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Marvel superhero comics creator Stan Lee always said that his characters embody the greatest stories ever told but for award-winning actress Luna Lauren Velez, superheroes inspire fans to retell their own origin stories.
“I think your origin is important, not only because it defines who you are, but also because it shows what you have in common with others,” Velez told NBC News.
The New York-born Puerto Rican actress plays Rio Morales, the mother of Afro-Latino Spider-Man Miles Morales, in the animated movie "Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse" which premieres Dec. 14 nationwide.
The new movie focuses on Miles Morales' origin story and how he becomes Marvel's half black, half Latino Spider-Man.
The Brooklyn-born teenager who is African-American and Puerto Rican made his first comic book appearance in 2011 after the tragic death of Peter Parker — the original Spider-Man from Forest Hills, Queens.
From Spider-Ham, a funny Spider-Man that looks like a pig, to Spider-Gwen, a version of Peter Parker’s high school sweetheart Gwen Stacy who later becomes Spider-Woman, the new film essentially explores the alternate universes in which these different kinds of Spider-Mans exist.
In "Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse," all the distinct Spider-Heroes are forced to interact with each other after Marvel supervillain Kingpin creates portals to bring the multiple types of Spider-Mans into Miles Morales' universe.
In a way, the "Spider-Verse" concept shows how all these characters are different from each other, but interconnected at the same time — a feeling that might be familiar to many Latinx fans who may have first learned of Marvel superheroes in Spanish, such as "El Hombre Araña," Spanish for Spider-Man, "Los Hombres X," referring to the X-Men and "Los 4 Fantásticos," which are the Fantastic Four.
“If I take my origin story as a first generation Latina straddling between 'La Isla' [the island, referring to Puerto Rico] and New York, 'Spider-Verse' shows me the connective tissue that makes me proud of my culture and roots in both places,” Velez said.
The newest animated Marvel superhero film touches on Stan Lee’s values of diversity and inclusion.
“If you can create and write about a character who is flawed but managed to overcome those fears, then I think that’s pretty good," Lee had told NBC News in a previous interview. “You want to read about someone you can identify with."
Velez considers her role as the mother of an Afro-Latino Spider-Man, who speaks in Spanish for almost half of her lines in the animated movie, "an important milestone for Latinos and African-Americans to see themselves represented on the big screen.”
“It’s pretty unique to play Mile’s mom, especially since Peter Parker’s Spider-Man doesn’t have parents in the other universe,” Velez said. “In this one, not only does he have parents, but his mom is Puerto Rican!"
This is not the first time Velez has redefined how diversity looks on TV. She played a tough policewoman in Showtime’s "Dexter" and Fox’s "New York Undercover," both classic crime dramas, a doctor in HBO’s prison drama "Oz," a nurse in ABC’s romantic comedy "Ugly Betty" and a university president in Shonda Rhimes' hit-show "How To Get Away With Murder."
For many fans, Marvel's heroes and villains seem relatable since many of their characters are portrayed as ordinary people. For this reason, Velez hopes that Latinx fans can specifically see themselves reflected in Miles Morales' life as much as she did while working in the film.
By including these day-to-day details, "Into the Spider-Verse" reminds viewers that these kinds of experiences add another dimension to people's identity.
For Velez, this particular thought process used to create stories that feel more empathetic makes fans feel like they belong to a bigger culture or that their stories belong within Stan Lee’s creations.
“Spider-Verse is not just about your blood ties, but the families and tribes you create,” she said. “It brings together different characters from Marvel’s ultimate universes. And it looks and feels like our world, a place where all people can come together to form a universe.”