Yesterday Sony finally unveiled the highly-anticipated PlayStation 5, set for release later this year, along with a slew of new games coming to the console over the next couple years. First out of the gate, and a hard one to beat in terms of buzz, was Spider-Man: Miles Morales. While gamers and Spidey fans had been expecting a direct sequel to Insomniac’s Spider-Man (2018), the announcement of Miles Morales came as a surprise. While there is still some confusion over whether the new adventure will be DLC content attached to a “remaster” of the 2018 game, akin to The City Never Sleeps DLC content, or a full spin-off like the surprisingly lengthy Uncharted: The Lost Legacy (2017), Insomniac has confirmed it will be a separate game.
Miles Morales’ presence at the forefront of the PS5’s launch is substantial in more ways than one.
As one of the top trends on Twitter yesterday following the PS5 presentation, Miles Morales’s popularity is quite remarkable. The character has emerged as one of the comic industry’s greatest success stories, especially when you consider the fact that he’s been around less than a decade. New comic characters often have a difficult time catching on, especially in terms of attracting the interest of non-comic readers. Even Harley Quinn and Deadpool, fixtures in our pop culture now, took much more than a decade to really break out among general audiences, and a large part of that can be attributed to their live-action appearances and subsequent association with their respective performers, Margot Robbie and Ryan Reynolds. But Miles Morales, who has yet to make his live-action debut, has had a meteoric rise, even for a legacy character as evidenced by his appearances in animated series, Insomniac’s Spider-Man, a nod in Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017), and a starring role in the brilliant Oscar-winning Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, which just began production on a sequel this week.
Part of the reason why Miles Morales has been so embraced as Spider-Man by fans is likely because he isn’t simply a replacement. Even looking back at his origins in the Ultimate universe, where he picked up the mantle of Spider-Man after that world’s Peter Parker seemingly died, Marvel Comics never lacked the presence of Peter Parker in their central universe, Earth-616. The Ultimate universe gave Miles Morales’ creators Brian Michael Bendis and Sara Pichelli the opportunity to define Miles on his own terms, and establish a characterization unique from Peter Parker’s, a more cautious attention to detail and a wry sense of humor. And when Miles Morales was brought to Earth-616, following the events of Jonathan Hickman and Esad Ribic’s Secret Wars (2015), it wasn’t to take over for Peter Parker but to work alongside him, focusing his attentions on Brooklyn. Marvel provided fans with the best of both worlds, the Spider-Man they had come to know for over 50 years, and a new Spider-Man who could help define the next fifty. Insomniac’s Spider-Man smartly utilized this angle, making Miles Morales part of Peter Parker’s world from the start, and positioning him as a partner, with Peter having a chance to fulfill the mentor role that had failed him with Otto Octavius.
The most meaningful aspect of Miles Morales’ popularity and why the opportunity for a solo video game adventure is such a highlight is because of his racial identity. There’s an inherent joy in the fact that Black and brown kids not only have a Spider-Man who looks like them, but will soon be able to play as him. But it’s not just our ability to play as Miles that’s exciting, but our ability to talk about him as well. Yesterday’s announcement spawned dozens of memes and conversations focused on Miles’ fresh cut and edge-up. There was a sense of joy in seeing an Afro-Latino superhero who actually looks it. There’s no understating how meaningful that is in a video game landscape that hasn’t quite broken down all of its racial barriers.
There’s still a lot still to learn about Spider-Man: Morales, including the role its Christmas setting will play in the story, what villains might show up, and whether the social issues that have helped shape Saladin Ahmed’s current run on the comic Miles Morales: Spider-Man will be given their due. With increased attention on the Black Lives Matter movement, and comic book writer Evan Narcisse (Rise of the Black Panther) working on the story, it’s hopeful that Spider-Man: Miles Morales will tackle some of the political issues that can only be explored through a Black superhero. Thankfully, with the game set to release this holiday season, we won’t have to wait long to find out. In whatever medium Miles Morales appears, he is exactly the kind of superhero the world needs right now.