September 20, 2017

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Jason Reynolds On “Miles Morales,” Spider-Man, and His Secret Superpower

Photo by Lougè Delcy

When Marvel/Disney comes knocking at your door to write a novelization about one of the most recognizable superheroes, you just don’t say no. At least that’s how YA and middle grade author Jason Reynolds felt when he was approached by the publisher to work on Miles Morales: Spider-Man (Marvel; Aug. 1, 2017). SLJTeen Live! panelist Reynolds talked with SLJ about superpowers, how he fleshed out the Afro-Puerto Rican webslinger’s backstory and his favorite superhero. He will be speaking on a panel about YA books for reluctant readers during SLJ’s sixth annual SLJTeen Live! virtual conference on August 9.

How did you come to write this book for Marvel, the first novelization of a Spider-Man comic?

I wish I could give you all a better answer for this question—one filled with drama and magic—but the truth is, Marvel and Disney reached out to my agent. That’s all. I know—not very exciting. But, trust me, when you get a call about writing Spider-Man, it doesn’t matter how it comes. They could’ve texted me, or sent me a telegram, or even broken into my home, and it wouldn’t have changed the feeling for me. It was mind-blowing!

Are you a comics reader? Did you have to do research on the Spider-Man universe, specifically the one in which Miles Morales is the new “neighborhood superhero?”

I’m not a huge comics reader, which I think worked in my favor because I could approach it with fresh eyes. My older brother loves comics, so I grew up with them all over the house, and I had him at my disposal as counsel, but beyond that I had to dive deep into the universe. Actually, I had to study multiple universes, because Miles exists in more than one.

The big crux of the novel centers around Miles as an Afro-Puerto Rican teen trying to escape his family’s criminal past and accept his own “good” path. What motivated you to give this book that focus?

To write a story about a half black, half Puerto Rican Spider-Man meant that I needed to delve into how his culture and environment changes his relationship with being a superhero. How his family dynamics and his family member’s pasts affect what Miles deems as possible. This was important to me because this is so often the story in communities like the one I grew up in. How could I ever imagine being a writer, for example, when no one in my family even knew that writing professionally was feasible? How do I break certain chains and cycles that I did not create but need to undo because there is a greater good I’m certain I’m meant for? How do I rework and dismantle the societal damage that weighs heavy on so many people around me, and if I do, how do I cope with the survivor’s guilt? This is the part of Miles’s story that matters most to me, what makes him real, because this is the story of so many of the potential teenage superheroes in our neighborhoods and schools.

Cover illustration by Kadir Nelson

One of my favorite aspects of the work is the relationships Miles has with his family, friends, and neighborhood. Why did you think it was important to include?

Because Miles is human. He’s a regular kid from Brooklyn and uses these things to ground him. To know you’re special can be lonely, and even dangerous, unless you’re reminded by people who love you that you’re not THAT special. Or, perhaps, that everyone around you is special in their own way. We all have a superpower. Parents who somehow always figure it out—superpower. Best friends who can yank a laugh out of you when you’re at your lowest—superpower.

Themes like class, racism, and incarceration resonate throughout. How were you able to weave them into this superhero adventure?

By personifying the “isms.” The beauty of superhero stories is that you can talk about all these things by turning them into villains. For me, this was the most fun. It was a trip to take these issues I care so much about and figure out what they look like as a person. What do they sound like? How do they dress? How do they act? What do they do? It’s like what Jordan Peele was able to do in the movie Get Out—take a huge problem and distill it down to a single family. That’s what I wanted to do. Take a systemic issue and create a despicable avatar for it so it can physically exist in a narrative.  

Who are some superheroes you admired or read about as a young person?

Funny thing is—I loved Spider-Man. But I also loved Wolverine. I mean, adamantium bones and claws—seriously.

Will there be a sequel? Or are you working on something else right now?

I have no idea if there will be a sequel. I guess it depends on if people want a sequel, and if Disney/Marvel wants me to make another mess. Hahaha. As far as what I’m working on—let’s just say secrets are my superpower.

 

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This article was published in School Library Journal's August 2017 issue. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.

Shelley Diaz About Shelley Diaz

Shelley M. Diaz (sdiaz@mediasourceinc.com) is School Library Journal's Reviews Team Manager and SLJTeen newsletter editor. She has her MLIS in Public Librarianship with a Certificate in Children’s & YA Services from Queens College, and can be found on Twitter @sdiaz101.

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