Thursday, August 4, 2011

The new, racially-mixed secret identity of Spider-Man, in Ultimate Spider-Man comics


Here we go: a news story you may have heard, and may have heard incorrectly, but without a doubt, and without much lead time after the big reveal, which is:

In 2000, Marvel decided to try a new universe, launching their big gun super heroes as if they were starting out in the 21st century, separate heroes from the traditional Marvel Universe, with stories and characters that could go different, surprising directions. It's the Ultimate line of comics...and how different can you get, than to have Ultimate Spider-Man himself die heroically?

Now, a young person named Miles Morales, who is half black and half Hispanic, has taken up the identity of his fallen hero...and the Ultimate Universe will never be the same!

No, I don't know his powers, how he got them, even what Miles is like outside of a single panel. First out the gate, my reaction's positive. I'm hardly alone in thinking Spider-Man's appeal rests in part with that costume, which is not only dynamic and fun, but completely covers his skin. Sure, artists have been ripping the costume and revealing the man beneath for some time---but Spidey's the one major hero who could really be any kind of anyone under that mask. The only likelihood---apparent to everyone but villainous "genius" Alistair Smythe, back in ASM Annual #19 in 1985---is that there's a male, rather than a female, under those form fitting tights. It's not even the first time a non-Peter Parker's been Spider-Man; Miguel O'Hara was the fairly terrific Spider-Man 2099, a couple of decades back.

So, after Ultimate Spider Man issue 160 features the end of Peter Parker in the Ultimate Universe, Miles takes over---and you'll learn more about him in September, when he gets his own #1 issue.

As hard as some of us used to work in the days when there were paying news magazines and papers were hiring,
I find lazy reporting pretty annoying! I believe Steven Colbert got it right. The first story I read, from USA Today, was right, if brief.

You know what's going to be interesting to see?

Peter was fascinatingly imperfect in his early stories. Are they willing to let Miles be a jerk, short-sighted, emotionally fragile, naive, self-righteous, spiteful, shy, a show-off, greedy or selfish? Starting out with a tribute identity has one problem: more of that Geoff Johns-style nostalgia and homage that makes characters sound like benighted fans. Who would, sadly, get wedgies in real life for spouting like tools.

I know they want him to be likable---immediately---but making him too earnest and goody-two-shoes, with only tactical mistakes and some over-confidence matched by stark terror, will turn him into Captain America, Jr. It took Peter a while (a change of plotters?) to learn to play nice with others. I don't doubt he will assume many of Peter's perennial positive traits---frankly, if he has an abiding interest in science but struggles with school, that would be more interesting, as engaging one's future is a challenging story--- but if he comes out of the gate a paragon of virtue, you lose the character arc opportunity.

You simply have to account for JJJ's role, too; didn't the irascible publisher, more than any other supporting character, throw Spidey in relief, with true-to-life hypocrisy and ego? Didn't they occasionally (fun house) mirror one another? He needs both good and bad role models. Trusting the wrong person is part of being young. Fighting a bad example (only to find one's self occasionally stuck following it) has motivated the most competitive person I know.


Obviously, he must be selfless and courageous, but that's a challenge. We often have to learn why we should be so---and that's a good story. The writer, Brian Michael Bendis, has been known to deliver some tight scripts, as well as some sit-com dialogue which could be flying inter-changeably from any character's mouth. He is Jewish, and has two children adopted from Africa. I am sure he cares about getting it right.


The sooner they can get his individual voice right---if the character really speaks for himself and the writer listens and the editor's just phenomenal---the brighter he can shine.

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