“The Secret History of Ultimate Marvel, the Experiment That Changed Superheroes Forever”

Bendis wasn’t blind. He knew that by 2011, the decade-long Ultimate experiment had lost much of its luster. He was constantly talking to colleagues about how to fix the world he’d launched. “I would say, ‘Hey, what did we do right? What did we do wrong? What would I have done differently?’” he recalled. “In those conversations of what we did right or wrong, we’d come about the idea of Peter Parker being of a different race. That if you really look at the origin, there’s no reason that character wouldn’t be of color. In fact, maybe it makes more sense.”

He soon became fixated on the racial questions posed by the Spider-Man archetype. If a middle-class teenager was growing up deep in Queens in 1962, sure, he’d be white. But in the New York of 2011’s profoundly multiethnic outer boroughs? Statistically, he’d almost certainly be a person of color. But if Bendis was going to introduce a nonwhite Spider-Man, what would he do with the existing Spider-Man? That’s where the magic of the anything-is-possible Ultimate Marvel approach paid off.

“We started thinking about who ended up being Miles, and it became obvious that the only way Miles works is if Peter isn’t there,” Bendis said. “Then you realize that the trigger has to be pulled.” Bendis wrote a story in which Ultimate Peter dies a hero’s death. Around the same time, shy teenager Miles Morales gains similar abilities to Peter’s and tentatively starts fighting crime in his stead. The ensuing story lines were classic Bendis: tender, streamlined, and optimistic. Miles wasn’t just an Afro-Latino Peter Parker. He was his own person, kind and quiet, reluctant to stand out and perpetually struggling with self-doubt — in many ways, an even more believable teenager than Ultimate Peter had been.

Miles was also an enormous hit immediately after his August 2011 debut. Sales for the series spiked, but more important, Miles was a publicity sensation, drawing attention in mainstream media outlets and among fans who had long ago grown bored with Spider-Man. Just a few months into his existence, long before Marvel had made any Miles merchandise, fans were constructing their own Miles costumes (his uniform has a slightly different color scheme than Peter’s) and wearing them to conventions. Marvel knew it had a hit on its hands, and has recently started cranking out Miles costumes, Miles toys, and a version of Miles in the hit Saturday-morning Spider-Man cartoon. “Miles was something that was vital and important, and he sold,” Hibbs said. When Sony announced it was rebooting its Spider-Man movie franchise yet again, there were cries across the internet for the new Spidey to be Miles…”



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