Spidey switch spurs undue angst

August 11, 2011


OK, people: chill out. Breathe. Relax.

Spider-Man is still white. He’ll always be white. He’s been white since that day in 1962 when Peter Parker, a high school science nerd, was bitten by that radioactive bug.

In the five decades since, he’s aged about 10 years, grown and lost four extra arms, been cloned, and made a deal with a devil that rewrote all of reality. It’s a litany of impossibilities that lends a certain context to the news that seems to have left observers meshuggeneh and verklempt: Marvel Comics has killed off Peter Parker and replaced him with a new Spider-Man, Miles Morales, who is black and Latino.

Fox News (who else?) asked if this represented “a radical left turn.” Gary Stein of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel wondered if this was a good idea or PC “run amok.” Simone Wilson, a blogger for the L.A. Weekly, celebrated a move that would “open the Spider-Man casting call from pasty crackers like Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst.” Someone on a message board at The Root, took Marvel to task for a “colored Spidey” created to make money. Someone on a USA Today message board derided “super hero affirmative action.” And that’s not to mention the folks who say President Obama had something to do with it. Or Glenn Beck, who blamed Obama’s wife.

As a Spider-fan of almost 50 years, I feel compelled to say a few things.

In the first place, this death of Spider-Man takes place in an alternate universe, alternate universes being about as common in comics as sex scandals are in politics. The “real” Spider-Man remains Peter Parker.

In the second place, this is the opposite of unprecedented. The “real” Nick Fury is a crusty white man who looks nothing like Samuel L. Jackson. And we learned a few years ago that the first Captain America was black.

In the third place, as your friendly neighborhood comics dealer will tell you, books starring, ahem, “colored” characters are usually poor sellers, so if this is a money grab, it’s a dumb one.

In the fourth place, the person who seriously thinks the Obamas had anything to do with this should seek help immediately.

In the fifth place, “affirmative action?” Actually, comics have long proven that courage comes in both black and white. Also, orange, blue and green.

In the sixth place, leave Maguire and Dunst alone. Pasty they may or may not be, but they seem to have a modicum of class, which is more than can be said of someone who calls white people crackers.

Of course, none of that addresses the underlying cause of all this angst. Meaning, the nation’s discomfort with its own changing face. America is fast becoming a country where no group will command a numerical majority. Whites will be just another minority group.

If some of us see that as a bracing challenge, others see it as cause for panic. But they better make their peace, because Miles Morales is just the tip of the edge of the rim of the iceberg. This change will not be forestalled. Seal the borders, gnash your teeth, bemoan the biracial Spider-Man. It doesn’t matter. The future will come, regardless.

A smart nation would prepare for that. So it’ll be interesting to see what this nation does.

That’s all I came to say. Now, if you’ll excuse me, my spider sense is tingling.

— Leonard Pitts Jr., winner of the 2004 Pulitzer Prize for commentary, is a columnist for the Miami Herald. He chats with readers from noon to 1 p.m. CDT each Wednesday on www.MiamiHerald.com.

— Leonard Pitts Jr. is a columnist for the Miami Herald. His email is lpitts@miamiherald.com.


cato_the_elder 6 years, 7 months ago

Pitts finally reveals that he's a nerd who's an expert on comic books, which must be where he picked up his writing style.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 6 years, 7 months ago

What style is that--speaking truths you find inconvenient?

tomatogrower 6 years, 7 months ago

Everyone can't be cool like cato. Every "nerd" that I know, who are into comics (and I know many) are also well read in philosophy, science, scifi, politics, etc. You would be quite surprised how many of those topics are present in comics. But of course, if you're too afraid of nerdness, you'll never find out, will you cato, with a small "c".

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 6 years, 7 months ago

"Instead, you dislike him (for a multitude of reasons) and would rather attempt to ridicule him than counter what he wrote."

I think he dislikes Pitts primarily because he is so inept at countering in an intelligent way anything Pitts writes.

cato_the_elder 6 years, 7 months ago

Au contraire, Bozo. Nothing Pitts writes is worth countering.

cato_the_elder 6 years, 7 months ago

Comment directed at KansasUnconscionable.

cato_the_elder 6 years, 7 months ago

I did grasp the subject, and merely commented that I hadn't previously known that Pitts was a comic book nerd, and an expert one at that. Most sane people his age would have given up reading comic books decades earlier. His writing style and, moreover, his analytical abilities, would fit well within the pages of the comic books I remember reading.

Hey, if you're a comic book nerd too, that's fine. I assume that you're still in your teens.

Maddy Griffin 6 years, 7 months ago

Thanks Leonard! Needed a good chuckle this morning.

tomatogrower 6 years, 7 months ago

Great column, Mr. Pitts. Can you believe the hysteria that is coming out of the right about a comic book character? Their paranoia would be funny if they didn't have so many followers. Go ahead, Beck, Fox, Stein, and Wilson make fools of yourselves. I'm real sure Marvel comics is plotting to take over the world from the white men.

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