What is essential to a character’s design? The first things that will come to mind are bigger, more obvious choices, but small things can make or break the feel of a character, too.
In the case of Miles Morales, the Brooklyn-based web-slinger practically became synonymous with Air Jordans following the release of the blockbuster, Oscar-winning animated movie Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. When Miles first gets his powers in the film, he doesn’t have a suit yet. He runs to the top of a building, intent on testing the limits of his new abilities. But when he looks down, he loses his nerve. We don’t see Miles’ face. We just see his Jordans, messy and untied.
Later, when Miles’ friends need him to become Spider-Man, the most memorable sequence in the entire movie begins. Miles is done being insecure and scared. He psyches himself up, climbs the tall building again. You still can’t see his face — he’s wearing a hoodie. But you can see his Jordans, holding him up.
“Don’t do it like me,” we hear Peter Parker say in Miles’ head. “Do it like you.”
And then he does it. He takes that leap of faith. He dives headfirst, and the camera pulls back. Miles is small, but he’s flying. And there they are again: the Jordans pointing toward the sky. It’s the first moment that Miles truly steps into who he’s supposed to be.
But even before this happens — before Miles is Spider-Man — part of what makes it obvious that he is destined to become our friendly neighborhood superhero is that it looks good on him. Even without the final costume, with just a hoodie and a pair of red and black Jordans, it’s like he is already wearing the suit. It doesn’t look like Peter Parker’s suit. It looks like the suit of an Afro-Latinx Brooklyn teen. The Jordans make him Miles, and by extension, make him Spider-Man.
It is a design decision that is so visually distinct that it breaks free of the negative connotations that come with a branding deal. Rather than coming off like marketing, the Jordans make Miles feel like he has the juice. They’re a perfect encapsulation of how Miles reinvigorates and redefines Spider-Man as a superhero and character.
I walked out of that movie wanting those exact Jordans. I still do — except that they now go for hundreds of dollars. Everyone wants to look like Miles, it turns out. This might explain the exaggerated social media response to the following picture posted by Insomniac Games on Twitter, from the studio’s upcoming Spider-Man: Miles Morales video game. In it, Miles appears to be wearing Adidas high-tops, rather than his signature Nikes.
This negative reaction might be hard to understand if you’re not from New York City, not a person of color, or not into sneaker culture. When I was growing up, I couldn’t always afford new clothes. But the one thing we always shelled out for was a nice pair of shoes. They were, in many ways, treated like the most important part of an outfit, a quick distillation of your moral fiber or your wealth.
And, accordingly, there was nothing worse than walking into school with a pair of off-brand sneakers. “Payless” was an insult. But Jordans? Jordans gave you drip. I still remember the first time I wore the latest release to school. People treated me differently.
No wonder, then, that under a viral post pointing out the brand change, folks are treating this like a major downgrade. Some people were quick to point out that in an official art book, Miles appears to be wearing the Jordans again — except notably, there is no Nike swoosh logo. This is somehow worse than wearing a different shoe altogether.
“Them bitches are not retros,” one comment on the viral Twitter post says. Another person says, “Oof, straight from the Walmart shoe section.”
Insomniac did not return a request for comment. It’s possible that what we see above is just one of many different outfits you can wear in the game, and not something you have to permanently don. (Marvel and Adidas collaborated on a line of superhero shoes, which might help explain the reason Jordans don’t appear in the game.) It should also be noted that the Miles Morales game doesn’t fully drop the ball here. In new screenshots released by Game Informer, we can see Miles wearing what appear to be Timbs. We also know there’s a mission where you save a bodega cat, which can later be used as an in-game weapon.
You can’t get more New York than that.