IT TOOK only two issues into his new Marvel series for Miles Morales to take a stand on a serious issue.
After Miles helps the Avengers take down a bad guy, his black-and-red Spidey suit (which original Spider-Man Peter Parker has declared much cooler than his) is left ripped up. That allows onlookers the chance to announce on social media that the new, young Spider-Man has brown skin.
In the comics, a young Spider-Man fan of color posts video of this online, excited that this confirms that the new Spider-Man is not white. And though this fan admits that Spider-Man could be a number of races, she concludes with excitement in her voice that Spider-Man is/could be black. “Spider-Man represent!” she says.
When Miles’s best friend shows the video to him, Miles doesn’t seem too pleased. He says he wants to just be Spider-Man, not the “black Spider-Man” — and that’s where things get tricky.
Some interpret this as a decision by Brian Michael Bendis (Miles’s co-creator and writer) to take the liberty to have Miles declare he didn’t want to be labeled a black Spider-Man. In other words: Those critics see Bendis as having overstepped the bounds of his own creation. Bendis isn’t black, and therefore shouldn’t be going there, some say.
But in all that hubbub, one panel was overlooked that explained Miles’s position:
“First of all, I am half Hispanic,” Miles says.
Miles isn’t denying his blackness — he’s defending his biracial identity. In his mind, he’s just as Puerto Rican as he is black. You don’t just push that to the side, as any biracial Puerto Rican will tell you. Your family would never let you get away with it. (Myself, I’m the son of a Puerto Rican man and a black woman).
This issue of “Spider-Man” isn’t about Miles’s not wanting a “black” label to his superhero identity — it’s about his instantly wanting recognition for his two cultures.
When I first read this panel, it was the first time since I began reading Miles (I’ve read all his comics) that I got a little emotional and really connected to him since the hype of his introduction as a biracial Spider-Man.
Since that beginning, Miles has had little to no “Puerto Rican moments.” No “yo soy boricua,” no rice and beans, no mentions of J-Lo or pride in Puerto Rican baseball players in the bigs. No clarifying moments of someone mistaking a half black, half Puerto Rican kid for a Dominican (happens all the time, trust me). No speaking in Spanish. But then again, there were no moments of “blackness,” either. Miles was just Miles. And this is a superhero comic, after all. It’s about him being Spider-Man more than anything.
But the moment of Miles’s stating that he is half Hispanic is groundbreaking within his short comic-book life.
You can look at it as a white writer overstepping his bounds. Or you can see that Bendis is giving Miles the choice and a right that only Miles has.
There are few more frustrating feelings for me than being biracial and having people who don’t walk in your shoes tell you who and what you are. You’re not black enough. You’re not white enough. Biracial kids hear it all the time. Unless you’ve stepped on that battlefield, don’t feel as if you can just place a kid — Miles included — in one box. This isn’t a census — it’s someone’s identity.
Being biracial is a genetic roll of this dice. Sometimes you look like both races; sometimes you look like one more than the other. Sometimes you look like neither. But skin color isn’t the issue here. This is about what’s inside every individual person who deals with the weight of walking in multiple worlds.
Miles Morales wasn’t denying half of who he is. He was making it clear that the other half is there, as well. He loves his African American father just as much as his Latina mother. To toss one world to the side is to do the same to one of his parents. That’s not what Miles is about.
What Miles has partly become — more than just being a Spider-Man of color — is a symbol for biracial kids who are happy with their identity and want recognition for all of it. Miles showed the proper response in the wake of a controversial moment.
The only person who can tell Miles Morales who and what he is is Miles Morales — regardless of whether his writer is white, black, Latino, Asian, whatever.
Am I happy that Miles, within the pages of his Spider-Man comic, is finally getting I touch with his Puerto Rican side? (Something that becomes apparent when, on the last page of issue No. 2, he has to deal with the wrath of his Spanish-speaking abuela. An abuela who is so mad that Miles’s grades are suffering that she drops the c-word in Spanish? (Let’s just say Pitbull uses this word a lot in his unedited Spanish songs, but you won’t see it in print here.) Of course I am. Miles’s not addressing his Puerto Rican side much has been one of my few qualms with him. I’m just as happy that Miles’s black father not only remains his closest confidant, but also shares Miles’s Spider-Man secret with him.
This moment has been a long time coming for Miles. But let’s see it for what it is. He’s not denying one side. He’s just demanding that both be seen. And that’s a decision only he has a right to make.
And Miles’s taking a stand on who he is is the most heroic thing he’s done to date.