Monday, April 15, 2013

Simon Baz vs. Miles Morales

In 2002, Marvel Comics came out with a line of comics called 'Ultimate', where they took their characters and de-aged them, starting their stories over again in a modern world of younger characters. Ultimate Spider-Man, Ultimate X-Men and The Ultimates (their version of the Avengers) were among my personal favorites and I collected them for a time. Then, I got broke and stopped collecting and when I tried to catch up, I found that the Ultimate line was doing these big, confusing events that they do sometimes to keep readers or boost sales. These big events that involve a million characters and sometimes they kill off characters or change things in some other big way. I don't care for those larger stories. I enjoyed the down-to-earth aspects of the younger Spider-Man and X-Men, so this did not catch my interest enough to get me collecting again.

Now, one of the ideas behind 'Ultimate' was that Marvel has allowed their characters to age. Spider-Man in the 'regular' Marvel universe was now in his 40's and he was a teacher and I think he and MJ were separated for a time and arguably Spider-Man is better as a younger character that the readers can relate to. This was why I personally liked about Ultimate Spider-Man at the time. But, wait ten years, I may start buying 'Middle Aged Spider-Man' (battling The Proctologist!!!) and eat it up.

At any rate, a year or two (or more) ago, the Ultimate Marvel line killed off their younger version of Peter Parker (Spider-Man to the layperson) and it was made clear that this would be the direction that the Ultimate line would be taking and this wasn't some one-issue plot twist. After Peter's death, brilliant writer who had done Ultimate Spider-Man for some time, Brian Michael Bendis, introduced a new half-black, half-Hispanic teenager (Miles Morales) that would take Spider-Man's place as the new Spider-Man in the Ultimate comics. We still have the older Spider-Man in the regular universe, but this would be the NEW Ultimate Spider-Man.

I thought that this was a terrible idea for a few reasons. But, first, I will explain what I had NO problem with. This was obviously an attempt to get more cultural diversity into comics, which I have no problem with. That is a long-welcome change. Not every black superhero in Marvel Comics should have the word 'Black' in their name (Black Panther) or be an African princess (Storm). Yes, I had an emotional attachment to the younger Peter Parker because I related to him more and thought he was funny and was sad to see him die. I guess what confused me about Miles Morales was that IF the attempt was to have the first multi-racial superhero in comics (which I am all for), why stick him in the costume of an established superhero instead of making him his own man? Wouldn't people who care about the racial aspect think that Marvel was pandering by the lack of creativity associated with "Yeah, Spider-Man's multi-racial now. Like Obama"? Why can't Peter Parker make a half-black, half-Hispanic friend who becomes a superhero (with his own identity) and they work together and Peter helps him through some prejudice that he suffers or something like that?

Now, I will freely admit that I have yet to read a Miles Morales Spider-Man comic book. These thoughts are just reactions to the concept. I love Brian Michael Bendis, I just purchased 'Spider-Men' (the comic where older Peter Parker and Miles meet in Peter's ‘alternate’ universe) and I have not read it yet. Maybe my thoughts will change, but I will always think that Spidey works better as a young character, whether Miles Morales wins me over or not.

I will now illustrate the problem that I had with Miles Morales replacing Spidey by talking about one of my favorite new comic books, the extremely original 'Green Lantern' over at DC. The writing (Geoff Johns) has been brilliant from the first issue. I love the unsteady alliance between Hal Jordan and Sinestro, how the Guardians are ‘shady’ now and the cliffhangers. I also love a recent storyline where the ring was bestowed to a Muslim man named Simon Baz. Usually, the ring gives itself to beings with noble qualities like being fearless and heroic. We meet Simon Baz, a criminal who had just stolen a truck not knowing that someone else had put a bomb in it and he gets accused of terrorism when he was just trying to make a living (dishonorably, sure). Then, the ring shows up and starts talking (Green Lantern rings can talk), telling Simon that he has been chosen, but the ring keeps saying ‘error…error’, like a damaged computer. The ring does give him super powers, allowing him to escape the feds. Simon tries to use the ring to set matters (that he messed up) right again, so maybe the ring did see something good in him. But now, the government is suspicious of the Green Lantern Corps. “I thought those rings chose people based on noble qualities!” says President Obama during a two-page cameo in one comic, before enlisting the Justice League to find Simon and take him in. And there’s a great cliffhanger in the last issue where his ring runs out of power because no one gave him a ‘lantern battery’ to recharge said ring and that alien GL who looks like a squirrel shows up and you’re like “I remember him! Awesome!”

“Now, wait a minute…” you say. “Green Lantern is an established superhero. Why is THAT not pandering, sticking a racial minority into that world?” And my answer is that, since Green Lantern is part of an intergalactic police force, there are millions of GLs already in that story, from all over the galaxy, including Hal Jordan, John Stewart, Kyle Rayner and Guy Gardner (three white boys and John Stewart) from Earth, that there is always room for another and Simon Baz gives this group some cultural diversity, which is a good thing. From the moment we found out that there were GLs from all over the galaxy, there was always cultural diversity and this just brings that closer to home.

I may ‘soften’ about Miles Morales when I read ‘Spider-Men’, but I still maintain that he should have been introduced as his own thing. Killing off a teenage Peter Parker was unnecessary and done for shock value. DC didn’t need to kill off important main characters like Hal Jordan to introduce Simon Baz and that makes him a better fit to his respective universe.

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