Before Miles Morales replaced Peter Parker, there was Miguel O'Hara.
So far, the new Latino Spider-Man has not received a very friendly neighborhood welcome from the Marvel Universe faithful.
When Marvel introduced Miles Morales, a half-black, half-Latino teen, as the new Spider-Man earlier this month to replace the deceased Peter Parker in its “Ultimate Comics Spider-Man” series, reaction was mixed. Some fans celebrated the changing of the guard.
“I am really excited about this new change,” wrote one on Marvel’s message board. “I am very curious on how Miles will develop.”
Others, however, were a lot more skeptical.
“It is wrong to kill off Peter and replace him with anyone,” wrote one fan. “Race does not matter; it is wrong no matter what the color. Peter Parker is Spider-Man.”
“If this new Spidey is gone in a year, then this is a cheap and insulting ploy to get readers,” wrote another true believer. “As a minority, I would rather see a new minority character created or the better use of existing ones. There are too few minority characters out there. I love Petey and don’t like the idea of changing an established character to a minority for shock value.”
Gimmick or not, no one should have been too surprised by Spider-Man’s reinvention as a biracial teen. Miles Morales may be the new Web Crawler, but he is not the first Latino Spider-Man. Marvel broke those boundaries 19 years ago when it introduced Miguel O’Hara as a re-imagined Spider-Man.
This was in 1992, when Marvel launched a line of comics that took a futuristic look at some of its staple characters.
In “Spider-Man 2099,” the Wall-Crawler was Miguel O’Hara, a geneticist of Mexican and Irish descent. This new Spider-Man lived in a darker world, where science and technology had corrupted corporate America and literally created monsters. O’Hara was one of those creations, albeit an accidental one.
O’Hara seemed to be more of a "spider-creature" than the Web-Slinger we know and love, Peter Parker. Unlike Parker, he had spinnerets in his forearms that enabled him to weave “organic webs” (as opposed to ones Parker had to make in his lab and load in web shooters). In addition, he had talons that enabled him to climb walls and fangs.
Arguably, this change to Spider-Man was not necessary. But it kept the character fresh and readers guessing.
“Many of these characters that we see today were first created in the 1940s and 50s during an entirely different time,” said Robert Thompson, the founding director of the Bleier Center for Television and Popular Culture at Syracuse University. “To keep these characters relevant, you’d have to change them or at least make them face some contemporary issues.”
Spider-Man isn’t the only comic book icon who has been reborn and found new life in recent years. Traditionally white characters such as Hal Jordan’s Green Lantern and Dan Garret’s Blue Beetle have been reinvented with Hispanic alter egos: Kyle Raynor donned the green and Jaime Reyes the blue.
In a 2003 Marvel miniseries, "Truth: Red, White & Black," Steve Rogers learned he was not the first Captain America. In a scenario somewhat reminiscent of the Tuskegee airmen, the Sentinel of Liberty learned that the super-soldier serum that gave him his enhanced abilities was first tested on black servicemen anxious to fight in World War II. That same year, the Rawhide Kid, a gunslinger whose comic book made his debut in 1955 when Westerns were king in the entertainment world, returned to Marvel – as a gay cowboy.
Our favorite characters have changed with the times – in ways some of us never imagined. And while Marvel has not directly linked Miles Morales’ emergence as the new Spiderman to President Obama, it is difficult not to notice a resemblance between the two.
“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 21st century,” said Axel Alonso, Marvel Editor in Chief. “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.”
But does a biracial Spidey best represent today’s world just because we have a biracial president in the Oval Office? Comic book enthusiasts will ultimately make that decision. For now, they wait for Miles Morales’ run as the new Web Slinger – complete with new costume – to fully begin on Sept. 14, when “Ultimate Comics Spider-Man No. 1” hits the shelves.
Traditionalists who are not ready for Morales can still find Peter Parker alive and well in several other Marvel titles. (“Ultimate Comics” is an “alternative universe” in Marvel that places characters in more contemporary situations. Only in the world of comics and TV can you be killed off and still live on.)
Just remember that a biracial president didn’t pave the way for the Miles Morales. That legacy belongs to Miguel O’Hara, the first – and forgotten – Latino Spider-Man, who did whatever a spider can long before anyone ever heard of Barack Obama.
Bryan Robinson is a Fox News Web producer.