On Monday, February 9, Marvel Studios made its biggest announcement yet — Spider-Man would be appearing in the same cinematic universe occupied by The Avengers, the Guardians of the Galaxy, and Dr. Strange.
Spider-Man is a huge, glittering acquisition — he's now most high-profile superhero in Marvel's war chest. And because of disappointment with Sony's Amazing Spider-Man 2, there's a feeling that Marvel can bring back the snap and lightness into the crumbling franchise.
But the acquisition came at a price.
Captain Marvel and Black Panther were moved back
For the last few years, there have been two major movements in comic books — a push toward diversity and a push toward stories that break the mold of traditional superhero stories. Those two trends have come together at Marvel, which, despite occasional blunders, has pushed moves like making Thor a woman, making Captain-America a black man, and giving female heroes like Storm solo books.
Last year, editor Sana Amanat (now Marvel's director of character development and content), writer G. Willow Wilson, and artist Sarah Pichelli brought to life a Ms. Marvel who happens to be a Pakistani-American, Muslim, teenage girl. It was a massive hit.
And in October, Marvel's announced film schedule reflected this. The studio announced that its first black superhero movie (Marvel only recently acquired the rights to Blade) Black Panther would be happening in 2017, and its first female superhero movie with Captain Marvel (Fox owned Elektra's rights) in July 2018.
With the addition of Spider-Man, the two movies will now be bumped. Black Panther has been pushed to 2018 and Captain Marvel to November of 2018. The move makes sense financially, because Spider-Man (Peter Parker) is Marvel's only comic book character with the same recognition as Superman and Batman:
But to fans who have been waiting to see Black Panther and Captain Marvel on screen, it feels like another Peter Parker story — one that pushes aside diversity in Black Panther and Captain Marvel. It's also unclear if these movies would be pushed back if, say, Spider-Man is wildly successful and execs demand more movies.
Bumping Captain Marvel and Black Panther feels like a step back in the progress that Marvel had been making. Marvel and Sony could, if they wanted to be fearless, cast a non-white Spider-Man or opt to take on the story of Miles Morales (more about this in a bit). But that seems more like wishful thinking —it would be fantastic —than what might actually happen.
This doesn't mean that we won't see Black Panther and Captain Marvel in the Avengers movies. But we will have to wait for them to receive the kind of spotlight their white, male peers have been enjoying for years.
There are plenty of reasons Miles Morales should happen. There are plenty more why Peter Parker will happen.
In the wake of Marvel's announcement, one of the popular takes thrown out has been the cinematic introduction of Miles Morales, a black, Hispanic Spider-Man who exists in Marvel's universe.
Morales is one of Marvel's comic book stars, and it's been speculated that Marvel's upcoming crossover event Secret Wars is an attempt to get Morales in the mainstream universe. That will probably happen in the books.
But getting Morales onscreen would be a different feat. Comic book readers, movie executives, and mainstream fans operate on different planes, and it's executives and mainstream fans that make the rules. Spider-Man producer Avi Arad explained this mentality to The Playlist last May:
The one thing you cannot do, when you have a phenomena [sic] that has stood the test of time, you have to be true to the real character inside - who is Peter Parker? What are the biggest effects on his life? Then you can draw in time, and you can consider today's world in many ways.
You also have to remember that Sony is the company holding the rights at the end of the day. And Sony is different from Marvel — it doesn't have any loyalty to the Ultimate universe, nor does it have the kind of culture where people would care as much about the comic books as they do at Marvel.
To executives and mainstream fans, dissolving Peter Parker's name from Spider-Man would be as much a sacrilege as telling someone that Bruce Wayne isn't Batman. You also have to take into account that in the main Marvel universe, it's Peter Parker, not Miles Morales, who has existing relationships with The Avengers.
Millions of dollars have been made using Peter Parker's name. And there isn't reason to think that will change, even though Marvel will be at the helm.
Marvel thrives when it has a challenge. Spider-Man isn't one.
One of the serendipitous things about Marvel's fractured movie rights is that it forced the company to take heroes that didn't have the name recognition or fame of a Wonder Woman, a Superman, or even a Wolverine to jump start their movies.
If Marvel had the X-Men (who were the only superhero team worth caring about in the 90s) or The Fantastic Four, we probably wouldn't see movies like Ant-Man or Guardians of the Galaxy being made. We'd be on our 10th X-Men movie and sixth Fantastic Four film.
Marvel's lack of A-list heroes made Marvel work hard and think hard when it came to breathing new life into Iron Man, Thor, and Captain America. The company was forced to elevate the way we thought about superhero movies in order to compete with Sony and Fox, and some great movies were made.
For the last couple of years though, the knock on these movies (Thor: Dark World/Avengers/Guardians of the Galaxy) is that they all seem to be wrapped around the same kind of plot (villain has a weapon that will wipe out world, funny jokes, briefly stop villain, and lather, rinse, repeat).
And there's a worry in that same vein that the Spidey story might be something that allows Marvel to rest on complacency — on more of the same when all we want is less of it.
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