With Into the Spider-Verse receiving insanely high and much deserved praise from critics and viewers alike, I wanted to take a quick moment to talk about Miles Morales and why we need to do whatever we can to keep him in the mainstream limelight.
Miles is by no means new. He’s been in the comics since 2011 and in cartoons since 2014 or so. However, his appearance on the big screen, as a main character at that, is the first time Miles has become a household name. A whole movie focuses on his origin, from bite to getting his own costume and saving the day. This is Miles’s moment, and it is blowing up around the internet. And that’s exactly how it should be.
Miles is the superhero kids today need to know about and look up to. He is the absolute best superhero role model for today’s youth, much more so than Peter Parker.
In order to figure out why, let’s take a step back and look at the original Spider-Man and his origins. Peter Parker was created in 1962 by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko (we won’t get into the Kirby vs Lee debate here). He was created as a teen-aged character who would have “everyman doubts, neuroses and money problems.” He was created to be very much approachable to the teens and younger that comics were initially targeted at. The strife of Peter’s stories centers around his ability to balance Spider stuff with his everyday life. Work headaches, relationship woes and friendship obligations all weigh on the hero as he moonlights as a web-slinging vigilante. The premise was easily swallowed by the readers of the 1960s, a time wrapped in Cold War nationalism and a rising tide of revolutionary fervor. The message was clear: No matter how mundane your life, you always have the capacity to be heroic. We all have the ability to do what’s right and rise above whatever challenges are thrown at us. As such, we have an obligation to eschew excuses and doubts and strive for greatness. Afterall, with great power comes great responsibility.
It’s an absolutely beautiful message and one that rings true to this day. It’s easy to see why for years Spider-Man has been the most recognizable superhero in the WORLD. But it isn’t a message restricted to Peter Parker, though he is definitely the Head Chair of that Committee.
Miles is an average teen, just trying to spend some time with his Uncle Aaron when he receives his powers. Not only that, but he receives these powers shortly before the original Spider-Man falls in battle, leaving a massive hole in the city Miles has been raised in. Before Parker’s death, Miles had decided to hide his powers, opting to not jump in the super ring since he just wanted to lead a normal life. He was afraid of his powers, scared of what a future as a hero could entail. After Parker’s fall, Miles dons a Spider-Man Halloween costume and takes on the role of Spider-Man. One thing that persists through his time as Spider-Man is that Miles is no stranger to fear. He is often seen being very vocal about his concerns or general hesitation to rushing into battle. He is afraid of harm, afraid of death, afraid of struggle. He has these fears and they tear at him. Sometimes he panics, specifically early on, whenever things seem too much. Sometimes he freezes entirely or simply disappears using his camouflage abilities. He is afraid and this fear is a part of him.
And THAT is what makes him great.
Too often heroes are shown as being fearless. While fearlessness sounds great, when you truly think about it, it’s kind of disgusting. People with out fear are often diagnosed with some fairly severe mental illness or even psychosis. A complete lack of fear is removing a core biological function of the brain that is rooted in our most natural selves: The concept of self-preservation in the face of danger. People often view those without fear as being tougher or possibly more masculine, but that is a dangerous distinction to make. Instead, we should look to those who WERE afraid of something. Survival experts who DID fear they were going to die, extreme athletes who WERE afraid of harm, those who overcame a tragedy who PUSHED PAST the voice telling them there was no hope. People overcoming fear and achieving greatness or becoming a hero, those are the people to idolize, because it’s far more realistic. We all have been afraid or anxious or concerned at some point. We’ve all felt fear so strong it hindered us in some way. It’s part of life. People who feel those some feelings and overcome are the heroes. This is what should be taught to the kids of today: that being afraid doesn’t make you weaker or unable to achieve your dreams. That you have to rise above fear to be heroic. That Courage is standing in the face of what makes us afraid and pushing forward.
The reality is that today fear is nearly unavoidable. Not to say that the world of the 1960s wasn’t one with it’s share of fear. The Cold War produced plenty of paranoia, the Vietnam War sent plenty off to hellish battle, and the changing tide of civil rights sent ripples through whole societies. One thing that is different today is the ease of information. The internet, smart phones, television, youtube. It’s nearly impossible to shield someone from every avenue of negativity in the world around us. Day time talk shows are having discussions about climate change. Young children are being drilled on how to hide from an active shooter. Famous people and role models talk openly about vicious experiences with sexual assault. Young black men are being killed by people they are told should protect them. Terrorism is still proposed as looming around every corner. Walls are built against false enemies. The world is scary and volatile. It ebbs and flows with a chaotic energy, producing new antagonists from different corners every few months. Shielding someone from that is daunting, and while it may seem the natural thing to do to protect our kids from the fears of the world, maybe there’s a different way.
Maybe we teach them that it is okay to have fear. That being afraid can’t stop us. That, in a way, our fear can empower us.
Because when we rise above that fear, when we stand and stare our challenges in the face, then we become a hero.
This is what Miles Morales can teach our children. That the great responsibility presented to us may demand an even greater since of courage. That we can do these things on our own but that it is okay to ask for help from friends or family or mentors. The we’re never truly fearless, we’re just better than the sum of our fears. That anyone can be a hero, no matter who they are, where they are from, or what their life might be like. We aren’t heroic in absence of fear, but rather in spite of it.
That’s what makes Miles the Ultimate.