[Editor’s note: The following contains spoilers for Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales.]
Marvel and Insomniac Games have hit it out of the park with Miles Morales, the new, standalone, spinoff sequel to the 2018 hit Marvel’s Spider-Man. Part of the reason the game is so successful is its web-swinging action, venom-stinging combat, and truly explosive sequences. But the part that makes all that visually compelling material work so well is the heart of the story: Miles Morales and his friends, family, and even his enemies. [Spoilers follow.]
There’s more than one character in Miles Morales who ticks all of those boxes, but for the moment, we’re going to talk about Miles’ uncle Aaron Davis. Uncle Aaron has a long history with his own family that goes back to well before Miles was even born. He also has a side gig in the criminal underworld as the professional thief and infiltrator, The Prowler, which is the main reason he and his former cop brother Jefferson Davis had a falling out. But it’s not the main reason that Aaron and Miles cross paths. Their story in Miles Morales attempts to pay homage to the best parts of the characters’ history in the pages of Marvel Comics and in other adaptations. So to know why the video game’s story works so well, we’ll first have to revisit the Prowler over the years.
Prowler: A History
Originally appearing in the pages of “The Amazing Spider-Man” Vol. 1 #78 back in 1969, The Prowler began his history in a very different way from where he ended up. The first iteration of The Prowler was named Hobart “Hobie” Brown, a Bronx-born African-American teenager. Gifted with an aptitude for engineering but plagued by anger issues, Hobie made an ill-fated attempt at a life of crime and was soon stopped by Peter Parker’s Spider-Man. Hobie’s eventual rehabilitation as an ally of Spider-Man led to the emergence of a “Second Prowler” whose identity was never revealed. A medical intern by the name of Rick Lawson temporarily took on the costume and moniker of the Prowler for the third iteration, before a clone of Hobie Brown stepped out as the fourth. But it’s Aaron Davis’ time as The Prowler that concerns Miles Morales and the Spider-Man story of the modern era.
Hailing from the “Ultimate” universe, Aaron Davis took on the identity of The Prowler to commit crimes as a cat burglar, putting him at odds with his cop brother Jefferson. During his first heist of tech at an abandoned Oscorp lab, a genetically modified spider crawled into The Prowler’s duffel bag. Later, when Miles Morales is visiting his uncle Aaron, that same spider bit him and brought about his transformation into Spider-Man. That family drama got further complicated when Aaron’s secret identity was revealed and Jefferson forbade his brother from spending time with Miles. But their public lives and super-secret lives would inevitably cross, especially when The Prowler and Spider-Man each learned of the other’s identities. (The Prowler even killed the supervillain known as The Tinkerer to keep Miles’ secret safe.)
The Prowler’s history has been muddied somewhat by attempts to reform and rehabilitate as an antihero or even superhero, but the character has also formed his own version of the Sinister Six, manipulated Spider-Man through their emotional connection, and just generally been a bad guy more often than not. The modern versions of The Prowler, however, get a little more nuanced.
In a rather short appearance in the live-action Spider-verse from Sony, Donald Glover stars as Aaron Davis, a character who doesn’t don the Prowler getup (yet?) but does make some black market tech deals with some very bad dudes. Aaron gets wind of just how bad his business partners are and opts to rat them out to protect his family and his neighborhood. Tom Holland / Peter Parker’s version of Spider-Man catches up with him and manages to get some much-needed intel out of the thief, even if doing so prevents Uncle Aaron from catching up with his nephew, Miles.
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
Easily the best portrayal of The Prowler on the big screen, and the biggest in any adaptation to date before Miles Morales, Sony’s Into the Spider-Verse tapped into the family dynamic in a big way. On the sweet side of things, we meet Miles pre-Spider-man and get to see him interact with his uncle Aaron who’s the black sheep of the Davis family for reasons Miles doesn’t entirely understand. On the tragic side of things, Miles, now as a newly minted Spider-Man, watches the villainous Prowler battle Peter Parker’s Spider-Man alongside the Green Goblin and Kingpin. And, to make matters worse, Miles soon learns that his uncle Aaron is in fact the Prowler himself, an ultimate betrayal of trust.
This Shakespearean family drama continues as Prowler discovers that Spider-Man is actually his nephew Miles in the midst of heated battle, leading to Aaron’s death when he’s shot by Kingpin. But wait, it gets twistier! Miles’ father and Aaron’s brother, Jefferson Davis, an honorable cop, finds Aaron’s dead body and blames Spider-Man for his death. Spider-Verse really knows how to twist the emotional knife here. Even if it all ends up relatively okay (minus the whole death of Uncle Aaron thing), it’s quite the journey. Spider-Man: Miles Morales takes that idea and runs with it, giving us something familiar, but also wholly new.
Spider-Man: Miles Morales
Spoilers again here if you haven’t played the game. It’s not long before we find out that Aaron Davis is in fact in the game, but not the way you might expect at first. Miles meets up with his uncle while he’s in disguise as Spider-Man. New York’s Only Spider-Man. He’s taken on the responsibilities of protecting New York while Peter Parker is on assignment overseas with Mary Jane. One such responsibility is helping Aaron, who’s employed by the local transit authority to keep the trains running, deal with some domestic terrorists messing with the transportation system. (This is also how fast travel is unlocked in the game in a very cute reveal that shows how bad Miles is at covering up his identity, especially with those who know him best.) So while it’s cute that Uncle Aaron is being protective of his nephew Miles after the death of Jefferson Davis, that closeness comes with complications.
Multiple times in the story, Aaron Davis, outfitted in high-tech Roxxon-appointed gear as The Prowler, intercedes in Miles’ Spider-Man activities. It’s often done to help Miles or get him out of possible trouble, but it’s also done to manipulate his nephew and get what he needs out of him. Aaron, as the Prowler, clues Miles in to various locations around the city where he and his brother Jefferson used to record beats, all to eventually mix them together into a unique track; that job falls to Miles now, and if you complete it, you’ll get your own Prowler-inspired costume. But there’s a dark side to all that buddy-buddy stuff. Aaron also uses Miles’ trust in him to inform Simon Krieger of Roxxon that The Tinkerer will be meeting with Spider-Man at Trinity Church. To his credit, Aaron is double-crossed by Krieger who captures both of the young super-powers.
Shakespearean betrayals are a big part of the complicated history between Miles Morales and Aaron Davis, while the conflicts between Spider-Man and the Prowler play out in more of a brawl than a bard’s tale. With Spider-Man temporarily victorious, it falls to Prowler to step up and do the right thing by helping his family take down Roxxon, both in an epic street battle and in a legal battle in the courtroom. The Prowler gets to redeem himself a bit in Spider-Man: Miles Morales, a fitting emotional wrap-up for a story that’s already seen both Miles and Aaron lose Jefferson Davis, a man whose honor and courage meant so much to both of them. And that story is why The Prowler’s arc in Spider-Man: Miles Morales means so much to fans.