A comic book that hit shelves on Wednesday will introduce the world to a new Spider-Man: Miles Morales, a Black, Latino 13-year-old from Brooklyn, New York.
In recent issues of Marvel Comic's Ultimate Universe Spider-Man, Peter Parker died heroically at the hands of the Green Goblin. In Wednesday's "Ultimate Comics Fallout #4," readers will meet Morales, who come this fall will be the new star of the Spider-Man series.
"We just thought, 'Wouldn't it be cool if Spider-Man was biracial?'" said one of the writers of the comic, Brian Michael Bendis. "Somebody different than the comic book norm -- who represented New York more."
Bendis said the Ultimate Universe series was created by Marvel in 2000 with the idea of taking classic comic book scenarios, and seeing what would happen to the plots if they took place in the present, instead of in the 1960s.
In Marvel's Amazing Spider-Man series, Spidey's alter ego will continue to be Peter Parker.
According to Bendis, the idea of creating a Spider-Man of color came about after he and fellow Marvel executives heard the same story over and over again from their African-American friends -- that they had identified strongly with Spider-Man as children, since he was one of the few characters that, in costume, had no obvious racial identity.
"This is definitely progress," said Jeff Yang, Pop Culture Columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle who just curated NYU's new exhibit on Asian images in comics called "Marvel and Monsters." "It's always great to see when the faces behind the masks -- the iconic characters we grew up with -- are finally starting to reflect the world around us."
Yang pointed out that changes were also afoot at the top of the comic book industry.
"The bigger message this Spider swap sends is less about the man behind the mask, but [more about] the man behind the pen," said Yang. "There's a bold new diversity at the very top of the industry, with Jim Lee as the new co-publisher at DC [Comics] and Joe Quesada as editorial director and Alex Alonso as editor-in-chief at Marvel, and that's having a huge, direct and positive impact on how the comics reflect the realities of the 21st century."
Although the earliest generation of superheroes was disproportionally white, this isn't the first time diversity has entered the comic book world. DC Comics introduced Steel, an African-American superman-type hero, in 1992. In 2006, DC's lesser-known Blue Beetle passed his costume onto a Latino character. And Marvel introduced some of the first minority heroes with the Black Panther (1966) and Luke Cage (1972).
Then, there's the new Latina Spider-Girl, a creation of Marvel Comics editor-in-chief Axel Alonso, who has indicated a desire to increase Latino visibility in his comics.
"DC characters like Superman were wholesome and clean-cut and represented the establishment," said Jim Salicrup, editor-in-chief at the comic book publisher Papercutz, who was on Marvel's team for 20 years. "The early Marvel superheroes like Spider-Man and the X-Men were just the opposite."
Cheryl Gladstone, a Brooklyn resident who writes mini-comics and works in affordable housing finance, is a fan of Marvel's choice to feature a Spider-Man of color.
"Being different is a superpower," said Gladstone, who is Filipina and Jewish. "Comics have long made heroes out of the freaks and geeks of the world, so it's nice to see them embracing the multi-racial 'freaks' like me."
Jeff Yang echoed Gladstone's thoughts.
"The very narrative of the comic book superhero is about secrecy, it's about needing to hide and preserve something special about yourself," he said. "It's about feeling important even when the world rejects who you are."