Anyone can wear the mask.
That’s the core idea that makes Spider-Man such an iconic character. He wasn’t some alien or a billionaire or anything like that. He was just a regular kid who ended up with super powers. It wasn’t those powers that made him a hero, though; it was his actions. Not everyone could be bitten by a radioactive spider. But anyone could choose to be a hero.
That said, the idea of replacing Spider-Man is a difficult one. Despite that concept, many people see Spider-Man as Peter Parker. There are a few other versions, like Spider-Gwen, but that doesn’t really count. The only quote ‘real’ Spider-Man is Peter.
Then Miles Morales came along.
Miles is one of the few characters in Spider-Man history to successfully earn the title of Spider-Man. Not Spider-Boy of Other-Spider or Spider-Miles or whatever other bullshit you want to call him so that Peter can still be the one and only Spider-Man. No. Miles Morales has become Spider-Man. Even more impressively: he’s been accepted as Spider-Man.
It did take him some time, though. When Miles was first introduced in the comics, he was a pretty divisive character. While few people disliked the idea of him as Spider-Man, many people thought that he was lacking in actual character. As such, he continued to be the ‘other’ Spider-Man while Peter Parker remained the ‘true’ Spider-Man.
That all changed, however, when Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse came out.
Now, I won’t go into too much detail about that movie. We all know it’s amazing and it’s the best Spider-Man movie of all time (shut up Raimi fanboys, I don’t want to hear it). Everything it did, it did practically to perfection. But most importantly of all: it gave Miles Morales a defined character. Better yet: it was an incredibly well-written, likable, and unique character.
Miles isn’t like the soft-spoken, unpopular nerd that is Peter Parker. He’s socially outgoing, energetic, and artistically expressive. However, he’s also weighed down by the burden of expectations. From his parents to his peers, everyone expects great things out of Miles. Naturally, Miles is afraid of being unable to meet those expectations. More than that, he doesn’t want to deal with it; he just wants to express himself.
The Spider-Verse version of Miles quickly became the new standard for the character. Which you could very easily tell almost immediately by playing Spider-Man: Miles Morales. Not only does he carry over the new powers given to him by the film (we’ll get to those), but he even carries over the traits he had in the film that he lacked in the first game.
It’s not just his personality, either. It’s his aforementioned powers. He isn’t just Spider-Man but with a different suit and personality. He’s got his own unique powers that help him stand apart from his predecessor. Namely his tazer-hands and invisibility.
That’s the first point in Miles’ favor: uniqueness. He isn’t just Peter Parker done all over again. He’s a wholly unique, interesting, and easily likable character.
Point number two: relatability. Spider-Man has got to be relatable. But how do you do that without doing the regular nerd thing again?
Simple. You make him a minority.
I normally avoid talking about stuff like racial or sexual representation. Not because I don’t support it, because I very much do. Rather, because I’m probably the least qualified person in the world to talk about it. I’m a straight white dude, the furthest thing from a minority that could possibly exist.
That said, even I can understand the cultural significance Miles has. He’s the son of an African American father and a Puerto Rican mother. And anyone who knows literally anything about America knows that these two groups have been marginalized and hated viciously for centuries. They’ve been getting the shortest end of the stick for ages.
I can only imagine how it must feel for children from either culture to see Miles on screen or in a comic shop. Someone who comes from the same roots as them, a superhero. Not just any superhero, mind you. Spider-Man! Every child’s favorite superhero!
Ultimately, I feel like that’s the real reason Miles has become such a popular character. Why everyone accepts him as Spider-Man just as easily as they accept Peter Parker. Because he does exactly what Spider-Man should do: inspire. He is true proof that anyone can wear the mask. Anyone can be a hero. And he does it all while being his own character, completely distinct from those that came before him.
Fuck, dude. I love Spider-Man so god damn much. No matter who is wearing the mask.