Genres

September 27, 2017

Off The Shelf: Miles Morales: Spider-Man

Miles Morales: Spider-Man
Publisher: Marvel Press
Author: Jason Reynolds
Cover Artist: Kadir Nelson

Life is already difficult for any teenage boy growing up in Brooklyn, NY.  Between school, family financial issues, overbearing parents and girl problems Miles Morales has as full a plate of problems as any normal 16 year old could have.  However, Miles Morales isn’t just a normal teen.  He’s Spider-Man and being Spider-Man comes with it’s own set of problems.

This is a Miles Morales story, not a Spider-Man story.  While one can’t be separated from the other, author Jason Reynolds makes sure to give readers all the Miles they can handle with a sprinkle of Spider-Man to keep it interesting.  Much like his predecessor Peter Parker, Miles is a hero with a lot of emotional baggage.  At the center of Miles troubles is his school life, specifically History class with Mr. Chamberlain and the discussion about the civil war.  Chamberlain glorifies the confederate side of the civil war and alongside his treatment of non-white students paints the picture of being a covert racist.  He focuses more and more of his ire toward Miles specifically forcing Miles to rebel to resist his torment.

While Miles is definitely the star of his own story, his character progression is deeply dependent on the multitude of supporting characters and their interactions. Miles’ relationship with his parents creates the personal pressure on Miles as some of his actions create emotional and financial distress for them all.  Ganke, Miles’ best friend, serves as both comic relief and an anchor to keep Miles grounded and together with love interest, Alicia, encourages him to fight back against Chamberlain’s treatment.  Aside from some cringeworthy moments that are natural for any teenage boy you’ll find yourself wishing Miles would “man up” and confess his feelings to Alicia and then feel sorry for him every time being Spider-Man ruins it.

Miles’ trouble centers around apparent antagonist Mr. Chamberlain for the majority of the story.  Chamberlain is a madding presence and just being around him raises Miles spider-sense.  However, it’s not until much later in the story that Chamberlain’s secret machinations are revealed and the reader is confronted with the true villain of this story; racism.  Personally, this is where the story hits a sour note for me.  Without completely spoiling the conclusion, it comes to light that Chamberlain is apart of an elaborate and long running conspiracy to destroy Black men with potential.  A conspiracy that has also directly affected the lives of both his father and uncle, shaping the men they had become and contributing to the legacy of criminality that Miles is trying to avoid.

Having followed the original story of Miles Morales by creator Brian Michael Bendis I was not prepared for the focus on race injected into this story.  While I acknowledge that both writers are different and cannot expect that Reynolds would follow the path set by Bendis for Miles. However, by having racism be so heavily focused on in this story, in my opinion it was a serious mistake.  The very creation of Miles Morales “the black Spider-Man” as a character has already been contentious for some and a subject of conversation and debate from people who’ve both been waiting their whole lives for it to happen and for people who were stanchly against it.  Somehow, Bendis is able to consistently walk that line and give Miles as a character a strong foundation with healthy growth, relatability and a strong cast of multi-ethnic characters to back him up without having to make Miles the poster boy for people of color and I’ve always appreciated that.

The majority of Miles Morales: Spider-Man is a great story and for me, having myself been a black boy from Brooklyn who felt like I wore the weight of the world on my shoulders, it seemed extremely relatable.  It was this relatability that had me tearing through the pages seeing myself in Miles and I can’t thank Jason enough for penning such a beautifully crafted world for me to do that in.  I’ll reiterate that Miles Morales is not a Spider-Man story, it is a story about a boy trying to avoid the sins of his father, balance his regular life with his superhero life and not fall victim to those who would see him fail because of the color of his skin. However, it is the climax of any story that is so immensely important that it can ruin the rest and I just couldn’t bring myself to feel anything beyond disdain for the idea behind the villain and his motivations in this story. The antagonist here is the walking epitome of racism and it’s that last part that makes me feel like Reynolds would have been more suited to write a Luke Cage: Power Man story instead.

Eric Snell
esnell@comicattack.net

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