Ultimate Comics Spider-Man Vol. 1 Shows Us What Might Have Been
Once upon a time, when Sony first announced that they'd be rebooting their popular Spider-Man film franchise after only three movies, speculation ran wild as to who might replace Tobey Maguire in the title role. After a few tweets from Community actor/Childish Gambino alter ego Donald Glover expressing interest in the part, a massive swelling of fan support congealed around the idea that maybe this reboot could be the chance to show something totally different, a web-slinger like the world had never seen.
Well, obviously that didn't happen. The role of Peter Parker in the reboot ended up going to Andrew Garfield who, honestly, did a terrific job with it. But still, us Community die-hards have to wonder what might have been.
One of those wondering, it seems, was Marvel Comics writer Brian Michael Bendis, the sole author of every single Ultimate Spider-Man comic to date. When it was decided that the Ultimate Universe Peter Parker was going to die and replacement Spider-Mans were considered, Bendis did what Sony didn't: went the multicultural route. Enter Miles Morales, a 13-year-old Brooklynite with an African-American dad and a Hispanic mom. That makes him, in many ways, the most mainstream nonwhite superhero ever. Yes, Morales is a good deal younger than Glover, but the inspiration still stands: Bendis even told USA Today that when he saw Donald Glover in Spider-Man pajamas on a Community episode, he thought "I would like to read that book." And so he wrote it.
None of this is to say, however, that Ultimate Comics Spider-Man volume 1—the first book to feature Morales' adventures—should be read only as "the black Spider-Man." There's actually nothing overt in this book about race at all. Class issues are certainly apparent, but they're presented as more of a Brooklyn thing. As the book opens, Miles and his parents are attending a lottery for one of NYC's premiere charter schools. If Miles doesn't make it in, his parents worry that he'll end up stuck in the same rut that led his uncle to become a pretty serious career criminal.
Miles, though, doesn't mind his uncle. Actually, he likes him a lot, and hangs out at his apartment despite his dad's wishes. One day, he happens to go over there the night after his uncle's raided Oscorp Labs for a score. An irradiated spider ended up among his uncle's take, it gets out, bites Miles, and… well, you know the rest.
In a lot of ways, actually, Ultimate Comics Spider-Man trods on familiar territory; Miles' origin, despite coming from a fairly different cultural background, isn't too far off of Peter's. First he has to learn to cope with having spider powers. Then he's going to realize he can do great things with them, but maybe that's not the best idea. Then someone very important to him is going to end up in a tragic accident that he thinks he could've prevented. This time it's not anyone in his family that meets a tragic fate, though, but Peter Parker himself. When the Green Goblin murders the original Spider-Man, Miles gets it in his head that he could've stopped it. And so a new generation of hero is born.
This book, simply, is fantastic. By updating the Spider-Man story for a young, modern audience, Bendis and artist Sara Pichelli aim for the same impact and relevance that Stan Lee and Steve Ditko got with Amazing Fantasy #15 back in 1962. They succeed admirably. Miles feels like a real kid—he's smart, hyperactive, full of uncertainty, and with a real drive to do something good, even if he hasn't worked out all the details of that yet. Pichelli's art complements this perfectly, with compelling figures and quick-moving, action-packed panels that will keep you engaged throughout. Additionally, Bendis' skill with dialogue has been much-celebrated, and it really shines here; there are moments in this book so moving that you might actually really feel for these characters. I know, that sounds terrible.
In a different world, Donald Glover might have portrayed this character on the big screen. In the real world, Brian Michael Bendis and Sara Pichelli are knocking it out of the park with this guy on a monthly basis. If you dig Spider-Man at all, check out this first volume of Miles Morales' story; you won't regret it. A