Why the new Spider-Man matters
The moment when my passion for comics began is as clear to me now many, many years later as it was then. It was the moment when I saw Batgirl on the TV screen. As a small child I loved Batman, but I couldn’t be Batman because I was a girl. But then there was this girl, woman, doing the things that Batman could do. And I soon found she was not just on television but in comic books too. I was hooked.
That moment of seeing Batgirl, and realizing that there was someone like me who could do cool Batman stuff, stands at the crux of so much that I work for in comics. I believe in Dwayne McDuffie’s vision that everyone should be able to see someone who looks like themselves in comics. I believe it fervently. And today I’ll tell you why I care so much on a personal level.
On Tuesday, Marvel Comics unveiled the new Ultimate Spider-Man, Miles Morales who is a biracial teenager. I don’t read Ultimate Spider-Man or much Marvel, but the sight of Miles’ face in the Spider-Man costume made me, as well as many others, very happy.
But the unveiling of Miles also brought out a sickening display of racist hatred. I wish I could say I was surprised. But I’m not. The same day that Miles was unveiled there were also news stories about a member of Congress who used the term “tar baby” in a discussion about the President of the United States.
But this post is not about the racist reactions. This post is about why Miles Morales is important.
My love of comics, and of DC Comics in particular, is something I’ve passed along to my children. Why not? Comics have given me much joy and pleasure through the years; what parent doesn’t share interests they love with their child?
Like many parents of young kids, my home is filled with superhero toys and kid comics. There is Batman shampoo and t-shirts and drinking glasses. If DC has stuck a logo on it and marketed it to kids in the last five years it has probably ended up in my home. And that’s not just because I read comics. Superheroes are so prevalent and pervasive that they become a part of kid’s life even if their parents don’t read comics.
A while ago, I guess a year and half or so, my son asked me a question. “Mommy, what DC hero looks like me?” Kids are like that at a certain age, they become incredibly focused on making connections to themselves (pre-schoolers can be raging egomaniacs at times). My son is Korean so I showed him Ryan Choi, the Atom written by Gail Simone. And he was thrilled. For the next few days he was obsessed with Ryan and he would repeat, “Mommy, he’s just like me.” Over and over. Because that’s the way kids are. We bought the JLU figure and he was happy to add it to his collection.
And then last year one of the only Asian superheroes in DC Comics, the only one that looked like my son, was murdered on page and his body stuffed in a matchbox.
The moment disgusted and angered me, but those feelings were certainly amplified because of my son.
I never told him, of course. Ryan has appeared the Batman Brave and the Bold animated series and he also showed up in Tiny Titans. And when he appeared there my son loved it. (Though he’s added Kid Devil and Kid Flash to his list of favorite characters so there was less pressure on explaining why Ryan wasn’t seen anymore.)
Jim Lee recently revealed that the Atom in the new Justice League is Ryan Choi. While I am not completely satisfied with the level of diversity in the new Justice League, that Ryan Choi is on the team makes me very, very happy. Now, when my son looks at the Justice League he will see someone he can say is “just like me.” Isn’t that something every parent would like to have? Isn’t that what any comic fan would want?
Which brings me to Miles Morales. In the world of comic book heroes and kids there are very few icons. Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman and Spider-Man are probably the top four. These are the ones that get licensed over and over and put on all the kid’s crap that is strewn throughout my home. There are no Luke Cage toothbrushes. No Storm or Cass Cain lunchboxes. No Ryan Choi or Solstice grape scented shampoo.
And there may never be. Because the big two kids superhero licensing is about the big icons. And those icons are all white.
But now they’re not. Now when a kid picks up a Spider-Man toothbrush, or puts Spider-Man sheets on their bed or pulls Spider-Man underpants on with a Spider-Man t-shirt, underneath that mask there is someone who doesn’t look like every other icon. Now there is Miles Morales.
Dwayne McDuffie said he started Milestone because he couldn’t find anyone who looked like him in comics. His most popular character, Virgil Hawkins aka Static, was the star of a long running animated series that was viewed by many more people than buy the most popular comics from DC or Marvel.
Static never got an all-ages comics like other superhero shows from Warner Bros., but he is getting a comic in the new 52 as is Mr. Terrific, Blue Beetle and Batwing. These books give hope, as with the return of Ryan Choi, that DC is listening and is upping its commitment to diversity. But these books are also competing against Batman and Superman and Green Lantern. I hope they don’t get lost. I hope DC promotes them beyond their traditional direct market. There was a devoted television audience for Static Shock; everyone of them is a potential new reader of Static #1. And of other DC comics.
I’ve said my piece on the need for the Big Two to embrace diversity. It’s is simple - the world is changing, comics need to evolve or be a dinosaur. Heidi McDonald at Comics Beat said similar things in a post yesterday. DC and Marvel still have a long way to go.
Miles Morales is now Spider-Man. Ryan Choi is back and in the Justice League, Static has a DC title. DC Comics has publicly committed to gender diversity. And there is some positive movement on gays in DC comics with Batwoman and Apollo and Midnighter in the new 52. No question there is much, much more to do. But these are positive signs that both companies are realizing there is a need to expand beyond the traditional readers.
Will these things help combat the horrible, sickening racism that seethed in the comments sections about Spider-Man this week? (Or the ugly language used in the past week’s discussion around women and comics?) God no, I am not that naive. But will having a biracial Spider-Man that doesn’t look like every other superhero icon help? I believe it can. And really isn’t having a child who doesn’t have the same skin color as Batman or Superman or Wonder Woman or Iron Man or Thor now being able to look at Spider-Man and say, “Mommy, he’s like me!” a wonderful thing no matter what? I think it is.
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