Peter Parker is dead. The wise-cracking, lovable, socially awkward teen is no more. But do not fret! The hungry radioactive spider has found another juicy morsel by the name of Miles Morales — an Afro-Hispanic teenager from Brooklyn. Miles’ has been slinging to popularity over the years in various forms of media. Now, this new Spider-Man will be the focus of an upcoming novel.
Crafted by the award winning writer Jason Reynolds, Miles Morales: A Spider-Man Novel lets the author depict Marvel’s most exciting Spider-Man in a new light. Drawing from his experience as a person of color growing up in urban America, Reynolds was often frustrated with the lack of African-American superheroes in literature, especially in young adult fiction. This is his way of creating something for young ones who are growing up in an environment similar to his own.
Redital had an opportunity to interview Reynolds about Miles Morales: A Spider-Man Novel. Releasing this August, the book tackles survivor’s guilt, the cycle of poverty, and the grittiness of street life; topics unknown in Peter Parker’s world.
When you set out to write Miles Morales as a character and the overall arc of the novel, what message did you want to send to the reader?
I’m very careful about trying to send specific messages in my work. That’s not to say they’re void of message, but I just don’t want to be too didactic. If there’s anything to take from this book, it’s that the superpowers Miles possesses as Spider-Man are nothing compared to the intrinsic superpowers he already had— will, integrity, and mental fortitude. We all have superpowers, whether you have a spider suit or not.
What is the most appealing aspect of Miles Morales the character? What is the most misunderstood aspect about him?
The most appealing part of Miles, to me, is everything outside of him being Spider-Man. His family, and neighborhood. His friendship with Ganke and Alicia. The jokes and textures. The most misunderstood aspect of him…hmmm. Good question. I guess, people will read this and think Miles doesn’t want to be Spider-Man. But he does. He just doesn’t know if he CAN be Spider-Man. And that’s less about his willingness and more about his insecurity rooted in all kinds of external factors, from family to school to society.
How much freedom did Disney/Marvel give you while writing the novel?
A lot. I have to say, I pitched my idea, and they were like, “Go for it.” And so I went for it, turned in the first draft, and they said, “Go further.” I couldn’t believe it! So, yeah, they let me do my thing.
What separates your version of Miles Morales from previous iterations?
Tricky. I have respect for the other iterations. I think the biggest difference with this particular story is, it’s a novel, so I had more space to peel back layers. Also, I’m of this community, of this culture, so the details that I tried to bring to it were distinct to said culture. I wanted my story to be lifted most by the authenticity of the characters.
What strengths did you drawn upon from your own life when crafting the novel?
A lot of it. Much of this is me in a spidey suit. The way Miles’s parents talk. The way he relates to Ganke. The barbershop (yes…I go to the barbershop sometimes!) All that’s me. And also the idea that I’m not sure I’m cut out to be something that I am…like being a writer…that’s me, too.
The Miles Morales character is slowly growing in popularity; with the inclusion of the character in the upcoming PlayStation 4’s Spider-Man to Donald Glover’s upcoming animated series, do you feel any pressure for your novel to stand-out?
I do. But not because of any of those things, though I’m SO excited they’re all coming. I just always try to make something that I think will stand out, and not because of any flash and spark, but because of quality. I’m not always certain I get it right, but I try as hard as I can every time.
We live in a world where some people don’t believe race affects a person. Do you feel the character and the novel speaks directly to African-American and Hispanic communities or is his life and the novel’s message universal?
Both. I think there are elements that speak directly to the EXPERIENCE of some folks of color, but even in that, those elements are speaking TO the larger audience. Issues around race are never about the those of us affected by it. It’s about those of us not affected, and about macro and micro levels of accountability and acknowledgement. But besides the racial undertones, there’s also the universal theme of fighting for what’s right, even when you’re uncomfortable. Even when there are consequences.
Did you write with the intent to make people understand what’s it’s like to be an African-American/Puerto Rican male in America today?
Not necessarily. I think more important than trying to get people to understand, I just wanted to authentically serve the story. This is who Miles is. Black, Puerto Rican, Brooklynite, with a family who has a complicated past. I didn’t make that up, Marvel did. So what I had to do was really show what all those elements mean. It would’ve been lazy and disingenuous to take the information given, and pretend it holds no bearing on who Miles is and how he maneuvers through the world.
Miles Morales has a lot of pressure with his new found superpower, more so than Peter Parker. However, he treats his power like survivor’s guilt. What made you come to that decision?
You know, when I first started working on this, I asked myself, “When I was sixteen, who were the superheroes in my neighborhood?” The superheroes growing up, for me, were the guys who we knew went to the NBA, and at nineteen or twenty years old, came into financial freedom. But they rarely were able to hold on to it, not just because of frivolous spending, but also because they wanted to make sure everyone around them could feel free as well. So they paid everyone’s bills, bought people houses and cars, etc. The guilt drives that. How can I live in a mansion when my friends and family still live in the projects? How can I live extraordinarily when the people around are struggling just to touch ordinary? Miles, like many of us, lacks the privilege to be Spider-Man without any strings attached.
The novel is a lot gritter than other versions, what made you take that path?
Good question, easy answer. That’s just me. Just how I am. A little grit is good for you.
Miles Morales is a very complicated character. Did that hinder your writing or allow for more creativity to develop?
Oh, it was a dream. Complexity is normal. What’s more human than messiness? All the layers of Miles gave me space to explore and really push the plot further than I could’ve if he was one-dimensional.
Is there a villain from the Marvel Universe you would love to see Miles Morales face?
Venom. It would just be classic. Or…Magneto.
Are there any sequels planned in the future?
I have no idea. We’ll see!
Look for Miles Morales: A Spider-Man Novel out now!
Buy the book (US)