Spidiversity is an ongoing feature that explores a diverse range of issues in Spider-Man media, including gender, race, sexual orientation, and disability. It is published on the second Wednesday of every month by Jaleh Najafali and the fourth Monday of the month by Alex Nader.
I was trying to devise a topic for this month’s Spidiversity and my first thought was to write something about Miles Morales, a landmark character for diversity. Miles’s mixed racial heritage, unique school situation, and position in his universe have led to interesting stories based about and around his character. As I was rereading some of his comics, I realized that there had been another mixed-race Spider-Man more than 20 years prior: Spider-Man 2099!
Many of you readers may be familiar with Spidey 2099 from his recent appearances in Superior Spider-Man and his eponymous reboot. For those who don’t know, Spider-Man 2099 is Miguel O’Hara, an engineer for the villainous Alchemax corporation in Nueva York, 2099. O’Hara’s first appearance, released in 1992, features a lab accident that gives O’Hara a multitude of Spidery powers—wall crawling, organic webbing, hyper-sensitive eyes, fangs, talons, and other EXTREME 1990s versions of Spider-Man’s powers. O’Hara dons a “Day of the Dead” costume with a spider/skull motif that he had purchased for a party and begins to fight crime as the new Spider-Man. All in all, it is pretty standard for a Spider-character origin story. If you hadn’t guessed, based on his name, Miguel O’Hara’s mother is Mexican and his father is Irish. Thus, based on stereotypes, O’Hara was obviously a Catholic.
The world of Marvel 2099 is a very interesting place. New York has been rebuilt into Nueva York, and contains flying cars, privatized police, and an odd amount of cults based on heroes. Like many futuristic, dystopian worlds, most comics based in 2099 focus on the progressions of corporations run amok. Peter David was responsible for the bulk of Spider-Man 2099, satirizing these concepts through O’Hara’s eyes. O’Hara was generally written as kind of a jerk, outwardly skewering his coworkers and villains in a much heavier tone than Peter Parker. His attitude is suggested to have sprung form his childhood. His working class father was violent, and his mother was emotionally manipulative (and remains that way in her appearances in the book). Both characters seem to have their roots in racial stereotypes—particularly Mrs. O’Hara’s attitude and Mr. O’Hara’s job (and mustache). They sent their son away to a boarding school for a “better life” but neglected to be good parents. Perhaps David was attempting to show that some familial relations don’t change, even after a hundred years and the clear mixed culture present in Nueva York.
O’Hara’s race is rarely if ever talked about. He is who he is, like most characters in the 2099 world. For all of the 1990s tropes in artstyle and content, David’s Spider-Man 2099 showed a much more culturally mixed world than possible in 1992. Of course, this is with the character looking almost exactly like Peter Parker.
Miguel O’Hara certainly looks Irish, but his Mexican ancestry is not present in his look. This may have been a way for Marvel to feign diversity while maintaining a Spider-Man that could have been a dead ringer for Peter Parker. Regardless, he looks the same in his new series as well. He isn’t as egregiously white as Sofia the First, but his appearance could be part of the reason why he is remembered for being a futuristic Spider-Man rather than a diverse one.
Most cyberpunk/dystopia literature either emphasizes race to a great degree (“The Hunger Games,” “Blade Runner”) or mostly eschews it (“Neuromancer”). Spider-Man 2099 falls into the latter group. This can still be of great importance to race in media—showing non-white characters occupying the same roles as their counterparts emphasizes the perceived equality possible in the future. I haven’t read any other 2099 titles, but my research has led me to the belief that many of them—particularly X-Men 2099 and Ghost Rider 2099—portray race in the future as a much smaller issue than Doctor Doom, the Cult of Thor, and other otherworldly menaces. It wasn’t as important progress as the Milestone Universe or Miles Morales, but the diversity present in Spider-Man 2099 perhaps made those future titles more likely to succeed. Miguel O’Hara is still going strong today, with Peter David back on his relaunched comic and appearances in the most recent Spider-Man video games. His race is not mentioned frequently if at all, and again—perhaps this is progress, though of far less visibility than his Ultimate counterpart.