By Mike Greear
The most endearing character Stan Lee and Steve Ditko created was Spider-Man. Not just because he has cool powers and a neat costume, but because underneath the mask, he could be anybody. It’s fitting that at the end of 2018, after saying goodbye to these two legends, the world at large was introduced to the newest Spider-Man, Miles Morales.
Miles Gonzalo Morales was created in 2011 for Marvel Comics’ title, “Ultimate Spider-Man,” by writer Brian Michael Bendis and artist Sara Pichelli. ‘Ultimate’ was set in a universe separate from the original Marvel Comics timeline. A Black and Puerto Rican, bilingual, private school student from Brooklyn, Miles was a Spider-Man for the America that had just elected its first ever Black President. (Miles is not the first Latino Spider-Man–that honor goes to the biracial Mexican Miguel O’Hara, also known as the Spider-Man of the year 2099).
"The story of Miles Morales, a kid from Brooklyn, an African-American/Puerto Rican shows anyone can be behind the mask."
The story goes that Bendis, the adoptive father of an African-American child and an Ethiopian child, wanted to create a character that his kids could relate to. At the time Marvel was also floating the idea of killing Spider-Man in the Ultimate Comics line. Meanwhile, actor Donald Glover appeared on the TV series “Community” wearing Spider-Man pajamas, volleying to audition for the main role of a planned franchise reboot. Bendis saw the episode and the rest—as they say—is history. (Incidentally, Glover went on to cameo in the most recent live-action Spidey film as Miles’ uncle, Aaron.)
Although there was some initial backlash within the online fan community, people who accused Marvel of catering to diversity, the character endured. Eventually, Miles made it into the main Marvel Comics timeline and in 2018 two of the most popular Spider-Man adaptations so far debuted: the Playstation 4 video game, “Marvel’s Spider-Man” and the animated feature film, “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.”
While the video game still centers around Peter Parker the film is a faithful but slightly updated adaptation of Miles’ first adventures in the comics mixed with the comic book event, “Spider-Verse,” which connected every conceivable version of Spider-Man. The film recently won the 2018 Oscar and Golden Globe for Best Animated Feature. It fuses elements of the comic book with vivid 3-D animation and a gorgeous color palette. The cast, featuring Shameik Moore as Miles, give wonderfully understated, heartfelt performances.
The script, written by director Rodney Rothman and producer Phil Lord hones in on the theme of Spider-Man being a character that everyone gets to be. “You can wear the mask,” Miles tells the audience at the end of the film. In a year that started with the film version of “Black Panther,” it is fitting to end with a Spider-Man movie that not only passes the mantle the world’s most popular superhero to a young Black and Latino kid, but also gives everyone permission to be Spider-Man.
If you can promise to do your best, to be the best version of yourself, and you can think of your own cool spin on the costume, you can be Spider-Man too. All it takes is a leap of faith.