.

And this leads me back to wondering why we can’t have a new Spider-Man movie featuring a black Peter Parker. People (more specifically, relatives) have been telling me that you can’t have that because Peter Parker has always been white. That’s the most disappointing thing I have ever heard. When I think of Peter Parker, I think of a kid who was raised by his aunt and uncle because his parents died in some tragic accident, he grew up in Queens, New York, he was picked on for being smart, and he learned a valuable lesson about having power and not exercising it appropriately. Nowhere in there does his race come up, and it shouldn’t.

So I will be blunt about this, even though I know it may catch some flack: If your interpretation of Peter Parker requires that he be white, you’re racist.

The argument I encountered went on to say that Spider-Man/Peter Parker works so well because he is an everyman character, and a white character fits that best because it’s accessible. I’d agree with that if every reader were white and we were living in a less diverse country. The way I see it, it shouldn’t matter what race he is. The characterization is what makes him most accessible. As far as comic book readers are concerned, who’s more accessible than a down-on-his luck guy who is secretly amazing but has to keep it to himself?

A better argument I heard was that the writers don’t know how to write for an “ethnic” character without making that a big part of the character. That I’m afraid is probably true. Of course the issue with that isn’t so much the fact that characters are minorities. The issue is that the writers at the big two comic publishers aren’t very diverse. That’s why DC has been getting flack lately, mostly due to a lack of women writing for the big 52 reboot. Why people aren’t targeting Marvel is a mystery to me. Honestly, though, I want to see them write this kid as if his race were just something with which he were born, not the determinate of his personality and who he can be. Y’know, kind of like people in real life.

I’m happy that Samuel L. Jackson and Idris Elba have altered the perception of Nick Fury and Heimdall, respectively. But those are ultimately minor characters. It isn’t enough to make people see that race doesn’t determine one’s ability to be a hero. I am very welcoming of this new Spider-Man, and I am welcoming of other possible Spider-Men to come.

I want to let you all in on a secret. The problem people have with the new Ultimate Spider-Man isn’t that he happens to be a minority. It isn’t even a change of tradition. These are all external issues. The discomfort they’re finding comes from within. Is it too harsh to call it racism when people’s perceptions and reactions to race upset them? For the sake of a lot of people, maybe I should find a nicer word. I just can’t figure out any other reason than that for why people are so pissy about fictional characters.

Meanwhile, I’ll just wait to read the story and see how it all works. I’ll let you know what I think.

*     *     *

Meanwhile, for those worried about Peter Parker, he’s celebrating his life as a hero up in Valhalla with Cyclops, Hank Pym, Wasp, and that annoying Wolverine guy. My hope is that every future death in the Ultimate books leads to an updated pic.

About Gospel X

I am a major mediaphile as well as a social researcher. My ultimate belief is that the media can be used to teach children prosocial behaviors and teach adults how to access paradigms. And I think that Mega Man is an amazing example of proteanism. Add me on Google : https://plus.google.com/u/0/113795848855477334599

Posted on August 12, 2011, in comics, culture, Marvel, race and culture, real life, science fiction, scifi, Spider-Man and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. Melanie Carbine

    Unfortunately, this isn’t true: “Honestly, though, I want to see them write this kid as if his race were just something with which he were born, not the determinate of his personality and who he can be. Y’know, kind of like people in real life.” Do you honestly think you would be the same person, have the same opinions, have been involved in the same things, if you hadn’t regularly been confronted with your race? I think I would be less opinionated about race, less aware of it in fact, if my mom hadn’t been Asian. I probably wouldn’t have given my seventh graders writing prompts about racism for a month straight if taxi drivers hadn’t continually been asking me if I was Japanese. I would not have lived in Seattle (where I worked for a non-profit multiracial advocacy group) or gotten a minor (in Asian Pacific American studies), in fact I probably wouldn’t even know you (because we met in our Asian American Psych class) These are minor details, not the crux of my life, but still an integrated part of my identity and thus who I am. So, the new spider-man is multiracial. A nice detail might be having him use some Spanish when he saves a Spanish-speaking little girl. Maybe during an emergency, an old woman doesn’t understand English and can’t understand what’s going on. That’d be useful. Maybe he has some inherent mistrust of law enforcement because during his unmasked life he’s racially profiled on the street. What’s amazing is that the writers can’t imagine how to write an ethnic character. It’s doesn’t change the main storyline, just the details.

    And, yes, people are more racist than we’d all like to think. But, racism is the right word. What kind of euphemism is there: ethnocentric?

    • I realize that part of what I was saying was naive idealism that comes during the last hour of the night before one falls asleep. It’s clear as day. It is part of who you are, but it isn’t the main part. The problem with writing a book about a character who isn’t white is making that a part of the character without making that EVERY part of the character. Does Miles Morales have to speak Spanish because he’s Hispanic? I always enjoy stories where everyone assumes the Asian guy/gal knows Mandarin/Cantonese/Korean/Japanese/etc., and the person says, “Dude, I’m from Nebraska.” That’s one of the stereotypes I’d like to break. (Another one? Not all black people use Ebonics or poorly structured English. Not all of them tolerate it.) But at the same time, if something about his multiracial ethnicity fits in the story organically, that’s cool. Bear in mind that, especially when read monthly, even the little details are given a lot of notice in a comic book issue. The little details are given prime real estate in a 32-page book of pictures.

      How are the (let’s admit it, white) writers supposed to strike a balance of all this? Hell if I know. But I’m idealistic. Spider-Man is an everyman. I think he has an aesthetic that moves him closer to being relateable by a larger group; now he just needs to be represented in a way that doesn’t exclude everyone else. I think it can be done. Problems cited with the Blue Beetle a few years back were that he wasn’t relateable because he used too much Spanish. Problems cited with Static Shock and a number of black superheroes were that they almost always dealt with profiling and inner city issues. So problems with doing that in Spider-Man are that they don’t work so well and they’ve already been done.

    • I know it is just a story, but I’ve invested myself into the Ultimate Spider-man stories for the last 11 years, specifically into Peter Parker. Not necessarily what he looked like. I don’t care if he were white, black, or poke-a-dot, it was his personality, his passions and beliefs that drew me into his world. I think it is great that there are more diverse characters in the comic book world, but why must I be labeled a bigot for having an affinity and nostalgia for this character? Why must I be criticized for expecting a better transition/story line to introduce a new hero? This is not about race or ethnicity. This is like when people were labeled unpatriotic when they did not support Bush, when our country was founded on holding leaders accountable. There are guidelines to making a good story and for avoiding such backlash. The ultimate reality was made so that creative license could be used in telling new stories with classic characters, but it is more than just a portal of new stories, like all good works of fantasy, it has taken on a life of its own and embedded itself into the hearts of its fans. Fans would be just as upset if Reed Richards were killed to make a new Mr. Fantastic, or Bruce Banner were killed to create a new Hulk. These characters are more than just a costume. Superman is superman because he is Clark Kent , not because he has superpowers. The same can be said for Spider-man There have been many attempts, but only one real thing. My question is, we have already had a secret identity, who is poor, isn’t athletic, who is an outcast, a nerd, who got bit by a spider for spidey, so if they were changing him, why not change that as well. Why not make him popular, athletic, less brainy and a different origin other than a spider bite? I’m all for change, but it seems that this “change” was pretty specific, and overall cheapens the gesture to seem more like a ploy than any real attempt.

      Having said that, if Miles is to be a successful character, he must not focus on what makes him different from others, but what allows for universal understanding. Peter was a success mainly because his race, ethnicity, even religion, did not come into play as to how he developed nor how he made his decisions. Let us hope that this creative team takes that very same recipe for success to allow Miles a chance to give a new perspective that everyone can relate to and appreciate. The unfortunate thing that ive noticed in many situations is when a comic or show highlights a character as a minority, it becomes the end all to who he/she is, rather than life experiences and inner drives for achievement. So often, it talks about the evil of white America, the struggle to deal with racism wherever one goes, as if no Caucasian has a valid opinion, but are just monsters waiting to violate a persons civil liberties and commit hate crimes, or are as ignorant about life woes as a child is to the value of the dollar. Marvel has attempted to clobber the fans with his diversity, but it has never been the focused differences that have allowed any character to enter our hearts but in seeing that we are all are all one brotherhood of man that can aspire to anything we put our minds to.

  2. Melanie Carbine

    (umm slight typo, apologies)

  3. Melanie Carbine

    Good points (*especially* about the medium of comics highlighting all the details). But, there’s a teeny problem inherent in the Asian who speaks only English. I don’t know Chinese because of racism my mother experienced. It was a conscious choice she made to protect us from racism (it didn’t in a number of ways). Lots of people in the United States speaks Spanish on the other hand. It’s ethnocentric in itself to think that English is the language of the world, or even the official language of the U.S. (because it’s not, even if it is in Utah). Besides it’s called code-switching.

    Maybe DC comics just needs to diversify its writing staff. Or maybe they just need to write this spider man as you said as if his race didn’t affect his identity. I mean after all he’s Spider-Man and all that he has to live up to etc etc. :)

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