Spider-Man holds a broader appeal than almost any other superhero. The primary attraction to the web-slinger comes from his relatability. Spider-Man is the everyman: as Stan Lee used to say, “the superhero who could be you”. Readers, viewers, and consumers of all Spider-Man content can connect with the wall-crawler’s human struggles and personality traits. No matter who is under the mask, Spider-Man must face challenges both in and out of costume. Despite obstacles ranging from overdue bills to giant lizards, Spider-Man endures, making him all the more inspiring to fans. This connection to Spider-Man endures throughout fans’ lifetimes, from early childhood through adulthood. Spider-Man is representative of the common man, not just through his personal struggles, but through his changes over time. In order for Spider-Man to change, there must be a new Spider-Man that can connect with a younger generation as well.
The first and most popular web-slinger around, Peter Parker, embodies everything great about Spider-Man. Peter’s origin establishes very early on that he isn’t perfect. When Peter first gets his powers, he selfishly tries to cash in on them, becoming an entertainer rather than instantly becoming a superhero. This impulsive act not only makes Peter a more realistic teenager, it also teaches him about the consequences of his actions (or lack thereof). Peter’s Uncle Ben is famously murdered by a burglar that he chose not to stop, teaching Peter that with great power, there must also come great responsibility. The burden of responsibility is a relatable one, as Peter is constantly torn between his own personal problems and his duties as Spider-Man. In both his civilian identity and his superhero guise, Peter struggles to get by, being branded a menace as Spider-Man while simultaneously fighting to make ends meet as Peter Parker. While Peter’s everyday hassles are quite relatable, his perseverance makes him truly inspiring. Peter is a science nerd who uses his own intelligence in tandem with his spider powers to find a way to succeed. Combining Peter’s skills and talents with his iron clad will creates an example for people of all ages, teaching them to never give up.
Peter Parker may be a great example for kids, but he himself has not been a teenager since the 1960s. Nowadays, the teenage Spider-Man is Miles Morales, a young man from Brooklyn. Miles brings a fresh new perspective to the Spider-Man role. Being half African American and half Hispanic, Miles adds a lot more cultural relevance to the 21st century landscape of comic books. Yet Miles is a lot more than just “black Spider-Man”. Rather, Miles is very much a fanboy at heart, eager to live up to the legacy of his heroes, such as Peter Parker. Readers can easily relate to Miles’ adoration of heroes such as Captain America or Iron Man, making him one of the fans. Miles also provides a more modern high school experience, following 21st century trends. At one point, Miles and his friends ditch school to visit a hip-hop exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum. This excursion is not only a fun story, it demonstrates the relevance of Miles’ experience to current high school kids. Additionally, Miles may not be the nerd that Peter was, but he still undergoes relatable struggles as a teenager. Attending Brooklyn Visions Academy, Miles feels a lot of the academic pressure that comes with being a teenager, trying to balance school with crimefighting.
The circumstances behind Miles’ creation are very elaborate for mainstream audiences. For a long time, Marvel was publishing two lines of comics: the main universe, and the “Ultimate Marvel” line. In 2011, the Ultimate version of Peter Parker was killed off, leaving a void in the Ultimate universe. Shortly afterwards, Miles Morales emerged as the new Ultimate Spider-Man. Miles’ creation garnered much attention, as the creation of a black Spider-Man was unprecedented. Most of the response was quite positive, since, finally, Spider-Man could truly represent a demographic outside of white kids from Queens. Furthermore, Peter and Miles were able to coexist, as Peter was still the Spider-Man of the main universe, while Miles was the Ultimate universe’s Spider-Man. The two characters crossed over several times, including 2012’s Spider-Men and 2014’s Spider-Verse event. Eventually, during the 2015 event Secret Wars, Marvel eliminated the multiverse, including the Ultimate universe, leaving only the main Marvel Universe standing. Miles was so popular, however, that Marvel decided to bring the new web-slinger into the main universe, sharing the title of Spider-Man with Peter Parker.
Since sharing the same universe, Peter and Miles have formed a strong relationship. Peter acts as a sort of mentor for Miles, without necessarily being his boss. Miles receives fun pieces of advice from Peter, including, “Don’t let anyone clone you. Seriously. And only date one girl at a time”. The mentor/apprentice relationship adds much to both Spider-Men as characters. Peter is allowed to grow into a more mature hero, who can share his past experiences with others. At the same time, Miles benefits by becoming part of a rich tradition of Spider-Men. One story, specifically, shows Miles going back in time and witnessing the struggles of Peter’s high school years. Understanding the hardships which Peter has endured gives Miles a greater perspective on how heavy the burden of Spider-Man is. More importantly, the shared struggles of both heroes reminds the web-slingers that they are not alone in the world. One of the most poignant scenes between Peter and Miles is when Peter thanks Miles for, “You know…keeping it going”. Peter is secure that the legacy of Spider-Man will live on, and Miles is relieved that he has the original Spider-Man’s blessing. Additionally, Peter and Miles simply have some genuinely funny exchanges, like when Peter is jealous of Miles’ venom blast powers. Little moments of banter between the two Spider-Men accentuate the fun and relatable traits of both characters.
Much of the difference between Peter and Miles emerges in the villains which they face. Peter, since his first adventures, typically takes on colorful supervillains, such as Doctor Octopus, Mysterio, Sandman, Electro, and others. These villains are traditionally science-based, playing to Peter’s strengths as a nerd. Furthermore, Peter’s villains are traditional costumed crooks, representing the old-fashioned era in which Peter was created. Miles, on the other hand, tends to deal with more grounded, socially relevant villains. For example, one of the latest storylines in Miles’ comics had him tackle a human trafficking organization, led by street-level thugs like Tombstone. The more grounded nature of Miles’ villains lend a lot to his modern day relevance as a teenager, as he fights social issues that were not often discussed during Peter’s teenage years. Overall, there is some overlap between the two Spider-Men, as they have both fought all kinds of villains. Miles, however, more typically deals with smaller scale threats than Peter currently does, illustrating Peter’s progression as he grows older. This is not to say that the issues Miles faces are not important. In fact, some of the threats Miles encounters are more important than any maniacal supervillain. Rather, both Spider-Men simply face threats on different scales.
The supporting casts of both Spider-Men are quite similar as well. Peter Parker has amassed a large set of friends over the years, including Mary Jane Watson, Harry Osborn, Betty Brant, Flash Thompson, and several others. Miles also surrounds himself with friends such as Ganke Lee, Judge, and his girlfriend Barbara. A large difference between Miles and Peter is how early they developed their friendships. While Peter did not have a steady group of friends until college, Miles has a good number of friends in high school, demonstrating his people skills quite well. Additionally, Miles has an easier time getting along with other heroes, joining the young superhero group known as the Champions. Peter, on the other hand, was frequently tangled up in a series of misunderstandings and conflicts with other heroes when he was a teenager. It is only once Peter grew older that he began to team up more regularly with other heroes, joining the Avengers as well. The contrast in both wall-crawlers’ people skills is important for both Miles and Peter as characters. Miles is the more relatable modern teenager, moving past the cliched trope of nerdy loner. At the same time, Peter has grown up, showing a progression from isolated hero to a mature, integrated member of the superhuman community.
The biggest difference between Peter and Miles, however, is their connections to their respective families. Peter was raised by his Aunt May and Uncle Ben, only one of whom survived past his origin story, making family a marginal aspect of his life. Miles, however, is raised by his parents, both of whom know his secret identity. Additionally, Miles’ Uncle Aaron, aka former supervillain the Prowler, is a large influence on his life. In knowing Miles’ secret identity, Miles’ family takes a much larger, more active role in his life. The supportive, comforting role of family makes Miles more relatable than Peter in some respects. Miles moves past the repetitive trope of an orphaned superhero, instead representing the regular kid who has a family to support him in times of need. Many people can take inspiration from Miles’ family, and how they lean on each other.
Currently, both Spider-Men are active in the Marvel Universe. After the release of the highly acclaimed film, Into the Spider-Verse, Miles is enjoying a peak of popularity. Miles’ current series, written by the excellent Saladin Ahmed, continues his high school journey. Miles fights street level crime, his family continues stronger than ever, and he is a part of a community of legacy heroes, including characters such as Kamala Khan aka Ms. Marvel. Peter, however, seems to be stuck in the same character cycle which he’s been undergoing for years now: he’s dating Mary Jane, he’s got a weird roommate in Manhattan, and he’s still going to graduate school. Ever since Marvel undid Peter’s marriage to MJ in 2007, it feels as if he hasn’t changed at all. Now, when there are two Spider-Men in the Marvel Universe, the similarity in age makes Peter and Miles too similar to justify their coexistence. What truly separates Peter from Miles? How can Marvel justify having two Spider-Men? Ultimately, the answer lies in character progression.
Both Peter and Miles are fantastic characters that deserve to be Spider-Man. Yet when both characters exist in the same universe, something must be done to highlight their differences. Additionally, Peter Parker has not changed as a character for quite some time now. Having two Spider-Men in the Marvel Universe is a great opportunity to progress Peter more. Miles can be the modern teenage Spider-Man with whom younger audiences can relate. Simultaneously, Peter should be allowed to become the mature, more adult Spider-Man. Peter Parker should be able to get married, have kids, and get a job, making him an experienced mentor for heroes like Miles. Maturing Peter advances his own character arc, while further distinguishing him from Miles. Coexistence between two Spider-Men is a fantastic way to show that anyone can be Spider-Man: he’s the hero that could be you. More importantly, Spider-Men of different age groups and experience levels demonstrate Spider-Man’s enduring relatability, regardless of age. Miles should be the modern teenage Spider-Man, allowing Peter to mature into the adult Spider-Man who has grown with experience.
That’s all for this week. Thanks for reading! If you like this blog, feel free to follow the column @book_column on Twitter, and share with your friends! Come back next week for another entry on legacy superheroes!
One thought on “Legacy Heroes: Spider-Man”
Keep up the good work Nabs. I’m enjoying reading the columns.