"With great power comes great responsibility." Those words, the most recognizable in all of comic book lore, are the guiding principle behind arguably the greatest superhero ever to grace the page. Spider-Man has been an icon for kids and adults the world over, of all colors and creeds. Only the images of Superman and Batman are perhaps more recognizable. The man behind the mask is typically a certain Peter Benjamin Parker. As has been made a case of recently, Peter Parker is a white, heterosexual man who grew up in Queens, New York. However, as many versed in comic books know, the Marvel Universe is in fact a multiverse, comprised of an infinite amount of universes with an accordingly infinite amount of Spider-Men. The most famous of these other Spider-Men is Miles Morales, the Spider-Man of the Ultimate Universe, who is half black and half Hispanic. The Ultimate Universe is the most well known universe outside of Earth-616, the main Marvel Universe. The Ultimate Universe provided the writers at Marvel a realm in which to experiment without offending the sensibilities of their more traditionalist fans. The origins of classic characters, as well as their personalities and sexualities, could be altered in the pages of these comic books while leaving fans with the knowledge that their Earth-616 counterparts were left unaffected by these changes. The greatest change that the Ultimate Universe witnessed was the death of Peter Parker and the subsequent passing of the Spider-Man mantle to Miles Morales. Some hailed this development as a triumph of diversity, some scoffed at the notion of anyone but Peter being behind the mask.
The idea of multiple characters bearing the same iconic name, either concurrently or one after another, is nothing new. The Flash #123 saw the Silver Age Flash, Barry Allen, meet his Golden Age counterpart, Jay Garrick; the two usually existing in parallel universes. Steve Rogers, James Barnes and most recently Sam Wilson have all bore the shield of Captain America. Dick Grayson wore the cape and cowl of Batman while Bruce Wayne fought his way back through time after being struck by Darkseid's Omega Sanction. Comics, don't ask. I could go on and on but the identity of Spider-Man, save for a brief stint by Ben Reilly, who is but a clone of Peter, has been inextricably tied to Parker. This is why the introduction of Miles Morales was met with such polarized feelings.
Fledgling sales have led Marvel to discontinue the Ultimate line in climactic fashion as only comics can deliver. The various universes of Marvel will collide in Marvel's Secret Wars series leaving but one all new Marvel Universe that maintains the best elements and characters from each. Likely, the new Marvel Universe will consist mainly of elements of Earth-616 along with some favorites from the other universes. The presence of Miles Morales in this new, definitive Marvel Universe has already been assured with the announcement of a new ongoing series featuring Morales as the protagonist. The series, to be simply titled Spider-Man, will chronicle Miles Morales' adventures as Spider-Man under the tutelage of a wiser Peter Parker who will presumably also carry the name. This is fine and good. I haven't read much of Miles Morales' stories but from what I have read he is a captivating and complex character. I'm glad. When I first heard the announcement of a multi-racial Spider-Man I admittedly imagined a team of white Marvel executives patting themselves on the back for an undercooked attempt at diversity. I've since come to recognize that much genuine effort has been put in on the part of Marvel to cultivate a diverse character body. This effort has been reflected on the pages of their comics. We have a biracial Spider-Man, a female Thor and a Muslim Ms. Marvel to name a few. Not to mention, the character design of Sam Wilson, formerly the Falcon, as Captain America is the best I've seen in years. Personally though, I would have preferred the diversifying efforts to come in the form of entirely new characters instead of the rehashing of old superhero identities.
I never had a problem identifying with Peter Parker because, even though he didn't look like me, the elements of his character transcended race; they were universal. But apparently it is important to some that they see faces that look like them in the pages of the comics they read and Marvel is doing a good job of that. But let's talk about real life for a bit. I'm not quick to applaud Marvel because although their comics may feature more diverse characters than ever before, it seems that this diversity is yet to be reflected in their workforce. All-New Captain America is written by Rick Remender. The upcoming Spider-Man series, which has been making headlines, will be written by Brian Michael Bendis. So while both these titles will feature black protagonists, they will both have white writers. This isn't an issue of capability. I thoroughly believe people can write interestingly and intelligently of characters that are far different, demographically, from themselves. Rather it is an issue of opportunity. Nearly all of Marvel's writers and executives are white. So while I'm glad that Marvel's characters are becoming more diverse, I am far more concerned that real people of color get real footholds in the comic book industry in order to make real money and gain real creative power over what Marvel puts out. Until that happens I ask that you as comic book fans, while appreciating their efforts, hold your applause. Marvel still has some work to do if they want to be heroes themselves.