What Happened to Uncle Ben Again?: Superheroes’ Legacies and Origins
Jessica: With Spider-Man set to appear in the MCU, fans are wondering if we’re going to have to see yet another Uncle Ben die again on the big screen. Some fans are arguing that the MCU should use Miles Morales instead of Peter Parker for precisely that reason. I’d love to see Miles on the screen, but it begs two questions: 1. Are non-comics fans as tired of origins, particularly Peter’s origin, as comics fans are? and 2. Does Miles work as a character if he’s not following in Peter’s wall-crawling footsteps? What do you think, fellow Panelteer Dave Accampo?
Dave: Oh, man — those are two HUGE questions, aren’t they? We’ve been tossing these questions around behind the scenes here at Panels HQ, and it seems like everyone has slightly differing opinions.
To start with your first point: I think it’s safe to say that with 5 films since 2002, including TWO origin films, the general public is likely NOT clamoring for another origin of Peter Parker. But we already know that Andrew Garfield is out as Peter Parker, and that they’re looking at casting a new, younger actor in the role. So do they “reboot,” or is this simply a Batman Forever situation where Michael Keaton leaves and Val Kilmer dons the batsuit?
However, as long as we’re going with a new, younger actor… there’s a clear opportunity here to shake things up. The Ultimate line of comics have given us a young, biracial Spider-man in Miles Morales. Which is pretty awesome, and he seems like a great way to change things up. But… in the comics, he dons the suit because Peter Parker dies. Peter Parker is essentially Miles’ Uncle Ben.
And that brings us back to origins. If you’re going to make a Miles Morales film, you need to introduce him to the audience. Can you do that without an origin story? And if you’re doing an origin story for Miles, don’t you need Peter Parker? How faithful do you have to be to the character’s source material?
Jessica: I don’t know that we necessarily do need an origin to introduce him to the audience. Out of the six Avengers in the first movie, only three have in-continuity origins; audiences accepted “spy,” “spy with arrows,” and even “sometimes he gets mad and big and green” pretty easily. (I know the Hulk had an in-continuity movie before Avengers, but that wasn’t an origin either.) It works with the Hulk because he’s an iconic character and most people know his general deal…but that holds true for Spider-Man, too. If the movies tell us this kid can do whatever a spider can, we understand how that works.
Dave: I do think there’s a slight difference between Hawkeye and Black Widow in the Avengers and Spider-Man. I mean, you’re right, the audience accepted them quickly AS spies/agents… but that’s kind of it. And I think Hawkeye got the shaft (sorry!) because there’s fun material to pull from to show HOW a dude ends up shooting arrows at alien invasions. Widow gets a BIT of backstory in the Avengers movie as we find out that she works for S.H.I.E.L.D. because she wants to “balance the ledger” for her past sins. And that’s quick and easy to understand, and I think it worked beautifully in a packed film.
I guess I do wonder if Spider-Man is a little different than a character who’s just going to be part of an ensemble. I mean, as much as we comics fans say we’re tired of origin stories, I believe that the origin of the superhero is kind of a big part of their DNA. Batman can’t just be a guy who decides to dress up as a bat and fight crime. There’s something else that’s needed there; the death of his parents drives him to it. I think this is key because this is HOW we relate to these heroes. We look for the spot where they diverge from us.
Jessica True, but that doesn’t mean we need to cycle through Peter’s entire career to have Miles make sense. I think you hit on a possible answer with “Peter Parker is essentially Miles’ Uncle Ben.” What if Peter’s a street-level, very local hero who dies and it’s Miles’ interactions with the Avengers that put Spider-Man on the map? What if Peter is some sort of science teacher/mentor to Miles but was never Spider-Man at all? What if he helps develop the tech but doesn’t have the powers? (Which seems to be where Ant-Man is going with Hank Pym and Scott Lang.)
I know for a lot of dyed-in-the-wool fans that sounds like anathema, and I super get it, I really do. Wally West is 100% my favorite Flash and it’s absolutely because of how well he works stepping into Barry’s boots. I freaking love him as a legacy. But he was also my favorite character in the animated Justice League, where he wasn’t a legacy character at all, and his origin consisted of like a two-second flash(ha!)back. I think we as fans can get so caught up in continuity that we think that just because something works really well in comics one way, that’s the only way it can work.
Dave: Hah — ! Okay, that’s hard to argue. I did some “fantasy plotting” during my recent guest bit on the Oh, Comics! podcast where I suggested that what I’d do would be to kill off Peter Parker during the Captain America: Civil War film, and then start the next Spider-Man film with Miles watching this, and then… being inspired to take up the mantle and carry on the legacy. So I’m totally with you there—I think we can honor the spirit of the source material without following it to the letter.
Jessica: Unfortunately (or fortunately…?) we are not writing this movie so we are not responsible for figuring this mishmosh out. But as the superhero movie genre gets more entrenched and increasingly familiar characters get continually rebooted, filmmakers are going to have to explore new ways of bringing them to the screen. I’m excited to see what they come up with!
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