REVIEW: Ultimate Comics Spider-Man #1

Ultimate Comics Spider-Man #1

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

Marvel Comics

 

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) 

 

Comments

  1. Neeks Neeks says:

    I’m glad to hear this series is off to a good start, I started reading fairly late into the last run so am looking forward to this time around hopefully Bendis can recapture the same success and greatness this time around

  2. 2Kwon 2Kwon says:

    Great review Paul, I’m sold!

  3. Looking forward to reading this.

  4. diebenny diebenny says:

    I’m glad to see this reviewing well. I gotta root for Ultimate Spidey. Bendis’ current track record is pretty spotty with me, especially with Pete’s death being such a by the numbers, “Make way for future stories!”-ish arc. It is heartening to see it doesn’t suck.

  5. Loser13 Loser13 says:

    wow, almost got goose bumps. looking forward to read this new spiderman. thanks for the review.

  6. Josh Flanagan Josh Flanagan (@jaflanagan) says:

    It’s a great comic book says I as well.

  7. This was good. I was already on board though. Looks like another slow burn for USM!

  8. boosebaster boosebaster says:

    If Miles Morales were real he would not be able to afford this book. This is supposed to be about being inclusive and representing diversity, but Marvel’s disgusting pricing model clearly says they only want a largely white, pretty privileged audience to be buying this.

    • boosebaster boosebaster says:

      I’ve just realised this is 32 pages so I can justify it on this one issue, hopefully it’ll settle back down to 2.99 from next month? I’m still smarting from the bank-breaking Ultimate Fallout fiasco (which I literally could not afford after 2 issues, and I earn more than the average salary for the UK).

    • silentbum silentbum says:

      Settle back down? USM’s been 3.99 for a while now, along with all the other Ultimate titles. I don’t see it dropping.

    • boosebaster boosebaster says:

      This just blows my mind. Well, I’ve tried everything I can to move from cheap second-hand Amazon Marketplace trades to single issues on this title, but it’s clearly never going to happen. And it’s out again in a fortnight?! I ask again, who in the ever living fuck do Marvel think can sustain this level of cost? (I’m hearing Conor’s voice all of a sudden – “Rich people”).

      Yes I’m sure most people, even people who live in what the western world considered poverty, could buy a comic a month. But the publishers don’t want you to read comic, they want you to read comicS.

      And no concession in price for not owning a physical copy? Who gets paid to make these awful decisions? Someone paid too much to have any concept of what money is, clearly.

    • Obsessive comic book buyers, which the market depends on, will go into debt to collect and stay on top of the hype and the excitement.

      New 52 will show that this month.

      The concept of money is the biggest sham in the world. IT is the Matrix.

    • Bluestreak says:

      You can save a lot of money moving to the trade version of the trades. I didn’t think it was worth spending that amount of money on floppies so that’s what i did. Easy.

  9. mrfrost mrfrost says:

    I’m so glad to hear this was great. I’ve been waiting for it, and now i’m even more excited for it.

  10. SpiderTitan SpiderTitan says:

    I will wait for the hardcover. I want to see how the arc plays out before cashing my chips in. So far it sounds great!

  11. y2kkev y2kkev says:

    That polybag may have to be the worst idea they’ve had in a while. It feels like there’s 10 pages in there. I couldnt pay $4 for something that felt that thin. I have to trade wait on all the Ultimates stuff because of those bags.

  12. Tork Tork says:

    I think my favorite part of this was that it basically had Ultimate Prowler in it.

  13. Walter Walter says:

    Originally I was not going to pick this one up, but I changed my mind and I am glad that I did.

  14. Matrix Matrix says:

    I’m so very happy that I only had to pay $4 for a comic and not the bullshit $7 or $8 that i’ve been paying for the last few years. Thank you digital comics! I feel like it’s 1995 all over again!

  15. WeaklyRoll WeaklyRoll says:

    Loved this book. Hesitated to pick it up because of the polybag; it’s what stopped me from picking up the other ultimate books that have been released, and i also wasn’t sure if Spider-Man was a story i still wanted to read (tried Slott’s Amazing run and while i was happy with the way it started, dropped it as it progressed as it wasn’t for me). The only reasoni picked it up was the i thought there would be something special about it and read a couple of reviews (including Paul’s great one here) and decided that i would give it a chance.

    I loved this issue because it was similar but different enough to Peter as a kid in the 616 and the ultimate Peter that it offered me a new character that i could get to know, and that’s what i wanted out of this book, maybe if i didn’t realize it at first.

    The art was really fantastic, and i hope Sara can keep up the quality and the scheduling of this issue, but if she runs a bit behind, i’ll sacrafice that for the quality she brings to this book (and as long as they writing holds up).

    I also spoke with my boss about this book, as she is of Jamacian decent and on our agencies Employment Equity and Diversity Committee, and we have a number of conversations on diversity and equity topics. She told me her nephew, who is 8, and also of jamacian decent is a big spider-man fan and wanted to run out and grab a copy for him and i just decided to give her my copy instead. he hasn’t read it yet, but two of her children (9 year old girl and 17 yeard old boy) read it. Her 9 year old was grossed out by the sezuire scene, and did say that spider-man can’t be black because he’s white, which i thought was interesting. Her mother did explain that this was a brand new spider-man, which helped her understand a bit about what was going on. Her 17 year old really dug it and thought it was cool that marvel was doing.

    Lastly, i could really tell this is a story that Bendis wants to tell. It was much different that his Avengers material, and he seemed to care about it differently than he does with other titles he is currently writing, which i think will help this book a lot.

  16. dgazzuolo dgazzuolo says:

    I like your Hitchhikers catch, but I submit to you this…

    Was it actually a Hitchhikers reference?

    http://365daysofcomics.com/2011/09/is-ultimate-spider-man-ultimate-answer.html

  17. i liked it…thought it was a good introduction to the character. I know this is going to be a bit more of a slow build so i’m willing to see where it goes. That last 2 pages were pretty cool…a new wrinkle for sure.

    great review as always mr. Paul.

    My only criticism: I did find some of the dialogue a bit unnatural..i dunno, i got hung up on some of it. Just didn’t feel like natural conversation.

  18. bwilliams bwilliams says:

    Ultimate Spider Man was surprisingly very good to me. I never read many Ultimate Titles before except the Millar-Hitch Ultimates…I was attracted to this Ultimate Spidey Revamp for the sheer novelty and idea of having a Black Spider man mag in my collection. I was surprised. Bendis usually grates on me like steak knives on a chalkboard. I still feel like he gets all of his notions of how black folks interact from COPS and Law and Order but I was entertained and not insulted. A-

  19. iamericbass iamericbass says:

    4.5?…4.5?!…4.5?!?

    Ok, I kinda see it. It’s the first issue, it’s not the kind of “Hey (New Character Name Here), How are you? Now blow some shit up” issue. It’s a “Hi. How ya doin?..Where ya from, what do you do” kind of issue. I get that. I’m also stunned as a frog on an electrified manhole cover, at Sara Pichelli.. I mean DAYUM! She’s kicking much ass, and I can’t wait to see what she does next. It’;s great first ish, and I’m not a fan of floppies, but I’m gettin this bad boy. Glenn Beck can go suck a big, fat, and nasty one, Mile Morales is the poo!

  20. I totally agree that this book is amazing. I love Miles Morales, I love the art, and I love the writing. I don’t even have a problem with Peter Parker dying.

    My only question is this: Why does Mile Morales have to carry the name of Spider-man? Isn’t he strong enough to be his own character? I understand the marketing reasons, but I’d really love to see him as his own character.

    Still going to buy and enjoy this book each month!

    • KenOchalek KenOchalek says:

      Why does Miles have to carry the name of Spider-man? I don’t know the actual answer, and I suspect Bendis and Pichelli will show us, but since I think you’re speaking in a more general sense, here are a couple possible explanations:

      –because he’s a good-hearted kid from a New York family with money problems who was bitten by a spider (the same spider as Peter? I’m hazy on the early issues of USM) and gained super-powers. Just like Peter.

      –Peter Parker’s identity as Spider-man is now public knowledge in the Ultimate Universe, so it’s safe to say he’s become a huge media figure (in that world) since his death. Miles is something like fourteen years old — if I was a fourteen year old kid who just got spider super-powers, I think I’d model myself after that other kid who had spider super-powers because people really seem to like him. It’s what most kids do.

    • WeaklyRoll WeaklyRoll says:

      I was thinking along the lines of continue that legacy that peter started. He died being a superhero, protecting the innocent, and that’s what people may see when they see spider-man, albit slightly different, when swinging around town.

    • Why does Hal Jordan and Barry Allen have to carry the name Green Lantern and The Flash? They should be able to stand on their own two feet!

    • Funnybooks Funnybooks says:

      I loved this book, as it just felt exciting and new, and it felt like everything a no. 1 book should be. It just had something extra, being the first book in establishing Spider-man as a legacy character. His origin felt familiar and new at the same time.