Ultimate Spider-Man: Spider-Verse #3 continues the pattern established by last month’s issue. Spider-Man crash lands into a new universe, meets a different version of himself, they team up, and the Goblin eventually gets away. It’s a time-honored formula, aged over the course of Saturday mornings for years. Some might call it a cliche, but I do believe at this point we could call it a convention of the genre. “I’ll get you next time, Gadget/He-Man/Planeteers/Spider-Man!” The inversion here in Spider-Verse #3, is that the Goblin is not slinking away defeated, but escaping triumphant. Twists on conventions and tropes like this is essential in long-form serialized storytelling; it’s how you make a compelling story when the reader is genre savvy enough to know what’s going to happen next.
And so, while we know that the pattern is going to continue, that the Goblin’s plan will continue to go smoothly until it is ultimately stopped by Spider-Man, we’re still compelled to read because it is a slight change to a familiar formula, and we as readers are compelled to see how that change affects our expectations. At their core, the “Spider-Verse” stories from this title have all been morality tales, so we can assume that the Goblin’s plan will be foiled by a culmination of the lessons learned in the issues prior to the conclusion. The first issue shows that it’s okay to accept help, the second issue shows us the importance of friendship and this latest issues focuses on facing your fears. Because these stories are aimed at children, the messages are simple to digest and Joe Caramagna adapts the episodes to give sole focus to these Spider-Man Aesop’s Fables.
However, the challenges faced in Ultimate Spider-Man: Spider-Verse #3 aren’t entirely relatable or easy to put into allegory. Because of this, we get two stories that mostly tell us that there are problems rather than show the readers value in over overcoming them. In doing this, the morality tales lose some of their punch and come off as corny and ham-fisted advice rather than legitimate character arcs.
This month we meet Spyder-Knight, a medieval knight clad in armor reminiscent of the “Ends of the Earth” costume rather than the (much cooler) Prince of Arachne, Sir Peter Parker of Spider-Man Fairy Tales #4, as well as Miles Morales, the Spider-Man of Earth-1610, better known as the Ultimate Universe. Both stories have an extremely frantic pace, which negatively impacts the enjoyment of the stories. There simply isn’t enough time spent learning about Spyder-Knight and Miles to care about them. Part of this rapid pace comes from the source material, but a sizable contribution with the problems in pacing come from the large panels Caramagna uses when adapting the story to the page. I’m sure this has to do with appealing to young readers who appreciate larger illustrations, but maybe by employing ’60s nine-panel approach (which had no problem attracting grade schoolers) for at least a few pages, Caramagna could give us a little more time with these Spider-characters. After all, a significant amount of each episode is cut in adaptation to the page.
The world of Spider-Knight has the colors washed out in a yellow filter, my guess is in an attempt to make the visuals look aged. It doesn’t really work and honestly, I didn’t notice it until I went back a second time looking for visual differences between the first half of the story and the second. The medieval town of York lacks the interesting visual flair of Spider-Ham’s world or the moodiness of Spider-Man Noir’s New York. Likewise, Miles Morales’s New York lacks any visual distinction from the main version of NYC, making this book the mayonnaise sandwich of the Ultimate Spider-Man: Spider-Verse titles: plain, uninspired and bare bones.
The actual Spider-Knight character and design does have its charms. He has a wrist-mounted sword. He has a horse in spider-themed armor named Spider-Horse. This alone would have me sold on the toy. The setting of York is your typical castle and wooded meadow found in generic medieval fantasy, with nothing really interesting to set it apart. Spider-Man is accused of being a witch and I was waiting for the Monty Python reference, but it never came. Have those become passe now? A well placed Monty Python reference would be just the thing this brand needs to appeal to the older geeks ushering in the next generation.
The plot involves the Otto Octavius of York extorting money from the commoners under threat of giant robot, so everything isn’t exactly 100% generic medfan, but not enough time is spent on this plot point to flesh it out or really enjoy it for what it is. We know through expository dialogue that Spyder-Knight and the townsfolk fear the giant robot, but we never really see any hesitation from Spyder-Knight, or any indication of this supposed fear. Likewise, there’s no real catharsis when he does overcome his fear and defeat the robot. Which is a letdown, because how often do we get to see knights take on giant robots?
Moving on, the Miles Morales half of the issue feels a little more evenly paced, if a little thin on content. It serves as an introduction to the Miles Morales character in a way that the other Spiders did not receive, gotta love that brand synergy! His origin is familiar, Peter Parker died while Miles watched on, was too uncomfortable with his powers and too anxious about his status as a greenhorn to help. By the end of the story, Miles overcomes this fear and earns a blessing from our Peter Parker before Pete continues giving chase to the Goblin. So, within the usual frame, we get a small arc in where Miles is able to act now where he was unable to in the past and save Pete from the Goblin (using his signature venom sting). It makes the Miles half of the issue feel more like a complete story, rather than the disjointed feeling elicited from the Spyder-Knight story, but there’s still not really enough meat on this story to feel like any of the character changes are earned. We are told that Miles is scared, but we never actually see it. This might fly with younger readers who are more concerned with illustrations, but not all children are just concerned with Bams and Pows. After all, the Stan Lee Spider-Man stories are pretty wordy and they had no trouble attracting young fans.
Next issue wraps up the arc and we will finally see what plot the Goblin has been cooking. This issue has been a slight downturn from the previous two which were enjoyable despite their flaws. That’s not to call this issue unenjoyable, just that its flaws are a bit more pronounced than the previous two issues. Regardless, this has been an enjoyable book when taken at face value and something I’d still recommend to young readers who are too young or not confident enough in their abilities to read the main title.