Marvel Tag-Team Review: Ultimate Comics Spider-Man #1

With today's release of Ultimate Comics Spider-Man #1, we thought we'd let two of our comics writers duke it out with their takes on the new Spidey, Miles Morales. Did they both like it? One hate it, the other love it? You'll just have to read on to find out.

ALEX ZALBEN: This is going to come off as a weird, potentially unfair comparison right off the bat… But Ultimate Comics Spider-Man #1, which introduces Miles Morales, a new, mixed race Spider-Man into the Ultimate Marvel Universe, is a lot like DC’s New 52. Not because it’s a new number one, or a clear, calculated way of bringing in new readers. It’s because there’s one big thing that’s going to get lost in all the hype: this is a good comic book.

Let me clarify what I mean, and then we’ll actually get into some plot stuff. With any property, whether it’s a movie, book, play, TV show, or comic book that gets hyped to the high heavens, there’s an expectation that it’s going to somehow totally change the game. That looking back, there will be entertainment before this, and after this. It will be one of those sea change moments where history is made.

DC’s New 52 is not one of those moments. Neither is Ultimate Comics Spider-Man #1. What they are, instead are companies who have made mistakes (whether on the surface, or in the case of Spidey, by omission), taking the laudable time to correct those mistakes in a very clear, very public way. Unfortunately, similarly to how some fans have been pissed off at the slate of DC number one issues, I think a lot of people may get pissed off at Miles Morales.

Please don’t do that.

Instead, come into this book looking at it not as the savior of all comic book kind, and the definitive statement on race in comic books today, but instead as what it is: another really, really good issue of Ultimate Spider-Man. For a decade – with very few exceptions – writer Brian Michael Bendis has turned in the most consistently enjoyable comic book in America, taking Peter Parker on his long steady journey to becoming the hero he’s meant to be.

Just because Peter Parker is dead, doesn’t mean he can’t keep doing that.

In fact, this first issue has all the elements that make Ultimate Spider-Man a great book, month after month (and sometimes week after week). There’s humor, pathos, and it seems like its set in the real world, with some scifi touches. And for those of you worried that Miles Morales is just Peter Parker II, he’s definitely not. What the two characters share is an inherent goodness that shines through, and that’s what makes me excited to read this series. We don’t find out a ton about Miles this issue, but he’s a sweet kid I’m really interested to read more about.

Not only that, but he already has a good, solid supporting cast in place. Again, we only get to meet a few of them this issue, but there’s already a history there… This isn’t people meeting each other for the first time, there’s relationships, and things going on that will propel at least a few story arcs from this point.

That’s not to say there aren’t problems. I’m going to keep this as spoiler free as I can, but suffice to say, the people who were pissed off a decade ago that, “Bendis is telling Spider-Man’s origin in six issues, when Stan Lee did it in six panels!” aren’t going to be any happier ten years later. But you know what? It ended up working out okay in the long run, so chill, dudes.

That said, Sara Pichelli has created some beautiful, moving images, and seems to be as at home with action as she is with domestic scenes. Justin Ponsor’s colors are also nice and clean, and a good compliment. There’s nothing as jaw-dropping as Pichelli’s first issue on this title, which essentially held the camera still while character’s moved in and out of frame for nearly half the issue… But again, I don’t think that’s the point.

Actual point being: if you liked Ultimate Spider-Man, you’re going to continue to like it. If not? This is a great jumping on point, and essentially as number one as a first issue can get. Just like Miles’ race shouldn’t matter – and doesn’t really, throughout the issue - neither does the change from Parker to Morales. Here’s to another ten years of great comics.

CHARLES WEBB: I pretty much second what Alex has said so far about this first issue: there's nothing that could be considered remotely a sea change for the book, but then again, the reason we both seem to enjoy it is that it's doing what's it's done for the last ten years well--and that's getting us to care, in relatively short order, about a kid who dresses up in a spider-themed costume to punch dudes. Except, you know, in this case we haven't reached the dressing up and punching stage.

Here's the thing: while I hope that we don't spend an entire six-issue arc before we actually get to see Miles suit up and be Spider-Man, this first issue wasn't exactly some kind of narrative non-event. We spend some time with Miles and his family, we get glimpses of the Ultimate version of the costumed thief, the Prowler, and we get the fateful bite that will ultimately turn him into Spider-Man. We even get an extra bit of continuity between Miles and Peter with a couple opening flashback sequences involving Norman Osborne and his efforts to replicate that oh-so-special mutant spider.

With Miles, we get a new Spider-Man who won't feel too off-model from Peter Parker--at least in terms of being, at his core, a decent kid with a good heart. We see this in a bit ripped straight from the controversial documentary Waiting for Superman as Miles' heart breaks a little for the kids who won't have a chance to make it into the good charter school. With out too much nudging, we know Miles and his family are struggling--poor, if you want to put a fine point on it--and that Miles has a good head on his shoulders. The script overplays its hand a little bit during a speech from Miles' shady Uncle Aaron that kind of goes out of its way to be explicit about how bad off things are in their neighborhood and how everyone wants something better for the kid.

I also have to agree With Alex about Pichelli's work here--as fans of her work, we're kind of spoiled with how well she executes the fundamentals. She gets some great acting moments out of the characters, and their body language, from the scientist getting leaned on by Osborne to Miles' final page reaction. One interesting thing: Miles seems to be pretty short in comparison to the rest of the characters (in fact, during the walking through the crowd scene, I wouldn't have guessed his age at anything older than 9-10). It'll be interesting to see how this carries over in terms of Miles being matched up physically against other super powered characters in the future.

As for the New 52 comparison--yeah, it's kind of apt for much of the Ultimate line but I think with the exception of Spider-Man, there's not going to be as much heat for the other titles. It's kind of telling that this first issue--save for nods to USM continuity--exists pretty much outside of all of the S.H.I.E.L.D.-focused business of the rest of the Ultimate-U (whose interconnectedness has increasingly become a barrier to entry for new readers over the years).

We know a little bit about Miles--I'm interested in seeing where Bendis and Pichelli go with the character and how they plan to differentiate him from the boy who carried the name Spider-Man in the Ultimate U for the last 10 years.

Ultimate Comics Spider-Man #1 is on shelves now.

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