Spider-Man’s Peter Parker fought alongside the police. Miles Morales fights against them, or, is rejected when entering a battle.
Morales lives and fights in Brooklyn. It’s a different New York. Culture breathes compared to Parker’s more static, Hollywood-ish good white guy approach. As an immigrant, Morales is an immediate underdog. Still righteous, but from a place where it’s harder to be so. It fits, because Spider-Man Miles Morales thematically plays into an ideal of community and togetherness. Being together, coming together; divisiveness lets the system rule, not the people.
More than Sony’s core Spider-Man, Miles Morales breathes in this moment. Morales’ mother runs for office, finding herself under attack – but from villains who agree with her. If there’s a central success to Miles Morales, it’s in posing a moral quagmire. There’s a smug tech billionaire using Harlem as dumping ground for a new energy source, employing authoritarian foot soldiers to keep peace, and reveling in real world circumstances that see poorer communities exploited – even poisoned – by the rich.
The challenge then is finding a solution. On one side, Morales seeking to infiltrate records and expose this plot via media. The retort? “No one will care.” That’s likely not wrong. His opposition chooses aggression, looting technology to create weapons and shields, donning that gear, then rushing onto the streets. Here in the Trump era, entertainment media locked on to the political sphere, but few choose such a micro-level, communal direction in doing so. Networks interviewed Trump supporters to understand their thoughts, leaving oppressed voters sidelined in discussing their issues. Miles Morales depicts those fractures, some choosing politics, others rioting to set things right.
Of course, Morales’ stance is viewed as right, but not without violence. Protesters marched through New York for 100 days; media coverage lasted but a week, because once the fire went out, so did the cameras. Morales’ attacks are measured though. Knowing a fight is brewing, there’s an effort to evacuate the community. Staring down his rival, at the end of their conflict, Morales still tries talking through the situation. He doesn’t stop. Yes, there’s brawling. People get hurt. Buildings begin to spark fires. It looks like a riot, when in actuality, it’s an inevitability when corporations (and the personalities running them) don’t receive the same scrutiny.
It’s difficult to parse how measured Miles Morales is. The writing rapidly develops Morales, his family, and friends. They enjoy Christmas dinner, unknowingly a final send-off before their lives disintegrate into chaos. At the beginning, Miles Morales is already past an inflection point. Morales himself suffers impostor syndrome – the Elon Musk-esque Roxxon company settled in under his watch. He didn’t stop it. There’s tremendous guilt, even anger that things reached such a crescendo.
But, people support Morales. “He’s our Spider-Man,” says one man when asked who Morales is. In an absolutely spectacular sequence, both in technical acuity and storytelling, the Brooklyn Bridge begins to shatter and crack. With effort, Morales saves lives, then Roxxon stormtroopers march in, seeking to arrest Morales. Immediately, a woman reaches for her phone to record the encounter. To hear “stop resisting” in such instances is now unsettling, and Miles Morales uses that base for dramatic and thematic effect. Critically though, it’s organic, not forced. Harlem houses LGTBQ people, deaf people, homeless people, immigrant people, and other social classes. And at the top, an angry, rich white man, who stole patents from a black scientist’s invention.
The caution utilized to keep the messaging clean even occurs without bias. Yes, Miles Morales is liberal leaning, but consider Morales’ father worked as a cop. This is a family doing things the right way. Morales wrestles with that, carries it into each brawl, wondering if these methods seem fair. There’s always a question, and those around him represent the possible extremes – one choosing a side seeking a total cleansing to serve their needs, the other aiming for an office to reform things. Each carries consequences, and the heroism comes not from beating up the bad guys so much as seeking to pause time, allowing tensions to settle.
Videogame heroes so often – too often, even – charge ahead minus moral uncertainty. Broadly, guns solve all things, maybe a sword, or even fists. Yes, Miles Morales involves those, but not so recklessly, or even so certain it’s a solution. There’s always a means to fix things in other ways, and sometimes that’s just talking or connecting. Morales does, using sign language to bond with a local street artist, appreciating her and her talents for what they provide to his neighborhood. There’s always a choice, even in the most disheartening moments. What makes heroes is the response, and for Morales, he tries until the last, most desperate end to find another way.