When readers first met Miles Morales, Peter Parker's half-black, half-Puero Rican successor, he was a character sequestered to Marvel Ultimate titles, a series of books set in an alternate universe far removed from the mainstream continuity that most people are familiar with.
At first, Miles represented a narrative pivot that co-creators Brian Michael Bendis and Sara Pichelli could use to take Ultimate Spider-Man in a new direction, but over time, fans began to see him not as a Spider-Man, but the Spider-Man.
When it was rumored that Spider-Man might be making his way back into Marvel's cinematic universe, fans immediately rallied behind the idea of telling Miles's origin story. After five films about Peter Parker, many argued, it was about time that the iconic Marvel Spider-myth got the modern update it so badly needed.
Because of a number of legal rules between film studios, bringing Miles to the big screen proved too high a bar to clear, but back in the comic books, things are changing. After a ridiculously complicated, company-wide crossover event that streamlined Marvel's dozens of different books and universes, Miles is now living in the mainstream universe and swinging through New York as Spider-Man.
The new Spider-Man series features all the hallmarks of your traditional Spider-tale—super-smart kids juggling high school and superheroics—but it also challenges the in-book media (and the readers) to consider whether or not they're ready for Spider-Man to be Afro-Latino and what their answers mean.
In an upcoming issue, Miles's suit is torn during a battle, exposing his skin to the public for the first time and cluing them into the fact that he's neither Peter Parker or another white guy. Speaking with Comic Book Resources, writer Brian Michael Bendis explained that the decision to confront the issue of Miles's race in the public sphere was a conscious one.
"Now that his costume has ripped in front of people—there's the first hint that this Spider-Man is a brown skinned young man," Bendis said. "That will become a topic of discussion in the world; a topic of discussion Miles will not be thrilled about. It's not going to be a racial book, but a lot of people have asked how that aspect of him is going to affect the character, and this is the beginning of that."
While comics have always been a medium used for social commentary, this is one of the first instances where Marvel's opted to use its books to directly confront criticism leveled at it for the company's recent push for more racial representation. Similar to the backlash Marvel received for making the new Thor a woman and Sam Wilson, a black man, the new Captain America, many people initially responded negatively to Miles replacing Peter Parker in the Ultimate books.
Whether you like it or not, Marvel's message here is clear: Miles Morales is here to stay. What remains to be seen is just how long it takes for everyone to accept and embrace him.