In 2011, Marvel writer Brian Michael Bendis and artist Sara Pichelli released the fourth issue of their miniseries Ultimate Fallout, detailing the aftermath of Spider-Man’s death –like, actual death, funeral and all– in the Ultimate Marvel universe after an extended battle with the Sinister Six. Of course, no Marvel universe can really exist without a Spider-Man, which is why it was incredibly surprising to see that the second Spider-Man of that world turn out to be an Afro-Latino teenager named Miles Morales, who wound up bitten by a radioactive spider just days before Peter’s demise.
Miles has been important since his inception just as a person of color in the world of superhero comics, and later as a figurehead of Marvel’s ever growing diversity focus, but now that importance has taken on a new layer. The beginning of August saw the release of the young adult novel, Miles Morales: Spider-Man, written by As Brave as You author Jason Reynolds. What’s most important about the book, aside from it being really good, is the fact that Reynolds is African-American, making him the first person of color to write for Miles.
Despite an increase of diverse characters in the past couple of years over at Marvel, those characters are by and large written by white men, such as Jane Foster’s Thor (Jason Aaron), Ironheart (Bendis), Laura Kinney’s Wolverine (Tom Taylor) and Sam Wilson’s Captain America (Nick Spencer). The same goes with Miles, as those who have previously written for Miles in a major capacity have been white men: Champions writer Mark Waid, Secret Wars’ Jonathan Hickman and Bendis, whose hold on his original characters is so strong that he continues to be the only person to write Jessica Jones on a consistent basis. He’s stated multiple times that he created Miles so that his adoptive children would have someone to look up to (a reasoning that also holds for Riri Williams, the black girl currently taking the mantle of Iron Man as Ironheart). This has created some problems, however, despite the sweet intentions. Issues with how he writes characters of color have cropped up often over the last couple of years, with Miles’ comic being the most notable for it. In the current series’ second issue, Miles and his friend Ganke watch a video by an avid Spider-Man fan over the moon to discover that he’s a person of color after a fight with Blackheart, and she even uses the actual phrase “def color,” a moment that was met with mocking and derision by some sectors of online fandom.
That’s not helped by the fact that immediately afterwards, Miles asks her why she should even care about such a thing, and says that he doesn’t want to be known as the “Black Spider-Man.” The whole undercurrent of what feels like an anti-blackness vibe aside — he weirdly stresses that he’s also half Latino while also separating himself from being black — it doesn’t feel like something Miles would say. It comes across more like Bendis is trying to use him as a mouthpiece to cement that he’s the Spider-Man of his generation instead of really doing anything for to him to be so. Many have cited that moment as evidence of why Miles should be written by a person of color, and it’s hard to argue against that. Bendis usually writes Miles’ non-superhero life in a context of him being a regular teenager, and while that’s fine on its own, there’s no denying that Miles is a person of color, and you can’t always write stories about him that ignore that aspect of his character.
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