Because It Needs Repeating…
Marvel announced that with the death of Peter Parker in the Ultimate comic book verse, a new character would come to take up the mantle of Webhead. His name is Miles Morales, he’s half-black, half-Hispanic, and is inspired by the heroic life (and death) of Parker.
And we see another round of wailing and gnashing of teeth from the ignorant fanboys, most likely the same ones who lost their shit when that Twitter campaign to have Donald Glover cast as Spidey began.
To say this is an embarrassment to the comic-book fandom and the geek community at large is a mild understatement. To make it worse, this is a change for only ONE comic book line. Parker’s still alive and swinging in the original Marvel ‘verse, so why all this uproar?
Because there’s a bunch of immature racist assholes in the fandom who are afraid that superheroes come in different colors. So with that, I’d like to reprint my essay “Fear of a Black Spidey,” originally from my LiveJournal blog, 11 June 2010.
Last night I got into an argument on a chat site regarding Spider-Man, or more specifically, the casting of said character in the “reboot” of the film franchise. Donald Glover, from the TV series Community, started a Twitter based petition to win the role after someone else thought he might be good for the part. The uproar this has caused among the fandom is truly saddening. While I have to concede that casting a Person of Color (PoC) as Peter Parker would be a risky move for a studio, given the precedent set by the prior three films, I have to ask the question:
“Why can’t Peter Parker be Black?”
I asked this of the most ardent naysayer in said chat site, and he said that Parker’s being White was intrinsic to the character. He also went on to say that comic book writers spent weeks agonizing over character nuances in order to make them just right. This is the sort of “handstapleforehead” artiste bullshit that I can’t stand. What’s to say that Stan Lee didn’t come up with the character over lunch?
As evidence, said idiot then posted a link to a You Tube video of an “Italian Spider-Man” claiming it was evidence of why Parker can’t be Black. This is, of course, one way not to argue with me — in fact it was convincing me that this person couldn’t really think for himself on the subject.
But let’s break the character down to his very basics, shall we?
He’s a high-school student living in Queens, New York — nerdy, spindly, picked on by bullies, and ignored by girls. He’s an orphan, being raised by an elderly aunt and uncle. While on a field trip, he’s bitten by a radioactive spider and gets his super powers. Instead of going right into fighting crime, he decides to make some extra cash as a studio wrestler. Ben gives Peter the famous “with great power comes with great responsibility” speech. Then one day after a wrestling bout, he sees a fleeing criminal and decides it’s not his place to get involved, even though he can subdue the crook without effort. Then he gets home to find said criminal murdered Uncle Ben that same night. Thus, to atone for his selfishness and to honor his Uncle’s wisdom, Peter turns his wrestling costume into a uniform, and fights the tyranny of evil men.
So… what part of any of that mandates that Parker has to be White?
I don’t think Stan Lee even had race in mind when he created the character, to be honest. More like he thought “nerdy, skinny teenager” and ran with whatever image popped into his — or the artist’s — head. But when you look at the nature of the character, there’s nothing to indicate any sort of ethnicity. What stands at the core of Peter Parker’s being is this:
“With great power, comes great responsibility.”
That’s it. He’s a kid who becomes superhuman, screws around with it, then grows up the hard way and has to bear the responsibility of being an adult before he’s out of high-school. There’s a lot of kids of races and creeds that have to face that.
Said ignoramus went on to say that a White nerdy character is “non-threatening,” which is part of why Parker is the way he is. I asked if he meant, by omission, that a Black nerdy character is threatening. He said yes, and went on to explain that Black characters inspired rage and rebellion against authority. Of course that breaks my “sweeping generalization” rule — and it would seem that he’s disregarded characters like Storm (who is an authority figure among the X-Men), Nick Fury (in the Marvel Ultimate universe), and other like characters both in and out of the comic book media (Genly Ai, anyone?). And of course, we all know that Steve Urkel is out there sticking it to the Man.
So the question came up: “Would Luke Cage work as a white guy?” Well, let’s do another breakdown. Cage ran with a gang in Harlem until he realized what he was doing was wrong and “goes legit.” He gets framed for possession of heroin and sent to prison. During his time there, he gets recruited into an experiment that goes wrong, becomes superhuman and breaks out. He takes an alias, and begins work as a “hero for hire.”
Well, with the exception of being from Harlem, I can’t see why Luke Cage, from a strict characterization standpoint, couldn’t be white. Or Asian, or Latino, etc. But you’d have to change his hometown. Plus there’s at least one subplot that I can think of where Cage is trying to help out his home community. Cage’s ethnicity is a little more intrinsic to his character, so while it might be feasible to change it, a writer would have more work ahead of him to implement the change.
As a side note, someone asked, what if someone tried rewriting Parker as a woman. Well in a sense they did — as Peter’s daughter in the one shot “Spider-Girl.” But that’s changing the subject — another no-no.
Still, I’d like to extrapolate with another character. Would Storm work if she were White? In this case the answer is no, given her African heritage. There her ethnicity is part of her core, so she couldn’t be anything else. So there are some cases where one ethnic background is intrinsic, but it’s not a standard. In the case with Peter Parker, he could easily be White, Black, Asian, Indian, Native American, or Latino.
The thing is with comic books, reboots and retcons happen, and they happen quite a bit. You take some measure of the original characters and move them in different directions and claim it’s a different reality — one of many in the Marvel Mulitverse. This way you can have a Tony Stark with a brain tumor (the Ultimate line) and another Stark that’s an asstastic Neo-Con (the Civil War line). You can have Cyclops get over the death of Jean Grey and hook up with Emma Frost (Joss Whedon’s “Astonishing X-Men”). So why couldn’t you explore a universe where Peter Parker is Black? You can still be true to the character (at least as how I spelled it out) and the catch phrase still applies.
When I asked the ignorant party if he’d even be willing to consider a Parker as Black, his response was “only if Marvel made a comic like that.” I don’t know about anyone else, but that tells me that said inDUHvidual is the sort of tool that won’t think for himself or accept anything as plausible unless someone else in some mode of authority tells him it’s okay.
It is saddening to see that many fans of comic books would judge a hero by the color of his skin and not by the content of their character. The dream of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr is still a long way away.
(Oh, and as a side note, I was called a nitwit several times for endorsing the possibility of a Black Spider-Man, but when I called the original ranter out for being ignorant, a mod told me to “put a sock in it.” Guess I won’t be going there again…)
Come on, ranters. Grow the hell up.