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The Case for a Live-Action Miles Morales

‘Spider-Man: No Way Home’ showed there’s been a certain sameness to the titular hero. Is it time to bring in some help from the Spider-Verse?

Sony Pictures/Ringer illustration

The “Three White Boys Doing Stuff” Hall of Fame isn’t all that big or even a particularly prestigious award. The Three Stooges, Aragorn-Legolas-Gimli, Beastie Boys, and Snap, Crackle, and Pop all have portraits hanging on the walls. Ed, Edd, and Eddy have been scratching at the doors for 20-plus years, while Seinfeld’s actors remain outside on a technicality. Meanwhile, Kevin Feige and Sony erected a new annex to the latest trio of exceptional white boys turned arachnid superheroes—Tobey Maguire, Andrew Garfield, and Tom Holland.

Against all odds, Spider-Man: No Way Home lived up to expectations. It managed to throw three Spider-Men, five villains, eight films worth of history, and 19 years of continuity into an IP blender and emerge with something coherent and satisfying. With a $260 million domestic haul in its first week, it’s the rare salve in the continued decline of the theatrical business and the second-biggest opening of all time behind its MCU brethren Avengers: Endgame.

But the latest Spider-Man film also feels like a culmination. For almost 20 years, we’ve seen endless permutations of Caucasian Peter Parkers bouncing around the multiverse. Over the years, the cinematic accouterments changed. The Aunt Mays got progressively younger, while the Uncle Bens (and their deaths) receded to the background. Similarly, the casts became more diverse. A ginger Mary Jane became a blond Gwen Stacy and then a biracial MJ. A Filipino Ned Leeds replaced two white Harry Osborns. Yet, the essence of Peter Parker remained. Sure, Tobey’s quiet dignity was momentarily upended by Andrew’s slick and tortured motormouth, which begat Tom’s boy-next-door tweeness, but each performance was of a whole. Peter Parker is the constant, but there’s a rare chance for a reprieve with the end of Holland’s trilogy.

For the first time since 2017, the world of live-action Spider-Man doesn’t have to look like a Wes Anderson call sheet, the Dallas Mavericks, or a Taylor Swift concert. The future is now and we must collectively bargain for our Afro Latinx king, Miles Morales, to jump from the Spider-Verse and take his rightful place upon the live-action throne. This isn’t a moral crusade, but a righteous one. Whether Miles is introduced in a solo Sony movie or is mentored by Tom Holland in the MCU doesn’t matter. The proletariat cannot subsist on the teat of white Spider-Men alone. If it helps, Tom Holland agrees.

Despite the tease—and subsequent walk-back—of three more solo Holland movies, it’s been confirmed that the latest Spider-Man is confirmed for only one more MCU appearance at an undetermined time and place. Yet for the bulk of the No Way Home press tour, Holland has bristled at the idea of reprising his role indefinitely, going so far as pitching a series of replacements. “Maybe it is time for me to move on. Maybe what’s best for Spider-Man is that they do a Miles Morales film,” he told GQ. “If I’m playing Spider-Man after I’m 30, I’ve done something wrong.”

A month later, Holland reiterated his point to People: “I don’t want to be responsible for holding back the next young person that comes in who deserves it just as much so. I would love to see a future of Spider-Man that’s more diverse—maybe you have a Spider-Gwen or a Spider-Woman. We’ve had three Spider-Mans in a row; we’ve all been the same. It’d be nice to see something different.”

Created in 2011 by Brian Michael Bendis and Sara Pichelli, Miles Morales is the most consequential addition to the Spider-Man mythos since the debut of Venom in 1988 and his very origin story is tied to Sony’s live-action shenanigans. Calls for a Black Spider-Man date back to 2010 when Sam Raimi and Tobey Maguire’s Spider-Man 4 was scuttled after script issues, which caused Sony to go forward with a reboot. Fans called for Donald Glover, then starring in Community, to get the role. Glover openly campaigned for the part, but unbeknownst to the world, Marvel was already planning to replace the Ultimate Universe Peter Parker with a Black counterpart—albeit an animated one.

“[Miles] was already in development,” Bendis told Polygon in 2018, “And we were literally right there with the thought ‘Is this the right thing to do?’ And there comes Donald Glover; he just showed up in his underoos looking fabulous. And all it said was ‘Yeah, it’s time, there’s something going on, let’s do it.’” Seven years later, the #Donald4Spiderman campaign mostly amounted to the actor getting cast as Aaron Davis, the uncle of an off-screen Morales, in Spider-Man: Homecoming and a tossed-off joke from Jamie Foxx in No Way Home, while live-action Miles has yet to appear.

Despite Miles’s brief existence, he’s become like an oasis in Peter Parker’s increasingly stale exploits. For decades, creators have struggled to innovate on Peter’s core concept in any lasting way. It took Peter’s assimilation into the MCU to shake off the audience apathy that emerged after 2014’s critically reviled The Amazing Spider-Man 2. Comic book writers have also tried to revamp Peter numerous times—he’s been a high school teacher, an Elon Musk–type CEO, Iron Man’s assistant, a newspaper editor, an Avenger, dead—to mixed results. To appeal to younger readers, Marvel editors brainstormed a story in which a comic book devil makes him single after years of being married to Mary Jane. When that failed to pull in many new readers, he eventually got back with her. In 2013, Doctor Octopus inhabited Spider-Man’s body, while currently the wall-crawler is replaced with his clone Ben Reilly.

Meanwhile, Miles has flourished, unburdened by the rampant nostalgia and daunting levels of continuity high jinks that burdens his predecessor. And while most point to Miles’s race to explain his appeal, that’s not the character’s greatest asset. In most iterations, Miles is allowed to be an ordinary child in extraordinary situations. Sometimes his actions save the universe, but often his failings mean someone close to him ends up getting hurt. 2018’s Oscar-winning Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is arguably the best and most well-regarded Spider-Man movie because it strips down the character to this essence. The movie’s climactic scene does more character work for Spider-Man than a decade of his actual comics. It’s also fitting that Peter B. Parker—an aging, sloppy, man-baby Spider-Man—delivers the meta-dialogue about having the courage to change.

Miles’s stories feel closest to the spirit of Spider-Man’s 1960s origins. Stan Lee and Steve Ditko’s teenaged hero began as a story of a low-income social outcast trying to make his way through the world and high school, while also living up to the memory of his deceased uncle. His problems were small, but felt monumental. The villains he faced were either blue collar or enemies of the working class. And rarely could a superhero team or billionaire benefactor save him. Unfortunately, as Spider-Man’s comic book demographic aged up, Peter did as well. Marital bliss and workplace dynamics became more relatable to the majority of Spider-Man readers (and his writers) than worrying about who he’d date or how to hide his identity.

In 2021, Spider-Man is a nostalgia factory. Endless versions of the character are pumped out on a conveyor belt serving a host of different benefactors. The character is akin to a fast-food chain steadily making incremental changes and adding choices to the menu for mass appeal. That’s why Spider-Man: No Way Home works and Miles Morales exists.

In a just world, you wouldn’t need a Black Spider-Man. There would be enough infrastructure and capital for stories about Black heroes to exist in Hollywood without having to be part of some monolithic franchise. Black heroes taking over white mantles—e.g., Captain America, Iron Man, Batman—wouldn’t be the surest way to on-screen diversity. But that world is a fantasy for now. If you want to see big-budget action with Black actors, you either have the MCU titles like Black Panther and The Falcon and the Winter Soldier or the Fast & Furious franchise. So as long as another Spider-Man movie is inevitable, it might as well be Miles Morales. In the words of Peter B. Parker, you’ll never know whether Miles can be the real Spider-Man unless you take “a leap of faith.”