So the fairly notable news in Marvel comic movies that came up recently is that Sony and Marvel/Disney did indeed come to terms on allowing Spider-Man to show up in the Marvel universe films, which means Spider-Man could potentially show up as early as Avengers 2 in a post-credits scene, and is assumed to be popping up in Captain America: Civil War at the very least. What this means in the long-term will depend on how well the character is handled, but what we do know is that, with this deal having happened, Andrew Garfield is most likely done with being Spider-Man, and Marvel will probably recast the role. While that’s almost certainly a stupid idea*, Marvel on the whole is basically nothing but stupid ideas a lot of the time so that’s hardly anything new. We’re almost certainly headed for another fucking origin story whether we want one or not, though interestingly, fan sentiment has begun turning toward the idea of Miles Morales being the Spider-Man in the movie universe instead of Peter Parker. This, too, is nothing new; fans have been clamoring for new blood in the Spider-Man universe for a little while now, and the film plans Sony had on the table up until Amazing Spider-Man 2 tanked out seemed to imply that at least two fan wishes, a Venom film and an unnamed female project (either Spider-Woman or Spider-Gwen) were on the table. With the potential for a reboot on the horizon, then, the possibility for Miles to step in and be a player is high, and even when people understand why Peter will probably be the go-to guy, they still want Miles.
I’ve seen this conversation pop up a few times amongst friends, so this discussion is nothing new. I just recently had the discussion of “Miles or Peter,” with a friend of mine, and before that, a few friends talked up the decision to cast Johnny Storm as a black guy as an interesting choice. One friend of mine even mentioned that, given the choice, he’d sooner have seen John Stewart (this guy, not the host of The Daily Show, though now I want THAT movie) in the Green Lantern film than Hal Jordan. As a person who has a high opinion of social progress in general, especially in popular culture, I love the hell out of those ideas, and they make sense. As someone who actually pays attention to how super hero movies have gone over the past couple decades, though, the concept is actually kind of horrifying, and while I’m hopeful that Black Panther will be a good movie, I’m pretty sure a Miles Morales Spider-Man film would be a disaster of epic proportions.
1.) They can’t get the basic characters right.
The main theory that a lot of people seem to have about the “let’s do these characters instead,” concept is pretty simple: the characters they want are far more interesting than the ones we’re being presented, so their films should be as well. It makes sense too, if you think about it, because the more interesting a character is in the comic pages, the more interesting they should be on the big screen. Who cares about what Hal Jordan’s going through? He’s a lame dork, created to be safe and easily written for during a time period when white dudes were basically all the super heroes. Fuck him man, John Stewart is cooler and much more interesting as a character. Well, while I’m not going to weigh in on that one in either direction (mostly because I don’t read Green Lantern), I can say that yeah, in a lot of respects, Miles Morales has a more interesting story to tell than Peter Parker does, and a lot of Peter’s interesting stories come from his extended continuity, not him as a person. Peter Parker’s a white dude from Queens who was raised by his aunt and uncle, and after abandoning his responsibility, cost his uncle his life, which he uses as a motivation to fight crime. Miles got his powers in grade school and hid them because his parents hate super heroes, but was guilted into action because he watched Spider-Man die knowing he could have helped, and his family dynamic is a lot more interesting because of his race and because of how said dynamic changes during his story.
Here’s the thing, though. Out of the five current Spider-Man films, three of them are generally considered “not good” at best, and those are the ones that were written with basic old Peter Parker in the lead. The only Green Lantern movie that’s come out so far was trash by most metrics, and that one starred Hal Jordan. So here’s a simple question for you to answer when you’re thinking about how awesome it would be to not have to deal with these characters any more: which is more likely, that these stories suck because they feature characters you’re tired of, or because they feature bad writers and terrible editorial mandates? To put it another way, if we can’t expect to see a good film starring Peter Parker, whose entire character concept and origin story can be described in about two sentences, how can we expect to see a good story starring Miles, especially considering that on top of everything else, he’s also a fourteen year old kid, not the “teenager-going-on-thirty” most superheroes in film are?
That’s also a thing to worry about because…
2.) The people we want have complex stories.
You can sum up most of the storylines of the default superheroes out there in a single sentence with little to no trouble, as with Peter Parker above. Hal Jordan was a test pilot who found a crashed alien that gave him a powerful ring to protect the galaxy. Steve Rogers was a weakling who was given a super soldier serum to help him fight Hitler. Tony Stark was a rich asshole who built a reactor in his heart to keep himself alive and power a suit of combat armor. These stories translate well to film because they’re basic, and they stand alone. The characters people want to see, however, often have complex storylines based around them, many of which rely on the characters we want to see them replace, or events in the comic universes that are never going to occur in a meaningful way. This means those characters often end up either needing a drastic rewrite or a brand new origin story, and the world of comic movies isn’t the best at handling this thing, especially since they’ve recreated Spider-Man’s origin twice now, and each time it gets more absurd than the last.
So far we’ve only had to see Falcon’s storyline go through a re-write**, as Marvel was patient enough to bring War Machine into the universe as a part of the Iron Man franchise and it worked out fairly well. On the other hand, the upcoming Fantastic Four movie apparently has Doctor Doom set to be a blogger/hacker of some sort, the Wolverine movies have been passable at best, and nobody liked the Ghost Rider or Daredevil movies, let alone Elektra. Marvel as a development house isn’t immune to this sort of thing, either, as anyone who watched Iron Man 3 can tell you, and we don’t even know how Ant Man and Doctor Strange are going to handle their origin stories. Try to imagine the people who keep making Peter Parker’s origin more complex attempting to write their way out of a story that starts from “I watched Peter Parker die and that motivated me to become a super hero even though I’m fourteen years old.” Think about how Marvel gets to Kamala Khan without Carol Danvers, an explanation of the Inhumans, or the importance of Jersey City being her home instead of Mahnattan***. We’re assuming that the people who decided the easiest way to reconcile the Mandarin in their films was “make him white,” are somehow going to pull this off, so at best the rewrites are going to be unsatisfying, and at worst they’re going to be unsatisfying and socially regressive.
There’s also a slightly less desirable to talk about problem that needs to be addressed, too…
3.) Nobody gives a shit about the Fantastic Four.
In the upcoming Fantastic Four reboot, Johnny Storm is going to be black, which shouldn’t be a shock to you if you pay attention to comic book news at all. In theory, it’s a progressive step forward for comic films, since they don’t need to be directly inserted into continuity and we can honestly do what we want with their plots. In practice, it’s Josh Trank hiring an actor, Michael B. Jordan, he worked with in Chronicle because he’s making what he wants to make and doesn’t actually give a fuck about the Fantastic Four, so it’s less “socially progressive,” and more “hiring your friends,” but considering the actual problems the film has, this isn’t even a thing.**** The reality is, nobody gives a shit about the Fantastic Four, to the point that Marvel is cancelling the comic (supposedly) to hurt the film however they can, but also because no one reads the Fantastic Four, to the point that this isn’t even the first time they’ve cancelled it. The Fantastic Four aren’t super hero institutions like Superman or Captain America that people read or follow even if they don’t think much of them. They’re more akin to Namor, in that they’re historically relevant and relevant within their own universes, but no one on the outside gives a fuck about them.
The reason I’m bringing this up is because, when it was announced that a black actor would be portraying a traditionally white character in a franchise no one cares about, people still lost their shit.
I’m absolutely not saying that we should be catering to racists (because fuck them), but I am saying that, if the reaction to “Human Torch, a character you absolutely don’t care about, is black now” was frothy rage, imagine how much worse it will be for Miles Morales. Hell, just the announcement of Miles in general was a racist shitshow, and that was in a secondary comic universe that not too many people follow along with. The plain and simple reality is, there will always be racism associated with the character, but having him exist along side Peter Parker is infinitely preferable to having him replace Peter Parker, because the latter choice essentially obscures the good parts of his debut under a shitload of bitching and pointless anger. There’s a damn good story to be told with Miles, and it deserves to stand on its own merits, not be shouted down by a bunch of racist shitheads, and that’s exactly what’s going to happen.
Of course, that’s assuming that the creators have a good story to tell…
4.) Stunt Casting isn’t the same thing as social progress.
One thing that’s become a bit of a sudden propaganda boost for super hero films is the act of stunt casting someone into a role who draws attention (good or bad) to the product. Sometimes it happens by accident (I honestly doubt anyone said “Nicholas Cage is a crazy person, make him Ghost Rider.”), sometimes it happens because they’re the best option (Robert Downey Jr as Iron Man), and sometimes it happens because the director has worked with the person before and likes their work (Michael B Jordan, above). That said, however, one thing that has become apparent is that sudden, controversial changes to a property can potentially get it to new eyeballs that wouldn’t have jumped onto it in the first place, and that’s a scary place to be, because it often means that people will start advocating change for the sake of change instead of because they have a good idea or anything. Worse, it opens the door for change to make a profit, which is often even worse, and benefits no one.
Now, in theory, change for the sake of change sounds like a great idea, and when you see someone pull that off in a way that’s profitable (let’s use the Tomb Raider reboot as an example), it can be reassuring. So you can perhaps understand when people might sit down and say, “Hey, let’s make Captain Marvel a woman of color, because that would be a game changer,” and you can see where the idea has merit. The problem, though, is that there still needs to be a reason why these things are happening, and if your idea is “change first, plots second,” that isn’t a good idea. Despite what Milo Yiannopoulos might tell you*****, there is absolutely nothing bad about Miles Morales being Spider-Man, because people actually thought that plot concept out and it’s pretty great. We really don’t need Peter Parker twice, man, and if you have a good story to tell, do it. Even the lamented “Captain America is black now!” change is a good idea on its face; nobody gives a shit about Steve Rogers, honestly (this is the second time in less than a decade that he’s been replaced after all) and this time his long-time friend Sam Wilson, AKA Falcon, is taking over the mantle, which makes perfect sense. “Thor is a woman,” however, is one we’re still in the dark about******, and it’s the one that has the biggest potential to be a “change first, plot second” scenario, so it’s the one that dickheads who haven’t read the comics in decades latch onto and bitch about the hardest.
If it is change first, plot second, however, they’ll have an argument they can trot out forever, and that’s the problem.
Tomb Raider turned out okay enough (even if the plot sucked), but another big “change first,” reboot that came out around the same time was DmC, a reboot of longstanding Capcom franchise Devil May Cry. This particular reboot absolutely was change first, and it showed. Capcom and the developer, Ninja Theory, were borderline confrontational about the redesign of the character, between Capcom telling Ninja Theory to straight up make him different and calling out fans online about their grievances. The idea seemed to be to draw new eyes to the property in hopes of making people interested, but instead, it more or less murdered the franchise in its sleep; Capcom ended up massively scaling back sales projections, and no amount of above-average-to-good scores for the game could overcome the sheer volume of venomous hatred fans spewed for the game for months prior to its release. It tanked an entire franchise in one bad decision, all in the name of “change,” and that helped absolutely no one, as Capcom, Ninja Theory and the fanbase all came out of the experience poorer for it.
The point here is simple: if you have a plan and a reason to do something controversial, that’s fine, because you can easily justify the decision in the final product and shut down critics in a way that’s satisfying and meaningful. That is what people should be doing. Fant4stic, on the other hand, is almost certainly going to be a horrible fucking movie, and it’s going to forever act as a “SEE!?!” example for racist assholes to trot out whenever someone stunt casts a role. It doesn’t matter that the film is going to suck for reasons wholly unrelated to Johnny Storm, because that’s not an argument racist assholes find compelling; it does matter, however, that the film is almost certainly going to be awful, and it’s going to be used as a shitty example because of it. To put it another way, while I appreciate the idea of casting someone like Kerry Washington or Paula Patton as Captain Marvel, if the entirety of your reasoning as the person suggesting it is “Because they can,” you’re not helping. If you have specifically good reasons why this could be a good idea, show your work and make a convincing argument; if your argument is, “Because progress,” then we’d be better off bringing in Spectrum******* or White Tiger, who are at least actually characters that exist in MCU in notable roles. This would also have the effect of drawing attention to these characters in the world of comics, so that people who don’t know about them could seek out their comics, instead of showing moviegoers a film about an interesting non-white character, only for them to buy the comic and find out nope, we lied to you, which helps literally no one.
Hey, speaking of critical thinking for a second…
5.) We’re not really sick of Peter Parker, just how he’s been handled.
Speaking as someone who just wrote about how much I hate Spider-Man about two months ago, the reality is, and I feel many will agree with me, that it’s not about actually hating Spider-Man so much as it is about hating how he’s been handled so far. From a movie perspective this, sadly, also holds true; while the first two films were generally fine, Spider-Man 3 was… awkward at best and tried to cram two movies worth of content into one, and anything that would have been built onto that framework was lost when Sam Raimi left the project not too long after. Sony’s decision to reboot the franchise afterward was the dirt worst because we really didn’t need another fucking origin story, and whether or not Marc Webb was a fan of the property, his films, so far, have been the shits. With the announcement (well, more or less) that we’re rebooting Spider-Man again in the wake of the MCU deal, which is a stupendously fucking stupid idea MARVEL, don’t fucking do that to us, you’d absolutely be excused if you rolled your eyes and said, “Ugh, no more origin stories, no more fucking Peter Parker, I give up.”
The thing is, though, we’re not really sick of Peter, and that’s a fact, not fan speculation.
The reality is, if we really were sick of Peter Parker, we’d have been all-for the Clone Saga change that put younger, single Ben Reilly into the role of Spider-Man and shipped Peter off to Portland when that happened. If we were sick of Peter, we’d have latched onto the Mattie Franklin-fronted Spider Woman series when it was in publication, or the May Parker fronted alternate reality Spider Girl series, or Kaine’s Scarlet Spider series, or hell, even Superior Spider-Man, if you’re a sociopath. I can keep going, too, because there’s still Julia Carpenter, Anya Corazon and Jessica Drew, and I’d be willing to bet the only one you can identify (aside from possibly Anya because she’s Hispanic) is Jessica, because of the cover controversy********. I’ll even take it a step further and note that if we were really sick of Peter Parker, Ultimate Spider-Man would have been a consistently higher seller than Amazing Spider-Man, which has almost certainly not been the case in quite some time, if it ever was. Put simply, we either like Peter Parker, or we really want to like him, to the extent that when we’re presented alternate options that we could potentially invest our love into instead, our response is, no, fuck you, we want Peter Parker. The reality is, we’re conflating “we’re tired of shitty stories,” and “we’re tired of the origin story again,” with “we’re tired of Peter Parker,” and while some people may legitimately be tired of Peter, the vast majority are not. Absolutely no one is looking forward to another origin story or reboot of the franchise, but the majority of fans will still want Peter in that role no matter where it goes, and it’s probably for the best to understand that, because otherwise you’re pissing into the wind.
That said, it’s not like Miles shouldn’t be in the MCU, because…
6.) In an ideal world, we’d have both.
The one thing that a lot of people who are talking about both sides of the issue are kind of overlooking is that it’s not in our best interests to have Peter or Miles, but rather Peter and Miles. Part of that is because it’s not really productive to turn the discussion into a competition, because it breeds angry feelings between fans and ends up with this being a needless competition, but honestly, in the end it just comes down to wanting a more diverse MCU that allows for a wider variety of interesting and compelling stories. Peter and Miles can coexist, because they have completely different stories to tell, and each brings different perspectives to the table that would attract all sorts of viewers. Peter’s the establishment, the default guy, who lives in a world where he’s put upon, but generally does alright because his family and friends are normal-ish and he’s making do. Miles isn’t that at all; he’s young, not in a great position personally, surrounded by a lot of less-than-ideal friends and family, and has a very different perspective on life and the world around him. It’s John Cena and Daniel Bryan, basically; you can’t really have one or the other because different fans want different things, but you can have both, because it appeals to everyone. Hell, I’ll even take it a step further and say that such a development would be awesome because we could do what MCU didn’t, and let Miles learn from Peter as a mentor, which would be so awesome.
Plus, if nothing else, it means you now have two Spider-Man franchises to work with, so you can roll out a different movie every year if you’re so inclined. Have one be the huge Peter Parker stories, where Peter deals with his girl troubles, massive monstrous enemies and huge conspiracies, while Miles’ films investigate the high school stuff and the human element. We wouldn’t need to keep Peter in fucking high school forever (and seriously can we fucking stop with that, high schoolers are NOT interesting, because if they were Power Pack would have sold well, fuck you), so we could actually get to the points in his continuity that are relevant, while still having a younger Spider-Man to focus stories on. It’s literally a money machine if the storylines are good enough, and it allows the movie writers to branch out into other directions, like the Venom movie they’ve been talking about forever or a Spider-Woman movie, when they want to take a break from Miles and Peter. There’s literally zero reason not to do things this way, honestly; it keeps the Peter fans happy, gets Miles exposure to a large audience, gives creators room to make new and different things, and gives people representation in super hero movies. It’s not only a perfect way to make Spider-Man into a major franchise of films and characters (instead of a film about a dude over and over again), it’s also a chance to have other options when your most recent Peter Parker film falls on its face. It’s an opportunity to have a franchise featuring a strong white male lead, a strong black male lead, a strong white female lead, and a shitload of strong supporting characters of various races and creeds.
Just keep that in mind: not only does it not have to be an either/or scenario, it shouldn’t be, because the alternative is so much better. Just a thought.
* Real talk: I hated the shit out of the Amazing Spider-Man run of films, but Andrew Garfield was an awesome Peter Parker, and should be kept on if Peter is going to be the movie universe Spider-Man under Marvel. I know that Marvel Films wants to do their own thing, but honestly, spare us the fucking origin again and just take that guy and run with him; he’s an awesome Spider-Man and Peter Parker, and if Marvel really does want to focus less on romance and more on being Spider-Man, the death of Gwen Stacey is a good enough reason for it. Of course, that then brings up the point of “why did the comics side want him divorced if that’s the case,” but internal consistency is the least of Marvel’s problems when it comes to storytelling, honestly.
** In Captain America: The Winter Soldier, he was a guy who befriended Captain America and ganked a powered wing suit to help him take down a corrupt Hydra spy. In the comics, don’t fucking ask. Just know that it was at least partially racist as shit, and be happy not knowing.
*** Admittedly this plot point is only important because Jersey City is meant to represent a low-rent Manhattan, but fuck you, Manhattan gets all the super heroes, Ms. Marvel should stay in Jersey.
**** Honestly though, if they’d done the right thing and hired on Max Landis alongside Trank for this film, it’d almost certainly be worth seeing; as it is now, it’s just going to be Chronicle with four people, and that’s not going to fly here.
***** Of course he fucking wrote an article about it, and no, I’m not fucking linking it. Fuck him, he’s a racist, sexist piece of shit.
****** I’m still hoping that Marvel will eventually reveal that the new Thor is Angela, which would make sense given that they just tied her into the storyline not too long ago, so that when they eventually revert the plot (because come on, it’s comic books, that always happens) we can at least have an Angela book out of it. Introducing a brand new character probably won’t carry the same weight, and since they haven’t revealed who the new Thor is yet, having it be a random nobody won’t really make a reveal resonate.
******* Those with strong knowledge of the MCU will note that Spectrum started her life as Captain Marvel, and therefore could also work in that role if given the chance from a continuity perspective. While this is fair, as a counterpoint, there have been about seven Captain Marvel’s in the MCU, and given the choice between having Spectrum, Carol Danvers as Captain Marvel and Kamala Khan as Ms. Marvel now or having to wait until like 2030, I’d rather have them sooner than go through ten years of backstory. Not that we have confirmation of Spectrum or Ms. Marvel making it into the MCU, but if we’re wishing for things we want here, that’s what I’d like to see, anyway.
******** Which, while there is indeed sexism in comics and I will never pretend otherwise, was completely fucking stupid because the major argument was “You’d never draw a man that way,” except, oops, Spider-Man himself has been drawn in that exact pose several fucking times. I mean I love The Oatmeal and all, but when dude’s point is “Look at Spider-Man’s junk,” and fucking Maddox of all people points out, “If we drew women like we draw Spider-Man the internet would explode,” you’re being silly.