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Recrafting a Legend with Miles Morales: An Interview with Author Jason Reynolds

Peter Parker is dead. The wise-cracking, lovable, socially awkward teen has met his demise! However, do not fret! For the hungry radioactive spider has found another juicy morsel by the name of Miles Morales — an Afro-Hispanic teenager from Brooklyn. Miles’ star has been on the rise for many years with appearances across many forms of media. Now, this new Spider-Man will be the focus of an upcoming novel.

Crafted by the award winning writer Jason Reynolds, Miles Morales: A Spider-Man Novel lets the author tackle Marvel’s most exciting Spider-Man in a whole new way. Drawing from his experience as a person of color growing up in urban America, Reynolds was often frustrated with the lack of African-American superheroes in literature, especially in young adult fiction. This is his way of creating something for kids who are growing up in an environment similar to his own.

The Koalition had an opportunity to interview Reynolds at this year’s BEA about Miles Morales: A Spider-Man Novel. Releasing this August, the book tackles survivor’s guilt, the cycle of poverty, and the grittiness of street life; topics unknown in Peter Parker’s world.

When Reynolds set out to write Miles Morales as a character and the overall arc of the novel, he had a very clear goal in mind. “I’m very careful about trying to send specific messages in my work. That’s not to say they’re devoid of message, but I just don’t want to be too didactic. If there’s anything to take from this book, it’s that the superpowers Miles possess as Spider-Man are nothing compared to the intrinsic superpowers he already had— will, integrity, and mental fortitude. We all have superpowers, whether you have a spider suit or not.”

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Like many talented writers, Reynolds drew his strength upon his own childhood and his relationship with the people in his neighborhood. “Much of this is me in a spidey suit. The way Miles’ parents talk. The way he relates to Ganke. The barbershop (yes…I go to the barbershop sometimes!), all that’s me. And also the idea that I’m not sure I’m cut out to be something that I am… like being a writer… that’s me, too.”

While these topics may seem too controversial for some, Disney/Marvel was open to Reynolds’ ideas and point-of-view. “A lot. I have to say, I pitched my idea, and they were like, ‘Go for it.’ And so I went for it, turned in the first draft, and they said, ‘Go further.’ I couldn’t believe it! So, yeah, they let me do my thing. [Besides] That’s just me. Just how I am. A little grit is good for you.” Since Miles Morales is a very complicated character, it allowed for more complexity. “Oh, it was a dream. Complexity is normal. What’s more human than messiness? All the layers of Miles gave me space to explore and really push the plot further than I could’ve if he was one-dimensional.”

It’s been six years since we were first introduced to Miles Morales. Throughout those years, we’ve seen him appear in comics, animated TV shows, an upcoming PS4 game, and possibly a sequel to Spider-Man: Homecoming. However, “The most appealing part of Miles, to me, is everything outside of him being Spider-Man. His family, and neighborhood. His friendship with Ganke and Alicia. The jokes and textures. The most misunderstood aspect of him? Good question. I guess, people will read this and think Miles doesn’t want to be Spider-Man. But he does. He just doesn’t know if he CAN be Spider-Man. And that’s less about his willingness and more about his insecurity rooted in all kinds of external factors, from family to school to society.”

Despite the popularity of the character and the numerous iterations, Reynolds’ version is unique to itself. “I have respect for the other iterations. I think the biggest difference with this particular story is, it’s a novel, so I had more space to peel back layers. Also, I’m of this community, of this culture, so the details that I tried to bring to it were distinct to said culture. I wanted my story to be lifted most by the authenticity of the characters.”

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With Mile’s popularity on the rise, Reynolds admits to feeling pressure to stand out with the audience. “I do. But not because of any of those things, though I’m SO excited they’re all coming. I just always try to make something that I think will stand out, and not because of any flash and spark, but because of quality. I’m not always certain I get it right, but I try as hard as I can every time.”

While Miles is an Afro-Hispanic from an urban setting tackling more serious issues, there’s both a message for minority readers and universal readers to connect with. “I think there are elements that speak directly to the EXPERIENCE of some folks of color, but even in that, those elements are speaking TO the larger audience. Issues around race are never about those of us affected by it. It’s about those of us not affected, and about macro and micro levels of accountability and acknowledgment. But besides the racial undertones, there’s also the universal theme of fighting for what’s right, even when you’re uncomfortable. Even when there are consequences.”

Even though Miles comes from a different racial background than Peter Parker, Reynolds didn’t really set out to write with the intent to make people understand what’s it’s like to be an African-American/Puerto Rican male in today’s America. “Not necessarily. I think more important than trying to get people to understand, I just wanted to authentically serve the story. This is who Miles is. Black, Puerto Rican, Brooklynite, with a family who has a complicated past. I didn’t make that up, Marvel did. So what I had to do was really show what all those elements mean. It would’ve been lazy and disingenuous to take the information given, and pretend it holds no bearing on who Miles is and how he maneuvers through the world.”  

In the novel, Miles Morales has a lot of pressure with his new found superpower and struggle greatly, more so than Peter Parker. However, Reynolds’ decision to treat his power like survivor’s guilt was a reflection of his life as a sixteen-year-old. “You know, when I first started working on this, I asked myself, ‘When I was sixteen, who were the superheroes in my neighborhood?’ The superheroes growing up, for me, were the guys who we knew went to the NBA, and at nineteen or twenty years old, came into financial freedom. But they rarely were able to hold on to it, not just because of frivolous spending, but also because they wanted to make sure everyone around them could feel free as well. So they paid everyone’s bills, bought people houses and cars, etc. The guilt drives that. How can I live in a mansion when my friends and family still live in the projects? How can I live extraordinarily when the people around me are struggling just to touch ordinary? Miles, like many of us, lacks the privilege to be Spider-Man without any strings attached.” 

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While we’ll still have to wait to find out about any sequel plans, that doesn’t mean that Reynolds shouldn’t plan for the future. Spider-Man has faced many villains. However there’s two Reynolds would love to write about, “Venom. It would just be classic. Or… Magneto.”

Look for Miles Morales: A Spider-Man Novel on August 1st.