Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Apparently, A Mixed-Race Spider-Man Will Destroy the World.

Spider-Man is perhaps my favourite super-hero ever. It's for a lot of reasons, but mainly it's because he is the best example of the everyman super-hero. I'm currently in the midst of a big reading project where I'm reading every single Spider-Man appearance in chronological order. So far, I've read about two decades worth of Spider-Man stories.

These days, Spidey exists in two separate iterations published by Marvel. The first is the mainstream Spidey, the one who has existed since 1962 and stars in Amazing Spider-Man, Avengers, and a couple other books. But over a decade ago, Marvel created a separate line of comics from their long-established line, called Ultimate Marvel. The original idea was that Ultimate Marvel would feature characters from their starting points, in contemporary times and without any established continuity, allowing creators to take them in brand new directions.

The first Ultimate series was Ultimate Spider-Man, written by Brian Michael Bendis. And, well over a hundred issues later, Bendis is still writing it today. I read the series when it first started, but around the 100 issue mark, I stopped reading it. I had always really enjoyed what Bendis and his collaborators were doing with the book, and I'm still not sure why I didn't keep up with it. I can say that Bendis did do some really exciting things, tweaking the story of Peter Parker and his classic arcs without losing sight of his core qualities that give him resonance.

Just recently he made waves with a story arc where Peter Parker actually died. That's right, they killed off Peter Parker. As in, no more Spidey. Now first off, I am not naive enough to believe he'll stay dead forever. He'll be back, that's for sure, it's only a question of when. That decision made enough waves, but what came out in the last couple of days really sent some people on the interwebs into insanity.

The new Ultimate Spider-Man will be a half-Latino, half-African American kid named Miles Morales. And the comic world cracked in half with some of the most racist bullshit spouted on message boards across the world. Here's a selection from Bleeding Cool of some of the most hateful:

Why not make him a dyslexic homosexual too, and cover all the politically correct bases, then we will really be “enlightened”


Peter Parker could not be whiter. A black boy under the mask just don`t look right. This opens up a whole new story line with a whole new set of problems. Who is going to believe a black man in a mask is out for the good of man kind?


Enough of this politically correct, racist nonsense.

Classy, right? And these are some of the least hateful comments out there. First off, my opinion on this is, why the hell not? If you're going to kill off a character and replace him with someone else, why not go for something different? It's not as if we are drowning in mixed-race superheroes in comics. Hell, there's not even that many heroes out there who aren't white, let alone biracial.

Personally, I can see a lot of good stories told about a character like Miles Morales. Removing Peter Parker from the equation truly allows Ultimate Spider-Man to do what it was always intended to do; tell bold innovative Spider-Man stories free of 40 years of continuity. What better way to do that than have a completely new person under the mask?  To me, as long as the stories and ideas are good, then why get precious about a status quo? And if the Miles Morales stories are good, then he'll stick around. If they're not, then Peter will be brought back. The single greatest truth in superhero comics is this: no matter what kind of developments that get piled on to a character, that character will periodically get boiled back down to his core qualities. Always.

But the public outrage over this? This is racism, pure and simple. Sorry, but it is. You can say that you like Peter Parker as Spidey, and don't want to read another guy in the suit. Fair enough. That's your choice, and Marvel has this book called Amazing Spider-Man that's just what you're looking for. But if you are mad because Spider-Man has to be white, then that's racist.

Some people will make the case that they are against "political correctness". Comics have had this charge levelled against them for decades. A big example was the decision to use the John Stewart Green Lantern for the Justice League animated series. People claimed it was a transparent attempt to make the League mutlicutural. And it was. And who cares? Because John Stewart on that show was kick-ass. Same with Luke Cage. He was absolutely created as a response to blaxploitation characters like Shaft. And for many years he pretty much was always on a fine line between silly and out and out offensive. But now he is clearly a major character in the Marvel Universe, and a really good one at that.

The fact of the matter is that comics are most often written by white men. And white men are pretty clueless when it comes to minorities. And sometimes that results in some pretty awful and horrible cliches and stereotypes being put out there. But for every mistake, gains are made. The very first superhero of colour in Marvel was the Black Panther. He was king of his own incredibly advanced African antion. He was smart and powerful and not at all cliched. There was Falcon, the first African-American hero. He co-starred with Captain America in his book throughout the 1970s. Storm from the X-Men was not only of colour, but a woman to boot. Shang-Chi was a kung fu master who had his own series, and has remained a solid fan favourite. Creating a small minority of characters of different ethnicities in a genre that is still solidly dominated by caucasians is not pandering, it is simply an attempt to reflect the make up of our own society, and of the readers.    

And I do not think the Morales situation is the same thing as the examples above. This is about doing something different with a long established character. As Stan Lee has always said, one of the best things about Spidey is that, with his full mask and suit, kids could imagine anyone inside. If an African-American kid or an Asian kid wants to pretded he's Spidey, it's pretty easy to do. He's the everyman character. He is all of us. And Bendis has adopted two biracial kids, so obviously this is a personal choice for him, not one dictated by cultural mores.

At the end of the day, if you are one of those people who thinks that Spider-Man is a white man, period, then I feel a little sad for you. And you need to confront that your problem isn't about rampant political correctness, or comic book continuity. It's much deeper, and more sad than that. And frankly, Peter Parker would say the same thing.

1 comment:

DaBigHotChocolate said...

As a child, I was frankly surprised it wasn't ME under that mask... I was a rather dull child, however... Any word of a trade covering the "Death of Spidey" arc?