I believe the last time I wrote about the Marvel’s Ultimate line, Chasing Amazing was still in its infancy, and I was more concerned about how the storyline in question – the death of Ultimate Peter Parker – was drawing inspiration from some of the bad gimmicks of the 1990s (i.e., controversial character deaths, polybagged comics, et al).
But with all of Marvel’s Spider-Man-related titles going through a hard reset over the past month (besides Superior Foes of Spider-Man, which appears to be pushing on through at least the summer), I thought I would embrace this “new era” and begin discussing the Miles Morales: The Ultimate Spider-Man series here on Chasing Amazing. For now, I only plan on discussing the main series (despite the fact that I’m actually friends with the writer of the All-New Ultimates series, Michel Fiffe), and these things are always subject to change, especially since I’ve never really gotten the sense that my readership is clamoring for me to write about the Ultimate line. Regardless, I’m hopeful that this is something that catches on and becomes a welcome addition to the blog.
A big part of why I’ve decided to buck three years of tradition around here and finally welcome Ultimate Spider-Man into the Chasing Amazing family is that I really like Miles as a character. While the usual suspects derided Miles as some kind of “liberal” marketing gimmick back when he was first introduced a few years ago, after recently plowing through the character’s first run of stories (via the Marvel Unlimited app), I found him to be extraordinarily appealing and relateable. Miles shares a lot of similarities as teenage Ultimate Peter, but also seems to have a better grasp on things, while also being a little more timid with his powers. His origin story involving his uncle, the Ultimate version of the Prowler, was very engaging, and while I’m not the biggest fan of what the powers that be did to Miles’s family/parents (killing his mother just seemed like a serving story over character moment at its finest), I did think Brian Michael Bendis handled his return to superhero-dom gracefully.
The opening chapter of this new Ultimate Spider-Man series by Bendis and artist David Marquez, is an excellent jumping on point for readers, either ones who just recently become converts like myself, or new ones curious to finally give Miles a shot. Bendis is at his absolute best as a writer – whether it’s Peter or Miles – when he aims small and provides these very intimate character moments and conversations. On first blush, these scenes might appear to keep the overall story at a point of stasis, but they actually go on to give the reader a better understanding of why certain things are the way they are.
Bendis using Miles’s guilt about the disappearance of his father – who, in the last volume of this series, finds out his son is Spider-Man and blames him for the death of his wife – as a platform to evaluate some of his other interpersonal relationships is incredibly smart and effective. One thing I’ve noticed for a while with the Ultimate version of Spider-Man is how this notion of a secret identity is not as precious as it was in the “mainstream” Marvel Universe. Having these young characters not only debate with themselves or others about “coming out” for certain people makes them come across as real, living, breathing teenagers. A number of characters eventually discovered that Peter was Spider-Man in the mainstream universe, but it always felt like he either didn’t have any other choice but to tell them, or they came across this information accidentally.
As someone who is pretty far removed from my teen years, but still close enough that I think I can relate to these characters, having the information that Miles has – I have super powers – is both terrifying and exciting, and is something he is going to feel compelled to share with people. He already has a confidant in his school friend Ganke, but with his relationship blossoming with Katie Bishop, this is not the kind of information he is comfortable keeping to himself. By then bringing in Mary Jane – who Peter was told not to reveal his identity to back in the day but he told her anyway – as a sounding board for Miles, further connected this new Spider-Man with his predecessor.
Shining a light on how Peter and Miles mirror each other only makes the subplot, and shock ending of this issue all the more interesting and curious. While Miles’s teenage soap opera unquestionably is the focal point of this series, behind the scenes readers are introduced to the return of the Ultimate Green Goblin – a character that was last seen smirking (and supposedly dying) in the “Death of Spider-Man” storyline.
Norman Osborn’s reappearance (and the final panel of this comic involving another character) is set-up when a couple of no-name characters are discussing this idea that Captain America (who was killed during Cataclysm) might still be alive, despite the fact that there was a body and a funeral, etc. The scene is designed to be tongue-in-cheek – characters ALWAYS find a way to come back in comic books, though the Ultimate line for the most part has been more cautious about resurrecting heroes and villains – but it also manages to add some weight to the Goblin’s return (and eventual escape).
And of course I can’t talk resurrection without explicitly talking about how this comic ended. Seeing Peter standing there in Miles’s apartment is just dripping with misdirection. As someone who has been reading comics for more than 25 years, I just don’t see how this scenario is going to be resolved in a way where this is the “real” Peter, back from the dead.
But in terms of coming up with a fantastic way to end a comic while also grabbing a reader’s interest for the long haul, Bendis and Marquez truly nail this moment.