Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Black Spider-Man and Roles of Race in Comics

Marvel Comics, one of two major publishers of superhero comics, recently pushed a big story in it's Ultimate Universe. They killed off that universe's Spider-Man. Peter Parker, unmasked, was brutally beaten by the Green Goblin while his Aunt May and neighbors looked on. The entire city of New York mourns and thousands show up at his funeral. And even though all this suffering is going on, Spider-Man's death inspires someone else to pick up the mantel.

Most of the characters in the Ultimate universe are versions found in Marvel's main universe. There's a Nick Fury, a Captain America, and so on. But the new Spider-Man is not a previously established character. It's a completely original creation by writer Brian Michael Bendis. The new Spider-Man is a young man named Miles Morales. Morales is the son of an interracial couple, making him half hispanic and half black.

This has set off a discussion in comic fans on why this is being done. Several media outlets had Bendis talking about how great this is since those of racial minorities will have a major character to look up to. Some fans have countered why does the color of a hero's skin matter?

And I was thinking about how someone's skin color isn't just...well, a color. It often means they are raised differently. In a different neighborhood, with a different type of family, different religion, different challenges. Could you see a white, middle class Peter Parker, living in a suburb, dealing with gangs or drug dealers (outside of beating them up as Spider-Man)? No. It just wouldn't be a problem. But could a black Spider-Man living in a more urban part of town? Most certainly.

Now could this be a cheap ploy for publicity? Sure. But I'm optimistic. This could be a real good chance for Marvel to tell some unique stories to a mostly white, 20-50 something male audience.


  1. I'm curious who still reads comics? It must be mostly adults. The last time I noticed them in the store they weren't cheap. I was a big Spiderman comic book reader growing up. Marvel was light years ahead of DC when it came to social issues. Spiderman was the first super hero who dealt with drugs. Interesting enough it was the Green Goblin's son (Harry) who was strung up on drugs. Those were the two issues that didn't have the comic book code of approval stamped on the front cover. So I guess it's appropriate that Spider Man should be the first to deal with this social issue.

  2. You're quite correct, guy77money. Comics are no longer found in newstands, supermarkets, and convinence stores. They're only in speciality shops (comic book stores) and sometimes, the major book retailers. It's largely an adult audience that has disposable income, because a typical superhero single issue comic book is $4 for 32 pages (though they're test marketing $4 for 22 pages) + ads. So think 20-50, male, and single. Most of the money nowadays isn't in the comics themselves, but in merchandising, movies, and television. Movie companies love comics because, often, it means they have 50+years of stories that are basically already plotted, they just need to turn them into a movie script.

    Black characters have been a part of superhero comics, and Marvel, for a long time. But all too often, they were sidekicks, or had the word "black" in their superhero name. Luke Cage, one of the first black superheroes to not have "black" in his title (his name was Power Man) was originally, little more than a Blaxploitation-era stereotype. He even had his own catchphrase, Sweet Christmas!

    And strangely, this isn't even the first time a black character has taken over the mantle of a white character. Most of the examples are B-list heroes, but Jim Rhodes (better known as War Machine) first started out wearing armor as Iron Man since Tony Stark was drunk off his ass.

    You're exactly correct about the drug use. Strange thing is, the US Government approached Lee to do that storyline. It's a very anti-drug story, and still the Comic Code wouldn't authorize it.


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