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I Am Spider-Man
There’s a lot of good things stored in my hippocampus. Some of those being the first time I rode a bike without training wheels and my father’s assistance, the 1995 Source Awards (shout out to OutKast and Suge Knight), and Halloween 2019. This particular Halloween will stick with me, because every single damn kid was dressed as Spider-Man. Not only was my son, Garvey, dressed as Spider-Man, but all of my nephews were too. Not the nerdy kid turned photographer named Peter Parker, but an all new hero with a new different background. You’ve probably heard the name Miles Morales far too many times. He’s the black and red suit wearing Spider-Man from another universe (to nuanced to explain here) who’s of interracial descent and hails from the People’s Republic of Brooklyn. Miles was the lead character of the film Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, a coming of age animated movie that introduces the hero to mainstream America. Not only was the film critically acclaimed, but it made a shit ton of money. $375.5 million to be exact, with a budget of $90 million. It not only solidified Marvel Studios’ dominance in the entertainment industry, but introduced new characters to a wider audience. Created by famed comic book writer, Michael Brian Bendis, Miles is one of the few superheroes that is multiracial. He’s Afro-Latino to be exact, with a mother that’s from Puerto Rico and an African American father. I think this version of Spider-Man is one of the most important superheroes of Generation Z and beyond.
Though Black Panther was a culturally meaningful masterpiece, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse was the more relatable film and character. We all strive to act royally, but the overwhelming majority of us are kings in our own endeavors. Unlike T’Challa, Miles wasn’t born into royalty. His father is a police officer and his mother is a nurse. Miles attends an elite prep school on scholarship, comparing that to T’Challa who graduated from Oxford presumably paying his daddy’s coins. I’m sure there are several kids that kind find some form of connection between themselves and Black Panther, there’s millions more out there in Any City, USA that relate with Miles. He’s smart, awkward, doubts himself, and yet still surmises courage in the most demanding moments. There’s a level of self-awareness that Miles exhibits in the movie that I hope kids watching aspire to achieve. Contrasting that with T’Challa’s struggle of acceptance throughout his introductory film. The Black Panther is reluctant to assume his throne and equally averse to accepting Wakanda’s place in the world and their responsibility to black people in the diaspora. His cousin Killmonger gained his attention, but Nakia truly helped him understand that Wakanda is bigger than its borders. One moment of the movie that particularly stuck out with me was the use of the Spanish language and how the film purposely left out subtitles to translate the interactions between Miles and his mother. There’s a level of familiarity with the audience that the creators wanted to showcase without making bilingual people feel like they’re ostracized. Both characters were created in critical periods of American history. Black Panther was the manifestation of the black power movement where black Americans were gaining a better understanding of their history prior to enslavement and embracing their culture unapologetically. Spider-Man: Miles Morales was created a few years into the presidency of Barack Obama. There’s a far deeper connection there as the initial brainstorming for Kid Anarchid’s character was started during President Obama’s first campaign. The parallel was the idea of reimagining our icons as people who weren’t white men. The presidency was always held by that demographic and so was our friendly neighborhood hero. What’s most meaningful with the comparison of these two characters, is Miles is still a kid. There’s an instant relatability there for young adults in high school and kids even younger that aspire to be someone like Miles as they get older.
With Marvel Comics continually promoting Miles in their biggest storylines and his eventual premier in a live-action Marvel Cinematic Universe film, the gatekeepers of geekdom can just go to hell. Miles isn’t going away. The sequel to Into the Spider-Verse has already been confirmed to hit theaters in 2022. I’m proud that my children are alive in a time where prominent characters in entertainment look, talk, and behave just like them. My kids are alive in a time where our president (I don’t acknowledge that other guy) is a multiracial man with a black American wife and children of color. Every generation needs their own icons that reflect their moments in time, I’m glad our kids have Miles.