Huffpost Entertainment
The Blog

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Scott Mendelson Headshot

The Problem Isn't That the New Ultimate Spider-Man is Black/Hispanic. The Problem Is That Peter Parker Had to Die to Make It Happen.

Posted: Updated:
SPIDERMAN
AP
The Ultimate line, from the beginning around ten years ago, was a way for writers and creators to take the classic Marvel characters and retell their stories in a way that was unchained from the decades of continuity and was arguably more realistic and level-headed.  From The Ultimates that presented our dear Avengers as a bunch of dysfunctional nutcases to an X-Men mythology that introduced Wolverine as Magneto's assassin, the alternate universe was a chance to try something different without disregarding the narratives and continuity that had been built up since 1962.  So it comes as no surprise that the Ultimate line would offer a replacement Spider-Man, one who is in fact a mixed-race teen rather than the traditional lily-white nerd from Brooklyn.  Of course, the official announcement today has set off the various criticisms, some of it rooted in racism, some of it merely rooted in the general fanboy whining whenever something is done differently than it was before (see - Sam Raimi's organic web shooters, the casting of Michael Keaton as Batman, etc).  Overall, a racial minority, mixed-race no-less, taking over the cowl of Spider-Man in what is as much a mainstream Spider-Man comic book as the traditional 616 universe is an obvious sign of progress and should be taken as such.  My problem isn't with Miles Morales becoming the new Spider-Man.  No, my problem is that Peter Parker had to die for it to happen.

As written by Brian Michael Bendis, the Ultimate universe Peter Parker was arguably the best-crafted version of Spider-Man ever created.  By rooting the stories in character and ground-level plotting, Bendis gave us an instantly relatable protagonist who was a genuinely complicated human being underneath the red-and-blue spandex.  Bendis made sure to flesh out all of Spidey's supporting cast, giving us three-dimensional portraits of Aunt May, J. Jonah Jameson, Mary Jane, and the rest of the crew.  Because these stories obstinately took place in the real world, the violence had sting and there was a genuine shock at the loss of life (even though forced participation in crossover calamities lessened the impact of the violence in the individual stories). Point being, Peter Parker was a true hero, and a genuinely wonderful human being. He didn't deserve to die.  Nor did Aunt May deserve to grief over the loss of her beloved nephew.  But for some inexplicable reason, superheroes, even teenage ones, cannot be allowed to retire.

Would it have been so hard for Bendis to allow Parker to fight through his archenemies, reach a qualitative victory, and decide to hang up the tights?  It's the trap of writing as good as was found on Bendis's USM narratives.  When you spend so much energy and time into crafting a Peter Parker that captures our sympathy, you can't just casually bump him off as 'the shocking conclusion' to the latest universe-wide stunt.  When you create a vividly three-dimensional portrait of a seemingly stock character like Aunt May, you cannot just arbitrarily kill off her nephew because the suits upstairs wanted something different.  I'm sure Miles Morales will make a wonderful Spider-Man.  Under the pen of Brian Michael Bendis, I can't see how he could not.  But Peter Parker deserved more than a bullet in the ribs fired by The Punisher, followed by a final smack-down with Norman Osbourne.  

In comics, and popular fiction in general, killing characters is an all-too convenient way to change a story, create momentary excitement (think 'women in refrigerator'), or signal a new narrative direction. But in the real world, people don't get killed off when they cross a certain thresh hold.  They move on, they move away, they go to college, or they get different jobs.  In the real world, the one Ultimate Spider-Man was supposed to take place in, heroes don't always have to die.  Sometimes they do just fade away, to a life of normalcy and happiness.  It was the very least Parker deserved.

Scott Mendelson