In the latest issue of Spider-Man, Miles Morales is suddenly thrust into the digital spotlight after a vlogger uploads a video to YouTube praising him for being the new “black Spider-Man.” Miles, who’s from a universe where he’s the only Spider-Man is disappointed to see himself essentialized down to his race, arguing that he doesn’t want to be the “black Spider-Man” he just wants to be the Spider-Man.
In a strange twist of fate, the comic is apparently very, very popular among comic book fans who moonlight as racist Gamergaters.
“Even fictional characters like Miles get it,” Redditor CoolShadesM8 wrote. “If we’re at the point FICTIONAL CHARCTERS are compelling SJW writers to not write their dialogue as accepting being used for diversity points, its maybe just maybe time to rethink things.”
Generally speaking, the consensus from the Reddit set is that the issue is actually Marvel’s first attempt at taking a critical look at its decisions to modernize classic characters like Thor and Captain America by making them POC or women, respectively. In their view, Miles’s disappointment stems from the fact that he’s seen as being black first and a superhero second.
That description’s partially correct, but it suffers from a lack of broader context for Miles outside of this one particular issue.
Last month, Brian Michael Bendis, writer for the Miles Morales-focused Spider-Man comic promised that the new series would both solidify Miles’s role as the new Spider-Man and also explore the implications of the media discovering that he wasn’t a white man.
Today’s issue opens with Miles and Peter Parker, the original Spider-Man, fighting against a random demon tearing up 5th Ave. The other Avengers have apparently been knocked out of commission, leaving the two web-slingers to fend off the threat. After Peter’s knocked unconscious, Miles takes over and dispatches the demon on his own using powers unique to him.
When Iron Man and Sam Wilson (Captain America) come to, they’re impressed with Miles’ work and agree that making him an Avenger was a solid choice. Less impressed with Miles, though, are the frazzled police who show up on the scene aiming guns at him.
The policemen explain that while they know Spider-Man (Peter Parker) they don’t know the new guy in the black suit which has ripped to reveal brown skin underneath.
It isn’t until Peter, the man who failed to take the monster down, steps in and insists that Miles is also Spider-Man, that the teenager has a chance to swing off to safety. The whole ordeal, it turns out, is caught on camera by a group of pedestrians and quickly uploaded to the internet.
In a moment that’s seemingly meant to address the both the real-world and fictional conversations around Miles’s existence, a vlogger gushing online about how great it is that New York has a “black Spider-Man.”
“Is he African American? Is he Indian? Hispanic” I don’t know,” the woman admits. “But is is def color. So exciting!”
Though Miles understand the vlogger’s excitement, he bristles at being reduced down to his race and the erasure of his Hispanic heritage.
The thing you have to realize about Miles is that, originally, he’s from a world where Peter Parker’s long-since been dead. He’s never been the “new” Spider-Man in the sense that his solo series makes him out to be. This is just what his job is.
Reconciling that fact with the fact that he’s living in a different timeline where Parker is still alive is definitely interesting, but it requires a fair amount of careful and nuanced storytelling, not a one-off, tense interaction with a cop.
As writer J.A. Micheline pointed out on Twitter, though, there’s something off about Bendis (a white man) writing Miles (an Afro-Puerto Rican teenager) expressing his desires not to be defined by his race.
Micheline makes an important point. For every Gamergater that reads Miles Morales as being the latest attack in a SJW crusade against political incorrectness, there are people who identify with Miles specifically because they read him as as person of color like themselves.
Last summer, when it was first announced that Miles would be joining the mainstream Marvel universe, Bendis described seeing his four-year-old adopted daughter (who is black) connect with Miles in a toy store.
“I started crying in the middle of the aisle,” Bendis told New York Daily News. “I realized my kids are going to grow up in a world that has a multi-racial Spider-Man, and an African American Captain America and a female Thor.”
When you can literally see yourself reflected in the face or skin of a superhero it makes forming a connection to their story that much easier.
Once you get into that story, though, and that character casually brushes off the identity that bonded you with little to no introspection? That connection’s lost. In its place is a new space for bigots to claim the character for themselves and alienate any and everyone who might not fit the definition of a “traditional” comic book fan.