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.
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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.