Can a Black-Latino Spider-Man Do Whatever a Spider Can? [Reader Forum]

The new mixed-race Spider-Man just got introduced to comics fans, and the idea of him is sparking conversations about race and art. Our readers discuss.

By Channing Kennedy Aug 08, 2011

Apologies for the two-week absence of the Reader Forum; I was out getting married. And now that I’m fully vested in the adult world, let’s discuss some serious news issues… wait, we had a post about comic books? Let’s do that.

On Wednesday, comics fans got their first glimpse of the Marvel Universe’s replacement for the recently-murdered Peter Parker. The new Spider-Man is, delightfully, a mixed-race black-Latino kid named Miles Morales. Some comics fans love it, some comics fans are mad, and a lot of comics fans are realizing that they’ve never really had to talk about race before and it’s not easy. And the usual questions, of the artist’s responsibility to the audience, are all on the table. Here’s what you had to say.

Dawn Valadez:

When I was a kid I really thought Spider-Man WAS Black. Seriously. I knew the story was that white Peter Parker was under the mask but it really made no sense to me. In my mind he was Black because he was so damn cool. I think when I was 7 I made a comic of my image of the REAL Spider-Man. This fan will be a MORE of a fan and will finally feel like things make sense.

Marilyn Chavez:

He’s not only black. He’s mixed. Lets get things straight. (:

I’m mixed too and dislike it when people say that i’m just Mexican (or categorize me only in one way). It is important to acknowledge that this character has more than one ethnic background.

S. J. Thapa:

There is nothing wrong with a black Spider-Man. Spider-Man was also my favorite superhero growing up but I don’t look back at Spider-Man and think "I liked him cause his name was Peter Parker (or whether he was white, smart, short, small etc)". I liked Spider-Man’s character because it was interesting to see a character who got over their insecurities and helped all the other characters, some of whom were always against him, and did so despite his own doubts that they would ever like him again.

There is nothing wrong with change. It’s more absurd that even in a made-up world of comics…. what a coincidence that a Kryptonian who falls out of the sky looks just like a white man.

julietac answer’s another reader’s question about the writers of the new storyline:

Black Spider-Man will be written by Brian Michael Bendis, who has been on the title since it began 10 years ago. Bendis is white with two black adopted daughters (one Ethiopian and one African-American). He has made a concerted effort to not just put people of color in his books, but try understand them. He is also backed by a multiracial editorial team. If I were to put this book in any white writer’s hands, it’d be his.

It’s also worth noting that when DC replaced the white Blue Beetle with a Mexican kid from a border town, the books turned out to be excellent despite being written by white guys from up North. People were upset and sad to see the old Blue Beetle gone, but Giffen and Rogers did a great job of writing a fun book that made the character’s background an integral part of him but by no means defined him as a person nor hero.

mhann24 commented a few times, with good points about the risks of a print industry alienating its remaining paying customers. Here’s one:

Any tampering with a long-established iconic character like Spider-Man, Superman, or Batman will inevitably be frowned upon. That is a given. I mean, it does not matter what the change is. For instance, very recently, in the primary Marvel universe, they changed the Spider-Man books so that Peter and Mary Jane were never married. This also made people angry. Prior to that, in the ’90s there was a long and complex storyline where readers were lead to believe that the Spider-Man they had been reading about for 20 years was actually a clone of the "original" Peter Parker. It was among the most despised storylines ever.

However stupid it may seem to non-readers, people invest time, emotion, and money in these characters, so they don’t like being jerked around by the writers. Spawn (okay, yes, an Image Comics character), Storm, and Blade are very popular and powerful and all got to be in big, expensive movies (three for Blade and starring Wesley Snipes). The only problem that exists is that there should be more original African-American characters in comics. And if Marvel’s true intentions are to diversify their universe and the Spider-Man storyline is not just a publicity stunt, then they are going about it all wrong because no one is going to accept a permanent replacement for Peter Parker, no matter what he looks like. New black heroes should actually be new, not revisions of old heroes.

Kristen Stewart disagrees:

Peter Parker is, and always will be, the original Spider-man. If Marvel suddenly retconned Peter Parker into always having been a black Latino teenager, just for the sake of racial diversity in their roster, I’d be one of the first people to point to that as an example of lazy writing.

But THEY’RE NOT. Morales is putting on Spider-man’s costume, not swiping Parker’s identity. It’s completely plausible that in the event of Parker’s death, someone else would rise up and put on the Spider-man costume and carry on his work. That’s the beauty of the costume — it stands for something. It holds a certain authority. It offers a certain continuity to the people he protects and the criminals he battles.

Fictional characters HAVE to change, or there would be no storylines, no character arcs, and they’d spend all their time fighting run-of-the-mill villains with absolutely no risk. It’s completely valid to criticize a storyline as poorly written, unimaginative, implausible, etc., but to criticize it solely on the grounds of changing the identity of the man behind the mask is ridiculous. Superheroes like Spider-man and Batman are ALWAYS changing to reflect changing mediums, changing societal attitudes, different writers, different artists, etc.

So while I appreciate your viewpoint, I don’t understand why you would classify this change as "tampering."

Paul Druck asks about complaint motive:

… Comics companies try. Most of the time it’s the readers that freak out. DC did the same thing years ago when Superman was killed and an African American filled in for the Man of Steel comics.

I do wonder though, whether the unhappiness about the replacements is all racially based or based simply on the idea that the original character is being replaced. I’m SURE there are a lot of racially based complaints, but it would be interesting to know.

This is a point worth exploring. In my opinion, the problem of race-based pushback has less to do with comics fans being racists, and more to do with comics fans being unaware of how their complaints sound to people who don’t look like them. It’s a small distinction, but it’s crucial to how we discuss it. It changes the question from "Why are comics fans racists?" (not helpful) to "Why hasn’t anyone showed comics fans how to talk about race?"

Let’s close with Emma Potik, who tells us about her household’s own Spider-fan:

My black & hispanic Spiderman-obsessed 4yo is going to flip!!

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