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Comic Riffs
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Posted at 11:30 AM ET, 08/04/2011

MILES MORALES & ME: Why the new biracial Spider-Man matters


The cover of a Marvel Comics issue unveiling a new Spider-Man -- a half-black, half-Latino nerd named Miles Morales. (REUTERS)

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EDITOR’S NOTE: I find it impossible to care what Glenn Beck thinks about this. It’s difficult to care about what any of the many drive-by commentators think, frankly, if they don’t actually read comics, or can’t name two black superheroes, or didn’t even know Peter Parker was dead until 48 hours ago. They, as always, are trawling for ratings and clicks. I do care, however, about what Stan Lee and David Betancourt think.

After news broke this week that Miles Morales was the new Ultimate Spider-Man, I reached out to Lee — Spider-Man’s co-creator — and Betancourt, a Comic Riffs contributor who has written passionately about race in comics. Both men had the same measured, intelligent response: No comment until they had a chance to actually read Brian Michael Bendis’s new ”Ultimate Comics Fallout” #4. (How many pundits have even read the new book yet?)

Betancourt was thrilled with the news that the new webslinger would share his own racial origins. His reaction was momentarily tempered, however, by the fallout from some camps that was the anti-Marvel backlash.

Moved by the moment, Betancourt today shares his thoughts on why a biracial Spider-Man matters to him.

M.C.

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Miles Morales, as unveiled by Marvel Comics this week. (REUTERS)

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MILES MORALES & ME

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You always remember the happiest day of your comic-book life. Those of us who refuse to let go of our 22 to 30 pages of monthly joy called comic books once we’ve “grown up” each have our moments. For some, it’s the first time they read Watchmen. Others will say it was when they discovered the X-Men. Perhaps it was that time they read Batman: Year One.

For me, that moment came Aug. 2, 2011, when after reading comic books for more than two-thirds of my life (I am 31) and never being surprised or shocked by anything, I read news that, literally, made my jaw drop.

The new Ultimate Spider-Man, who will have the almost impossible task of replacing the late Peter Parker (easily one of Marvel Comics most popular characters), took off his mask and revealed himself to be a young, half-black, half-Latino kid by the name of Miles Morales.

When I read the news, I was beside myself, as if my brain couldn’t fully process the revelation.

My friendly neighborhood Spider-Man was ... just like me? This is a moment I never thought I’d see. But the moment has arrived, and I — the son of Puerto Rican man who passed his love of comics to me, and a black woman who once called me just to say she’d met Adam West — will never forget that day.

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I started spreading the word to friends who are fellow fanboys. One texted me back to write: “Just admit it, you’re the new Spider-Man, aren’t you?”

Even though I’m not, now I know I could be.

And that’s what this is really about. It’s not simply about publicity and stirring things up to get people talking (although Marvel surely welcomes those, too). It’s about a black kid in D.C., a Dominican kid in the Bronx or a young Mexicano from California being able to read a comic and come away from it saying, “I can be Spider-Man.” Generations of minority comic-book fans before this day, couldn’t say such a thing.

That doesn’t take away from a lifetime of loving to follow the adventures of such white superheroes as Superman and Batman and Robin. But as a comic reader of color, you realize that these characters were created in the 1930s through ’60s, during times when civil rights weren’t exactly being passed around

Litttle was really done to change the status quo in comics (excepting Black Panther), but I always hoped something would come along to wake folks up. This is that moment.

Black superheroes, of course, have made their mark on the comic book industry — including not only Black Panther but also Storm and Spawn, for example — but this is different. This is Marvel taking the mantle of their flagship character — one of the most important comic-book characters in history — and placing the characters in the hands of a kid who reflects a more accurate portrayal of the diversity of where we are in the world right now.

Axel Alonso, Marvel’s new editor-in-chief, says that Spider-Man’s newfound diversity was something that was considered the moment Marvel knew that their ultimate universe Peter Parker was headed to the grave.

“We knew that the death of the Ultimate Spider-Man/Peter Parker was coming,” Alonso told Comic Riffs by phone Wednesday. “The question quickly became: Who will be the person to fill those tights? We knew very quickly what had to be done. Having a character as iconic as Spider-Man, when he peels off that mask, having a new demographic be able to relate to him, we’re very excited about that.

Alonso said a Marvel title accurately reflecting the society we live in is nothing new and that it’s been going on since Stan Lee was in charge, agreeing that X-Men in the ’60s was just as much about the civil-rights movement as it was the hatred of mutants.

“We are on the cutting edge of having our books reflect the real world,” Alonso said. “Our heroes live in the same world you and I do.”

Reg Hudlin, who knows plenty about controversial stories involving minority superheroes from his run on Marvel’s Black Panther, also views the birth of Miles Morales as a positive.

“I think it’s great,” Hudlin told me this week. “It’s a tribute to Marvel’s multiethnic leadership with (EiC) Axel Alonso and (Chief Creative Officer) Joe Quesada that they recognize the best way to grow their company is to reflect all of America. It also sets up the possibility of a new set of stories because [Morales is] a new character, regardless of race.

“For the small portion of the fan base who hates anything changing from their childhood, who say Peter Parker can crawl on a ceiling but Miles Morales can’t, they need this change the most.”

Oh, yes. The reaction. In my joy in realizing that I can be a superhero, I’d almost forgotten about the hate of change. Glenn Beck blames Michelle Obama. Many fans say no change should have been made and that they won’t read the new Spider-Man. Jim Treacher says he thinks it’s great that the new Spider-Man is black — he just hopes he doesn’t blame Peter Parker for all his problems. Wow, that’s sure sweet, isn’t it? There were countless more ignorant comments, and as I read each one, I could only think of one thing:

This is the world that Miles Morales is going to put on a mask for and try to protect? It will definitely take great power to handle that responsibility.

I find it amazing that so much bitterness and outright hatred can be thrown at a character that hasn’t even officially made his debut yet. Yes he appeared Wednesday in “Ultimate Comics Fallout” # 4, but he doesn’t make his official appearance in his brand-new, super-cool costume until next month. We know nothing about where he’s from or who he really is, but somehow, opinions have already been formed?

It is beyond disheartening to consider yourself a part of a generation that has really tried to just get along with everyone and not give a damn about skin color — a generation that helped put the son of an African man and a white woman in the White House — and then have to read the mean-spirited comments about a character who hasn’t even been given a chance to prove himself yet. Why the hate? Because Miles Morales doesn’t fit the standard template of what we think a hero is supposed to be? Those days are over. And I refuse to let negativity ruin a special moment for me, regardless of what’s been said and what may be said after this is posted.

Instead, I’ll focus on the type of questions that first came to my mind when I found out that Spider-Man was biracial:

Can he speak Spanish? (He’d better.) Will he get a call from Obama and the Black Panther wishing him well? And because he’s from New York, is he half-Puerto Rican, or half-Dominican? (Alonso told me this will be revealed down the road).

Best of luck to you, Miles Morales. You’ve got a world to change.

— David Betancourt

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The new Spidey, who lives in Brooklyn, was revealed in Marvel Comics' Ultimate Comics Fallout Issue 4. He replaces longtime comic-book favorite Peter Parker, who was white, hailed from Queens and was killed in Ultimate Spider-Man Issue 160 in June. (REUTERS)

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By  |  11:30 AM ET, 08/04/2011

 
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