Spider-Man is both a title and a character that morphed and evolved over time.
Although it began as the story of Peter Parker, Spider-Man has since become a mantle taken up by people such as Korean American Cindy Moon and Afro-Latino Miles Morales. At the time of this writing, Miles Morales’ story has been gaining prominence through not only comic books but also the animated film Into The Spider-Verse. Adding to that fame is Jason Reynolds’ 2017 young adult/children’s novel Miles Morales: Spider-Man.
Set in the lively city of Brooklyn, New York, this book examines Miles Morales experiencing a sort of identity crisis. His superpowers are on the fritz and causing him so much trouble at home and school that he is considering hanging up the suit for good. However, Miles soon finds a problem that is affecting both his superhero and civilian lives. Now, he must learn to bridge his past and present as a superhero and teenager in order to defeat an enemy that is all too close to home.
One of the most palpable aspects of this book is how Miles interacts with the city and neighborhood around him. A really fun scene involves Miles and his best friend Ganke on the subway with showtime boys, young break dancers that appear and dance spontaneously for cash tips. Another lively scene involves Miles and his father Jefferson witnessing some playful banter between customers and the barber at a barbershop. These scenes brings Miles’ neighborhood to life in a way that lets the reader see and feel Brooklyn even if they have never been there.
Besides Miles’ interactions with his neighborhood, his interactions with his friends and family are delightful. In fact, the most entertaining interactions involve Ganke, Miles’ crush Alicia, and Miles’ parents. Miles’ parents have a strict yet loving dynamic with their son, while Ganke is both comedic relief and buoyant support for Miles. Finally, Miles’ interactions with Alicia embody both the clumsiness of teenage crushes as well as a complicated, socially aware drive.
Enhancing Miles’ interactions with his family and friends are introspective sijo poems that Miles, Alicia, and Ganke learn to write for class. A Korean form of poetry involving three lines between fourteen and sixteen syllables, the sijos written by the characters allow them to express feelings they have a hard time conveying aloud. A sijo poem that shows a more vulnerable side to Miles goes, “I hate my father’s face when he tells me my block is a burden / like my job is to carry a family I didn’t create / like my life is for fixing something I didn’t break.”
Balancing out Miles’ friends and family is the chilling super-villain that Miles faces. Without giving too much away, the villain is a cleverly crafted character that is more than just some kooky super-powered bad guy. The villain is very much rooted in the real world, something that Miles can’t just punch away. Watching Miles slowly figure out the villain’s motives and connect the dots about their plot is gripping, with the final reveal of the villain’s identity shocking the reader and asking them to critique their own lives.
A final aspect of the book worth commenting on is how self-contained this story is. Even if you have never read a Miles Morales Spider-Man comic book or seen Into the Spider-Verse, you can pick up this book and read it without ever feeling lost or confused. Miles’ superpowers and superhero backstory is casually shown in a way that feels natural rather than an information dump. Some say that comic books are a stepping stone to novels, but this novel is a good gateway to comic books.
Overall, Miles Morales: Spider-Man is a down to earth, thoughtful book that combines the best of superheroics and teenage antics. Miles Morales is both a superhero to himself and a superhero to his loved ones. As he faces a true-to-life villain and learns to balance being a teenager with being a superhero, readers just might discover their own inner super powers too.