Web of Controversy
I may have mentioned this, but Spider-Man has always been my favorite comic character. I’ve always loved him as a superhero — the costume, the powers, the smart-alec taunting — but I think it was the other half of Spider-Man, plain old Peter Parker, that really endeared him to me. I could relate to him. When Pete was bitten by that radioactive spider, he had been an awkward teenager, just like I was. He worries about his loved ones, just like I do. He’s had to put up with a demanding boss, just like I have. And he often has girl trouble… which I hear can really be a problem for some guys.
The point is, Peter Parker was a normal guy who just happened to get super powers. He wasn’t a god or a robot or an alien. He wasn’t a billionaire who had trained his entire life to fight crime. He was just a guy, not so very unlike me. When I read Spider-Man, it made me feel like I was just one irradiated bug bite away from being a crime-fighting bad-ass. And though the evidence was always right there in front of me, I don’t think I ever noticed that he was white.
You’ve probably heard by now that the “Ultimate” version of Peter Parker has died and the mantle of Spider-Man is being taken up by a biracial teenager named Miles Morales. In fact, you may very well have heard these facts delivered at a very high volume, because some people have lost their minds over it. To them, it’s simply unthinkable that Spider-Man would not be a white man. Their criticisms are often prefaced with “I’m not racist, but…” But I have to wonder, if their complaints are not motivated by race, then what’s their problem?
When Peter Parker’s death was first announced, it produced the expected result. Like every other big comic book death event, the media gave the story its due because Spider-Man is an American icon, and the notion of him dying sounds like a big deal. (Of course, few people who don’t read comics understand the difference between Ultimate Spider-Man and the original incarnation, so it probably sounded like a bigger deal than it actually was, but that’s beside the point.) It wasn’t until the identity of Peter’s replacement was announced that the web fluid hit the fan.
Glenn Beck and Lou Dobbs have both vented their spleens about it. Dobbs sees it as another example of America being taken over by Latinos and Beck — as usual — thinks it’s part of a vast conspiracy that goes all the way up to first lady Michelle Obama. Ironically, Beck went on at great length about how he doesn’t care about comic books before unleashing his vitriolic misinformation (he sarcastically and condescendingly said that Miles was half black, half Mexican, and half gay, which is wrong both factually and mathematically).
I do understand being uncomfortable with change in one’s favorite comic book characters. To me, Peter Parker will always be Spider-Man. The two are just too inexorably linked in my mind for me to ever fully accept someone else in that role. Also, I don’t like major comic character deaths for reasons I’ve outlined in the past. I really doubt that Marvel will stick to their guns with this change. My guess is that eventually Peter Parker will return and resume the role of Spider-Man, while Miles assumes a different superhero identity (Spider-Boy, maybe?), and will eventually fade into obscurity. I just hate it when story takes a back seat to commerce in general.
But… if we accept for a minute the notion that Peter Parker is dead and must be replaced by someone, is there any really good reason why that someone has to be white? Is there some aspect of Spider-Man’s powers or behavior or mission that requires that the person under the mask needs to be any particular race or ethnicity? Let’s break down the name: Spider-Man. Spider… Man. He needs to have spider-based powers, and he needs to be male, and that’s about it. There doesn’t even need to be a spot for race on the application.