Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Miles Morales: The Next Spider-Man?

In life, one thing that makes itself obvious is when something is genuine versus when it is nonsense. I can't help but feel the latter about the new idea of Marvel's Ultimate Spider-Man, at least based on what we're being told so far:
Pop culture history will be made tomorrow as Ultimate Comics Fallout #4 hits shelves and introduces readers to the all-new Ultimate Comics Spider-Man! That’s right, for the first time ever, someone other than Peter Parker will be Spider-Man! But, after the death of Peter Parker, who will rise up to defend the Ultimate Universe? Meet Miles Morales, a seemingly normal teenager from New York who will soon discover  that with great power comes great responsibility…and even greater danger! But just what are the secrets behind Miles’ shocking abilities? What’s his connection to the original Spider-Man? And just why does he wear that costume? Courtesy of superstars Brian Michael Bendis and Sara Pichelli, Ultimate Comics Fallout #4  begins the story that’ll have everyone talking for years to come!
Miles Morales? Seriously? That is almost offensive. He's black and Hispanic so of course we'll just juxtapose a common Hispanic surname with the name of a world renowned jazz musician. 
This sounds alot like the creation of The Falcon character in the Captain America world. While Ed Brubaker, during his run, has approached The Falcon with respect and made him a multi-dimensional character of his own, The Falcon started off as a living stereotype of the blaxploitation era. His character was written as bursting frequently into anti-white conspiracies and Steve Rogers was written as a guilty white liberal who would sit and pretend to listen to The Falcon in a condescending manner. It was bad for everybody.
 “When the opportunity arose to create a new Spider-Man, we knew it had to be a character that represents the diversity—in background and experience—of the twenty-first century,” said Axel Alonso, Marvel Editor in Chief. “Miles is a character who not only follows in the tradition of relatable characters like Peter Parker, but also shows why he’s a new, unique kind of Spider-Man—and worthy of that name.”
I'm all for what Axel Alonso is asking for here. We have a more diverse society, thanks to immigration, globalization and other factors. Comic book superheroes should reflect that. This sort of thing has to be done organically, however.
The best force for diversifying comic books has been guys like the late Dwayne McDuffie. McDuffie played an instrumental role in the development of John Stewart as the Green Lantern in the Justice League cartoon series. The diversity that the creators of the cartoon wanted was achieved and McDuffie helped develop a character that had some depth and meaning beyond skin pigment and ethnic background.

I want to read this new Ultimate Spider-Man. It could very well be good, but from the press release it sounds alot like Rawhide Kid. Rawhide Kid was a series that Marvel put out in 2004 that set out to revitalize the old western character as a covertly gay cowboy. The resulting series was pretty hilarious and poked fun at the overt homoeroticism of cowboy lore. However, it was still a joke that didn't really portray gay people as serious, well balanced or decent.

The character of Batwoman is an entirely different story. The writers were smart enough to make her lesbianism, a new plateau when it comes to popular comic books, a part of a multifaceted character. Here's some of a good interview with Greg Rucka, the brains behind Kathy Kane:

"We have been waiting to unlock her. It's long overdue," he said in an interview with the Comic Book Resources website. "Yes, she's a lesbian. She's also a redhead. It is an element of her character. It is not her character. If people are going to have problems with it, that's their issue. That's certainly not mine."
The news represents a significant cultural landmark for the gay rights movement, and follows a concerted effort by DC Comics to introduce more characters from ethnic and sexual minorities. However, Rucka hopes that the new titles, which are due to be released in June, will not be overshadowed by controversy about Kane's sexuality.
"I think there is going to be some media," he said. "I can't control it. You've got to remember, Wonder Woman got a haircut and that became news. So it will be what it is."
"My job is to write the best book I can, about a character that I think is exceptionally cool, that J.H. Williams [his co-writer and artist] thinks is exceptionally cool, that DC Comics thinks is exceptionally cool and worthy of being the lead player in Detective Comics," he added. "Frankly, she should be judged on her merits."
Rucka went the smarter route, the Dwayne McDuffie route, creating a lesbian superhero named Batwoman instead of putting that factor right out in the open as the only defining characteristic. The guys at Marvel should keep this in mind and remember that they're making a gamble here. If they mess up, having ethnically diverse characters will be avoided and readers of all colors will view attempts to do it with caution and rolling of eyes. 

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