If you’ve stuck around after any of the recent Marvel superhero movies like Thor or Captain America, you’ve probably noticed Samuel L. Jackson. He’s the iconic one-eyed Nick Fury, badass director of S.H.I.E.L.D.
Few people know the character of Fury was designed after Jackson himself, who eventually agreed to have his likeness immortalized in comic books and appear in the corresponding film versions.
Even fewer folks know that the character Nick Fury used to be a white dude. Fury was reinvented in 2002 as a black character in the comic books after decades of being just another scowling white guy with a gun in charge of a huge government organization.
In a similar move, another Marvel staple is getting this racial reinvention treatment. You know him as Your Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man.
On Wednesday, Marvel reveals in issue #4 of Ultimate Fallout that the newest Spider-Man to take up the tights is a half-black, half-Latino teenager named Miles Morales.
Now before you mourn the death of Peter Parker (played by Andrew Garfield in the upcoming blockbuster), you should know the Ultimate Universe where Morales lives is an alternate reality. In the mainstay Marvel Universe, Peter Parker is still alive and kicking (and punching).
The Ultimate Universe was started in 2000 to invite new readers into the origin stories of younger, reimagined characters without all the baggage of the last 60 years. Spiderman, the X-Men and the Fantastic Four all got Ultimate-ized, and it was here that Nick Fury swapped skin tones as well.
Reactions to the new Spider-Man have been mixed, of course. The switch from Parker to Morales is a big leap, and many long-time Spidey fans are still reeling at the death of a character they assumed indestructible. Unfortunately, some fansites are calling the change a publicity stunt to acquiesce to political correctness.
According to Alex Alonso, Marvel Editor in Chief, in a post on Marvel's website:
When the opportunity arose to create a new Spider-Man, we knew it had to be a character that represents the diversity—in background and experience—of the twenty-first century. Miles is a character who not only follows in the tradition of relatable characters like Peter Parker, but also shows why he’s a new, unique kind of Spider-Man—and worthy of that name.
I personally find it refreshing to introduce at least a little more color into the comic book racks and movie interpretations. Comic books have too long been a genre made primarily by, for and about white dudes.
It’s still a novelty for major label superhero characters to be a minority of any variety. X-Man Northstar gained media attention in 1992 for announcing he was gay, but only a handful of other characters have followed suit. Physical disability hinders some heroes, but their powers generally cancel out those limitations. And many black superheroes still have names with ‘black’ in the title. At least women are kicking ass and carrying their own series these days.
In a recent Huffington Post article, Robin Quivers blasts Marvel’s new Captain America movie for glancing over racial and gender inequality during the time period depicted in the film. She argues that ignoring the reality of history is its own powerful form of racism.
The Ultimate revisions of Nick Fury and Spider-Man aren’t enough to make up for years of unequal representation. But they can, as Alonso, says, finally begin to represent our current society more accurately.
It’s important to see every race, sex, body, religion and sexuality associated with the term “hero.” I hope readers can give Miles Morales the chance to prove himself to be one, despite the color of the face behind the mask.