Although the character made his first appearance two months ago in Ultimate Fallout, today was his first title issue. Marvel’s Ultimate Spider-man that ran for about ten years with Peter Parker as the alter-ego of Spider-man, has rebooted as Ultimate Comics Spider-man and with a new, um, Spider-man. The new Spider-man (or more appropriately Spider-boy, since he’s about 12 in this issue) is Miles Morales, a black/hispanic kid from Brooklyn.
Diversity has long been a challenge for comic books – not from any lack of trying – but introducing new characters and having them take hold is extremely hard since there are so many entrenched iconic characters. The last mega-successful character Marvel introduced was Deadpool in 1991, and before him was Wolverine in 1974. The core of Marvel’s characters were firmly established by the mid 1960s – a time in which a non-WASP character could mean refused sales in some parts of the country. For DC it is even harder, since their core characters first appeared in the late 1930s. That’s not to say there hasn’t been great diverse characters established, but they’re overshadowed by the icons.
So, Marvel, instead of trying to introduce a new character, with a new identity decided to give the mantle of their biggest character to a new face, one that represents and underrepresented part of their audience. Well, they weren’t quite that bold. They didn’t replace the Spider-man from their main universe of books, they replaced the Spider-man from their second line, that was started, with Ultimate Spider-man and The Ultimates, a decade ago.
They have a little bit of an uphill battle in front of them. Marvel needs to win over the fans that are upset that Peter was killed, not for a good story reason, but so that he could be replaced. One of the first steps in that battle was to keep the writer that wrote every single issue of the previous run, their star writer, Brian M. Bendis. Bendis is a good writer. Part of the success of the first run was his gift for capturing the dialogue of the teenage characters. Bendis has made a few unusual choices in this first issue – choices that feel a little lazy, to me.
The book starts with a scene between a scientist and Norman Osborn (AKA The Green Goblin). This really didn’t feel like the Norman from previous issues, though. His dialogue came across as a working class New Jersey accent – not the genius we’re used to. But that’s not the lazy part of the scene – the lazy part is that the first page of Norman’s dialogue is exactly the same as the first page of his dialogue from Ultimate Spider-man #1, 10 years ago. Except this time the scientist he is talking to is black and last time the scientist was right (apparently you need a white scientist to make a white Spider-man and a black scientist to make a black Spider-man). That first spider had the numbers “00” on its back. The new one has “42” (a move surely intended to win some geek cred).
The next big scene that felt lazy was a scene with Miles and his parents attending a lottery ceremony to pick students for openings in quality schools. Just last month I watched the documentary, “Waiting for Superman”, and this scene felt cribbed right from that. It came across, to me, as if Brian Bendis, a middle class Jewish kid not yet ready to describe the world of a working class inner city black kid, also watched the documentary and thought “yes! I’ll do that!” That may well not be a fair judgement, but it was the feeling I got.
We don’t really learn a lot about Miles’ personality. In this first issue he seems to be reactive instead of proactive. He spends a lot of time with his head down. We don’t see anything to imply he’s a bullied geek like Peter was. We can see that he is a sensitive and empathic kid, with concerns for the well-being and fair treatment of others.
It’s not a spoiler to say Miles gets bit by a radioactive spider, but it would be a spoiler to describe the first power he experiences, so I won’t, but it is a game changer.
The art for this issue is by Sara Pichelli, an Italian comic book artist. I haven’t read much of her stuff (for Marvel she’s done NYX: No way Home, Runaways, and X-Men: Pixie Strikes Back). I like her art. She captures the small moments very well. The lines are clean, nothing is overstated, and the emotional relationships between the characters is clear. For those reasons, she is probably a great choice to work with Brian Bendis, since he is happiest with page after page of talking heads. However, Spider-man also needs very dynamic art. We’ll have to see how well she does with that.
All that said, although the comic is a short read, I did enjoy it enough to be curious to see where the story goes, next month. I think I’ll like this Miles Morales.