A Spoiler-Free Review of Bendis and Pichelli’s ‘Spider-Men’ #1
On June 13, Marvel Comics is kicking off their celebration of 50 years of Spider-Man by releasing Spider-Men #1 by Brian Michael Bendis and Sara Pichelli and Justin Ponsor, featuring the first meeting between the traditional Spider-Man Peter Parker and the new Ultimate version, young Miles Morales. Additionally, it’s the first official crossover between the mainline and Ultimate Marvel universes. So how does this issue stack up to the creative team’s previous excellent work on Miles’s solo title Ultimate Comics Spider-Man? We take an advanced, spoiler-free look below.
With last year’s relaunch of Ultimate Comics Spider-Man, following the death of the Ultimate version of Peter Parker, Marvel introduced the character of Miles Morales, Parker’s successor. A headline-grabber from the start by virtue of the fact that Miles is the first Spider-Man with mixed black/hispanic heritage, the heavily hyped move was quickly justified by the fact that writer Brian Michael Bendis and artist Sara Pichelli brought the goods with the final product. Morales emerged a fully-realized character, appropriately continuing Spider-Man’s “great power comes with great responsibility” theme with a fleshed-out supporting cast that included a loving mother and father, a sketchy and secretive uncle, friends, and a magnet school Morales gained entry into in via a lottery — much like the random chance spider-bite accidents that gave both him and Peter Parker their powers.
Spider-Men, however, is — so far — a totally different kind of comic, framed as a fairly standard Peter Parker Spider-Man adventure. Bendis hasn’t written a great deal of solo mainline Marvel Universe Spider-Man stories, not outside of cameo appearances or as a member of teams like the Avengers. He’s never really taken the character for a spin, so it’s interesting that over a decade into Bendis’ career we finally get a Marvel Universe Peter Parker story written by the guy.
It’s a pretty traditional story, largely featuring stuff we’ve all read in the interviews — Mysterio’s involved, Spider-Man goes to the Ultimate Universe, etc. Like many Marvel “event” books, Spider-Men #1 suffers from its own hype: the first issue is largely to set up the book’s concept, and if you need to give away that concept to sell the book, well, it’s pretty hard for that issue to surprise anybody. Spider-Men, at just five issues, is no exception.
Another thing the first issue really lacks is an emotional hook. With Parker and Morales meeting, and Morales being inspired by his own universe’s version of Parker, there’s a great deal of potential dramatic energy being stored up. Not only is there Peter learning about another version of himself who died tragically, there’s also Miles Morales finally getting to know a living version of his greatest inspiration. Not to mention Aunt May seeing a version of her nephew alive, Gwen Stacy’s reaction, and the possibility of the regular Marvel Universe’s reaction to Miles’s existence. As of the end of #1, that energy’s still just potential. It’s setup — well-executed setup, to be sure, but setup nonetheless.
Additionally, while Sara Pichelli acquits herself excellently as usual, her talent for facial expressions is wasted in a comic where almost every page is dominated by a dude in a full-face mask. It’ll undoubtedly be put to good use in later issues as mystery and adventure take a back seat to personal and emotional drama, but again, none of that is in this debut issue.
So what is in this debut issue? Bendis writing what begins as a fairly straightforward Spider-Man story, which drops some clues and eventually begins leading into the book’s premise. This premise holds a lot of promise, but as of the end of issue #1, that promise remains just that. Spider-Men #1 is a very well-drawn, well-scripted comic, but to a degree it feels like two excellent craftspeople getting exposition out of the way so they can get to the really good parts. While that might be necessary for the story, and provide a way for Parker to act as a reader surrogate for those unfamiliar with the Ultimate Universe, it’s a largely rote opening that lacks the beating emotional heart that made Bendis and Pichelli’s collaboration on Miles Morales so memorable.
Spider-Men #1 goes on sale June 13 in comics stores everywhere and digitally from comiXology and the Marvel Comics app.