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In ‘Across the Spider-Verse,’ Miles Morales finds community in heroes who look like him

The film celebrates the power of working together

Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse is my favorite comic book movie ever, surpassing its predecessor, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, which had previously held the top spot in my heart. One reason I’ve loved the franchise is because it goes beyond the skin-deep idea of representation that comes from just seeing Black faces on screen. Instead, the movies feel like they’re speaking directly to me as a Black comic book fan. Across the Spider-Verse takes that relatability further by showing how Black folks look out for each other, protect each other, and defend each other — especially in spaces where so few of us exist. 

Across the Spider-Verse centers around 15-year-old Miles Morales trying to find community. He feels lonely because he can’t tell his family about his true identity as Spider-Man, the rest of the Spider-people are dispersed throughout other worlds, and Miles longs to be with people who can relate to him. But when Miles finally finds his tribe, things don’t quite turn out how he hoped. 

The film culminates in an adventure that ultimately has him trying to get home after being transported to a multiverse where the Spider Society rules. The Spider Society is a collection of Spider-people from every corner of the multiverse. There’s a Spider-Pig, a Lego Spider-Man, a cowboy Spider-Man and, of course, Black folks, like Miles, who were bitten by radioactive spiders and became heroes as well. Still, those Black Spider-people are minorities in the vast multiverse of Spider-beings. And when Miles needs help, it’s the Black characters who stand by him.

The first character to do so is Margo Kess, known as Spider-Byte — a hero from a universe where people essentially live in the Metaverse, loading their consciousnesses online while their avatars move through the world. Margo strikes up a friendship with Miles when he arrives in Nueva York, where the Spider Society is located. They’re friendly and flirt awkwardly, but there’s something deeper.

Later in the movie, when Miles is in trouble — most of his closest friends having betrayed him — and he needs to escape, it’s Margo who helps him. As the person who runs the Spider Society’s teleportation device, she is responsible for making sure Spideys can travel throughout the multiverse. When Miles tries to utilize the portal to get back home, it’s up to Margo to stop him. Instead, she helps him escape. Not only was it the right thing to do, it’s a sign of solidarity with a Black boy in trouble. When I was in the theater, the audience erupted at her act of defiance and help for Miles.

I’ve been thinking about Margo a lot as that exchange reminded me of my own experiences. I think back to my time as a graduate student at Northwestern University when I was the only Black man in my journalism class. I remember sometimes feeling misunderstood and targeted, like Miles felt during the film. And I remember the community of Black folks within the program and the city of Evanston that made sure I survived. In particular, I remember the Black professor who stood up for me when I was under fire. I remember the Black women in financial aid and admissions who saw me heating up Lean Cuisines around Thanksgiving, told me I was getting skinny, and brought me to-go plates from their holiday meals. I remember the way my Black women classmates gave me the same knowing nods Margo gave Miles, and helped me push through.

One beautiful aspect of the community that saved Miles is that the movie didn’t rely on the trope of solely having the Black woman as the benevolent savior. Hobie Brown, dubbed Spider-Punk, also came through for Miles. Hobie, an anti-capitalist, Black British punk rocker, seemed to not have any emotional tie to much of anything throughout the film. He enjoyed the anarchy of it all, and didn’t really want to conform to a system. But it wasn’t until he saw the way Miles was mistreated that he chose to bail on the entire Spider-world mission. 

It wasn’t lost on me or any Black person I talked to about the film that in a whole multiverse of Spider-people who turned their backs on Miles — including his best friends Peter B. Parker and Gwen Stacy, who are white — two Black characters essentially guaranteed his freedom. 

Not only is this an affirming, powerful moment about Black community, it’s a moment we rarely see in Black comic book spaces. The history of superhero teams has shown us that many only have space for one or two Black members. X-Men had Storm and/or Bishop. The Justice League had the Black Green Lantern. The Avengers had Black Panther.

We’ve rarely seen comic book stories that mimic the real world of being one of a handful of Black members on a mostly white team. Across the Spider-Verse showed us what that looks like. That familial instinct to look after one another can happen in an office building among nine-to-fivers or a universe where super-powered heroes run rampant. That skinfolk being kinfolk is a nexus experience that spans the multiverse.

Across The Spider-Verse is full of moments that nod directly to its Black audience. The gag about Miles apologizing for endorsing baby powder is a perfect example. It’s why the movie is sure to spawn a generation of Black kids who have a superhero they see themselves emulating. And it’s why the movie is also for adults who have been reading these characters our whole lives, waiting for stories about how Black folks actually act towards each other. We’ve finally gotten that with the Spider-Verse series.

David Dennis Jr. is a senior writer at Andscape and an American Mosaic Journalism Prize recipient. His book, The Movement Made Us, will be released in 2022. David is a graduate of Davidson College.