I’ve happily written a lot on this blog about my love of Spider-Man. Of alllll the fictional characters out there, he’s always been my favorite. I’ve loved Spidey consistently for thirty years (wow…I’m getting old). Sure, I met He-Man first but I can’t tell you the last time I watched Masters Of The Universe and I really dig Luke Skywalker but I didn’t see Star Wars until years after meeting the web-head. And I’ve never stopped loving Spidey. Yet for all my Spider-Gushing I’ve been remiss. I’ve never talked directly about how impressed I’ve been since I’ve met Miles Morales!
This post just sort of happened, spontaneously, given the fact that it’s New Comic Book Day and I just read Spider-Gwen #16, the wonderful second part of the “Sitting In A Tree” crossover with Spider-Man. I was thinking about how much I love Miles Morales as Spider-Man and how he’s become the primary Spider-Man of my adult incursion in comic reading. The stories are engaging; his supporting cast, exceptional. It’s all I’ve always loved about Spider-Man while simultaneously feeling new and relevant. In the reality of limited budgets and reading time, it’s Brian Michael Bendis’ Spider-Man that I want waiting for me every month in my file. Sure, Peter Parker will always be my guy! I’ve loved him for thirty years! And I’ve seen (and loved) Tobey Maguire, Andrew Garfield, and now Tom Holland’s take on the cinematic Spidey. But, for my reading time and money, make mine Miles!
I don’t want to spend a lot of time retreading what I’ve already written but I was only able to quit comic collecting in my youth (as limited funds turned towards gas money) when I had an end for Spider-Man. I couldn’t leave Peter Parker’s life with another “To Be Continued…” hanging in the air! In 1998, Marvel gave me my out as “The Final Chapter” story arc concluded in Peter Parker: Spider-Man #98 with Peter saving the day one last time, burning his costume, and leaving for his “happily ever after” with Mary Jane. (Yes, I know the titles (and action) would restart the following month but…shhhh, don’t ruin it…I had an ending.) Since returning, I’ve struggled to jump back into Peter Parker’s exploits (save the perfect Spider-Man/Deadpool) because it makes me too sad that his relationship with Mary Jane was traded to Mephisto in a weird deal-with-the-devil. I certainly don’t begrudge or resent those stories, but they aren’t for me. However Spider-Man remains a regular part of my life (and pull list) thanks to Brian Michael Bendis’ brilliant Miles Morales.
Miles is, in my mind, the perfect example of a “Legacy Character.” Reading his book it’s perfectly clear he’s not “the new Spider-Man” or “the kid Spider-Man” or “the ethnic Spider-Man” but, rather, he’s just Spider-Man. And I love it! The story takes everything that’s classic about who Spider-Man needs to be – a deep sense of responsibility, struggles with managing his dual life, a razor sharp wit, a captivating supporting cast, and adventures that are fun – and presents them in a way that’s entirely new. Since returning to comic collecting I’ve went back to 2011 (thank you Ultimate Collection Books 1-3!) and read all of Miles’ adventures in the webs up to the present. In all those comics, there’s never been a moment that’s felt derivative.
I love that Miles’ parents are alive as it isn’t a hackneyed retelling of Peter’s backstory. I also love that Miles’ dad knows his secret. The fact that a sixteen year old could completely hide a superheroing lifestyle from his family was always a stretch (though not an impossible one) of the ol’ suspension of disbelief. This familial connection also adds a wonderful dynamic to the storytelling. I know couldn’t do something like be a superhero without seeking a little familial guidance! I also like where the story is going now that his father has returned to work for S.H.I.E.L.D. in exchange for their keeping an eye on Miles and giving him a little extra protection.
I adore Ganke in general (I mean…LEGO Death Star?!? C’mon!!) and specifically how he knows Miles’ secret and works as a peer sounding board for Miles’ struggles with his dual life. This is also realistic too in that, with a secret of this magnitude, you couldn’t really carry it alone. I’d love to think I’d shoulder it all on my own to protect my loved ones…but we’re meant to live in community. And I couldn’t do otherwise! I wouldn’t tell everyone but I know I’d need to be able to talk out all of the superheroics with certain confidants. A friend’s perspective would be necessarily different from a parent’s and that would be needed too.
Also, on a purely fan level, Miles’ costume is so freaking cool. There are some versions of Spider-Man’s suit that I love as much as the original (Ben Reily’s take, the Black Costume, etc.) and some that are a little more…awkward (the time he was a knight in the Middle Ages, anything from “Identity Crisis,” etc.). Miles’ suit is up there with the best of the best. And his original powers – his camouflage thing and his spider venom shocky blast thing – are super cool too. I mean, c’mon, how could I not geek out over awesome additions like this?!? And, on that note, the additions also seen natural. There’s nothing forced about this. I also like how (the) Aunt May (of his timeline) gifted him with Peter’s webshooters. This a) keeps Peter’s work as something special/unique, b) prevents the story from falling into a derivative hole if Miles builds all his own tech too, and c) is a powerful passing-of-the-torch moment. To paraphrase Luke Skywalker – Miles Morales is Spider-Man, like Peter Parker before him.
Really, reading Spider-Man every month feels like a reward for a lifelong comic (and Spider-Man!) fan who’s come back to monthly reading. Brian Michael Bendis has taken the single character in all of fiction I most love and connect with and given me a faithful, fantastic, and incredibly new take on him. It’s hard to put into words just how special it is to read Spider-Man every month and feel completely at home with stories and characters that are so completely original.
Now, obviously, there is a loud, often angry contingent of “fans” who hate the idea of “Legacy Characters.” To them, the idea of any change (especially a new person taking up the mantle of an existing superhero) is scary and threatening. They attack these narrative movements as lacking originality when, in reality, nothing can be further from the truth. To be able to take an identity that carries so much meaning and present it in a way that adds new depth and new dimensions, honoring it while transcending it, is a highly tricky and creative act. It not only lets lifelong fans like me find something new and exciting with a familiar name but it allows people who may’ve not been able to connect with Spider-Man the way I have do just that.
So often the Legacy Characters offer the mantle once held exclusively by a white man to a woman or minority character. Rather than rallying against this, it’s something to be praised. Writing of her connection to and feelings about Batgirl in 1997’s Batman & Robin, Tricia Ennis says, “Representation is important. I say it all the time, but it’s so unbelievably true. Seeing characters who look like us, act like us, love like us, but who do things we can only dream of are what inspire and motivate us to be better, to do more, to reach higher. But how can we be so inspired when that representation simply does not exist?” As a white, American male, this isn’t something I’ve ever had to deal with. I see “myself” represented all around me. But I can’t deny the feelings and experiences of those who aren’t so lucky…at least I can’t do so with any sort of integrity, accuracy, or empathy.
I have loved Spider-Man my entire life. He means more to me than any other fictional character. If Miles Morales (or Kamala Khan, Sam Wilson, Jane Foster, Amadeus Cho, etc.) can let someone else finally feel connected to Spider-Man in the way I always have how can that be a problem? It can’t and it isn’t…unless you’re wrestling with some personal issues. I think some of these very vocal opponents of Legacy Characters feel scared that “their characters” are moving on without them. They do not want their worldview challenged or their world changed in any way. They feel angry/threatened so they lash out. It’s no excuse, but it is an explanation. Perhaps oddest of all, they feel the need to troll, shout, and argue any chance they get. Why? How hurt are they that they must hurt others to try and feel better? I said above, personally I don’t like Peter without Mary Jane. Sooooo…I just don’t read many of the current titles featuring Peter. I don’t hate them. I don’t feel betrayed by them. I’m not ranting that they are “changing the character” or “ruining the character” or “putting something there that’s never been a part of the character” or “desecrating the character.” I have hundreds of back issues when I feel like visiting my Peter Parker. And that’s fine. Stories, art should progress. If we don’t like it, that’s okay. And if we do, all the better! Because of (not in spite of) all the back issues in my closets, I’m loving spending time with Miles Morales!
Miles Morales has become every bit as much Spider-Man to me as Peter Parker always has been. As someone who’s loved Peter for thirty years, I couldn’t be happier or more excited with the way Miles is carrying his legacy. I love what he represents and what he’s become. This is exactly what brought me back to comic books after seventeen long years in the first place. I can’t wait to see where Spidey swings me next!
[If you’re feeling like a little more of my Spider-Musings, feel free to check out these other Spidey posts – “A Lifelong Love Affair with Spider-Man,” “The First Wedding I Ever Attended,” “The Amazing Spider-Man #300 and the Rise of Venom,” “In Love With Spider-Man In Love,” and (with a splash of Deadpool!) “A Bromance Unafraid Of Going Deeper.”]