Peter Parker won't be replaced by Miles Morales: they inhabit alternative universes. Days ago, as USA Today reported, Marvel comics introduced the multiracial Morales as the "new" Spider-Man in a comic book spin-off called the Ultimate Spider-Man series. In the regular series (and in the movies) Peter Parker will still be swinging around. It doesn't seem like a big deal to have a half-black, half-Latino play the character, does it? Apparently so.
The announcement was seemingly treated as evidence of a creeping multicultural agenda. Perhaps it was because Axel Alonso, Marvel's editor-in-chief, reportedly said the character was inspired by President Obama. Or maybe it was the fact that, as Huffington Post blogger Scott Mendelson wrote, Marvel had to kill the Peter Parker character to create Morales. It's also possible the attention for the character could be, as The New Yorker noted, a result of "an Internet video campaign by a young black television star named Donald Glover, in which Glover dressed up like Spider-Man in an unsuccessful bid to land himself the role of Peter Parker in the 2012 movie."
Either way, by the time the The Daily Mail raised questions about whether a new Spider-Man could be gay and Media Matters caught big-Spider-Man-fan Glenn Beck tenuously linking Morales on his radio show to a Michelle Obama remark, the apparent backlash was in full force. Yesterday, Entertainment Weekly's Darren Franich noted that there's "intriguing gut reaction that pops up whenever matters of race pop up in the comic book world — a kind of strict-constrictionist defense." He pointed to his own pointed commenters, one of whom wrote, "What is this rush to take good characters and change their color?"
But as Internet outrage memes usually go, the backlash to the backlash arrived just as fast. In what would be a perfect response to Franich's commenter, an elated David Betancort wrote in The Washington Post today, "as a comic reader of color, you realize that [most of] these characters were created in the 1930s through '60s, when civil rights weren’t exactly being passed around. Little was really done to change the status quo in comics (excepting Black Panther)." He continued: "This is Marvel taking its flagship character — one of the most important in history — and placing it in the hands of a kid who reflects the diversity of the world right now."
And, to paraphrase the The New Yorker, the fact that a minority Spider-Man found a home only in an alternate Earth seems like an incremental shift. Which is why, as optimistic notes go, we liked how the unflappable The Financial Times weighed in on the issue today: "It might seem odd that a nation with a black president might struggle with a black-Hispanic superhero. But people will probably come around in the end, because Spider-Man is the pure dream: the American heart, in the act of growing up and learning its path."