How Marvel Botched a Diverse Spider-Man

Marvel has revealed the identity of the new Ultimate Spider-Man.

Ever since the series killed off Peter Parker, fan speculation about who would fill Spidey’s shoes (or costume rather) was fairly rampant. Many looked to the other Spider-Man properties for clues, assuming the new Spider-Man would be Ben Reilly who briefly donned the Spidey moniker during the infamous Clone Saga of the 1990s.

All the speculation was wrong. Marvel and writer Brian Michael Bendis announced, via USA Today, that the new Ultimate Spider-Man would be an entirely new character. The new Spidey would be Miles Morales, a half-black, half hispanic teenager who would take the reins when the franchise re-launches at the end of Ultimate Fallout.

Brian Michael Bendis offered the following comment, “The theme is the same: With great power comes great responsibility. He’s going to learn that. Then he has to figure out what that means.” Morales race was also apparently a deliberate decision. “It’s certainly long overdue. Even though there’s some amazing African-America and minority characters bouncing around in all the superhero universes, it’s still crazy lopsided.”

My response to this is…hmm.

Very profound I know, but there is a part of me that honestly doesn’t know how to feel about this. On the one hand Bendis is right. If you look at the pantheon of top tier superheroes it’s a fairly white-washed bunch. However, the way they’re doing this doesn’t feel right. Ie: I don’t agree with them killing off an established character for the sole sake of diversifying superheroes.

And that is exactly what this feels like. In case I didn’t get it across in my Reflections on the Death of Spider-Man video, I am not a fan of them killing Peter Parker. I loved that character and the entire arc of his death just felt forced. It didn’t feel like an organic progression of his story, but rather a plot twist thrown in after some boardroom decision. This just solidifies my feelings about that, and comes across as an unnecessary effort at political correctness.

Which isn’t to say I’m against political correctness. It didn’t bug me when they cast a black guy in the Thor movie when the character was originally white. Nor does it bother me that Nick Fury is basically Samuel L. Jackson when he was again, originally white. That being said, there’s an important difference between how those characters were “diversified” and what they’re doing with Ultimate Spider-Man.

In the continuity of the Thor film and the Ultimate comics these characters were black from the get-go. It was established from the start what their ethnicity was. If they wanted a black/Hispanic/Indian/Arab/Asia/polka-dotted Spider-Man they should have established him as being such a decade ago when Ultimate Spider-Man first launched. I loved reading about Peter Parker. His stories, his trials and tribulations were what earned my emotional investment. His skin color would have been irrelevant.

More to the point, changing the skin color of a legacy character like Peter Parker would have been much more effective than introducing an entirely new character that many people may dismiss. You would have certainly had some people (cough racists cough) who would have insisted that Peter Parker has always been white and that changing his skin color was tantamount to blasphemy (as happened with Nick Fury), but for most people it probably would have been a non-issue as long as the comic was good.

To kill off an established and loved character though so arbitrarily? That’s just going to piss people off and give those actual racists in the audience an excuse to espouse their verbal feces consequence free. In essence, you’re accomplishing the exact opposite of what you were setting out to do.

Oh, and very classy, giving a black Spider-Man a black costume. Did we learn nothing from the Power Rangers?

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One Response to How Marvel Botched a Diverse Spider-Man

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