top of page
  • Regina Mills

Regina Mills Reviews Spider-Man 2: A Tale of Two Spider-Men


Spider-Man 2 Video Game
Peter Parker and Miles Morales

(It’s been 6+ months since Spider-Man 2 was released, so be ready for spoilers ahead)


With the wildly successful 2018 release of Sony’s Marvel’s Spider-Man on PlayStation 4, Sony and developer Insomniac Games began a Spider-Man series that has focused not solely on Peter Parker. In the original game, the player plays as Mary Jane (MJ) Watson, reporter and Peter’s girlfriend, and as Miles Morales, the Spider-Man who originally emerged in the Ultimate comic universe.


The short scene, in which the player takes the role of Miles during a supervillain attack that kills Miles’ father, Jeff Davis, introduces the player to the protagonist of the second Spider-Man game, Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales (MSMM). While not billed as a sequel, the full-length game starred Miles finding his place in his new home of Spanish Harlem and as the city’s second Spider-Man. (You can see my academic work on Miles’ video game representations here). MSMM was a tighter, smaller game that more fully fleshes out Miles' story in the aftermath of his father's death.


So, Spider-Man 2 gets its name because it's a sequel to Marvel’s Spider-Man but also because it stars two protagonists: Peter Parker (the original Queens-based Spider-Man) and Miles Morales (the newer Spanish Harlem-based hero; and yes, I know that in the comics, he is based in Brooklyn).


In Spider-Man 2, we get the ability to switch back and forth between both protagonists, particularly in the exploration of New York City and side missions. However, the story missions and some larger side quests are assigned to either Miles or Peter, like Miles’s uncle Aaron's puzzles to access his old Prowler tech that he is trying to protect from theft. This ability to move back and forth between the heroes (and that no area is off-limits to either) gives the player a clear sense that Miles and Peter see the whole city as theirs to protect. There is no jealousy or territoriality. Unlike in MSMM, there is no weird excuse for Peter to be out of town; they both co-exist.


Spider-Man 2 Video Game
Miles Morales

However, despite the exploratory mechanics that make the game seem like it treats the protagonists equally, Peter gets much more development in his story than Miles does. There is an attempt for Miles, one that is not done as deftly as it could be, but that can, with some close reading be made a bit deeper.

Despite the exploratory mechanics that make the game seem like it treats the protagonists equally, Peter gets much more development in his story than Miles does.

While Peter deals with reuniting with his best friend Harry and trying to balance life as Spider-Man, Miles is applying for colleges. We see Miles start personal statement after personal statement, but he can't get himself to write about anything but being Spider-Man. This is worrisome because as he sees at the start of the game, Peter's privileging of the Spider-Man life means he can't hold down a job. In the first chapter of the game, Peter is fired on his first day of teaching at Brooklyn Visions Academy, where Miles attends school, and you can see Miles worry not only about Peter but about what his own future as Spider-Man might bring.


Spider-Man 2 Video Game
Miles Morales

If “Adaptation” was the keyword for MSMM (as consultant Evan Narcisse, writer Ben Arfman, and creative director Brian Horton have argued), then “Balance” is the keyword for Spider-Man 2. For Peter, this is handled quite deftly, with flashbacks to the ways in which Aunt May tried to instill in Peter an understanding that we all need balance to thrive and flourish. The Symbiote/Venom storyline is all about how Peter believes that if he can make Spider-Man more powerful, he can solve all his problems. He says more than once that being “a better Spider-Man” means he can be a better Peter Parker. Peter’s story ends up forcing him to confront his grief and the way that his Spider-Man persona has taken over every aspect of his life.


For Miles, however, there isn't resolution on what Balance looks like. In fact, one wonders if Peter’s ability to find Balance lies in just dumping all his baggage on Miles. At the end of the game, Peter gives up the Spidey mask, leaving Miles to be the one and only Spider-Man in NYC. So, doesn’t that mean more pressure on Miles? How is he supposed to better balance his Spidey persona with his personal life?

One wonders if Peter’s ability to find Balance lies in just dumping all his baggage on Miles.

The game suggests that Miles is already trying to pursue more than his Spider goals. For instance, he pursues his interest in Haley, the Deaf Black character we met in MSMM and that he is clearly crushing on, but since at the end, he becomes the city's ONLY Spider-Man, has he really learned any lessons? Will he just allow Spider-Man to subsume his life like it did for Peter?


Spider-Man 2 Video Game
Haley and Miles Morales

When Peter decides to quit being Spider-Man, to embrace the skills that Peter Parker has—his scientific know-how and desire to make the world a better place—he realizes that he can continue the Emily-May Foundation that Harry Osbourn started and live a life without the mask.


Which brings me back to Miles. At the end, he takes on Spider-Man (will he not be going to college?) and tells Peter that he deserves to be Peter for a while. That he has given enough. So again, what have we learned? Are we to believe that Miles thinks he can do what Peter couldn't - balance the needs of others with his own relationship and family needs?


Miles is made out, I think, to be a better Spider-Man than Peter. He is the only major character never to be taken over by the Symbiote (while the white characters Peter, MJ, and Harry are). The game makes Miles out to be pure. He is not allowed access to the anger, resentment, and negative feelings that the Symbiote represents. He cannot show those feelings - because Miles is a Black character and Black rage scares society (and the imagined white player).

Miles is made out, I think, to be a better Spider-Man than Peter.

While Miles’s post-college plans are key to the first part of the game (and then promptly unresolved), the other major storyline is Miles’s struggle to deal with the rage he feels against Martin Li (the Negative Man) who killed his father in the 2018 Spider-Man game. Miles wants to kill Li, and he is angry in a way that almost makes the player uncomfortable, since he is so rarely allowed to be angry like this.


Spider-Man 2 Video Game
Jefferson Davis and Peter Parker

In a redemption arc, Li helps free Peter from the Symbiote. In the process of doing so, Miles learns not to allow hate to guide his heart. While he says, “I won’t forgive you. I don’t have it in my heart,” Miles does say that he will let go of his hatred and anger for his father's murderer. Refusing to be angry and rageful is necessary to complete Peter’s salvation. Black grief and loss, as Juliet Hooker has argued, has not often been treated with equal weight to white loss. What is seen as acceptable reactions to loss (or perceived loss) has been widely disparate based on race.

Black grief and loss, as Juliet Hooker has argued, has not often been treated with equal weight to white loss.

To me, the developers seem scared to fully allow Miles’s grief and rage for the loss of his father (and Phin, Miles’s childhood friend from Brooklyn, who died in the first game, and is never really mentioned in Spider-Man 2). Peter, on the other hand, gets to fully embody the spectrum of grief, from crying despair to lashing out to let go of the pain. Peter can put on the black Symbiote (see Nama’s Super Black for a discussion of the connection between blackness and the symbiote in the comics) to show his rage, not just his snark.

To me, the developers seem scared to fully allow Miles’s grief and rage for the loss of his father.

I really enjoyed this game (though not quite as much as MSMM) but I was disappointed to see this under-utilization of Miles’s story. While the game stars two Spider-Men, Peter’s story is better developed and played out than Miles’s.  

27 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All

Comments


bottom of page