If you read this blog, you are hopefully aware of two things:
2) He died.
In the past couple of weeks though, just after I wrote Peter Parker’s obituary, Marvel revealed who would succeed him as Spider-Man in the Ultimate Universe, a young man by the name of Miles Morales. Not only is he replacing the iconic Peter Parker (something that hardly goes well with fanboys), but he is also half-black, half-Hispanic (something that hardly goes well with racists and the anti-Obama crowd).
As we have barely been exposed to this new character, the focus of this news story has been primarily on the idea of a black Spider-Man and the reasoning behind the decision, mainly from the point of views of writer Brian Michael Bendis and Marvel Editor-in-Chief, Axel Alonso. It has received a surprising amount of press, getting ink in USA Today, along with some airtime on Fox News and The Daily Show. But there is definitely something missing from the conversation, one that I am not sure Marvel has thought about and has definitely not been mentioned in any press I have read, at least in the direction I am going to take it.
As the true debut of Miles Morales approaches, I have been getting more and more excited about the prospects of the new Spidey. Even with the pending relaunch of DC, I am more stoked about the Ultimate line than I am with anything else (save the finale of Locke & Key).
Following the death of Peter Parker, the Ultimate line was re-focused through the six issue, weekly mini-series Ultimate Fallout. What you might not realize, following the mini-series Ultimatum, Ultimate Spider-Man has been the only on-going series in the line. Everything else has been a mini-series or series of minis (give it a second, that sentence actually makes sense). That was two years ago. That is two years without the X-Men and two years of every mutant being hunted or shot following the Ultimatum plot by Magneto. Two years that saw the Fantastic Four dismantled, following the death of Doctor Doom, the evolution of Ben Grimm and the psychotic breakdown of Reed Richards, whose own mind warped him into the equivalent of Doom’s replacement. Plus, Johnny Storm is going to be on the new X-Men team. Two years with the Ultimates divided, separated into black ops and public teams and Nick Fury out of the SHIELD director chair. Like the real world, the Ultimate line takes time to re-build following such devastation. DC and Marvel proper have events every summer and by autumn, their worlds are back together (and for anyone who wants to argue that, any sort of realistic approach to event books is, in my opinion, a post-Ultimate Comics idea, i.e. ten years old at best).
And seeing some order restored and a vision established to the re-branded Ultimate line, I have two distinctive thoughts. The first is the excitement of truly seeing something original in comics. That isn’t a slam at the creativity of comics. There are some great stories that have been produced in recent memory that I would describe as original, but they are not what I am talking about. I am talking about, for the first time, a new generation of creators are making these characters their own because the Ultimate universe isn’t restricted the same way the Marvel Universe proper is. Anything can happen and the death of Peter Parker cements that. But, after 50 years of seeing these characters in the Marvel U, we are now seeing the evolution, the rise of a new generation that is always teased, but never arrives.
Let’s stay on the topic of Spider-Man. If there was one Marvel character that has changed while staying the same, it is Spider-Man (believe me, it pains me to say that). In 2006, Spider-Man was unmasked, Aunt May knew he was Spider-Man and he was happily married. The character had so much possibility ahead of him. In the subsequent years, he magically (literally) had all three of those things reversed, setting him back in 1987 (not literally). Also, the two most recent story lines brought back Kraven the Hunter, whose death has been one of Spidey’s most praised stories, and Miles Warren, the man responsible for the most hated Spider-Man story, The Clone Saga. It is discouraging to say the least to not see any growth in the character, especially since more time has passed since original creator Stan Lee left the book than he spent writing it. Editorial fear is a common thing in comic books, as the property is more important to the business than any ONE story, but is more pronounced with Marvel because of the Ultimate universe and the risks the line takes. Dead is dead and change is change.
But as exciting as the possibility of genuinely daring superhero comics are, it is actually the second point I want to bring up that has me the most excited about Miles Morales. Samuel L. Jackson is Nick Fury, but, in the original MU, Nick Fury is a white guy (and was originally depicted on screen by David Hasselhoff). Sam Jackson is playing Ultimate Nick Fury. The idea of Thor always being Thor, instead of time-sharing a body with Dr. Donald Blake, is an Ultimate idea. The idea that Cap is a soldier and has killed in battle is only a part of the Marvel U because the Ultimate universe made it work first, along with his costume being practical for battle and not dopey chainmail. If you want to see how the Marvel U Iron Man originally put on his suit, watch the scene from Iron Man 2 where he uses the briefcase armor. The armor being put on like an assembly line is an Ultimate idea, as is Black Widow and Hawkeye being SHIELD operatives.
The Marvel films series is more steeped in the Ultimate universe than it is in the regular MU. And that brings us to Miles. Miles Morales can only be good for Marvel. If it doesn’t work, then Peter Parker can just be brought back. In Ultimate Spider-Man, Norman Osborn was dead, but came back to life as a result of his creation, the OZ formula, the same thing that gave Ultimate Peter Parker his powers. And Peter being replaced has happened in the MU proper more than once. Status can go back to quo, but what if it works? What happens if Miles becomes someone’s Spider-Man? The idea of a black Spider-Man was galvanized in writer Brian Michael Bendis when he saw Donald Glover, star of the NBC show Community, appeared on-screen in Spidey pajamas, a nod to his failed attempt to get an audition for the new Spider-Man film (a campaign that was endorsed by Spider-Man co-creator Stan Lee). What happens when the idea of a black Spider-Man isn’t just a possibility, but the expectation?
And what about the death of Peter Parker? What if that becomes canon within the greater Spider-Man mythology? In any Spider-Man related project, any time Gwen Stacy shows up, it is expected that she will die at some point because of the seminal story that resulted in her death. Is Emma Stone going to die at some point in the new film series? If she survives, it would be more of a departure from the mythology than if she lives.
In his introduction to The Dark Knight Returns, Alan Moore writes about the importance of death in the story of many mythological heroes.
All of our best and oldest legends recognize that time passes and that people grow old and die. The legend of Robin Hood would not be complete without the final blind arrow shot to determine the site of his grave. The Norse Legends would lose much of their power were it not for the knowledge of an eventual Ragnarek, as would the story of Davy Crockett without the existence of an Alamo. In comic books, however, given the commercial fact that a given character will still have to sell to a given audience in ten years’ time, these elements are missing. The characters remain in the perpetual limbo of their mid-to-late twenties, and the presence of death in their world is at best a temporary and reversible phenomenon.
The arrival of Miles Morales could be a potential shift in the mindset of comic books. Every character I can think of that has replaced a fallen hero has found their predecessor return from the grave. Barry Allen, Hal Jordan, Steve Rogers, everyone I can think of off the top of my head has seen their legacy continued only for the character to return and take it up again (in some cases, decades later). This could be the watershed moment. Ultimate Wolverine has been replaced by his son. In fact, the survivors of the X-Men are now left without the guidance of Professor X and Magneto and now must make sense of their legacies on their own and that is what comics have been since the 70s, except both companies (Marvel and DC) have just been regurgitating the ideas of the generation before instead of making these characters and their legacies their own. Like Moore said, the commercial aspect of comics has held them back, but hopefully, that time has passed with the arrival of the new Ultimate universe.
I love Peter Parker, but for the foreseeable future, Make Mine Miles.