Step aside, Peter Parker: There's a new Spider-Man joining the Marvel Universe.
Since his creation in 2011, the character Miles Morales, the half-African-American, half-Latino version of Spider-Man, has occupied Marvel's Ultimate Universe — a side realm of Marvel that reimagines various superhero story lines. But after the conclusion of a massive crossover event called Secret Wars, which sees this alternate universe destroyed, Morales will be bringing his brand of web-slinging heroism to the mainstream Marvel Universe.
"It won't be [that] Miles is Spider-Man with an asterisk or some kind of adjective or adverb attached to it. He is going to be Spider-Man — just Spider-Man," says writer Brian Michael Bendis, one of the co-creators of Miles Morales. "We thought that that message was as important as anything we've ever done."
As far as its comics go, Marvel has had a string of diversity shifts recently, with changes to Captain America, Ms. Marvel and Thor. Bendis tells NPR's Arun Rath that being a part of this shift in the comics universe has been a personal journey as well; two of his four children are adopted, one African and one African-American.
"You realize from a first seat that your kids do not have the same representation and things available to them as I did," Bendis says. "It's not like I stood up and said 'I'm going to be more diverse in my writing,' you just become more diverse because you realize things are needed."
Adhering to a famed Spider-Man adage — "With great power comes great responsibility" — Bendis says that with the stage he has at Marvel, it's partly his responsibility to create work that represents what he thinks the world should look like.
Some critics have said that the Marvel Cinematic Universe, or MCU, has lagged behind the comic books when it comes to diversity, pointing to the recent announcement that white actor Tom Holland would don the mantle of the rebooted on-screen version Spider-Man. Bendis is on a committee that consults on the Marvel movies, and he looks at the comparison differently.
"The changes we're making in the comics, some of them are 50 years old or older," he says, "whereas the Marvel Cinematic Universe has only been around since 2006. Even with that, there is a lot of representation going on."
Bendis cites the planned Black Panther and Captain Marvel movies as examples, as well as the black characters Falcon and War Machine playing integral parts in the MCU.
"I just think it is the beginning of what's to come," he says.
DONALD GLOVER: (As Miles Morales) OK, don't freak out.
ARUN RATH, HOST:
Step aside, Peter Parker.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN")
GLOVER: (As Miles Morales) My name is Miles Morales, and I'm Spider-Man.
BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS: Miles Morales is a half African-American, half Latino boy. Both his parents are alive, which, by the way, in comics is a very unique thing, and one of them's not a villain.
RATH: That's Brian Michael Bendis, one of the co-creators of the new Spider-Man. For a few years now, Miles Morales has existed in the Ultimate Marvel Universe, kind of a parallel world in the comics realm. This week, Marvel announced that Miles will be promoted into the mainstream Marvel Universe.
BENDIS: So it won't be Miles as Spider-Man with an asterisk. He is going to be Spider-Man, just Spider-Man. And we thought that that message was as important as anything we've ever done.
RATH: I asked Brian Bendis how this new biracial Spider-Man was born.
BENDIS: A few years ago, we were all at Marvel, and we were sitting around a table talking about what we did right and what we did wrong and what we would do differently if given another chance. And one of the things we talked about was this idea that Spider-Man in particular, if you really look at his origin and his background, that there's a good chance that he would have been a child of color. And boy, wouldn't it have been nice to be more diverse in our representation of these characters in a more modern time.
RATH: You know, it really feels like comic books right now have become so much more diverse recently. I mean, the female Thor. There's a Muslim teenage girl as Ms. Marvel. We have Miles as Spider-Man. I've got to tell you, I'm grateful for this, you know, for my kids, growing up in a world like this. I'm wondering what does it feel like to be part of this vanguard?
BENDIS: Well, you know, part of my personal journey through all of this is for I have four children, two of which are adopted, one of which is African and one of which is African-American. You realize from a first seat that you - your kids do not have the same representation and things available to them that I did as a white little man. And you kind of just realize, even through just osmosis - it's not like I stood up and said I'm going to be more diverse in my writing. You just become more diverse because you realize things are needed and, you know, going back to the old Spider-Man mythos - with great power comes great responsibility - if I've got this stage right now at Marvel, then it's kind of my responsibility to create work that represents what I think the world should be like.
RATH: Now, I know you're on the comic book side, but I've got to ask you about the movie side because while things are great - all the stuff we talked about in the comic book world - on the big screen, you know, the Avengers are pretty white. The new Batman, Superman - white. And it looks like the new Spider-Man is also going to be still white. Do you feel like Hollywood's lagging behind?
BENDIS: I help consult on the movies. I'm part of something called the Marvel Creative Committee that reads all the drafts and sees all the cuts of the movies. And, you know, the changes we're making in the comics, you know, some of them - some of these comics are 50 years old or older, and so - whereas the Marvel Cinematic Universe has only been around since 2006.
So even with that, there is a lot of representation going on in the form of - they've already announced the Black Panther movie and the Captain Marvel movie, which is a female-lead superhero movie that's coming. So there is a lot of representation going on in those movies right now, and I just think it's the beginning of what's to come.
RATH: Brian Michael Bendis is a writer for Marvel and the co-creator of the Spider-Man Miles Morales. Brian, pleasure speaking with you. Thank you very much.
BENDIS: Thank you very much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.