If you know where that’s from, then we’re gonna be great friends! Hi — my name’s Will, and I’ve forgotten more about pop culture than you’ll ever know. It even says so on my website! I’ve been invited to tell my “origin story” here, and I don’t quite know where to start. You see, I did this on my own site a few years back, and it ended up being five parts. It’s just kind of hard for me to boil things down to the basics sometimes. Anyway, I guess I was invited because I’m what you might call a “nerd of color.” I’ve never really thought of myself as such, though. To me, I’m just a nerd who happens to be black. That’s the mindset I’ve carried with me over the past 10 years of my blogging “career,” and it’s really only recently that race came into things. You see, the whole “blerd” (black nerd) movement was starting, and I decided it might be nice to appoint myself King of the Blerds. As I saw it, no one had claim to the title, so why not? I’m just another guy trying to make it in these mean internet streets, so why not aim high? It was at that point that I realized there were many more like me out there – more who had more claim to the title than I had. I also started to realize I was the lone black voice to a lot of my web pals. This was great power that I hadn’t asked for because, as we all know, it came with great responsibility.
Since we got on the Spider-Man theme, let’s back up a bit. I’ve been reading comics for the past 20 years. Up to that point, I’d been content reading about the Hardy Boys as they took down yet another smuggling ring, but somehow found myself reading about Superman fighting vampires (a story about 18 years ahead of its time!). I always saw comics as escapism so, unlike many, I never really looked for myself in the stories. I bounced from Batman to X-Men to Gen 13, never once thinking “None of these people look like me. Not even the blue ones.” When the Milestone line started, my Afrocentric cousin sent me the books, and I dutifully read them. Still, I was left thinking the whole city of Dakota was one giant ghetto, and I didn’t really like visiting it. Not only did I simply not expect the characters to reflect my existence, but I never even thought that they could. I mean, Bruce Wayne, Peter Parker, Dick Grayson – these people would never change (permanently, that is), and they were all white. They would always be white. I did understand business, so I knew there were too many lunchbox sales at stake for that to ever change. Then Ultimate Peter Parker died.
For those not well-versed in the Marvel Universe, the Ultimate Universe is a subset of books that were launched back in 2000 as a way to modernize some of the core Marvel concepts. Spider-Man, The X-Men, Fantastic Four, and The Avengers were revamped for a new audience. While old school fans scoffed at the idea, I applauded it, as I saw it as my way to be able to experience what kids of the 60s experienced when the “proper” Marvel Universe was formed. I was getting in on the ground floor, and I simply LOVED what writer Brian Michael Bendis was doing with the Ultimate Spider-Man book. Since the this wasn’t the “real” Marvel Universe, they could afford to take chances that the regular books could not. So, imagine my surprise when they decided to kill off Ultimate Peter Parker, and replace him with someone who looked like me! And also imagine my disappointment as I watched the internet come out in droves to say “Spider-Man’s not black!” We had already seen shades of this when it was hinted that Community’s Donald Glover wanted to screentest for the Spider-Man cinematic reboot, but that was only temporary. This was something that was going to be permanent (or as permanent as something can be in the world of comics). I started asking questions that I’d never asked before. Why couldn’t Spider-Man be black? I mean, his parents are dead, he lives with his aunt, IN QUEENS, and he’s always late to everything (I can say that ‘cause I’m black). Sounds about right to me. The only reason Spider-Man “had” to be white was because that’s how it had always been.
Change can’t happen if we always default to “well, that’s the way it’s always been.” Part of the problem with the modern day comic industry is that the audience is eroding. Video games have taken away the core comic audience, and a lot of that has to do with the fact that a lot of those people don’t see themselves in comics. They can’t relate to the characters, and most of the icons suffer from “been there, done that” syndrome. It doesn’t have to be that way, though. Comics can be about more than escapism; they can be about self-discovery. After all, most Marvel stories have the idea of self-discovery at their core, so it’s only natural that it should rub off on the reader. I’m just amazed that it took me so long to realize that. So, I guess that’s the story of how I discovered my racial identity through Spider-Man. I’ll cut things short here, but if you want to read my full post about my thoughts on “Blidey,” check out the post here.