Apparently Spider-Man is probably always going to be straight, white, male, and named Peter Parker. Are there non-white or female characters perfectly suited to slip into some spider-themed spandex to fight crime? Yep. Three of them. But we'll likely never see them in the role.
Last year, Sony and Marvel announced their plans to collaborate on yet another Spider-Man reboot that, surprisingly, got comic book fans legitimately excited. Rather than rehashing the young hero’s origin story again, as Sony’s become infamous for doing, this reboot would be helmed by Marvel (with Sony’s blessing) and take place in the same universe as the Avengers.
Spider-Man would not only become an Avenger, he'd also become an integral part of Marvel's cinematic identity.
Almost immediately, the internet glommed onto the idea of Miles Morales being the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s Spider-Man, citing fatigue with stories focused on Peter Parker and the MCU’s notable lack of leading heroes of color.
Unlike Marvel's mainstream universe, where Peter Parker's been Spider-Man for the better part of a century, Miles is from Marvel's Ultimate universe where Parker's isn't alive anymore. Miles is a 15 year-old half black, half-Puerto Rican kid from Brooklyn and he's every bit the face of New York's increasingly multiracial, Millennial population.
According to recently leaked documents Gawker published from a distribution agreement between Sony and Marvel, however, there’s virtually no chance that Miles will ever make it to the big screen as the Spider-Man.
The agreement between the two companies included a list of Spider-Man and Peter Parker character traits that have to be abided by. Some of the traits make sense: Spider-Man’s not allowed to torture or kill people and he’s really not supposed to have sex on screen. Other traits, though, are straight up retrograde. For example: Spider-Man (IF Peter Parker is his alter ego) has to be straight, white, and male.
It's worth noting that Marvel could circumvent some of these limitations by introducing a new version of Spider-Man who was openly gay (if his alter ego is gay), and that's not out of the realm of possibility. Marvel recently revealed that a time-displaced version of Iceman, one of the X-Men's most iconic mutants, was gay while his older self was not. These sorts of things happen in comics all the time but the likelihood of them making it to the big screen are slim.
Neither Sony nor Marvel could be reached for comment.
While these details aren’t exactly surprising, they’re definitely disappointing considering the ways in which Marvel’s expanded its roster of Spider-Man-adjacent heroes. Gwen Stacy and Cindy Moon might have had a shot at becoming the Spider-Man for Marvel's Cinematic Universe, but these rules make it so that they can only be characters inspired by a man.
Spider-Gwen, a version of Gwen Stacy who ended up with the iconic spider powers, is a current fan favorite in addition to Silk, a Korean American woman who was bitten by the same radioactive spider as Peter Parker.
It's not just that there are plenty of other characters that deserve a shot at headlining the next Spider-film that stings, though. Presumably, Sony's loyalty to its well-worn, Peter Parker formula is tied to its assumption that audiences don't want to see a Spider Man that isn't a young white man.
Frankly, that's just not true.
We know Peter Parker. We know that he mourns the loss of his Uncle Ben, and we know that with great power comes great responsibility. Peter Parker's tale is a part of the American pop cultural record in a way that makes it almost offensive to beat audiences over the face with it yet again.
Characters like Miles, Silk, and Spider Gwen are growing in popularity with hardcore fans, but what would it be like if one of them got a chance to be introduced to the kinds of mainstream audiences that Marvel's films consistently draw in? Why not make space for a Spider-Man who looks, lives, or loves like those comic-book fans who've never been able to see themselves in their heroes on the big screen?
It's important to point out that Marvel technically has the ability to avoid some of the limitations on its depiction of Spider-Man. Were Marvel to introduce a version of Spider-Man who wasn't Peter Parker, there would be a fair amount of flexibility regarding the character's ethnicity and sexuality. He'd still have to be male though, which means that Silk and Spider-Gwen are out of the question. Also, if any of the leaks about Spider-Man's appearance in Captain America: Civil War are to be believed, we're almost certainly going to see Peter Parker as the MCU's Spider-Man.
It's unclear just what lies in future for the next version of Spider-Man, but here's to hoping that this Peter Parker will eventually delve deeper into the rich, vast Spider-verse that Spider-Man fans are clamoring to see.