by Hailey Hart-Thompson
photography courtesy of Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse Facebook
A superhero’s biggest secret is their true identity. Covered by a mask, their face is hidden for the array of people they rescue and the villains they fight, acting justly without recognition. These hidden faces define what a hero is for young children, shaping our society’s image of these masked vigilantes. In recent movies, cinema has taken viewers into the intricate life of the heroes behind the disguise. As superheroes remove the mask, viewers have begun to see faces that are becoming more and more diverse.
In Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, Miles Morales (voiced by Shameik Moore) is the one behind the mask, a teen Spider-Man fanboy and graffiti artist. Like any other teenager, Miles is struggling with his parents’ expectations as he enters a new school. His life becomes more complicated when he develops spider-like abilities. However, Miles looks different than young Peter Parker portrayals from earlier films, like The Amazing Spider Man. Miles is a Afro-Latino Spider-Man—someone never before seen on the silver screen. Miles must work with “Spider-Men” from other dimensions in order to save his city. For Miles, it’s hard enough to be in a new school, but grappling with puberty while saving the world complicates things further for the character.
Not only does Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse show a diverse array of characters, it also tackles questions about police violence, moving the topic into the Marvel Universe. Miles’ father is a police officer (Brian Tyree Henry) who often questions the motives of Spider-Man (Chris Pine). Miles states that his father should think about the situation from Spider-Man’s point of view. The film uses a simple story line to sympathize with both the police and those coming in conflict with law enforcement. As a police officer, Miles’ father makes assumptions about Spider Man’s motives, but he later learns to appreciate what he does and understands his vigilante style. Although it doesn’t exactly mirror modern police violence in our universe, it helps young viewers understand how every conflict needs to be viewed from each side. Even the antagonist, Kingpin, only creates a portal to another dimension in order to bring back his family, rather than to destroy the city.
The animation itself is an homage to classic comics, created in the style of an old comic book, with panels, speech bubbles and semi-pixelated characters. The amount of effort placed into this unique new Spider-Man tale illuminates the importance of having a diverse Spider-Man. This movie is not a repetition of the same white suburban Peter Parker coming to terms with his new abilities, but is rather retold in a way that captures the creative spirit that sits within this new Spider-Man, who happens to be both Black and Latino.
This bildungsroman allows children, as well as adults, of any race to contemplate loss, responsibility and leadership, all through the eyes of a young boy who continues the era of POC superheroes. Following the success from Black Panther, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse gives children a PG version of a diverse character who is forced to endure difficulties that any child can relate to as they endure their own personal hardships.