Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Comics And Education

People have reacted strongly to Marvel Comics new Ultimate Spider-Man, the bi-racial Miles Morales.  The Washington Post calls the response "thumpingly out of scale and crazy."

Glen Beck claims it's Michelle Obama's fault.
Glenn Beck has a problem with the new Spider-Man, and he thinks Michelle Obama is to blame.
In one of Marvel’s comic series, Peter Parker has been killed off and the mantle of Spider-Man will be taken up by a new character: Miles Morales, who is half-black and half-Hispanic.
On his radio show today, after repeatedly telling listeners that “I don’t care” about the new Spider-Man and that it is just a “stupid comic book”, Beck got his real opinion out. He explained why the new bi-racial Spider-Man can be attributed to Michelle Obama.

“I think a lot of this stuff is being done intentionally. What was it that Mrs. Obama said before the campaign? Because its strange how so much of this seems to all be happening,” he said. Beck then played an audio file of Michelle Obama saying that “we’re gonna have to change our traditions.”
Fox News questioned whether Marvel had taken a radical turn to the left.

As usual, John Stewart put things in perspective.

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The right may want to reconsider their view of the new Ultimate Spider-Man.  Many are fans of Waiting for Superman, a film that Valerie Strauss points out was "edited the film to make it seem as if charter schools are a systemic answer to the ills afflicting many traditional public schools."  Conservatives would argue with Strauss when she asserts was the film was "not good/accurate enough to be selected" for an Oscar.  She also writes,  "The snub to Davis Guggenheim’s tendentious film was well-deserved, given that classic documentaries are factual and straightforward, and don’t, as did "Superman," fake scenes for emotional impact."

Marvel Comics Chief Creative Officer Joe Quesada and Ultimate Spider-Man writer Brian Bendis are apparently fans.  According to an interview published at Comic Book Resources.
We're talking to a lot of the folks involved with the new "Ultimate Spider-Man" series this week on CBR, but I wanted to get your take on the creation of Miles along with them. From your perspective, when did you first hear about Bendis' ideas for Miles, and what was your initial reaction? What did you feel were the most important aspects this character needed to make him worthy of the Spider-Man name?

The weeks following the Ultimate Summit, Miles was just about the only thing Brian and I could talk about when we got on the phone. So, between many a late night call and a couple of late night meetings over coffee and junk food in LA, while we didn't have a name for him yet, Miles was starting to take shape. We discussed his family and upbringing at length and slowly you could see how he was becoming his own person and not just a copy of Peter. Now while I don't want to give too much away, over the years I've been really intrigued by the revolutionary work being done by educator Geoffrey Canada, and as we looked deeper into Miles' character, I suggested to Brian that he watch the documentary, "Waiting For Superman" (ironic, I know!). Bri loved it, and the wheels started turning. Pretty soon he was building a world and cast that would support Miles in some fantastically intriguing ways that were relatable but also different from Peter Parker's world. I have a sneaky suspicion that Brian is going to make people fall in love with Miles very quickly.
At Think Progress, Alyssa gives this take about Bendis and Quesada using the movie to make the character "relateable."
Obviously I can’t pass judgment on how those themes play out until I see it happen, though it would be pretty weird to see a comic book where Morales fights a teachers’ union that’s secretly entirely made up of Skrulls or something. But no matter how it turns out, I’m glad to see this kind of thinking be part of the comic book process. Assuming that getting bitten by radioactive spiders doesn’t induce amnesia, there are factors in Spider-Man’s past other than Uncle Ben’s dying words that influenced him. And while many superhero stories propel newly-made supermen and women into larger worlds, whether it’s from a gated mansion into the slums of Gotham, or from Westchester County to the Blue Area of the Moon, there’s something to be said for superhero stories that take on problems closer to home. It may take a single bug bite from a very special arachnid to make a hero, but it takes a village to raise all the kids who are only lucky enough to get nipped by mosquitoes.
 Alyssa seems to have a balanced approach to the situation.  My fear isn't that every public school teacher featured in the comic will be characterized as an incompetent.  My fear is that the politicization of the comic will make it more difficult to use comics in the classroom or even have intelligent discussion about using comics like the conversation The Tempered Radical has here and here.

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