Question of the Month: The New Spider-Man

There’s a good part of me that thinks this could be subtitled ‘Race in comics and why it’s a big deal’. Recently 3/4 of the GRCT were at SDCC and a number went to the women in comics panel. The general consensus was that the panel served a purpose and was a good thing, but they all dreamed of a point where it wouldn’t be necessary. A very similar thing is happening with race in comics. It would be amazing to not need to highlight the non-white characters (and creators) but as of now, that isn’t the situation.

The reaction this past week to the announcement of a new Ulitmate Spider-Man who was Black/Latino thrilled us here at GRCT. We were excited to see the story and how this kid picked up the mantle and dealt with it. What didn’t impress us was some of the fan reaction. But we aren’t going to focus on that. Instead we’re going to focus on our thoughts on the new Spider-Man.

Chantaal: I’ve had to bite my tongue hard to keep from getting into pointless arguments over this. I keep seeing comments such as why does he have to be black/latino, or isn’t this being overly PC? Combine Miles with the next day announcement that Laurence Fishbourne was cast as Perry White in the new Superman, and it was like all hell broke loose for all the racist (but I’m totally not, I swear!) comic book fans.

What people don’t understand is that minority characters MATTER to us minorities. Just as female characters MATTER to us women.

When I was around twelve, I discovered the X-Men animated series for the first time, and I fell in love with Storm. It was the 90s, sure, but I had never experience a black woman who simply existed. She wasn’t part of a black TV show, she wasn’t a stereotype, she was just Storm, kickass X-Man.  Last weekend, I introduced my nine year old niece to the same series via Netflix. She blew through about six episodes in one sitting, and when I asked her who her favorite was, she immediately answered Storm.

In an ideal world, color, gender, sexuality wouldn’t matter. But this isn’t an ideal world, and the comic book universe still has a long way to go to match up to what the world truly is right now. We need Miles Morales to inspire a whole new mixed generation of kids, the same way Peter Parker inspired a whole generation of young white nerdy kids who felt left out. Why are those same boys who found hope and a new world to escape to arguing against opening the door to that world for new kids?

Dee: When I was about 16, Gen-13 came out. I was already a long time comic reader, but this was the first book I’d encountered with a lesbian character in it. Sarah Rainmaker was a young woman and strange powers and crazy life aside, she clicked with me because we shared something. For the first time I found a queer character in comics who I could relate to and that was an amazing feeling. It’s a feeling that I would love new kids reading comics to have, and I think the representation of minorities among legacy characters is something that is sadly lacking. For me, it was a new character on a new book for a new label. But if I had that during my years reading comics when I was younger, I think it would have been something that I would have liked.

I do have to wonder what the reaction was when John Stewart became the Green Lantern in 1972. Were letters written in the hundreds to DC? Did people go to their LCS’ and complain mightily about a legacy character being made over as a minority? If the internet had been around then would the same sort of furor started on message boards and forums? I just don’t know, and if there was I’d like to think that nearly 40 years later we would have grown as a society to think this is a cool development and about time.

I don’t have to say what happened as the internet and comic world erupted. For every person who was cheering this development there seemed to be two very loud ones decrying it. I made the mistake of reading the comments on a few posts I found insightful and interesting, and wished so strongly I hadn’t. What I read over and over (and responses we got to our twitter as well) made me alternately sad and disgusted with people.

The Ultimates universe is aimed at a newer, younger generation of readers. With different backstories, timelines and a whole lot else, it’s an entirely different Marvel Universe. Miles Morales seems the perfect sort of kid to pick up the mantle of Spider-Man. Beyond his being mixed race, I am really interested in reading the story of someone new in the mask who has to learn for himself that with great power comes great responsibility.

Lina: My instinctive reaction to the outsized reactions to this revelation is to start wise-cracking. It is not the healthiest or the nicest choice, but it’s the one that I make more often than not. Fortunately I restrained myself enough to keep some of the more absurd things I thought to say off the record. Instead I’ll try to give my thoughts to the world straight up (no chaser).

When I was kid I didn’t think much about race in my pop culture. I loved the 90s X-Men and all of their campy glory, wanted to be Storm because she had the best power and not because of how she looked. Even now when asked who the Green Lantern is it is my instinct to say John Stewart, not Hal Jordan. My favourite New Mutant is Danielle Moonstar for no reasons other than her powers are awesome and she is sassy to boot. As a kid growing up, I found reflections of myself in the strangest of places. They might not have aligned with my actual background, but these characters fit what was feeling, what I wanted to be. Am I ever going to be an world class thief who has a love affair with Spider-Man like Felicia Hardy? Not so much, but that doesn’t change how I relate to her.

I understand (sort of) what has people up in arms. Change is hard. It frankly sucks. And when you’re changing a character who has existed in some way, shape or form for nearly fifty years it is even harder. But the Ultimate universe lives by its own rules that are different from the ones of Earth-616. What happened there makes complete sense for the rules of that world. You don’t have to be an avid reader to understand that sometimes changes get made that don’t go over well. That isn’t because they are bad, it is just because they are different.

Sure, I was hoping that Jessica Drew would be the next Spider-Man, but am I upset by this reveal? No way. Here is another teenager handed a destiny who has to figure it out. That’s the story. It’s the same story that it always has been, just with a few tweaks.  It is opening the world up to a whole new set of readers, giving them their Spider-Man. I wish this wasn’t a thing that had to be talked about, that we could just accept it and move on but we can’t always get what we want. The name Spider-Man is now a mantle, a tradition that gets passed on like James Bond or The Dread Pirate Roberts or the Doctor. Everyone has their own version of who the “real” one is. Everyone is right, in their own way. And I am totally okay with it.

Angel: Like Chantaal, I’ve done a lot of keeping my mouth shut over Marvel’s choice for Ultimate Spider-Man. There’s been a lot of backlash about it, so much so that people actually took to twitter to bash Donald Glover for “killing Peter Parker.” (For those of you who aren’t aware, the Community star started an online campaign to get an audition for Sony’s upcoming Spider-Man film, and not long afterward, Bendis decided that the next Spider-Man would be a person of color.) It’s over the top and maybe I could understand the backlash if the first full title with Miles as Spider-Man had even been released, but as of now, all we’ve gotten are glimpses. I personally enjoyed Ultimate Fallout #4, and I’m intrigued to find out the back-story behind all of this. We haven’t seen too much of him so far, and I’m glad that even he can recognize that wearing Peter Parker’s iconic costume after he’s died is “in bad taste.”

Personally, when I first heard the news, I was ecstatic. To be honest, I might have had reservations if 616-universe Peter Parker had been killed off, but doing so in Ultimate-verse is not only compelling storytelling, but it’s change that I think the face of comics has needed for a long time. He’s not a secondary character or a sidekick, he’s not a hero from some lesser title (not to belittle other non-white heroes, but Spider-Man’s a much more iconic character than Red Wolf or Falcon, or even Luke Cage, if we’re honest about it). The idea that Marvel is pushing a person of a different ethnicity into a prominent title just to do it is crazy. I honestly think that media (comics included, obviously) needs to be a reflection of current culture, and a half-black, half-hispanic kid is about as American and 2011 as it gets.

About Dee

Officially a Canastralian. Longtime comic fan, and lover of the graphic medium. Grey up with the X-Men and Avengers, and moved to the world of DC and independents shortly after. Cosplayer, Costumer, and all around crafty person. Loves to travel and works her butt off for a number of conventions here in Oz.
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3 Responses to Question of the Month: The New Spider-Man

  1. DeyvID says:

    This was a very interesting and thought-provoking read. Thank you all for sharing your thoughts and opinions. I fully agree.

    I reacted to this new development unfavorably at first (perhaps a knee-jerk reaction) because when I first heard about it, the source failed to mention that it was Ultimate, so I was upset thinking that they were killing off Peter Parker in the 616 after all the hell they put him through in Civil War and afterward. I like Peter Parker, and didn’t want him dead. Once I learned this was happening in the Ultimate universe, I re-evaluated my thoughts and quickly was on board and supporting it. I am intrigued and looking forward to reading it.

    For the record, I am mainly Native American with strong ties to the LGBT community, and notice the relative lack of strong, multi-dimensional characters of Native ancestry in mainstream comics, often feeling under-represented. As such, I fully support and endorse the inclusion of other minority and alternative-culture characters.

    Thanks again! Excelsior!

  2. GRCT, your collective thoughts really highlight why this change matters, and why perhaps it shouldn’t matter. Back in the Bronze Age, they probably would have called this kid “The Black Spider,” just to make it really clear that he’s a black hero. So, thanks to John Stewart, Ororo Munroe, and James Rhodes, maybe we have made some progress.

    What bugs us about the hype is that it’s totally race focused. We don’t read about how well he may be drawn (or not), or the exciting new directions in plot, or what makes his story so special that we must read it. We just hear about his racial make-up. We understand this may be necessary to get the market’s attention and sell books, and that’s fine. Keep the presses rolling! But honestly, we really don’t give a &$#% what race he is. We just want to read a good story, and good stories can be told about people of any race, gender, age, whatever. (Read Neil Gaiman’s Sandman sometime, you know? Love and Rockets, anyone?) We don’t really care, if the art kicks major butt and the story is compelling.

    Our super-heroic icons are amazing exactly because they can be the templates for so many different stories and flights of imagination. Peter Parker is just one of the possibilities, and so is Miles. We hope the kid gets a fair shake.

  3. As a white male, this was such a non-issue for me. Honestly, who gives a crap if the new Spider-Man is half-black/half-hispanic, or has Native American, Indian, Pakistani, or Japanese ancestry? Evidently a lot of people do, but it’s not a big deal.

    I’m not going to deny that some of it is racially motivated; out of all the people who cried about this, there’s no way that some of them weren’t racially motivated. But here’s the kicker: Spider-Man is a fictional character. So is Perry White, and so is the Kingpin (you know, in case anyone ever saw “Daredevil”). I can understand people getting upset if JFK or Lincoln were portrayed by a black actor in a freaking biopic, since that’s not historically accurate, but we’re talking about characters that are fictional. With creative license, especially in a world of reboots and re-imaginings, there shouldn’t be an issue if (Ultimate) Peter Parker freakin’ DIES and is replaced with a new Spider-Man who just-so-happens-to-be-black.

    In many cases, though, I think it’s simply the matter of change. I think Lina said it best when she stated “Change is hard.”

    Look at what happened when Bruce Wayne “died” and Dick Grayson took over as Batman. A section of the fanbase had a meltdown because Wayne was replaced. Never mind that Grayson was accepted as Batman by Gordon and the GCPD, the Justice League, the Bat-family, and Bruce’s enemies. Never mind that, upon his return, Bruce freakin’ Wayne accepted Grayson as Batman and protector of Gotham City. Never mind that many fans and critics agreed that Grayson as Batman brought a new perspective to the character and brought about fresh stories for a character that had been around for 70 years. None of it mattered because Grayson’s “not the real Batman.”

    One character, as white and male as the other, replaced a “killed” predecessor, and fanboys still issued their call-to-arms. I think a lot of them are simply traditionalists who can’t stand to see any changes made, regardless of how progressive they may be and, more importantly, whether the stories told are fresh and good. Some of them would rather see Bruce Wayne’s Batman take on the Joker for the 10,000th time with little variation on the formula, rather than see Dick Grayson’s Batman bring a fresh perspective to the eternal battle. Frankly, if a Spider-Man story is going to involve Peter Parker fighting Doctor Octopus again, I’d rather not read it if it’s something I’ve read a hundred times before. I’d be far more interested in Miles’s Spidey taking on Octavius for the first or second time because it’s something I’ve never seen before.

    Imagine that!

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