Blider-Man: Thoughts on Marvel’s Black Spider-Man, by William B. West.

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Blidey!

Hi, my name is Will West and I’d like to be your leader. Don’t worry, though; I just want to be the black one – it’s a separate, but equal thing. I’ve decided I’d like to become America’s Top Black Nerd, or Blerd if you will. As a result, it would make me the spokesperson for all things that pertain to the world of geeky blackness. Black Spider-Man? Check! Luke Cage movie? Check! The racism in Just Imagine Stan Lee’s Batman? Check! Basically, I’d be like the geek Al Sharpton, without the track suits, and the perm, and the crazy. OK, that was a bad example.

Anyway, maybe it would net me a position on G4, as the other half of Olivia Munn’s genetic recipe is the closest thing to a minority I’ve seen on that network. Well, that and everyone on Cops and Cheaters, but I digress. Comics tend to be thought of as a white hobby, but there are a lot of us of color who also enjoy the four-colored excitement that comics offer the world. I’ve been reading comics for about 20 years now, and I occasionally rant about them over on my site, williambrucewest.com. Today, it was announced that the next Spider-Man in Marvel’s Ultimate Comics line would be half-Hispanic and half-black. Naturally, this is the kind of thing that America’s Top Blerd would be called upon to discuss. To be honest, I’m feeling a bit lazy today, but the people have spoken, so I must answer the call!

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Not black Spider-Man, neither from race nor costume!

For those not in the know, the Ultimate Marvel line was introduced by Marvel in 2000 as a modernization of their flagship franchises. Originally slated to be called “Ground Zero Comics”, the line was meant to reintroduce aged concepts to a new audience. Spider-Man, X-Men, and Fantastic Four were now Ultimate Spider-Man, Ultimate X-Men, and Ultimate Fantastic Four. The Avengers franchise was reimagined as the grim and gritty The Ultimates. Set in a different universe of the Marvel Universe’s multiverse, the line was meant to recapture the early days of the Marvel Universe when characters weren’t burdened by 40 years of continuity.

The chief architects of the line were Brian Michael Bendis and Mark Millar, who promised that the Ultimate Universe was a place where “anything can happen”. This was true for the first few years, as the creators threw curveballs at concepts that we had known for some time. Spider-Man revealed his identity to Mary Jane in the second year of his series, Cable was a future incarnation of Wolverine, and EVERY event of the Ultimate Universe was the result of someone trying to recreate Captain America’s super soldier serum. In fact, in the Ultimate Universe, the creation of mutants was the result of the same experiments.

However, what began as a close-knit, shared universe soon became more of what we had already seen in the “normal” Marvel Universe. Reboots, lackluster crossovers, and late books changed a world where “anything could happen” into a world of “been there, done that”. A couple of years ago, the line was relaunched as Ultimate Comics, but has just coasted along without much direction. It was at that point that Marvel announced “The Death of Spider-Man”.

Not black Superman... or Bluperman? Got to work on that one.

Not black Superman... or Bluperman? Got to work on that one.

Death is nothing new in comics. Since the death of Superman in 1992, comics have regularly returned to the death well in order to drum up sales or put the right exclamation point on a storyline. It’s a device that’s been used so commonly that no one takes it seriously anymore. Like our parents used to tell us when we were little, Nightcrawler’s just sleeping – just like Grandma. Whenever a publisher needs that 4th quarter sales push, guess who’s found in a subspace pocket/underwater cocoon/secret laboratory? Hint: It ain’t Grandma! So, when Marvel announced the Death of Spider-Man, most of us just groaned and went on with our lives. A few folks desperate for web hits cleverly left out an important detail: it was Ultimate Spider-Man we were talking about here. See, a lot of old school fans never fell in love with the Ultimate line. It was a slap in the face to the stories they’d read growing up. So, you say that Spider-Man’s dead, and alarms go off. You say Ultimate Spider-Man’s dead, and a lot of people respond with “Oh, I thought you mean the REAL Spider-Man.”

Yeah, so this announcement had 2 things going against it: comic fans are jaded by death AND it wasn’t the “real” version of the character. All that said, I’ve been a diehard fan of the Ultimate comics since their debut. In fact, they’re the few lines for which I have complete runs. Even variant covers. To me, the Ultimate line was a chance for me to get in on something on the ground floor. I thought maybe I could experience the feelings that old school fanboys had felt when they first experienced the “original” Spider-Man. In reading the books, Ultimate Spider-Man became one of my favorite series EVER. I thought it was refreshing to read about a teenage Spider-Man, who had to juggle school and heroism. I always had a problem with “regular” Spidey, as his life apparently sucks so much, yet he still goes home to bang his supermodel/soap star wife (that is, until the devil took her away). Ultimate Spider-Man, however, was a great character, brought to life by Bendis’ gift with dialogue. Sure, I didn’t believe they’d actually kill this guy, but I think there’s a part of every fanboy that wonders “Is this REALLY gonna happen?” I was going to buy the issues anyway, but as the storyline kicked off, each issue filled me with more trepidation.

It should also be stated that most of the people who died in the Ultimate Universe stayed dead. Sure, there are a few exceptions, but this is also the line that killed some of the most popular X-Men, and decimated New York’s population with a biblical flood. Though they’d gotten complacent, you still couldn’t be sure of what you’d get with the Ultimate line. And sure enough, they killed him. Not even in one of those “his body disintegrated so maybe he was transported away” kinds of ways. He died a touching death, but it was the death of a hero gone too soon.

Donald Glover as Spider-Man! Sort of...

Donald Glover as Spider-Man! Sort of...

Prior to the storyline, Marvel had already teased that a new Spider-Man would star in a brand new Ultimate Spider-Man series. Ugh, here we go again. Then, Bleeding Cool presented an interesting rumor: the new Ultimate Spidey would be black.

Now, this is a big deal for several reasons, especially because old school fanboys would HATE it. You know how I know that? Well, when Sony announced they were rebooting the Spider-Man movie franchise, there was an internet campaign to get black comedian Donald Glover a chance to audition. He was a self-proclaimed nerd (yes, he would be a more popular blerd than me, but he doesn’t have time to blog!), and people thought he’d bring a fresh perspective to the role. This sparked a ton of “Spider-Man’s NOT Black!” rhetoric online. As a comic fan, and a black comic fan, I can see where they’re coming from. Since his creation, Spider-Man had been white. However, there was nothing inherently *white* about the character. He’s a kid, with dead parents, whose uncle was shot, and now lives in Queens with his aunt. Sounds black to me.

As we already know, Andrew Garfield won the role, but a lot of people online showed their true colors. Despite my intro above, I don’t play the race card unless it’s for humor’s sake. However, I’ve got to say that I was saddened by a lot of stuff that I read online during those debates. Was it really that offensive to you if a popular character looked like me? Huh. So, I kinda hoped Bleeding Cool was on to something, if only to watch the shitstorm that would surely ensue from the announcement. It also worked within the continuity of the book, as black character Ben Reilly actually acquired a sample of Peter Parker’s blood during the first volume of the Ultimate Spider-Man series.

Black Panther. Not affiliated with the extremist group or so he says.

Black Panther. Not affiliated with the extremist group or so he says.

Well, today USA Today announced that the new Ultimate Spider-Man would be a new bi-racial character named Miles Morales. Half-Hispanic, and half-black, the new Spider-Man will be introduced this week in the Ultimate Fallout series, with more background given when the new Ultimate Spider-Man series launches this fall.

From a political standpoint, I commend Marvel for this. Comics are often admonished for their lack of diverse characters, and Marvel kinda checked off three boxes here: Hispanic, black, and biracial. Sure, a lot of people are complaining that the change wasn’t “organic”, but most of these are people who weren’t interested in the Ultimate line to begin with. Those are the same people who would say “he’s not the REAL Spider-Man”. That’s fine. Let us have him. He’s real to us. This is comics, Jim Crow style. You still have the “real” Spidey, what with his retconned marriage and his Spider Island and whatnot, and now we have our own. If this helps bring more people to comics, then so be it. There’s room for everyone in this hobby, and it would be nice if everybody was represented.

Lately, I’ve been wondering about the kids I hope to have someday. As much as it never really bothered *me* growing up, I’ve wondered what I’d do if they tried to get into comics, yet were bothered that nobody looked like them. Luke Cage was a blaxploitation joke until recently, the Milestone line was never as established as people like to think, and Black Panther is more Coming to America than African Batman. Spider-Man is my favorite Marvel character. Not just Peter Parker, but Spider-Man. There’s something that happens when he puts the suit on. I don’t think Marvel would just put anyone in the suit (I’ll punch you if you mention the Spider-Clone Saga), so I feel like he’ll STILL be Spidey, yet bring something new to the character that we never got in any of the Peter Parker incarnations. Hell, his secret identity even still has alliteration going for it! No, I don’t expect tap-dancing, watermelon eating Spidey. I don’t think he’d do anything to besmirch the Spider-Man legacy. This change returns the Ultimate Universe to a place where anything can happen, and it makes me look forward to the future once again. Though he’ll probably be killed, canceled or retconned before they’re born, I’ve gotta say that I’m looking forward to having a MARQUEE superhero that I can share with my kids. He won’t have “Black” in his name, and he’ll look like them. Hopefully, he won’t be marginalized like black characters in the past. I say “All hail Blidey*!” I hope you’ll give him a chance, too.

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William B. West, America's favorite blerd.

*BlideyTM williambrucewest.com 2011