Fear of a Black Spider-Man

Marvel has created an alternate universe in which Spiderman is a half-black, half-Latino teenager. Some people are angry.

Marvel has created an alternate universe in which Spiderman is a half-black, half-Latino teenager. Some people are angry.

Atlanta Post (“Backlash To Black-Latino Spiderman Indicates We’re Not A Post-Racial Society“):

Yesterday, USA Today released a story that Marvel Comics Ultimate Spider-Man would take its web-slinging hero in a new direction. Although, Peter Parker has played the Spider-Man character since its creation decades ago – the revamping of the Marvel comic is to attract a new generation of comic book readers, in response to its static past. So, it wasn’t really that surprising that Marvel decided to kill the character off around two months ago.

Unlike the comics’ overwhelmingly Caucasian days of yore – when it came to passing on the infamous red and blue suit – Marvel decided to push the envelope. Instead of embodying the usual stereotype for superheroes, the decision was made to pass the torch to a half-black, half-Hispanic teenager named Miles Morales.

Brian Michael Bendis, the writer behind Parker’s death and Miles arrival told the newspaper that it was long overdue, even in the more ‘diverse’ Marvel universe. ”Even though there’s some amazing African-American and minority characters bouncing around in all the superhero universes, it’s still crazy lopsided,” Bendis admitted.

However, not everyone agrees with Bendis’ assessment, a quick glance through the comments of the USA Today article reveals that even if Marvel wants to be more contemporary that doesn’t give them the right to rewrite comic book history. Of course, it should be of no surprise that some white comic fans feel that iconic comic characters should be left unchallenged by today’s more political correct society – especially when it comes to a biracial teenager becoming the newest incarnation of one of their most beloved superheroes.

Over on the website Bleeding Cool, they decided to publish some of the more “enlightening” comments from the USA Today story in one of their Tuesday posts. The comments ranged from bashing the need to always be politically correct, to complaints over the comic books direction and the rage over the killing of the white Peter Parker so that Morales could replace him.

CBS New York (“New ‘Spider-Man’ Swinging Into Comic Book Shops Following Death Of Peter Parker“):

New Yorkers take their fictional heroes seriously, so it may come as a shock to some that Peter Parker, the Queens native whose destiny was forever altered by a radioactive/genetically altered spider, has been killed off in the “Ultimates” imprint of Marvel Comics. The Ultimate series is different fromMarvel’s standard line, in which Peter Parker is still happily toiling away as everybody’s favorite hard-luck hero.

No, in the Ultimates series, Peter Parker gets killed at the hands of his nemesis the Green Goblin. But, being a comic book series, no hero stays dead for long. While Peter Parker may be gone, a new kid is stepping into the tights: Miles Morales.

Miles Morales is a half-black, half-Hispanic super-powered teen who gets into the hero game after being inspired by Parker’s death.

“He’s younger than Peter Parker, he’s coming from a completely different background, a completely different world view,” writer Brian Michael Bendis told the Associated Press. Bendis, who has been writing Ultimate Spider-Man (and many other) comics for Marvel since 2000, is enthusiastic about the change. “I’m now sitting with a pile of legitimately new Spider-Man stories to tell and that is the best news a writer could have.”

Christian Post (“Spiderman Now to be Half Black, Half Latino, and Gay?“):

The Spiderman outfit will no longer be sported by its longtime creator Peter Parker in Marvel’s “Ultimate Spiderman” comic. Instead, Miles Morales, a half black and half Latino teen, will now take over the role of your friendly neighborhood wall crawler.

The creators of “Ultimate Spiderman” have also shocked fans by saying everyone may find out that Morales is gay in future storylines, according to the Daily Mail.

Color Lines (“Marvel Overcomes Its Fear of a Black Spider-Man. Will White Fans Follow?“):

Today’s a big day, both for comic-book nerds and for media-justice geeks. Marvel Comics’ “Ultimate Fallout #4” hits the stands today, and in it, we get our first glimpse at the “Ultimate” storyline’s new Spidey, a half-African American half-Latino kid named Miles Morales. The Spider-Man alter-ego belonged solely to fictional working-class white dude Peter Parker (and to the white actors who’ve portrayed him) for five solid decades. So this is a big move for Marvel—and, of course, one that’s already being met with a racist backlash.

Peter Parker’s not really gone, of course; Morales is taking on the Spider-mantle only in the offshoot in which Parker got killed back in June, so storylines featuring each Spidey will sit side-by-side on shelves. That’s not to say this editorial decision shouldn’t be applauded. Every time the comics industry has attempted to fix its politics, it’s gotten pushback, whether it’s casually racist anger at an Angolan Muslim as the Batman of Paris, or real-deal white supremacists protesting Idris Elba’s role in the Thor movie.

I could understand annoyance at this if Marvel were replacing Peter Parker, who has been Spider-Man since 1963, with a new kid. That sort of thing has been done so many times as to be cliche, but it still evinces emotional reactions. Here, though, we just have an “alternate reality” storyline.

Beyond that, this is hardly the first time that a major white comic book character has had a black man step into his costume.

Denny O’Neil and Neal Adams had John Stewart take over the Green Lantern suit way back in 1971* — four decades ago! Jim Rhodes donned the Iron Man armor in 1979. And Sam Wilson (who became the first African-American superhero, the Falcon, in 1969) briefly assumed the Captain America identify in 1999. I’m sure I’m missing some examples.

It’s bizarre that this is even mildly controversial at this stage of the game.

____________

Issue 87, January 1972, which would have been published in October or November of 1971.

 

FILED UNDER: Comic Books, Popular Culture, Race and Politics
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. MBunge says:

    “Beyond that, this is hardly the first time that a major white comic book character has had a black man step into his costume.”

    The argument’s been made over at the John Byrne Forum that there’s something a little off about minority characters having to adopt the hand-me-down alter egos of white characters instead of becoming heroes in their own right. The example was brought up of the hispanic Blue Beetle who has been heavily promoted throughout DC media, as though such promotion could only have worked by latching the kid onto a D level persona like the Beetle.

    Mike




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  2. sam says:

    Ah, sweet Jesus. They should have kept his parentage but made him green. That should have satisfied everybody…




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  3. PD Shaw says:

    Sounds like he’s not the real Spider-Man so it doesn’t matter.

    BTW/ James, the Jack Kirby estate apparently lost their lawsuit to claim rights over the Spider-Man character which you’ve posted on here before.




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  4. ponce says:

    Can we be done with comic books already?

    Their 15 minutes were up years ago.




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  5. Chris Berez says:

    T’Challa recently took over for Matt Murdoch as Daredevil, but that was always only temporary.




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  6. James H says:

    There’s a “Captain America” storyline involving an African-American Captain America (not Falcon). It’s actually quite good.




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  7. Gustopher says:

    It’s an alternate universe that’s been running stories for over a decade, so it’s not just a brief miniseries thing that gets lumped in with “What if Superman was an Elf?” and crap like that. The recent Spider-man movies are based more on Ultimate Spider-Man than the “real” Marvel Universe one. It’s a pretty mainstream line.

    So, I can understand people getting a little worked up about changing things, but mostly this is just a bunch of racist mouth breathers. I wonder what Pat Buchanan has to say about this.




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  8. Jay Tea says:

    Two words: Spider-Man 2099.

    Published in 1992. Spider-Man is Miguel O’Hara, son of an Irish father and a Latino mother.

    Everything old is new again…

    J.




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  9. AT says:

    This is so not an issue, only being made one by people who know absoultely nothing about comics. It’s the Ultimates universe. They take all kinds of crazy liberties and story-ideas in Ultimates. From Day 1 in the Ultimates Universe NICK FURY has been black (further, his character image was literally, “Let’s put Samuel L. Jackson into comics because Sam Jackson is a badass.”) as opposed to the decades-old well known white Nick Fury of the 616 (Marvel Universe proper). For pete’s sake, Ultimates introduced zombie versions of EVERY Marvel character and featured such bizzarities as Zombie She-Hulk murdering and eating the CHILDREN of the Fantastic Four. (And audiences LOVED it.) As far as I’m concerned, it’s like Elseworlds or parallel earths – where Superman was a communist (and, in another story, a nazi); Batman was a vampire; and Wonder Woman was a some kind of farm animal.

    Furthermore, even when these switches are made in the canon universe, they’re often done very well and with a lot of respect. When DC killed one of my alltime favorite characters (Blue Beetle) and had a Hispanic kid take up the mantle I was like, “Uhhh….” But you know what? That comic was FANTASTIC. I loved every single issue – because it wasn’t a “hispanic thing.” He was just a regular kid with a strong, tight, loyal nuclear family; friends that we should all wish we could have; and all the trials and tribulations of a kid thrust into Superheroism. And it just so happened he was Hispanic. Nobody cared, because the COMIC didn’t care. Blue Beetle continued to protect his community and fight off alien invaders. His race was an incidental trait that had nothing to do with the story.

    The same goes here. There’s no good reason whatsoever to be getting worked up about this.




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  10. JohnMcC says:

    I confess that I’m amazed that comic books have so much weight for so many folks. But anybody interested might drop by frumforum-dot-com where they are talking about Glenn Beck’s complaints about this.




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  11. rodney dill says:

    I sorta like the character Hancock




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  12. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @rodney dill: Hancock is the 2nd super hero I could identify with ( spiderman was the 1st).

    When I was a tween, I knew I would never get the girl, I was too interested in science, not quite good enuf in sports, ergo, too much a dweeb. So Spiderman was the one I identified with. Later in life I discovered I was not quite such a dweeb (my love of the unknown took me miles underground) and if I would just not do something, but sit there, I usually got the girl. Of course, sitting there was hard, and I was always trying to do something….

    Kinda like Hancock…. sometimes it worked out, sometimes it didn’t. But the girl….

    She was ever so sweet….




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  13. From the Atlanta Post piece:

    that doesn’t give them the right to rewrite comic book history.

    Apparently, these people are not familiar with comics.




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  14. Jay Tea says:

    Here’s a bit more history on the Nick Fury/Samuel L. Jackson thing: when Marvel wanted to do it, they went to Jackson for permission. He is a HUGE Marvel fan, especially Nick Fury, and agreed under one condition: that if Marvel ever put Nick Fury in a movie, he’d get the role. Marvel, no fool they, said absolutely.

    Hence Iron Man I and II, Thor, Captain America, The Avengers, and Nick Fury (coming in 2014).

    It’s one of those things that starts off as a whim and snowballs into the stuff of legend.

    J.




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  15. Cynic in NY says:

    @Gustopher:

    Ol Pat will probably turn it into some retarded rant about immigration and affirmative action. “Those minority loving liberals attempting to changer our culture through our kids..blah…blah….blah and so fourth”. It the issue is race you can predict what that relic of the Cold War is going to say.

    As for the matter at hand, who really cares? OMG black Spider-Man run for the hills!




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  16. Mr. Grouchypants says:

    Some fans were livid about the idea of organic web shooters in the movies. So why should anyone be surprised that some fans are upset by a storyline that involved the death of their hero?

    And since Ben Parker is just about the only person in comics to die and stay dead, I don’t expect Peter’s terminal condition to be any more permanent than Captain America’s.




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  17. mantis says:

    @ponce:

    Can we be done with comic books already?

    Their 15 minutes were up years ago.

    They are likely older than you, and will long outlive you. And 15 minutes of fame is for people, not forms of art. Oh, and Warhol was a fan of comic books, particularly Batman. In fact, when he started out, he was doing comic book art until he realized Roy Lichtenstein was better at it, so he switched to other commercial art: Cambpell’s Soup cans.




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  18. Trumwill says:

    It’s an alternate universe that’s been running stories for over a decade, so it’s not just a brief miniseries thing that gets lumped in with “What if Superman was an Elf?” and crap like that. The recent Spider-man movies are based more on Ultimate Spider-Man than the “real” Marvel Universe one. It’s a pretty mainstream line.

    This bears repeating. Talking about this as though it is some kooky elseworlds and therefore insignificant are being misleading. If you like Ultimate Marvel, and you like its Peter Parker, this type of thing is probably going to piss you off. And if you find out that they’re changing everything so that they can add diversity, it’s likely to cause resentment. And not because you’re racist.

    Look, for years and years and years, comic book fans resented and hated Kyle Rayner. Because of what they had to do to Hal Joyner in order to make room for Rayner. This is what comic fans do.

    (Which is not to say that there aren’t real racial resentments involved. Of course, there’s also an element of Marvel counting on this. Don’t like the new Spiderman? You’re like those racists. If DC had done this with Kyle Rayner, they might have muted the most vociferous criticisms of “Crabface.”)




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