Miles Morales is Spider-Man in the New Marvel U (But What Does This Really Mean?)
The New York Daily News revealed on Sunday that Brian Michael Bendis and Sara Pichelli will launch a new ongoing Marvel series starring Miles Morales in the wake of Secret Wars — with the twist that this will be the first series starring Miles to be set in the main Marvel Universe rather than the Ultimate Universe. (Two major universes entered Secret Wars; one will leave.)
While previous Miles Morales titles bore the names Ultimate Comics: Spider-Man and Miles Morales: Ultimate Spider-Man, this book will unsurprisingly forego the now defunct 'Ultimate' branding. More surprisingly, it won't pick up a new adjective in its place. The new Miles Morales title is simply called Spider-Man.
That title makes a statement. It says that Miles Morales is not a substitute, or a second-stringer. He's not "the black Spider-Man." He's Spider-Man. In Bendis's own words, "“Our message has to be it’s not Spider-Man with an asterisk, it’s the real Spider-Man for kids of color, for adults of color and everybody else."
Marvel made a similar statement last year when a woman took on the mantle of Thor, with her book unambiguously titled Thor. "“This is not She-Thor. This is not Lady Thor. This is not Thorita," said writer Jason Aaron; "This is Thor. This is the Thor of the Marvel Universe."
When Sam Wilson took over as Captain America, he wasn't afforded the same clarity — his book was titled All-New Captain America — but perhaps he'll get the title he deserves when his series relaunches. We'll see the shape of the entire new Marvel Universe when Marvel unveils its Previews special next week.
In among those titles, we might hope to learn what's happening to Peter Parker. Some sites have reported that Miles Morales will be the primary or only Spider-Man after Secret Wars, but the Daily News story makes no such claim, and Marvel's own publicity for the All-New All-Different Marvel Universe clearly shows two Spider-Men, one of whom looks very much like the Peter Parker version. The cover for the Miles Morales comic also shows a Parker Industries advertisement in the background, and though that company was founded by Otto Octavius pretending to be Peter Parker, its continued existence suggests that Parker is still around.
I wouldn't be surprised to see a Dan Slott-helmed Amazing Spider-Man #1 as part of the All-New, Some Different line-up, or to see two heroes using the title Spider-Man in parallel, with each other's blessing. I talked about the necessity and challenges of bringing Miles Morales to the main Marvel Universe back in 2013, and posited that having two heroes called Spider-Man might not be an obstacle to readers who have already adjusted to two Hawkeyes. (The Miguel O'Hara Spider-Man is also often around, but he remains relatively obscure and is therefore less of a complication.)
That Bendis will continue to write the adventures of Miles Morales is not surprising. That both of the Marvel titles announced thus far for the new line are written by Bendis — the other being a new Invincible Iron Man series with art by David Marquez — is also not surprising. He remains the publisher's MVP. (Two other titles, All-New All-Different Avengers, and Inhumans, were teased in Marvel's Free Comic Book Day offering, but Marvel has not formally confirmed the creative teams on those titles.)
Bendis's share of the new Marvel Universe is unlikely to stop at two books, given his prolific output. Perhaps he'll continue with some version of Guardians of the Galaxy, or with the Old Man Logan title he's currently writing under the Secret Wars banner, given that the elder Logan is among the characters teased by Marvel. But thus far, we only know that Bendis is writing a couple of solo heroes, which is welcome news given that solo leads have tended to be his strength.
The real test of Marvel's commitment to diversity that it has sought to demonstrate through books like Spider-Man and Thor will come in the other creative teams it unveils next week; books by people other than Brian Michael Bendis, and hopefully by people other than all the familiar names that have tended to dominated the publisher's output.
Writers like Bendis, Jonathan Hickman and, to varying degrees, Dan Slott, Jason Aaron, Rick Remender, Matt Fraction, Ed Brubaker, and Mark Millar, have all played the role of architects of the Marvel Universe at various points in the past ten years, staking out territory on the landscape and building their own mega mansions one after another, all the way back to 2005's House of M. (After Secret Wars, Hickman will follow Millar, Brubaker, and Fraction in leaving all this behind.)
This age of the "big beast" writer at Marvel probably owes much to the publisher's regular summits, which see writers pitch against each other to establish their visions of the universe and attempt to court editors for a chance to steer the big crossover event after next. This approach has shaped a grand narrative of the Marvel Universe as a place where cataclysms pinwheel off cataclysms, each story morphing from one authorial theory of 'event' into the next.
This "event architect" model of comics was a useful way for Marvel to hold up its walls as the whole industry rebuilt itself coming out of the 90s. But a new core audience of young, digitally-empowered, movie-savvy superhero fans is not at all served by that approach. Major events only distort and destabilize books like Mighty Avengers, Ms Marvel, Ghost Rider, A-Force, Spider-Gwen, etc, which are intended to appeal to new readers.
Diversity won't flourish at a publisher that's still tied to the idea that a select few writers get to shake up the landscape every six months --- especially given that all of those writers are, to a man, men, and presumably straight and white men at that. Diversity depends on giving fresh, upstart voices the room to grow, and that's tough to do when relying on an establishment of tentpole talents to set the course for a shared universe and dictate the swerve of other writers' stories.
We'll see if Marvel's good intentions regarding diversity are matched with good execution when the new line-up is revealed in next week's Previews. With Hickman retired from Marvel, and Bendis perhaps scaling back to solo titles, there's hope that the big beast era may be over. Readers should check to see if all the biggest properties are only being redistributed to the same few familiar names, who may be laying the groundwork for the next event and the next; or if Marvel has actually left room for the sort of creative insurgency that DC seems to be enjoying post-Convergence. This will be the test that tells us whether Miles Morales is a good fit for the new Marvel Universe.
Check out some facts you may not know about that other Spider-Man: