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Axel Alonso: Reinventing Today's Heroes
8/8/11 - exclusive interview by Dante


Axel Alonso of Marvel Comics

In a move that caused ripples well outside the boundaries of the comic book world, Marvel recently announced that it's latest incarnation of Spider-Man would be a Black and Hispanic teen repping Brooklyn.In the Ultimate Spider-Man series, Peter Parker has been killed off, and Miles Morales was chosen to carry the torch.  The decision created an immediate buzz, with Marvel Comics editor Axel Alonso welcoming feedback from supporters and critics alike.  In this exclusive interview with Latin Rapper, the Hispanic Hip Hop head at the mast of Marvel offers us the scoop on giving Spidey some color. First off, what are your responsibilities at Marvel?

I'm the Editor in Chief. I oversee the publishing division.

The new Spider-Man is Black and Hispanic, does he come from an urban background?

His name is Miles Morales. He's born and bred in Brooklyn. African-American father, Hispanic mother. We'll be getting exactly which Hispanic later - Puerto Rican, Mexican, Dominican... Because he’s been referred to as “Latino” a few times in the press (laughs).

Right. It's interesting because he's being billed in some of the news stories as Black and Latino, but if you're Cuban or Dominican, the two aren't mutually exclusive.

People confuse terms – “Latino” and “Hispanic” -- and next thing you know, it gets out there that Miles is “Latino.” He’s Hispanic.

Being that this is a Brooklyn kid, does the new Spider-Man have an urban edge?

Miles is a nerd who grew up in the city. Brooklyn, to be exact. He's a smart kid, with an aptitude for science and a fascinating family. Just like Peter Parker, he's looking to fit in. He isn't a cool kid or a jock with girls crawling all over him, or anything like that. He's a geeky kid you can root for.

So who was it that first pitched the idea of having a Black and Hispanic Spider-Man over at Marvel?

The idea's been in the air for a while. We formally discussed the concept of a Black Spider-Man a few months before Obama became President as part of the discussion of an event called Ultimatum, which was blowing up and reconstructing the Ultimate Universe.


For a variety of reasons, it didn’t work out at that time - not the least of which is we didn’t have the story yet. That changed when we realized we were actually going to kill Peter Parker in the story that became "Death of Spider-Man.” We realized we had the opportunity to create a new Spider-Man. And Miles Morales was born.

You referenced Obama, was his election the catalyst in getting the wheels turning on the new Spider-Man?

I wouldn't say it was the catalyst. When we were planning “Ultimatum,” we realized that we were standing at the brink of America electing its first African-American President and we acknowledged that maybe it was time to take a good look at one of our icons.

Since Stan [Lee] and Jack [Kirby], Marvel has always prided itself on the diversity of its characters. We’ve been at forefront of cultural diversity in superhero comics. That said, it’s quite a tricky task for a character of “color,” so to speak, to get traction with the mainstream audience. As a guy who loves Black Panther, I know the challenges of keeping a book like that alive.

You mentioned Black Panther. If I'm not mistaken, we're talking '63 that Marvel introduced that character [edit: it was '66].

He's the first Black Superhero, introduced in Fantastic Four.

If you look up any of the Black Superheroes or their allies that have appeared in any Marvel Comic book, you've got at least a hundred of them going back to the early 60's. What would you say to the handful of people who have claimed over the last few days that Miles Morales is Marvel just trying to be PC?

It's an easy accusation to make. I know that this doesn't come from a PC place for anyone involved. I don't think Brian Bendis, who created Mile Morales, considers himself to be PC. And I sure don’t consider myself to be. I’m liberal on some issues, conservative on some others. Simple fact is Marvel comics reflect the world in all its shapes, sizes and colors. We believe there's an audience of people out there who is thirsty for a character like Miles Morales.


Generations of readers fell in love with Peter Parker, no matter their race; I have no doubt the same will be true of Miles Morales. We’re taking one of the world's most recognized superheroes, and peeling back the mask to reveal a new face. It’s both revolutionary and long overdue.

On the flip side of people who wanted this, the last few days there has been a little bit of online joke-cracking and negative feedback. Had you guys anticipated getting complaints?

Of course. Any time you do anything to shake the status quo, you're going to hear from the fans. They're passionate, they have strong opinions, and we love them for that. When you do something that has an additional component like this, an inherently political component where you can be accused of being politically correct, you're going to hear it a little bit louder.

So yeah, we anticipated there would be some naysayers. But the response has been overwhelmingly positive. The most meaningful letters to me have been letters from people who say that they're going to pick up their first Spider-Man comic book for their kid. All you need to do is go on Twitter and look up #MilesMorales to see the people that are super-excited and that they sense this is a historic moment.

For people who aren't avid followers of Spider-Man, Ultimate Spider-Man is actually a parallel universe to one that still has the original Peter Parker, right?

Yes. People who absolutely positively need to get their fix of Peter Parker can find him every month in “Amazing Spider-Man.”

The Ultimate Universe is a highly successful imprint that launched a little more than a decade ago, a parallel universe that re-imagined Marvel’s most iconic characters - Spider-Man, X-Men, Fantastic Four - as reflections of the late 20th century. Ten years later, we’re imagining a Spider-Man for the 21st century (laughs).

What's the name of the issue that people should go out and get?

Ultimate Comics Fallout: Spider Man No More #4. I'm sure if they go into a store, the retailer will direct them to the rack - if there's still a copy to be found. I anticipate second and third prints. Interest in the story is very high. After that, they can read the story of how Miles Morales became Spider-Man in Ultimate Comics: Spider-Man #1, in stores September 14.

There have been rumors about a potential film featuring Miles Morales, is that a possibility?

That's just people just talking. The Spider-Man that previewed at San Diego Comicon was in development a long time before Miles Morales was a reality. If Hollywood likes what they see, who knows what Spider-Man looks like down the road?

How can people find you on Twitter?

I can be found at @axelalonsomarv. I've been Tweeting a lot about the public response to Miles Morales. We’re at the stage now where we're getting op-ed pieces commenting on the people who are commenting on Spider-Man (laughs). Everyone from Jon Stewart to Glen Beck has weighed in on Miles Morales.

I read quotes from you on CNN only a day or two after the news broke. I was surprised that CNN, right off the bat, reached their feelers out to you.

The day that the comic came out, I was on at least four TV stations, local and national. It's just one of those things. It's not a shock that people would have strong opinions about this. America has come a long way on matters of racial equality, but there are still some people out there who are uncomfortable with this move and aren’t shy about saying so.

I read that you refer to yourself as having a mixed background.

Yeah. My mom is English, she's from England. And my dad is Mexican, he's from Mexico. I'm mixed race, Hispanic and White.

Where are you originally from?

I'm from San Francisco.

Do you have any background in music?

No. I was a journalist before I came to Marvel. I have a Masters Degree from Columbia Journalism School. Previous to Marvel, I worked for four years for DC Comics' Vertigo imprint, which was a mature readers imprint.


I'm a Hip-Hop head, I play basketball, I've got an 8-year-old son named Tito with a wicked mid-range jumper and solid crossover

So were you ever into graffiti or other aspects of Hip Hop culture?

I grew up listening to R&B - EWF, Parliament - so I was down with Hip Hop from day one. I remember being at the Doggie Diner on 24th and Mission when I heard “Rapper's Delight” for the first time - and that was that.

As a young one, I played basketball, skated, surfed. California Punk rock changed my life because it gave me the mental crawlspace to think for myself. I remember seeing Black Flag at the Mabuhay Gardens in SF and seeing that the singer was Mexican. I thought 'that's pretty cool.'

Who are some of the rap artists that you listen to?

Right now I’m big on the Clipse, Wiz Khalifa and CyHi, but I go way back to the old school stuff like Rakim, Pete Rock and CL Smooth.

Was there anything else you wanted to add about this comic book?

People who say this is a PC stunt miss the point. Miles Morales is a reflection of the culture in which we live. I love the fact that my son Tito will see a Spider-Man swinging through the sky whose last name is “Morales” - and judging from the response, I can see I’m not alone.


Axel Alonso on Twitter:

Marvel on Twitter:    



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