Ultimate Spider-Man v.2 #1
Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Artist: Sara Pichelli
Colors: Justin Ponsor
Letters: Virtual Calligraphy
Cover artists: Kaare Andrews (regular)/Sara Pichelli (variants)
Editor: Mark Paniccia
Publisher: Marvel Worldwide
Price: $3.99 US
When the first issue of the original incarnation of this title debuted, a number of people complained the title character didn’t really make an appearance. In fact, while Peter Parker was the star from the start, Spider-Man, in full costume, didn’t really appear until several issues later, and some argued the pace of the storytelling was too slow. I didn’t agree, viewing Bendis’ plotting choices refreshing. He took his time so he could focus on character, so he could really delve into Peter and explore who he is. It worked incredibly well, and it wasn’t long before some were calling it decompressed storytelling. The term took on a negative connotation later on, as some seemed to adopt the method to lengthen shorter stories for the collected-edition treatment. Well, Bendis keeps things fairly slow with this new title and new Spider-Man as well, and just as it did the first time, it pays off. Bendis crafts a lead character that mirrors Peter Parker in many ways, but he differs in so many as well. Of course, the strength of the writing comes as no surprise to those of us who’ve been following Bendis’ journey on Ultimate Spider-Man for more than a decade. What might surprise is the work artist Sara Pichelli delivers along with Bendis’ script. Her bright, crisp and convincing linework exhibits a lot of personality.
Before his arrest and public exposure as the Green Goblin, Norman Osborn hired a geneticist to continue the work on spiders that led to the creation of Spider-Man, and following his death, a burglar’s infiltration of an abandoned and forgotten Oscorp lab leads to the release of an unknown breakthrough in that research. Meanwhile, Miles Morales and his parents attend an educational lottery, as Miles vies along with hundreds of other Manhattan kids for a precious few coveted slots in an elite high school. Later, Miles visits a member of his extended family, unbeknownst to his disapproving parents.
Pichelli’s art on this comic book is going to please a lot of readers. Her work here reminds me a great deal of the sort of stuff we’ve seen from Steve McNiven in recent years. This is just as detailed and attractive. I think she might make Miles Morales look a little too short in stature at times, but she always portrays him as a kid. And that’s an important component of this series. The title character’s effort to navigate the insanity of being a super-hero is meant to mirror and represent an adolescent’s awkward effort to transition into adulthood. Pichelli also deserves credit for her redesign of the Prowler. She maintains enough elements from the original character design to make him recognizable for longtime comics readers such as myself, but she’s tweaked the look enough to make him look like a high-tech burglar rather than a super-villain or hero. Justin Ponsor’s colors bring a lot of life to the characters as well. There’s no action in this first issue, so the brightness of the colors and expressiveness of Pichelli’s characters add some much-needed energy to the visuals.
I’ve got to give Marvel credit for including messages on its letters page from readers who disapprove of replacing Peter Parker with a new character, even if it’s over in the Ultimate corner of the publisher’s line of super-hero titles. I’m at a loss to understand the reaction given that Peter Parker remains Spider-Man in Marvel’s “mainstream” continuity. Nevertheless, Marvel’s inclusion of these negative comments (not to mention the strong sales for this first issue and the previous comic book that introduced the new Ultimate Spidey) just goes to show you there’s no such thing as bad publicity.
The strongest scene in the book is the high school lottery, and it goes a long way to show what kind of kid Miles Morales is. He doesn’t revel in his random success, but instead empathizes with the kids who weren’t lucky enough to be selected for the opportunity of a lifetime. The scene also provides a glimpse into American urban culture. Bendis explores the notion that for some kids, working hard and being smart just aren’t enough to afford them opportunities in the future. It’s not just a scene about showing who Miles and his parents are, but also one that explores, even briefly, an unfortunate socioeconomic reality. Bendis links the happenstance of Miles’ super-hero origin with the chance success at the school lottery, and while it’s far from the most subtle of connections, making it a unifying theme bolstered the two plotlines overall.
Another fun moment is the interplay among Miles and his parents, as he laments how his mother dotes on him. The closeness of the family really shines through in those few panels. Miles’ annoyance with his mom’s over-assurances makes him seem like a regular teen, but at the same time, he doesn’t come off as bratty or resentful. The wholesomeness of that moment makes for an interesting contrast to the dysfunction that exists beyond the boundaries of the immediate family. I like Miles has sought to connect with his uncle and has succeeded in doing so despite his parents’ objections. It establishes the character as independent and curious about more than what he finds in his textbooks. I look forward to getting to know Miles and his family better even more than learning how he discovers his other powers and decides to become a masked hero. 8/10
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