Ultimate Comics Spider-Man #1
Story by Brian Michael Bendis
Art by Sara Pichelli
Color by Justin Ponsor
Letters by VC’s Cory Petit
Cover by Kaare Andrews
32 pages / color / $3.99
It’s good to meet you, Miles Morales.
I’ve said it before, but it’s especially relevant here. There’s a staggering quantity of #1 issues out this month. The majority of these are tasked with introducing a whole new character or with revitalizing a preexisting franchise. Bendis and Pichelli had to accomplish both of these. It’s a tall order. A daunting task. Perhaps especially for a writer who’s spent the last ten years reinventing that same character for new generations of readers. How do you replicate a formula which had already succeeded more than once in its previous iterations. How do you do it when a vocal subset of the audience is so aggressive in their rally against it?
If anyone can commiserate, it’s a fictional researcher named Dr. Markus, formerly of the Roxxon Corporation. In the opening pages of this new chapter in Ultimate Comics Spider-Man, Markus finds himself in the central laboratory of Osborn Industries, where he’s instructed to reverse engineer the confluence of events that spawned the original Spider-Man. If the guy fails to bottle a very specific strain of lighting in short order, Norman Osborn has promised to beat him to death with his bare hands. How do you recreate something as remarkable as Spider-Man? Sound familiar?
Part of the solution, as with so many great problems in the universe, is 42. One branded spider. One marked ball in the hopper of a charter school lottery.
What makes a Spider-Man? Is it the bite of a very special spider? No. Never has been. That bite is simply a catalyst in a much more complicated chemical reaction. Every Spider-Man story starts with a boy.
Meet Miles Morales.
Miles Morales isn’t Peter Parker, nor should we want him to be. In the Ultimate Comics universe as it exists now, Peter Parker has lived and died and left a mark upon the world in those few years between. He set the Spider-Man story in motion, but anyone who knows Peter Parker ought to understand this: the need for a Spider-Man does not end with death. There’s still work to be done. We’ll see that question and promise of legacy play out in future issues. But first:
Meet Miles Morales.
He’s a boy with a mother and a father who love him and who want to ferry him as far from their modest foundation as opportunity will afford. These are good people with high hopes in a class and a system where that often isn’t enough. But early on, meek and humble Miles gets a shot at a significant leg up, attached to a number in a strange game of chance. Those who’ve struggled as a child, parent or educator in America’s public school system may find a familiar frustration in this lottery scene. If you don’t know it from personal experience, you may have seen it play out in the recent Waiting for Superman documentary. Raucous auditoriums packed with hopeful parents and children. A hopper, as in Saturday night BINGO. But the commodity here isn’t cash or door prizes. It’s a vacant seat at a charter school. For many, that translates as a future. It means greater resources and personalized attention. But as Miles mutters to his hopeful mother, it has little to do with him. This isn’t on merit. It’s all about chance. Can he take pride or defeat in something so seemingly random?
Like Peter, Miles has an uncle. An influential uncle whose moral code and convictions will likely play a major role in Miles’ burgeoning sense of right and wrong. And like Peter, Miles will only become Spider-Man through this key relationship. And here is one of Bendis’ most insightful choices in formulating a new hero. Uncle Aaron may well have shared a car on the A train with Ben Parker more than once, but these men are not cut from the same cloth. Aaron has a strange relationship with responsibility. What matters is that he loves his nephew and that he’s always there with a celebratory popsicle and a story from the old days. He’s brother to Miles’ mother, but he also spent much of his youth running with the boy’s father. We only get a hint at that history, but it looks to be rich with experience. Miles won’t be rushing between adventures and the pharmacy to pick up prescriptions for an ailing aunt, but family will certainly play a role in his career as a costumed hero.
It’s another brave choice on Bendis’ part that outside promos for next months issue, we never see Spider-Man. That happens later. For now, let’s just focus on this bright kid and his quiet existence, suddenly shaken by a series of events far from his own control. Because isn’t that what it means to be a kid, especially now. Miles is younger than Peter was, and it’s difficult to imagine him sprinkling one-liners into his high-flying repertoire. We don’t know what kind of presence this new Spider-Man will have, or if he’ll blossom from outsider to assured avenger as Peter did and always has. We don’t know if that’s part and parcel with the Spider-Man legacy or if it’s merely an aspect of the Peter Parker story. There’s enough similarity in their circumstances for it to play out either way. That’s the crucial thing. Miles Morales is not a clone, but he’s also not so different from his predecessor that taking on his mantle seems inappropriate. There’s just enough commonality to warrant the franchise license and make it feel so wonderfully right.
As expected, Sara Pichelli’s art is lush and vibrant, and she excels at rendering everyone from a quiet young Miles to his rapscallion Uncle Aaron and the ruthless Norman Osborn. She does a wonderful job dressing a scene and dressing her characters, from the fashion to the fit. Uncle Aaron is a highlight, introduced in a jaunty trilby, track jacket and house slippers. So much of this character is masterfully established not just by his wardrobe and dialogue, but in the way he hold himself and peers suspiciously down hall ways. Again, Pichelli doesn’t have opportunity to show off her Spider-Man action visuals here, but the anticipation is only building.
This issue and its creators have been tasked with a great many things. After today there will still likely be detractors, though only those fundamentally opposed to the concept of reinventing the Spider-Man story. It is difficult to imagine any reasonable reader open to the idea of Spider-Man as a legacy and not just the mantle of Peter Parker could dislike this thoughtfully conceived and brilliantly executed chapter. Bendis is not filling Miles’ word balloons with Peter’s signature voice. The voices he does employ feel authentic and natural. There’s still a back and forth, but it’s never too jokey. It simply reads as people talking. Family talking.
Peter Parker remains a wonderful character, and though he’s passed on in the Ultimate Comics Universe, he went out on a high note. True dignity and a satisfying conclusion to a robust superhero story. If that loss still feels like a burn, I suppose I can understand. I don’t agree, but it’s true that we all looked to those first 150+ issues of USM for something different. So, if you’ve chosen to end the journey there, that’s perfectly valid. But it’s also true that you may well be missing out.
Meet Miles Morales.
You’ll be glad you did.
Story: 4.5 / Art: 4.5 / Overall: 4.5
(Out of 5 Stars)