Miles Morales: A Mindless Diversions Extra!

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Jaybird

Jaybird is Birdmojo on Xbox Live and Jaybirdmojo on Playstation's network. He's been playing consoles since the Atari 2600 and it was Zork that taught him how to touch-type. If you've got a song for Wednesday, a commercial for Saturday, a recommendation for Tuesday, an essay for Monday, or, heck, just a handful a questions, fire off an email to AskJaybird-at-gmail.com

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43 Responses

  1. Avatar Jesse Ewiak says:

    I do have an honest question here. Why is it “caving into the PC Police” to actually have a diverse roster of characters of superheroes, including, replacing white male heroes with heroes of different colors and genders, especially when the reason why the vast majority of these characters were white males weren’t because of some deep character reason, but because they were created in the early part of this century?Report

    • Avatar Will Truman says:

      A lot of it is going to depend on why there is a vacancy. If there is a vacancy precisely to make room for a minority character, that’s going to cause some resentment.

      If there already is a vacancy, and it’s just a matter of who you’re going to fill the vacancy with, I personally have less sympathy for the objection. The question ought to be whether the replacement will be well-written. Unfortunately, there is an uneven history on this (Sometimes “it’s a Latina!” is the characterization… which is a recipe for failure).

      There’s also the issue that sometimes, there is a bit of self-patting on the back on the part of the writers for their open-minded diversity and that can be a little bit obnoxious. There is nothing unique about this, though. It’s part of a broader thing of comic book publishers trying to drum up publicity with this or that.

      Personally, whenever there is a vacancy, I think it’s a good idea to think non-white largely for the reason you mention. With a roster of white characters owing back to when the characters were initially developed, you try to diversify wherever you can. I was sorry to see Ted Kord go and I will never accept his replacement, but if Kord was going to go, and there was going to be a replacement, it’s just as well that the replacement is Hispanic. And well-written, from what I understand.Report

    • Avatar Kazzy says:

      If a diverse cast qualifies as caving to the PC police, than not having a diverse cast qualifies as caving to the…?Report

    • Avatar Kim says:

      Because everything that doesn’t suffer from “Family Matters” syndrome suffers from One Black Guy syndrome.

      Hey guys, you wanna do a superhero team in NYC? Fine. Ain’t gonna be white with just one black dude on it, though. Honestly, geographically linked superhero teams probably make for better stories. (I say this as someone who hasn’t read many print comics).

      But it’s not like people try making Amish superheros, now, do they? (and yes, a Dutch superhero would be /fun/).Report

      • Avatar Brandon Berg says:

        Kim:
        What you have to understand is that the mutations for most superpowers were more strongly selected for in the harsh climate of northern Europe, so they tend to be concentrated among the white population.Report

    • Avatar Brandon Berg says:

      Because when the PC Police (or any other group) is demanding something, doing it looks like caving to their demands, regardless of the actual reason. It’s unfortunate, but that’s the way it is.

      Kazzy:
      Maybe you’re onto something. The best way to increase the representation of minorities in movies might be to demand more all-white movies. Then nobody will want to look like they’re caving to your demands.Report

    • Avatar Jaybird says:

      Well, there are ways to do things to cave to the PC police and there are ways to do things to keep things fresh and reflect the attitudes of the audience.

      If you think “look, in the story, there are certain realities and to go out of your way to go for ‘marketable’ rather than ‘accurate’ is to do a disservice to the story!”, then you might understand why someone might be apprehensive when they hear that there is going to be a new Spider-man and, this time, he’ll be African-American and Hispanic. (“And in a wheelchair?”)

      If, however, your response is something more like “Hey, these are malleable stories, we can do whatever we want. The original source material had it this way, we can do it that way, we can cast Idris Elba as a Norse God!”, then that’s another thing.

      My take is pretty much that these stories are our modern versions of the old stories told in the Metamorphoses and they’re doing a lot more reflecting than telling and if you force a story that does not reflect a truth, then you will do a disservice to the characters you’re using to tell stories with as well as the audience that, ideally, you’ll be reflecting. (See, for example, Joe Q’s tendency to kill Captain America whenever a Republican wins a national election.)

      I mean, we knew it would be possible to create a Spider-Man whose alter-ego was a member of an ethnic minority and to do it poorly, right? There are many ways to do it poorly.

      One is to come out with a superhero who is (JAZZ HANDS!) “BLACK!” and, otherwise, is indistinguishable from anybody else you could have put in the costume.

      Another is to create a character that has the approval of people who don’t buy the comics in theory, but never connects with the people who pony up every month.

      Have you bought any of the issues, Jesse? I assume you approve of the idea of Miles Morales in general. Have you picked up any of the TPBs? You should at least pick up the first one. (Hell, after you read it, give it to some kid. Get him or her hooked.)Report

      • Avatar Will Truman says:

        One of the major problems with the comic book industry is the extent to which it seeks to please people who don’t really buy their product. The other is that they seek to please people who do. Lemme explain…

        In the former case, they upend something or another in part for the sake of getting news coverage. Or they have a transparently attention-gathering maneuver to remind the outside world that they’re hip and progressive and whatnot. Killing Captain America the way they did is actually something of an example of that, in my opinion. They do this with diversity, too, though usually with gay and lesbian characters rather than minority characters (Gay Alan Scott, for example – not our Alan Scott, the other, other one).

        But then they turn around and make the actual product as inaccessible as they possibly can to the wider audiences. You know, you go out and buy your first comic and it turns out that it’s part 4 of a 7 part crossover between three titles. It also involves tons and tons of backstory that nobody can possibly understand.

        The latter is what makes me sad about the demise of Ultimate Marvel. There was something to be said for a more back-to-the-basics approach with a limited number of titles that someone could collect without having to delve into the entire catalog and understand decades of backstory. On the other hand, I get the sense they might not have stuck with that approach and that Ultimate Marvel itself might have gotten bogged down, losing one of the few advantages that it has.

        Or, put another way, the entire comic book industry is Doing It Wrong.Report

      • Avatar greginak says:

        “caving to the PC police” is a phrase that carries far to much weight without earning it. Using “PC” is meant to convey a lot of ideas which it does but it also concludes a discussion instead of starting one. Once you say “PC” what is really left to talk about since it has already claimed that this is PC, PC is bad, the other side is only motivated by whatever PC is, the concerns of the other side are trivial etc. If there is a discussion it comes before calling PC.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman says:

        I dunno about that. I’ve had conversations defending concerns about gender portrayal in comic books after the PC phrase has been used. Basically, going on to explain that “No, this isn’t about primming for social tastes; it’s about making female comic book characters better!”Report

      • Avatar Alan Scott says:

        They do this with diversity, too, though usually with gay and lesbian characters rather than minority characters (Gay Alan Scott, for example – not our Alan Scott, the other, other one).

        Though, for those who haven’t been keeping track, Our Alan Scott is gay too. I was gay first, in fact. He’s just copying me.

        Though his claim to the name Alan Scott precedes mine by about four decades, so maybe we should just call it even.Report

    • Avatar LeeEsq says:

      To add to what everybody else said, we have millions of people who literally grew up with Peter Parker as Spider-Man. To them, there are certain core elements of Spider-Man mythos the revolve around the story of Peter Parker including living with his uncle and aunt, deciding to take on the responsiblities of his powers due to the death of his uncle, and ultimately marrying Mary Jane. These people have made the Peter Parker version of the Spider-Man an important part of their lives and continued to buy comic books even during low periods in the industry.

      Changing any part of the Peter Parker/Spider-Man mythos as they see it is like taking away a significant part of their lives and they are not going to appreciate it.Report

  2. Avatar Alan Scott says:

    Ultimate Spider Man ain’t nothin without his amazing friends. I’m not sure how much I’d enjoy a version of Miles that didn’t include the Ultimate Aunt May, Ultimate Nick Fury, Ultimate Jessica Drew and so forth.

    Look, If Miles Morales is popular, just keep writing Ultimate Spider Man and forget about the rest of the line. Didn’t they do that with Spider Girl for about a decade after the rest of the MC2 line got canned?

    616 Miles Morales as Spider Man? We know it won’t last (they’ll find some stupid way to bring Pete back because better name recognition). I suppose you could have two spider men (it works for the Hawkeyes). Really, though, I’d like to see the whole thing taken in a different direction. Then end of the spider-men crossover strongly implied that 616 Miles Morales was somebody stranger than “potential superhero”.Report

  3. Avatar Reformed Republican says:

    It makes me wonder if the Doc Ock spidey was set up to make the transition to Miles more palatable. If Miles came in to replace Peter, that would made turned a lot of people off, and he would not have had a fair shot. By having Miles replace a villain who replaced Peter, it is a much more positive transition.

    That being said, I doubt Peter will remain dead forever. This is comics; deaths do not last. Not even Bucky. I think Captain Marvel (Mar-Vell) is still dead (though he was resurrected briefly in an arc a few years back). I am not sure of any other significant characters that stayed dead.Report

  4. Avatar NewDealer says:

    All of these multiple story lines and universes just seems like a very clever marketing tool. How do people keep up with all of them?Report

    • Avatar Will Truman says:

      It’s not at all a marketing tool. It’s an anti-marketing tool, in my view, because it’s confusing and is almost comically geeky. However, different variations of characters/stories serve both artistic and commercial purposes*. And geeks being geeks, we want explanations for everything. Multiple universes serves that end.

      * – Stories outside of continuity, for example, so that you can tell a Spiderman story that isn’t bound by 50 years of history. It also allows for experimentation of the sort that created Miles Morales in the first place without having to sacrifice Peter Parker. Storylines from the future that don’t bind current writing. Stuff like that.Report

      • Avatar NewDealer says:

        “It’s not at all a marketing tool. It’s an anti-marketing tool, in my view, because it’s confusing and is almost comically geeky.”

        I see what you did there.

        Anyway it got me out of geekdom and made me a bigger critic of geek culture than is probably necessary. There is also my natural tendency to think that almost everything needs a dissenter. Geek culture certainly needs a fair bit of challenging on their assumptions on the superiority of their stuff. Geek culture seems to be made up of a lot of sore winners. It is not enough that they win at the box office again and again, they need to change the entirety of how art and culture is viewed so there is no room for stuff that does not follow the geek hierarchy. There are times when I think that geek culture will not be happy until Homer is replaced by Tolkien and Virginia Woolf is replaced by seminars on The Hunger Games and the Babysitter’s Club.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman says:

        It is not enough that they win at the box office again and again, they need to change the entirety of how art and culture is viewed so there is no room for stuff that does not follow the geek hierarchy.

        Could you elaborate on this? I can’t say that I’ve gotten the sense that there’s no room for other stuff. More than their (our) stuff shouldn’t be denigrated because it’s not Homer. In the comic book vein, older Geeks have been dealing with the perception that their passions are frivolous and without artistic merit or social value. I’ll possibly concede that we still haven’t stopped fighting the last war, though. Or at least haven’t recognized that the needle has moved, at least somewhat, in public acceptance of comics, video games, and so on.Report

      • Avatar NewDealer says:

        Will,

        Maybe it is still fighting the last war stuff. A good example is the Academy Awards. It seems like I see an essay by a self-proclaimed geek complaining about the academy award nominees and winners every year. They complain about how serious the movies are, how whatever the big blockbuster was that summer was not nominated outside of the technical awards, how box office should be the biggest consideration. This is instead of potentially thinking that perhaps the Academy Awards and Cannes are designed to recognize merit in a different kind of movie. The Golden Globes and MTV awards have more of a populist feel.

        Alysa Rosenberg is a good example of a critic who seems to completely dismiss anything beyond geek culture and is willing to attack anyone who does otherwise as “snobby”. She called someone snobby for saying that they had too big a reading list to spend time on the Hunger Games. This causes Julian Sanchez to opine that there used to be a time when adults felt it necessary to try high culture. I can’t seem to find the essay right now.

        Rufus pointed this out but it seems that a lot of geek culture is about keeping within a comfort zone that was fleshed out by age 12-14 and not much advanced beyond that.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman says:

        I think that, generally speaking, few people are going to respond well to people who often go out of their way to talk about how they don’t like what the other people are like, especially when it has the air of the first group’s preference as being inferior.

        I’m not sure how you could expect otherwise.

        A lot of this depends on presentation of it, of course.

        Person 1: Did you see Amazing Race?
        Person 2: I don’t watch Reality TV shows. I prefer fiction that challenges and expands the minds.
        Person 1: Jackass.

        Person 2 is being kind of a jackass (though I am not a fan of Reality TV).

        On the other hand…

        Person 1: Did you see Amazing Race? Wow, it was awesome…
        Person 2: That show isn’t really up my alley.
        Person 1: Oh, so you just think you’re too good for our little peon entertainment. Jackass.

        Person 1 is being the jerk in that exchange.Report

      • Avatar NewDealer says:

        Will,

        I agree that being snobby does not help and with who is being a jackass in both your hypothetical conversations.

        I will argue that the jackass in the second conversation is a lot more common than the jackass in the first conversation. The number of people like the jackass in the first conversation are over reported and over felt.

        Perhaps I am too defensive of stuff being labeled ND books or people feeling free of asking me questions “You don’t really like that kind of stuff, do you?” and the idea that people don’t really like high culture but only pretend to like culture because they think it makes them seem intelligent and urbane. High culture and abstract art are not examples of “The Emperor is wearing no clothes.” There is a deeply held anti-intellectualism to this kind of assumption that is off-putting.

        I’ve noticed that most culture conversations revolve around TV these days but what is interesting is how the TV watching seems to be split on socio-economic lines. Shows like Mad Men, Breaking Bad (this might be an exception), Girls and other HBO series, are not watched by that many people. Maybe a million or two tops each week but the people who watch those shows seem to be considered a more desired demographic or at least one with a higher purchasing power. The Atlantic and Slate talk about Friday Night Lights, The Wire, and Mad Men and Breaking Bad and Downton Abbey. So do my friends. They do not talk about the Amazing Race.

        TV might be the medium of the moment but there is still a clear hierarchy in cultural conversation and a break down of who watches what on socio-economic-educational lines.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird says:

        Personally, I don’t watch television. I don’t get cable, you see. I have better use for my time!

        But I do think that the shows on television need to change significantly. The main character on Breaking Bad is a White Male. OF COURSE IT IS. Why not someone Black? Too dark? Why not someone Mexican? Still too dark? How about Italian?

        The Sopranos is one of the laziest shows on television depicting an organized crime family who is, of course, Sicilian. (What a surprising trope!) Yet more white males. Couldn’t they do a show with African-Americans? Mexicans?

        The Wire is the most racist show on television. In depicting gritty crime, what do they give us? African-American and Mexican criminals.

        Anyway, I never watch those shows. I don’t even have cable.Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        NewDealer,
        “High culture and abstract art are not examples of “The Emperor is wearing no clothes.””
        …sometimes they are.
        Take wine snobbery, for example.
        Time was, there was table wine (of decent, but mediocre vintage), and then there were a select few bottles of stuff for the rich (which were mainly consumed by the rich because they were expensive).

        Then someone got the bright idea to market wine as … something that “middle class folk” could do wine tastings, and pretend to be rich.

        A lot of that’s just hype. I don’t know you too well, so I won’t say it is in your case. I will say it is in my mom’s case, however.

        And the funny part? These people don’t want to taste wine (grapes are sour things, and you’ll taste it more the sweeter the wine). Instead, they want to experience taste hallucinations. Often dry wine is deliberately bred to be less acidic, so people can taste the ephemeral and diaphanous.

        As to how to figure out who’s just being a fucking poser, and who actually likes the stuff? I try to find coherent arguments. And I look for people who are willing to branch out, to try the new and novel (if nothing else, because then I can bring something to the table).

        It always takes a bit of balls to go against the crowd. It’s harder to figure out who in the crowd actually likes what they’re doing.Report

    • Avatar Jaybird says:

      Well, I’ll say this:

      The Ultimate Universe was specifically designed to be accessible.

      They started out with a handful of axioms:
      Captain America was the First Superhero due to the Super Soldier Serum.
      Most other superheroes arose out of attempts to recreate the Super Soldier Serum. (The Hulk was a failed attempt to make the serum, the spider that bit Peter Parker was an attempt to use spiders to make the serum, and so on.)’
      Mutants are a major exception to the Super Soldier Serum thing and are, thus, shunned by society.

      From there, you can put together a new universe in a couple of broad strokes, take the best stories from the 60’s, 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s, and condense them down, take out the stuff that doesn’t work in retrospect, and tell, say, 40 years’ worth of stories in 100 issues of comics.

      If you wanted to get into Spider-Man, for example, I wouldn’t even know where to begin in the 616 universe… but I’d have no problem telling you to start with the collected TPB of Ultimate Spider-Man Vol. #1. You know what, you’ll finish it and think about getting Vol. #2.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman says:

        Yeah. That was my impression. Which is why I thought it was a worthwhile project and something I think DC should have tried harder at (they did do All-Star…).

        But a friend was talking about it a while back, though, and it sounded like over the years they moved beyond the KISS model.Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq says:

        Will, DC had this weird experiment back in 2001 when thy hired Stan Lee to give his take on DC Superheroes. Superman beame an alien that just wants to go home, Batman a wrongfully jailed African-American man, and Wonder Woman Peruvian. Thats kind of like doing what Marvel did in the Ultimate Universe.

        My take is that Marvel was always the more daring of the two publishers in terms of what they attempted. When the Comics book code was enforce, DC operated safely within the requirements while Marvel operated along the edges of the Code. Marvel always seemed less conservative and more ethnic than DC.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman says:

        Lee, I consider that to be pretty different. Ultimate was, for the most part, redesigning of the same characters. What you’re talking about is a pretty different trajectory. I’m not familiar with the Stan Lee project, but I think it closely tracks with what they tried to do with Tangent a year before.

        What I think was good about Ultimate was that it gave readers the opportunity to get the familiar characters – Captain America, Iron Man – but without the baggage and with some updating.

        I was initially excited about Flashpoint because I thought it was exactly what they needed to do. A fresh start with rebooted characters. Instead, they just went further into the weeds. I could seriously go on and on about DC’s failure to realize what it is for and what its core mission ought to be (spoiler: their core mission ought to be property development).Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq says:

        Yes, I think the Ultimate project was a good way to deal with all the continuity snarls of different comic book lines and bring new people into the comic book community.

        American comic books have these problems because they tend to be much more collaborative than comic books from other countries and go on for much longer. Superman and Batman started in the 1930s, Wonder Woman, Captain America, and a bunch of others in the 1940s, and most of the rest of the iconic heroes in the 1960s and 1970s at latest. They were worked on by several different people with several different ideas about them. Most European and Japanese comic books are the creations of one or two people and have a much shorter publication history usuallly. It leads to fewer continuity problems even if it doesn’t get rid of all of them.Report

  5. Avatar Tod Kelly says:

    I have to admit, I kind of assumed the initial hubbub about this was from people who like to complain about the PC police but don’t actually read comic books. I could just never picture J. Jonah Goldberg paging through his Amazing Spiderman clucking about how the story line had gone down hill. I was more of the mind that he’d never actually read any of them.Report

    • Avatar Jaybird says:

      If you don’t mind me asking, did you imagine the champions of diversity to be the ones who read comic books?Report

      • Avatar Jaybird says:

        (I ask because the picture of two groups of people screaming about whether Spider-Man’s secret identity is a white guy–neither of which would ever buy the books themselves–is a fairly apt description of the culture war.)Report

      • Avatar Alan Scott says:

        Jay, consider that we’re talking about the Ultimate books. An intentional continuity-shedding reboot.

        With the exception of the fans of the Ultimates (which is much less a reboot and much more a “What if… the Avengers were all unredeemable assholes?” thing), aren’t Ultimate-Universe fans very specifically the subset of people that don’t care that such-and-such character has been portrayed as a white guy since the sixties?

        Sure, the loudest folks in the culture wars probably don’t actually buy the comics. But to the extent that comics readers like myself appreciate diversity, it was one of the selling points of the Ultimate Books.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird says:

        I admit to being somewhat apprehensive when it was announced. That said: Miles has won me over. He’s a good character and they’ve done a decent job with him. I think that if they wind down the Ultimates Universe and bring over a guy or two (the way that Spiderman 2099 is still around, kinda), Miles Morales will make a fine, fine Spider-Man in the 616 universe.

        Now they just need to figure out how to bring his parents and bestie with him.Report

      • Avatar Alan Scott says:

        Example/Addendum:

        Nick Fury (a traditionally white character) was potrayed as black in the Ultimate Universe (something that’s really caught on in Movies, TV, and even apparently the mainstream Marvel Universe).

        Interestingly, it became a “big deal” only a year after it happened. Ultimate Fury showed up in the second story-arc of Ultimate X men as a black guy (and traditionally black morally ambiguous black ops guy, John Wraith, was portrayed as white). But it was only a year later, when the same character showed up prominently in Ultimates that people started hollering about it–and as I said, the Ultimates has a very different readership. The people who were actually reading Ultimate X men didn’t mind the race-lift.Report

      • Avatar Alan Scott says:

        Now they just need to figure out how to bring his parents and bestie with him.

        And Ultimate Jessica Drew, who is clearly the coolest character from the Ultimate Universe.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird says:

        Well, the wacky thing with Nick Fury is that they changed pretty much nothing about the character. They just changed the color they were using (and then, of course, the pencils to make him look like Samuel L Jackson).

        Which is different than making Miles Morales the new Spider-Man, it seems to me. (And, yes, Jessica Drew is awesome too.)Report

      • Avatar Will Truman says:

        Though you wouldn’t want to rely on it too much – you don’t want every minority character to be that way – there’s nothing inherently wrong with the Nick Fury path. It mostly just means that, for that character, race isn’t a defining part of the character. No doubt it has influence over his life, but below the radar of what we see in the comics.

        As best as I can figure, you want an array of characters wherein their race or gender ranges from very central to their character (as portrayed) to ones where it is more incidental.Report

  6. Nob Akimoto Nob Akimoto says:

    I think this is a natural extension of “One More Day”‘s complete fuckover Spiderman. By reducing Peter Parker back to his earlier incarnation, they removed anything of interest in the character that distinguished him from his Ultimate counterpart. Which set the stage for Miles in Ultimate, and I guess would make a better cross-over for him into 616. I mean the 616 Peter Parker was interesting when he was actually growing older as a character, but I digress.

    But I doubt Parker stays dead for long, especially with movie tie-ins to consider.Report

    • Avatar Jaybird says:

      The problem with Spider-Man is that his most compelling stories are the “I’m 15, I’m trying to figure out what it means to be a teenager in America” stories that have counterpoints with the whole “I’m trying to help my loved ones make rent” that have counterpoints with the whole “A guy ten times my size is trying to beat the crap out of me” thing.

      Throw in the occasional best friend who is a supervillain? COMIC BOOK HEAVEN.

      They did do some fairly interesting things with grown-up Spider-Man but, much like with any “pregnancy” story, after the baby is born you’re stuck with stories that either involve the baby or stories that don’t involve the baby… and nobody wants to read stories that involve the baby while, at the same time, everybody knows (or ought to) that having a baby changes *EVERYTHING*.

      There wasn’t merely the baby, there was also The Clone Saga (wait, what?), and the (crap) storyline that made One More Day necessary: Civil War. (It was *AWESOME* when Peter Parker revealed his true identity. But, much like with the baby, you can’t go back to telling stories the same way you told them before. Everything had changed. To press the reset button would require Cosmic Level Bullshittery.

      You’re absolutely right: by the time Joe Quesada was done demonstrating his deep and absolute contempt for Spider-Fans, they were downright ravenous to get back to basics. Miles Morales is perfect for that.Report

      • Avatar Patrick says:

        To press the reset button would require Cosmic Level Bullshittery.

        I think if you take any N-issue window of any of the Big Titles of the Big Two, for 36 > N > 64, you can find a place where the level of of Bullshittery gets to Cosmic Level.

        For example, Iron Man #163 – #200. X-men #107-#145.

        Fundamentally, the good runs in any book are tied to a working team, and once the working team blows up, Bullshittery occurs. I suppose it’s not always Cosmic, but given M turnovers of the working team, you’re gonna get Cosmic.Report

    • Avatar LeeEsq says:

      Agreed, Spider Man worked much better as a married adult than he did as a teenager. This was especially true since Spider Man was never fabulously rich like a lot of other Super Hero’s and had to combine the realities of adult existence with his work as a Super Hero.Report