Growing up, I was always a massive fan of fantasy/sci-fi, in film, literature, comics, and video games. They allowed me to escape reality and find adventure in magical worlds made up of exotic places and characters. Yet something I never realized until adulthood was the rarity of those characters being black. As an African-American Latino child, I was seldom, if ever, exposed to characters and stories that reflected my heritage. There were no heroes I could call my own.
Interestingly enough as an adult, I’ve developed a subconscious expectation to find and write about white protagonists when it comes to fantasy. For so long it’s been ingrained in me that only white men can pick up a sword and battle monsters, little white girls will fumble down rabbit holes and find themselves in magical worlds of whimsy, and white intrepid reporters have double lives as superheroes.
It never bothered me because that’s what I grew up with. I could dream of magical places, but never imagine myself in them. This all changed when my nephew was born. As I watched him grow into a curious young boy whose mind is filled with wonder, I want him to find a magical rabbit hole of his own. I want him to have a passion for reading and fantasy, I want him to have heroes that look like him, most importantly, I want him to be proud of who he is.
Enter Miles Morales:
He may not be the hero we asked for, but he is damn well the hero we need. I’ll be the first to admit, when Miles was first announced I wanted no part of it. Why wasn’t I excited with the prospect of a hero that represents black culture? Simple. As of late, it’s become apparent that the entertainment industry wants to add more diversity. There’s a growing desire to tell stories that can reach and touch people of all races, sexes, and creeds. This is great. However, a common misconception, is the idea that rebooting a series and changing the race of central characters will satiate that desire.
That is not what we want. It’s almost as if the powers-that-be have forgotten that we too are huge geeks. We grew up with these heroes and stories. We love them! We don’t want already existing characters changed in an ill attempt to seem progressive. What we truly need are new stories, characters, and heroes to call our own. Misguided I was under the impression this new iteration of Spider-Man would just be a race swapped Peter Parker.
And then something amazing happened.
Into The Spider-Verse has got to be hands down, my all time favorite Spider-Man movie. Everything about it was great. The animation, soundtrack, writing, and most importantly Miles. What we got was a brand new character, one tasked with picking up the mantle of Spider-Man. Of course the movie opened up the floodgates and I had to jump into the comics, head first, with no safety net or parachute. To quote Peter Parker, “That’s all it is, Miles, a leap of faith.”
I’ve loved every page of his story. From him not wanting to be Spider-Man because there already is one. To accepting his place and answering the call when Peter Parker dies. What’s great about Miles is that he’s an inner city kid. He lives in an urban setting, giving us a glimpse of what it’s like to grow up in this environment. The street life where one has to be street smart to survive. However, he is not a product of this environment. Instead he is a well-rounded, good kid, one with brains and positive morals. His parents are loving, strict, and work together as a family to instill a positive message. We aren’t given a character that screams every racial stereotype in the book.
Instead, with Miles, what we get is a well-rounded hero. One that young African-American readers, like my nephew, can look up to, aspire to be like… and most importantly dress up as for Comic-Con. I’ve had so much fun reading about Miles and his adventures. Something about that kid just fills me with pride. I believe we have come a long way in the entertainment industry. While we still have a lot of work to do and there are still many voices to be heard, it’s nice to know there’s a Miles Morales out there leading the way.