Brian Michael Bendis and Sara Pichelli
Even though he climb walls, swings from buildings and has the proportional strength of a genetically modified spider, Miles Morales has had the burden of proving to the world that he’s Spider-Man. Since being brought to life in 2011 by legendary scribe Brian Michael Bendis and legend-in-the-making artist Sara Pichelli, people both in the fictional and real world have struggled with someone else taking up Peter Parker’s mantle. With an awareness of the public’s reaction to Peter Parker dying (in the Ultimate Universe) and the expectations placed on his replacement, the two artists built Miles’s story around the idea of inheriting the legacy, rising to become not just a hero, but a symbol.
Like Peter Parker, Miles Morales is a reluctant hero. Both were victims of super science, though the original Parker was more from carelessness. In the Ultimate Universe, both the Parker and Morales spider-bite are directly related to Norman Osborn, who was trying to use genetically engineered spiders to recreate the effects of the Captain America super soldier serum. Parker’s motivations to be Spider-Man stem from the death of his Uncle Ben, his beloved father-figure, who could have been saved had Parker only used his powers responsibly. Miles decides to become Spider-Man after the death of Ultimate Peter Parker, who gave his life stopping the monstrous, Ultimate Green Goblin. Destined for greatness, the only other person to get a radioactive spider-bite, Miles accepts the call to be Spider-Man, but not without hesitation. The responsibility of power is the legacy of Spider-Man, and dealing with the pressure to do what’s right at the sake of yourself is a persistent challenge faced by both characters. Peter Parker has sacrificed a lot to be Spider-Man, and Miles has suffered, too. As Spider-Man, he fought to the death with his Uncle Aaron, the Ultimate-thief, Prowler, and his mother died after his father was crippled during a confrontation with the Venom symbiote. The new Spider-Man underwent a gauntlet of classic Spidey scenarios, and he emerged from the separate but equal world of the Ultimates, then survived the Secret Wars, and now plays a significant role as an Avenger. So, I feel good saying Miles Morales is Spider-Man.
This point doesn’t need to be revisited so often, except that the skin color of Spider-Man matters a lot to some people. Reading the letters to the editor in the first Ultimate Spider-Man issues is a disappointing exploration of the intolerance of some fans. But as the issues go on, more people write in recognizing the good work that Bendis and Pichelli were doing, and showing support for the ideals that came with Miles Morales. Still, I think the creative team has been very sensitive to transitioning Miles into Spider-Man, and they’ve detoured many stories so that recognizable characters can give their blessing to Miles.
The first few issues of the All New, All Different Marvel’s Spider-Man are hopefully the last time creators ever feel like they have to justify Miles Morales as Spider-Man. In the past, Spider-Miles has basically had to get permission from Nick Fury, Spider-Woman (Ultimate Jessica Drew, a female clone of Peter Parker), Aunt May, Gwen Stacy, Mary Jane, Captain America and even two versions of Peter Parker (original and Ultimate), in order to be Spider-Man. This must not have been enough, because in this first issue. Miles once again has to prove himself before getting the official title. After Blackheart, an underutilized villain and son of the Devil, wrecks all of the top gun Avengers, Spider-Man defeats it using a venom blast, an ability unique to his spider-powers. When Spider-Man succeeds where Iron Man, Thor, and Captain America failed, the Amazing Peter Parker acknowledges, and hopefully readers do too, that Miles is Spider-Man.
These first issues continue what Bendis and Pichelli began five years ago, but there are significant changes. Miles is older. He’s an Avenger, and maybe most importantly, the world knows Spider-Man is brown. Being qualified as “the black” Spider-man bothers Miles. He struggles to understand why his skin color should matter, and I think Bendis struggles with that idea too. While it doesn’t provide answers, this book approaches a hard conversation rather than ignoring it. I don’t think Spider-Man will actually save the world or anything, but his stories just might help some people open up to new ideas. Though Miles’s race makes him a source for commentary, his adventures are made of the same stuff of classic Spider-Man tales. Now that Miles is immersed in the whole Marvel Universe, there will be new challenges for the character that will feel sweetly familiar to old fans. The next arc will feature the return of the Black Cat, who is rallying the criminal underworld against the new Spider-Man. Having already survived a fight with one master thief, it will be interesting to see how Spider-Man reacts to the Black Cat’s plan and her motives. There is much to be explored with the new Spider-Man, and after writing Spider-Man for fifteen years, Bendis keeps having compelling runs with this character.
The commentary and plots in this book are supplemented with some amazing Pichelli artwork. I was completely unaware how she had designed a defining Spider-Man until jumping into this ANAD Marvel project. In addition to drawing a longer, more square, mature Miles Morales, Pichelli brings great energy to all the characters from Ganke, to her truly ferocious conception of Blackheart, as well as Miles’s family. Pichelli is great at capturing emotion in closeup, some of her most dramatic work coming in expressions of panels of just a character’s eyes, or the lower part of their face, or their lips. The most difficult moment in Miles’s story, the death of his mother, was made more powerful through Pichelli’s portrait of the scene, and there is expressive triumph in this new issue when Miles wields Captain America’s shield. While the books feels grounded in a realism, Pichelli interjects manga-inspired panels depicting the inner fantasies of Miles Morales. The way her art can make the transition from drama to humor so seamlessly is one of the great pleasures of reading it.
This book continues an amazing run by one of the best creative teams currently working in comics, and upholds the legacy of one of the industry’s most significant heroes. Bendis and Pichelli didn’t change what Spider-Man is about, they just changed who wears the mask. Their work on Ultimate Spider-Man, Miles Morales: Ultimate Spider-Man, Ultimate Comics: Spider-Men, and now, the unqualified Spider-Man, has structurally reinforced a classic pillar of Marvel comics, retrofitting it to endure for years to come, while sustaining the beauty and accessibility of the original.
First collection: Spider-Man, Vol. 1: Miles Morales (September)