Miles Morales’s Spider-Man will be the main character of an upcoming PlayStation 5 video game, capping off what can only be considered a meteoric rise to the top of popular culture for the comic book character.
Of course, a major part of Morales’s rise is his starring appearance in the Sony animated feature Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse, which literally tackled this issue of Morales finding his place as the Spider-Man in a film full of several different versions of the character.
But given his prominence and popularity now, it can be easy to forget actually how extraordinary it is that Morales has reached the levels he has. Most of the Marvel roster, like Iron Man, Thor, Hulk, and others, had to wait over fifty years to break through from niche comic book characters to mainstream pop culture properties, but Miles has done it in only nine years since his debut in 2011!
Morales was originally conceived and discussed in the run-up to Barack Obama’s election in 2008 with Marvel Comics’ then-editor-in-chief Axel Alonso revealing the thought process behind the character’s conception. “When we were planning ‘Ultimatum,’ we realized that we were standing at the brink of America electing its first African-American President and we acknowledged that maybe it was time to take a good look at one of our icons.”
Morales’ appearance was, even by creator Brian Michael Bendis’ own admission, sourced from a viral petition to get Donald Glover cast as Spider-Man in Amazing Spider-Man, something Glover himself discreetly referenced in an episode of Community where his character wore Spider-Man pyjamas. It was this little gag that inspired Bendis to model Morales on Donald Glover.
This ultimately (see what I did there) led to Brian Michael Bendis and Sarah Pichelli creating Miles Morales for Marvel’s Ultimate Universe. Morales was introduced as a Black Latino teen who accidentally gets bitten by a spider and gains powers before witnessing the death of Peter Parker at the hands of Green Goblin and being spurred on to replace him as Spider-Man.
Naturally, this was a decision that was applauded by many, including the original Spider-Man creator and comics legend Stan Lee. However, there were some detractors that saw the move and the decision to directly replace Peter Parker with Miles Morales as that universe’s Spider-Man as a publicity stunt motivated by political correctness. However, the Donald Glover petition proved there was certainly a need for more black representation in the superhero genre.
But people need not have worried: the things that make Peter Parker, and by extension Spider-Man, such a great and enduring character, the core ethos of Spider-Man, were still there with Miles Morales. He had the same “with great power comes great responsibility” moment when he realises he could’ve prevented Peter Parker’s death but didn’t. In fact, due to his portrayal as a teenager, Morales more closely resembles the Spider-Man most people grew up reading in the comics than current comic book Peter Parker does!
However, Morales’ Spider-Man also has different motivations which are more deeply rooted in his identity as a young Black man. Miles struggles with his family’s past, with his father and uncle being criminals, and wrestles with whether or not the inherent criminality means he’s doomed to follow in their footsteps. Ultimately, it’s still about the Spider-Man core of always trying to do the right thing, but it’s presented in a more culturally relevant footing for him as a character.
Also, as we saw in Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse, Miles Morales struggles with the very concept of being Spider-Man. This is something that people complaining that Miles was just a replacement for Peter Parker didn’t realise was the entire point of Morales’ early character arc – his struggles to fill the shoes of the Spider-Man before him. We see Into The Spider-Verse address this with its core message that anyone could wear the mask, and we see him gradually become Spider-Man.
But just like Into The Spider-Verse’s magnificent climax that saw Morales finally get a handle over his powers and confidently become Spider-Man for the first time by literally rising through the New York skyline, the character has undergone a similar journey with a ton of growth in the comic books that has seen him fully earn his suit and the title – Spider-Man.
He has been a major, if not integral part, of several crossover events that spanned the entire Marvel universe. First, he was one of a handful of Ultimate universe (Earth-1610) characters to survive and move over to the main Marvel Universe (Earth-616) during the 2015 “Secret Wars” event. He was a major character in 2016’s “Civil War 2” crossover that led to 2017’s “Secret Empire,” which saw him once again grappling with legacy when it was predicted in prophecy that he would kill Captain America.
He was given his own standalone comic book in the Earth-616 universe, and Marvel eventually dropped the “Miles Morales” from the title, leaving it as just “Spider-Man.” He’s also joined a team of young, socially-conscious superheroes desperate to not make the same mistakes of their older predecessors called The Champions. Essentially, he’s cemented himself as a legitimate Spider-Man in Earth-616, not an alternative, and has become an integral part of Marvel storytelling.
The fact that he’s also Black is not incidental and shouldn’t be dismissed. It’s incredibly important both in terms of who he is as a character, but also for representation in superhero media, with him becoming a hero for a generation of black children who never thought that they could be Spider-Man. Remember, anyone can wear the mask. But this is just one aspect of what makes Miles a truly great character overall. The point being that Miles has fully earned his place as a fully fleshed-out, compelling, young and vibrant character.
That’s why it’s great to see that Morales’ enduring legacy is being cemented with prominent appearances in films and spotlights in video games. It’s certainly hard not to see the influence that Morales has had.
For example, following the viral petition to get him cast as Spider-Man, Donald Glover ended up getting a role in Spider-Man: Homecoming as Morales’ uncle Aaron Davis, a fun nod that hinted that Morales himself could exist in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. He also voiced Spider-Man in the Ultimate Spider-Man animated series.
Miles’ rise in popularity becomes even more relevant and important as the Black Lives Matter movement is spurred on by an outcry against systemic racism and police brutality against Black people in America. It has signified how important Black voices and characters are in terms of representation in our media.In Miles Morales, Marvel Comics and Sony have a fantastic character to champion and there should be no reason he isn’t at the forefront of superhero storytelling for years to come. The character may have had a meteoric rise from his origins, with a Spider-Verse sequel coming and a marquee video game leading role, but he must keep rising—the PlayStation 5 game should only be the beginning!