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After 2015’s Secret Wars ended Marvel’s Ultimate Universe, there were 4 characters from outside Earth-616 (aka Marvel Prime, the comics universe we’ve known since 1961) that got the call up to the big leagues: The Maker (“evil” Reed Richards), Jimmy Hudson (lol), Old Man Logan (not an Ultimate Universe creation), and Miles Morales (Spider-Man). While Miles is unquestionably the biggest of the four, he’s also the character Marvel Comics has struggled with the most.
Apart from Jimmy Hudson, who did some weird symbiote stuff then disappeared, both the Maker and Old Man Logan were pretty quickly and naturally integrated into comics (Venom/Ultimate Invasion and X-Men/Old Man Logan respectively). Miles immediately received a solo series that has been running in various incarnations since 2016, but I think the fit as Earth-616’s “other” Spider-Man has always felt a bit off. It has often felt like two Spider-Men on parallel paths, but without the integration you get from the likes of DC’s Bat-family. Peter and Miles weren’t butting heads, but Peter and the legacy of the Amazing Spider-Man clearly overshadowed a “secondary” title (and this is during a time when Peter’s own Spider-Man comics are a far cry from their creative peaks).
This isn’t for lack of trying. Since migrating from the Ultimate Universe, Miles has been on the Champions and Avengers, played big roles in Universe-Wide events (what’s up terrible Civil War 2!), and established really strong relationships with other relative newcomers like Kamala Khan and Spider-Gwen. I get the sense that Marvel Comics values Miles as a character to prioritze; I suspect they underestimated just how valuable he’d become.
It’s been amazing (Spectacular! Friendly Neighborhood! Web of!) to see adaptations outside of comics completely own What We Talk About When We Talk About Miles Morales. Late 2018’s Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse instantly became *the* central Miles text, albeit right after fall 2018’s Marvel’s Spider-Man (PS4) set the stage for a future video game universe with both Peter Parker and Miles swinging together as Spider-Men. And so far, neither of these Miles-verses have disappointed, carrying their stories through 2020’s Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales, and this year’s Across the Spider-Verse and now Marvel’s Spider-Man 2
Simply put, Spider-Man 2 is the latest in a 5 year stretch of non-comics mediums highlighting Miles as the superior Spider-Man of the decade.
Early on in Spider-Man 2, I gravitated more towards Peter’s story, as that appears to be the center of the game, and because of the joys I found playing as Peter in the first PS4 game. These video games excel at building emotional resonance between Peter and his inevitable foes (Doc Ock, Venom, the Scream moment that quite literally made me scream with delirious laughter), and those hooks lend a surprising amount of feeling to the white-knuckle combat. As the threat of Kraven built its way towards an adapted symbiote saga, Miles took hold of my interest, and never let go. There’s no real head-to-head quarterback controversy here (as we’ll see), but by game’s end, I was really impressed how satisfying Miles’ arc felt, from reconciling with his Uncle Prowler to finally asking Hailey on a date to taking the ultimate Spider-Man step of working to successfully reform and HELP his greatest enemy (Mister Negative, who caused the death of Miles’ father in the first game).
We have seen it proven repeatedly now that Peter and Miles can not only co-exist but thrive in a storytelling environment where both heroes collaborate. It began in one of Brian Michael Bendis’ best Ultimate Universe ideas (the 2011 Spider-Men limited series), and has been one of the most interesting mentor/teammate relationships since. Nonetheless, Miles’ relative freshness simply offers more flexibility and potential for the unexpected. Peter Parker is my favorite superhero of all time, but we have 60 years of history with the guilt-addled paragon of virtue. There will be creators in all variety of mediums who come in and find new ways for the character to resonate with the next generation of fans – it might happen next year with Jonathan Hickman and Marco Checchetto’s Ultimate Spider-Man relaunch! But those moments are going to be *rare*; generally the best we can hope for is a fresh coat of paint on our old fave. With Miles, there’s a real chance to build something new. The foundations aren’t as stuck in place. I think that’s why he’s the Spider-Man of the 2020s.
The fan resistance to Peter stepping away from the Spider-Man role, letting Miles take the lead for the foreseeable future, and finding ways to do more good with his substantial scientific genius highlights one of the biggest reasons comics and adaptations so often remain stuck, or revert to the familiar: Too many fans are afraid of genuine growth. When you look at the most interesting moments of Spider-Man comics in the 2000’s, they’re when creators moved Peter Parker in directions we hadn’t seen before. The J. Michael Straczynski and John Romita Jr. run began by establishing Peter as a science teacher at his old school, as he reconciled a separation from Mary Jane, and the book felt a genuine sense of maturity creep in. Dan Slott and Ryan Stegman’s Superior Spider-Man almost entirely removed a “dead” Peter Parker from the book while one of his greatest enemies took on the role of Spider-Man, and a sense of possibility and re-exploring what it means to be Spider-Man reigned. And then what happened next? Editorial directors nearly snapped their necks trying to whiplash Peter back to a younger, past self doing things the way Spider-Man comics used to. Stan Lee’s “illusion of change” lords over all.
And the saddest part about that is because enough fans want that – want to be served the same meal over and over for the rest of their lives – Marvel continues to feel it’s the business case worth supporting. This is why I celebrate creative swings and risks so much. And Insomniac setting themselves up for a Marvel’s Spider-Man 3 on PS6 without Peter Parker in costume? That feels like a swing! Do I think we’ll still probably see Pete return to a suit at some point in the narrative? Of course! Nonetheless, it’s a smart, healthy direction to move, and even if it misses, at least it won’t be stuck in place.
On the comics side, I think you can see the publisher recognizing the potential of the Spider-Men. Marvel just announced a Spectacular Spider-Men series that will be written by Greg Weisman, head of the animated Spectacular Spider-Man, which is my favorite animated adaptation of pretty much any superhero. Alongside Humberto Ramos, there will *finally* be the Peter and Miles team book fans have wanted – Personally, I hope it’s a massive success.
The ongoing Cody Ziglar and Federico Vincente run on Miles is also identifying similar successes found in Spider-Man 2. The effort to establish Miles as his own Spider-Man doesn’t mean you have to discount legacy characters. It’s an effective table-setting and dopamine shortcut to put Miles up against Scorpion and Hobgoblin. It works very well, too, with villains who aren’t as closely tied to Peter Parker’s long history. For example, I think it would be extremely difficult to integrate Norman Osborn into a narrative predominantly focused on Miles, but the likes of Mister Negative in Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 works beautifully.
All in all, I don’t know that I enjoyed Spider-Man 2 narratively more than the first, but every time I thought I had a handle on things, or that I knew exactly what was coming, the game took an exciting turn. The modern inclusion of the Knull symbol for example was unexpected and an interesting example of how new comics elements can quickly get codified and adapted into “the way these stories are told.” Either way, I loved the chance to careen through New York as Spider-Men, and hope that with or without Pete, Marvel’s Spider-Man 3 is thinking about ways a Cindy Moon or Miguel could spice up the next round.