New Spider-Man – Same Cultural Stereotypes

I just read Ultimate Comics All-New Spider-Man issue #2, and I am pleased to say that so far Miles Morales appears to be a normal, level-headed kid living in post-Ultimatum Wave New York. He gets powers, he stumbles into figuring them out, and he worries about being a mutant because they get sent to concentration camps. He goes straight to his friend to confide his secret and figure out what to do. Fortunately, his friend assures him that he is no mutant. No, he may be Spider-Man. (An ultimate, all-new Spider-Man, for those of you who need a reminder.)

Before receiving that reassurance from his friend, Miles is found by his father and taken to a nearby park for a talk about why Miles shouldn’t hang out with his uncle. I know many haven’t read the first issue, but Miles’ uncle was hired to steal from an Oscorp lab – and came back with a genetically altered spider. Miles’ father, whom I do not doubt will eventually be referred to in blogs as the Amazing Black Spider-Dad, explains to him that the uncle is a criminal who has spent time in jail and will no doubt go back there someday. His honest hope was to avoid the talk by the uncle, his own brother, being in jail by the time Miles was old enough to understand anything. Then he reveals that he, too, has spent time in jail because he was no better than his brother.

It should be enough that Miles appears to live in a less friendly, more street-crime infested version of New York than Peter Parker. Readers shouldn’t have to have it thrown in their faces that the only two adult black men in the comic have been criminals and spent time in jail. (That’s 100% of the black men in this comic.) It creates the atmosphere that so many comics focusing on minority youths seem to think is relatable or real. But this is a stereotype that we don’t need to perpetuate.

It is a small thing for now, and it looks like Miles may be moving away for school in the near future of the comic, but I had high hopes for this book. Brian Bendis has written some great Spider-Man stories. Some have been truly uplifting, such as the one in which Peter wrote about the most inspiring person in his life whom he could never meet – his father. Bendis is capable of writing about hopeful worlds, better worlds. His stories used to center around Peter and friends working toward becoming better people. He never had to lazily fall back on stereotypes before. Why now?

The easy answer is because he’s white. I refuse to take the easy way out and play the race card, though. I think he might have pushed for this particular Spider-Man for the sake of diversity but did not think it through. He may be in over his head with writing for a minority character, not really having prepared himself for anything but a world of stereotype for him. It may just be that Bendis is not as great of a writer as I had originally thought. Or maybe he spent all his magic on previous stories.

But it’s a little thing, right? I should just let it go. Miles’ discovery of who he will become is intriguing, not to mention the fact that the character is likable in his innocence. It’s not that he’s afraid to answer the call of the hero. It’s that he’s afraid of how people will misunderstand him in that climate. There’s no reason to draw that much attention to yourself, right? Sadly, that ends up being another tired minority story, too – but at least this one is a metaphor.

About Gospel X

Media commentator who tries not to waste time - and often fails

Posted on September 29, 2011, in comics, race and culture, Spider-Man and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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