Two issues into my new campaign to share my thoughts on the Miles Morales: The Ultimate Spider-Man series, and I’m already starting to understand some of the inherent challenges that will come with such an endeavor.
Brian Michael Bendis is a very good comic book writer, and seems to have a grasp on characterization within the Spider-Man universe better than almost any other current Spidey writer/creator I can think of. The problem is, the slow, very drawn-out pacing of his narratives just absolutely kills me and my ability to talk about this series in a month-to-month fashion.
Full disclosure: I didn’t read either of the Ultimate Spider-Man series in real time and instead caught up with them in one big lump sum via the Marvel Unlimited app. I read through all 160 issues of Ultimate Peter Parker over the span of about two weeks and the Miles’s issues were consumed in about a week. I thoroughly enjoyed this series, but in large part because my reading experience wasn’t at the whims of how Bendis paces his individual issues. If I read through an issue in a matter of a few minutes, I was able to queue up the next one, and the one after that in order to finish out the arc. And when I would get to the end of the arc, I would usually find myself saying “that’s a good story.”
I’m sure when I get to the end of this first arc in Ultimate Miles, I’ll find myself saying the same thing. Yes, Bendis plants a number of very interesting seeds in this story involving Norman Osborn and the mysterious return of Peter, or at least someone who looks like Peter. And yes, Bendis, and most notably, artist David Marquez, visually capture some very wonderful character moments, like the look of disbelief on Miles’s face after seeing Peter for the first time.
But there’s a different in building tension and creating cliffhangers, and moving too slowly, and at this very early stage of the arc, I’m can’t say with any confidence that the story isn’t suffering from the latter. In Ultimate Miles #1, we get a very strongly written interaction between Miles and Mary Jane where she tells him about the need to tell his girlfriend, Katie Bishop, about his secret identity, and my general take away from that scene is the next time Miles and Katie are together, he’s going to do just that. Instead, before he has a chance to actually confess to Katie, Ultimate Miles #2 ends with a cliffhanger, providing bait for next month.
The same could be said with how Bendis continues to unwrap the plots involving Osborn and “Peter.” We don’t get a single lick of dialogue from Norman in Ultimate Miles #2 – we have no sense of how he returned, what his motivations are, or what he’s going to do now that he’s seemingly back in a laboratory (with Doc Ock’s arms prominently in the center of the wall). We’ve had two issues in a row where we’ve gotten essentially the same panel of Norman turning into a fire-powered version of the Goblin. It’s time to give us something else.
With the Peter mystery, the confrontation with Miles feels too short and ineffective. We get a little bit of insight about who this person truly is in the way he evades wanting to speak with/see Aunt May and instead just wants his web shooters back. And we also get a little demonstration of the varying powersets the two different Spider-Men possess (which, interestingly enough, was something that was explored by Bendis in the Spider-Men miniseries in 2012). But the whole thing leaves me wanting too much more.
The problem with this approach is that Bendis/Marquez are putting a large amount of trust in their ability to maintain the reader’s attention span one month at a time. And considering how sales of the Ultimate books have continued to decline over the years – editorial manhandling aside – this may not be the best approach for the longevity of the series.
The way Bendis advances his stories in Ultimate Spider-Man, he would almost certainly benefit more from a weekly, bi-weekly format a la the “One More Day” era of Spider-Man. Of course that would seriously inhibit his ability to write the 30 or so other titles he is currently working on for Marvel. And I’m sure if Bendis’s workload ever became too much, his role with X-Men and Guardians of the Galaxy would take precedent.
My inability to suggest a pragmatic solution doesn’t change the fact that giving readers a full page of Miles just saying “clone, clone, clone” over and over, feels like it is doing the series a disservice. I think Marquez is a great artist, but for $4 a month, I wish there was a way to give me a little more substance than what I’ve seen through two issues.
It puts me in a tough spot because I enjoy this comic, and I enjoy these characters a lot, but depending on how things go after a few months, I don’t know if I enjoy it enough to not just wait the few extra months and catch up with Miles, fake Peter and the rest via Marvel Unlimited.