Ultimate Spider-Man is as close to perfect a Western super hero comic can be. With what is likely the best incarnation of Peter Parker, a phenomenal creative team in the form of writer Brian Michael Bendis and artists Mark Bagley, Stuart Immonen and David LaFuente, and the distinction of being one of the few runs on a character in the genre with a definitive start and end in the last decade, USM proved time and time again to be a cut above. So when the announcement came down that middle-schooler Miles Morales would be taking the place of Parker after his untimely demise in issue #160, fans were skeptical about how well Morales could fill his predecessors shoes. After all, comic companies had tried before to kill off a character and then replace them with someone totally new, and though sometimes it stuck — as with replacing Ted Kord with Jaime Reyes as the Blue Beetle — a lot of times, it didn’t — like when Jean-Paul Valley took over as Batman after the events of Knightfall. Now, some five years later, one can look at Miles Morales not only as a successful legacy character, but as a poster child for writers understanding the concept of a such a character and for fans just being a bit off the mark in that regard.
The primary purpose of a legacy character is to end the story of their predecessor, while also carrying the torch of said predecessor and existing as their own character instead of just being a pallete swap of the previous character. As far as Miles Morales is concerned, the beginning of his story is tied directly to both the beginning and ending of Peter Parker’s. He gets his powers after Norman Osborn attempts to recreate the experiment that gave the original Spidey his own and his decision to take up the mask and web shooters is made after witnessing Peter’s death at the hands of the Sinister Six and meeting Gwen and Aunt May at his funeral. The first arc of USM after Miles takes over revolves around him trying to figure out how Peter would handle things and eventually realizing that he has to do it his own way. His purpose as a character is not only to honor the memory of the original Spider-Man, but to also be his own person and do the things that only he can; so much so that in the crossover Spider-Men, Miles handily defeats the Earth-616 version of Peter, because he has powers that he doesn’t. He inherits the name, and the spider-powers, but Morales is firmly his own person.
Brian Bendis handled the writing duties on Ultimate Spider-Man from day one and continues to handle Miles in his ongoing solo title, simply called Spider-Man. In his writing of Miles, he has helped create a new archetype for legacy characters, especially in having him learn lessons from Peter, be it through Gwen or Jessica telling him stories of things he did, or alternatively, meeting versions of Peter that are still alive and having him interact with them and learn from that adventure, something that I hope carries over to other characters in the same mold. An unintended side effect to Miles’ popularity and general success as a character is that fans have begun to clamor for him to fully replace Peter, as the primary web-slinger in both the comics and in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the latter of which is unlikely and shouldn’t happen. In addition to Miles’ origin being dependent both on Peter being Spider-Man and Norman Osborn being full-stop obsessed with him, Miles’ story is still relatively new. A lot of the villains he’s faced in his time as Spider-Man are Peter’s villains, save for the Prowler and Scorpion, and without establishing Peter in the MCU, that doesn’t exactly make for a box office hit. It’s a fundamental misunderstanding of Miles Morales as a character — because it implies that he and Peter are interchangeable and not their own unique people. Yes, they are both Spider-Man, and yes, they both crack wise during fights, but they aren’t the same person. Although the desire for Miles is done from a place of meaning well, in the form of wanting more representation of people of color in Marvel’s film outings, it’s misplaced in the sense that what people want isn’t Miles Morales. They want the name and they want the look, but they don’t want the character and that in and of itself defeats the purpose of a legacy character.
Legacy characters have to be special and different, otherwise, why not keep the old character. Tim Drake is special because he’s not Dick Grayson. Wally West is special because he isn’t Barry Allen. Miles Morales is special because he has dedicated his life to honoring Peter’s legacy but also isn’t Peter, and has no intention to be him — and to sacrifice that uniqueness, for any reason is a mistake. A legacy is meant to be honored and inevitably surpassed, and if things keep pace, then it’s safe to say that the legacy of Spider-Man is in safe hands. Then again, I might just be over analyzing things.