‘Ultimate Comics Spider-Man’ #1: Miles Morales Has Arrived [Spoiler-Free Review]
Ultimate Comics Spider-Man #1 ships today, giving us our first real look at Miles Morales, the new half-black, half-Hispanic Ultimate Spider-Man. Miles will replace the late Peter Parker as the alternate dimension version of the webslinging hero, a change that writer (and character co-creator) Brian Michael Bendis says is permanent. Thanks to all the attention from the mainstream media, this may well be one of Marvel's best-selling books this year, but is the first issue any good? You'll have to read our spoiler-free review below to find out for sure.
This issue is the best script I've seen from Brian Michael Bendis since the height of his Daredevil run. The first half of this issue feels like your standard Ultimate Spider-Man story, and then things take a turn for the... different. The best way I can think of to describe the tone is familial. While books like Blue Beetle or Amazing Spider-Man have always featured families in some way, shape, or form, this time around, it feels different. It feels parental.
I don't mean that in a patronizing or insulting way, either. It feels parental like a warm hug from your parents, or a smile from your mom. There's a conversation in this issue that made me feel really good. It's probably the sweetest thing Bendis has ever written, free of artifice and full of warmth. It feels like he captured the fear and love parents have for their children in a bottle, and spilled it on the page. I know from pre-release interviews and press that Bendis is pulling a little bit from his own life to write this series, and I don't want to over-sell it, but I really, really like what Bendis is doing with Miles and his family. It works for me in a major way, and I hope that it'll work for you, too. It feels very personal.
Also, in a development that will surprise absolutely no one, artist Sara Pichelli and colorist Justin Ponsor absolutely knock the art on this book out of the park. Since this is a quiet issue, Pichelli doesn't get a chance to really chew into any action sequences with her usual flair, so we're left looking at Pichelli's other skills: fashion, body language, facial acting, and everything else that comes into play when drawing people.
I'm pleased to say that she does an extraordinary job, as usual. Pants bunch up around the ankles, everyone's wearing different types of clothes, and every crowd scene features a bunch of different body types. There's nothing in here that I couldn't see someone wearing in real life, and that's a testament to Pichelli's attention to detail. Her facial acting is top notch, too. Miles's face when embarrassed in public is great, and so is his dumbfounded look of surprise later in the issue. (You'll know the one I mean.)
Ponsor's color art is also strong, and includes a page around the middle of the book that features five characters of a few different races where five different skin tones are present in the scene. That's something that is painfully rare in cape comics, even when talented colorists are doing otherwise virtuoso work on the page. I don't know that this is worthy of praising Ponsor to the high heavens -- "He got it right when everyone else didn't, even though they should have!" only goes so far -- but I definitely appreciated seeing this sort of attention paid to race in a Marvel comic.
Pichelli's on fire, Ponsor's on point, and Bendis is working for me in a way he hasn't in ages. This feels like the Bendis that hooked me with Ultimate Spider-Man and Daredevil, only better.
Here's the biggest problem with the issue: it's twenty pages long, and it's the first part of a six-issue story whose hardcover collection is scheduled to hit in February. This is a good issue, but as a four dollar introduction to a new status quo? It doesn't quite work. We see the answer to the biggest question on everyone's lips ("How does he get his powers?") and it's a good first meeting to the cast of the book, but it's short. It feels short. I was digging it quite a bit, really getting into the story, and then it was over.
In a way, that isn't entirely a bad thing. "I liked it, and I wanted more immediately!" is a review that most people would kill for. But this is an expensive comic for what it is, even considering how good it is, and it really should have been extra-sized (I'd even have settled for 24 pages and a stronger cliffhanger) or, in the best of all possible worlds, double-sized. Issue 2 hits two weeks from today, which is a very nice and prescient move, but the length of the issue is a bummer. It's good, with some genuinely great aspects. It just isn't good enough for its length or price. It'll make a great trade some day, but Marvel's not asking you to buy the trade (yet); they're asking you to buy this issue, and it didn't offer enough story.
I have a couple other problems with the issue, too. The five introductory pages feel a little long for what they're intended to do, and while they do a good job of building mood, the time spent on them stings when you consider that they are pages that weren't spent on the part of the issue that was great, rather than just good. And the letters page is another poor choice. It's essentially another version of every argument the internet has already had about Miles Morales, though with exponentially fewer racial slurs and expletives. I'd rather have another page of Miles, instead of another page of people talking about him.
A lot was made of Marvel's new black Spider-Man by everyone who heard about the character, whether they were for or against the idea. I was pretty pleased to see that the issue of Miles's race got just the amount of attention it needed in this issue: none. Setting aside the difficulty in explaining the complicated racial and ethnic overlap and intersection between blacks and Latinos -- a subject that is probably too complicated for cape comics -- Miles and his family are presented as just like any other family in comics. He doesn't fight roving bands of racists, the Klan, or talk about how he's from the hood. He's got a family, his parents want his life to be better than theirs, and they love him very much. He's normal, and that's just as it should be.
Despite my qualms about the length and price point, this first issue hooked me. Miles Morales isn't Peter Parker, his status quo isn't Peter Parker's, and his powers have just enough of a twist (hinted at early in the story) that they aren't exactly Peter's either. I wanted Bendis to impress me with this issue, and he did. This is good comics, and the start of something cool.
And I seriously want to shake Bendis and Pichelli's hands for introducing an Ultimate version of one of my all-time favorite members of Spidey's supporting cast.
Regardless, this issue is a treat. Pick it up on ComiXology for $3.99, or hit your local comic shop. You can also download Ultimate Comics Spider-Man #0 on the Marvel app, which consists of the eight pages he appeared on in Ultimate Fallout, for free.
Here's a three-page preview of the issue, courtesy of Marvel Comics: