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ALLISON KEYES, host: Now we move from disturbing images of Asians in comics to what some see as a step towards diversity.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SPIDER-MAN")

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Singing) Spider-Man. Spider-Man. Does whatever a spider can. Spins a web any size, catch a thief just like...

KEYES: Unless you live under a rock, you've likely seen one of the movies or cartoons featuring Marvel Comics' iconic character Spider-Man. The superhero's alter ego has been an orphaned white man given amazing powers after being bitten by a spider. But, in last month's issue of the comic "Ultimate Spider-Man," Peter Parker died and now he's been replaced by Miles Morales. He's 13 years old and he's half Latino and half African-American.

We wanted to find out more about the new Spidey. Axel Alonso is the editor-in-chief of Marvel Comics and he joins us now from our bureau in New York City. Welcome to the program.

AXEL ALONSO: Thanks.

KEYES: So I hear that this idea of an ethnically-diverse Spider-Man had been in the works for kind of a while. Tell us about it.

ALONSO: Yeah. We talked about this for some time. But we never had the story. My first memory of a conversation where we considered an African-American Spider-Man came several months before Obama was elected when we realized that we might be looking at a, the first African-American president in American history. Unfortunately, we didn't have the story at that time.

But more recently, when we were sculpting the story that became the death of Spider-Man, we realized we had an opportunity to redefine Spider-Man for the 21st century.

KEYES: It's kind of interesting that you said that because you may have heard that conservative commentator Glenn Beck took some issue on his radio show with the character, blaming first lady Michelle Obama for this new incarnation of Spider-Man. Let's take a listen to what he said.

GLENN BECK: I think a lot of this stuff is being done intentionally. What was it that Mrs. Obama said before the campaign where she pointed out that we need to, we need to change the...

MICHELLE OBAMA: And Barack knows that we are going to have to make sacrifices.

BECK: Yeah.

OBAMA: We are going to have to change our conversation.

BECK: Yeah.

OBAMA: We are going to have to change our traditions.

BECK: Traditions.

OBAMA: Our history. We're going to have to move into a different place.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Gosh that seems to fit, doesn't it?

BECK: Yeah, it does. It does. And I know this is just one stupid example of it. But really? We now have a half-black, half-Hispanic, gay Spider-Man?

KEYES: Wait, I've got to ask, is he gay?

ALONSO: No. No. No. He's not gay.

KEYES: Have you heard from the president if he's heard about this? Is he pleased?

ALONSO: Not yet. But I do know him to be a Spider-Man fan.

KEYES: So you're hoping for a call of some sort.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

ALONSO: Oh, I would return the call, trust me.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

KEYES: Tell us a little bit about Miles Morales. I do know that he's from my favorite borough, Brooklyn. Brooklyn in the house.

ALONSO: That's right.

KEYES: Who is his family? Where did he get his powers from?

ALONSO: Well, I can't reveal too much or the fans would kill me. But I will say that he has an African-American father, a Hispanic mother, a fascinating family and family history, and he is a geek. He's a kid looking to fit in. Like Peter Parker, you know, he's got a big heart. He's not a jock with girls crawling all over him. He's a kid looking to find his place and he inherits these powers and learns about a legacy too, the original Spider-Man.

And like Peter Parker, he learns that, you know, with great power comes great responsibility.

KEYES: If you're just tuning in, I'm Allison Keyes. This is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. We are continuing our love affair with comics. We're talking now with editor-in-chief of Marvel comics Axel Alonso about the new multiracial Spider-Man, Miles Morales.

So let me ask you to explain a bit to our listeners. This isn't happening in the mainstream Spider-Man comic series, right? And for those of you who don't know, there are like several magazines.

ALONSO: Well, what it is, the "Ultimate's" line is a widely celebrated 10-year-old line that re-imagines Marvel characters, the biggest icons. It's been widely influential. The Samuel L. Jackson, Nick Fury that you see in the movies...

KEYES: Mm-hmm.

ALONSO: ...was just an idea that was seeded as a graphic in "Ultimate's" 10 years ago and Mr. Jackson liked it so much he got on the horn and then the next thing you know he's showing up in the pictures. So it has a great reputation for trailblazing and I guess progressive thinking.

KEYES: Back in 2004 I spoke to you guys at Marvel about your new series "Arana" which featured a Latina spider-woman, but the comic didn't last that long. What will you do differently to keep this comic from falling by the wayside?

ALONSO: Well, again, one of the inherent challenges of keeping a book like "Arana" alive is that she's not a household name character. The significance of this moment is that Marvel's committing itself to an iconic character. We're making a statement here. But, you know, ultimately and for all the people that view this as being a politically correct move or what have you, I assure you it's not.

The long and short of it is Peter Parker, for decades, garnered fans of all races, size, creeds and colors. And we have no doubt that Miles Morales will do exactly the same thing. It's his heart that matters, not the color of his skin.

KEYES: You have been hearing though from some of the diehard, the fans, that they're just a little outraged by this. I mean how do you explain to them that this is not a whole tilting of their universe?

ALONSO: Oh without a doubt. Our fans are crazy passionate and we love them for it.

KEYES: The understatement of the year.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

ALONSO: We wouldn't have it any other way. And it's to be expected that, you know, when you do something this big that you're going to hear at a minimum some cynicism from people, you know, skepticism. And we've gotten that. The response has been overwhelmingly positive though. And what really excites me is when I get letters from people who say they're going to go into the comic store for the first time to introduce their child to Spider-Man for the first time.

You know, I'm half-Hispanic. I have a British mother and a Mexican father and an eight-year-old son and I'm thrilled to be able to show Tito, my son, a Spider-Man whose last name is Morales. Call me selfish, but I think that's wonderful.

KEYES: I know you can't tell us a lot. But I've got to ask you does he have different powers than Peter? Does he have better powers than Peter? Can he fly?

ALONSO: Well, I will give it away. Yeah. He does have some different powers that are unique to him. You can get a glimpse of them in "Ultimate Fallout Number Four" which is out last week and is probably still available. You'll learn in "Ultimate Comic Spider-Man Number One" in September how Miles got these powers, what they are, how he got them and his legacy to Peter Parker.

KEYES: One more question about his family. Do they know that he's Spider-Man, or is it, you know, kind of an Aunt May kind of thing?

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

ALONSO: I can't give - oh, I'd love to give that away, but Brian Bendis would kill me.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

ALONSO: You're good. You're good.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

KEYES: It was worth a try. It was worth a try.

ALONSO: Well played.

KEYES: All right. Axel Alonso is editor-in-chief of Marvel Comics. He joined us from our bureau in New York City. Thank you so much for being there.

ALONSO: Thanks for having me.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HERO")

NICKELBACK: (Singing) And they say that a hero can save us. I'm not going to stand here and wait. I'll hold onto the wings of the eagles. Watch as we all fly away.

KEYES: And that's our program for today. To tell us more, please go to npr.org and find us under the Programs tab. You can also friend us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter at TELL ME MORE/NPR. I'm Allison Keyes, and you've been listening to TELL ME MORE from NPR News and the African-American Public Radio Consortium. Let's talk more tomorrow.

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