In the years since Peter Parker sacrificed his life defending the innocent, the world he’d left behind has been anything but peaceful. The United States was divided by a coup, the Venom symbiote returned to unleash more chaos, and an unstoppable planet-eater arrived from another universe, threatening to annihilate reality. Yet despite Peter’s absence, Spider-Man was there to meet these threats head on.
Although their paths never crossed, a young boy named Miles Morales also found himself the unlikely recipient of great power and was inspired by Peter’s example to rise up and accept the mantle of great responsibility. Sure, there were painful “falling off the bike” moments along the way, but Miles persevered despite the odds and found a way to become Spider-Man for a new generation of readers while respectfully redefining him for those mourning the loss of the original.
Ultimate Spider-Man #200 (*see below for an explanation of the numbering) reinforces the bond between these two young men and provides a thoughtful reunion both on the page and behind the scenes. Here we catch up with old friends as the original and new casts gather to reflect on the second anniversary of Peter’s death, while creator Brian Michael Bendis and current series artist David Marquez are joined by Mark Bagley (who launched the original book with Bendis in 2000) and Sara Pichelli (who first brought the world of Miles Morales to life in 2011). Series contributors David LaFuente, Mark Brooks, and Andrew Hennessy also return to join the all-star creative team, giving the book a celebratory feel that’s exactly in line with what Aunt May wanted for this occasion.
The momentum of Miles’ journey as Spider-Man has arguably been derailed by throwing him into larger events occurring within the Ultimate Universe continuity. The well-paced “learning curve” narrative that built up to the dramatic death of Uncle Aaron was suddenly dropped so that the new and inexperienced Spider-Man could conveniently join the Ultimates for the more action-heavy Divided We Fall arc. Moving his story forward by a year after the loss of his mother seemed to restore the narrative balance, only to then give way to the bombastic Cataclysm event. Thankfully, issue #200 offers a welcome return to form with its quieter and more character-focused storytelling. Apart from a few forced dialogue references at the beginning, you’d never know that this story took place in a world where the entire state of New Jersey was recently vaporized by an inter-dimensional death machine. Then again, maybe people really would get over it that quickly…
The issue opens with the reintroduction of the cast as they make their way toward May’s home, none of them quite sure what to expect. We also learn that one character has a surprising agenda in mind.
I won’t spoil the actual payoff, except to say that 1) Life is too short not to be true to yourself, and 2) Fortune favors the bold.
The story unfolds at a gentle pace that feels like a real memorial gathering. As a reader, you’re fully brought into the experience – you could just as well be sitting in the corner of May’s living room, quietly listening as others work up the nerve to share their thoughts.
This makes for a highly satisfying read because it’s not just a moment of reflection for the characters, but also one for the fans who have loved and supported the series over the past fourteen years and genuinely grieved the loss of a beloved hero. Whether you’re someone like me who first discovered the series through Miles or have been with the book since the beginning, this issue invites everyone equally to celebrate the memory and legacy of Peter Parker.
We share in the joy of seeing old friends, observe the rekindling of connections, catch the unspoken exchanges, learn why some are unable to attend, treasure the bravery of humor in the wake of grief, and steel ourselves when someone finally steps forward to acknowledge the sadness of loss that binds everyone in the room. Bendis and Marquez present these scenes with great care, allowing for multiple dialogue-free moments where the silence can speak volumes.
The heart of this book lies in a sequence of two-page spreads, where the original series artists return to each depict a different character’s thoughts of what Peter might have been like had he survived. Every note in this section from the scripting to the artwork is pitch-perfect: Mary Jane imagines Peter growing into a leadership role and eventually heading up the Ultimates (here Mark Bagley thoughtfully acknowledges Peter’s once-budding mentorship with Tony Stark by rendering an Ultimate Iron Spider costume), Aunt May imagines him using science to help other heroes (visualized as an impressive army of Spider-Men), Gwen suggests that he’d blend his talents in reporting and fighting crime, while Miles reflects on his experience meeting the 616 Universe version of Peter Parker and imagines a brotherly bond with his Ultimate counterpart, playfully realized by Sara Pichelli.
Kitty Pryde’s moment of reflection is sweet, raw, and heartbreaking. As the character finds herself at a loss for words, the narrative credit goes to David LaFuente for creating an entire story of What Could Have Been and conveying the depth of Kitty’s grief and heartache, all in one panel. Lounging on the couch with the cat…that got me.
The story closes on an uplifting note as the characters are presented with an opportunity to follow Peter’s example and help those in need. This moving sequence is the perfect tribute to all the qualities that we’ve come to admire about the character. The last three pages of the story are presented without dialogue, freeing David Marquez to bring a dynamic range of facial expressions to his characters and allowing him to tell an entire story within each individual panel. If you read digital, the final sequence is exactly the type of material that Guided View was made for. Take your time and enjoy.
The final page ends on a cliffhanger with the revelation of a hidden observer. But who is it and what is their interest in this gathering? Could it be a surviving Peter clone? Is that a trick of the light or can we see the streaked hair of Miles’ girlfriend Katie Bishop? Is it another blast from the past or an entirely new character? Time will tell, as the story continues in Miles Morales: Ultimate Spider-Man #1.
*The issue contains a cover gallery that explains how Marvel arrived at 200:
- Ultimate Spider-Man (2000): 133 issues
- Ultimate Six (2003): 7 issues
- Ultimate Comics Spider-Man (2009): 25 issues (1-15; 150-160)
- Ultimatum – Spider-Man Requiem (2009): 2 issues
- Ultimate Comics Spider-Man (2011): 28 issues (not counting 16.1)
- Cataclysm – Ultimate Spider-Man (2013): 3 issues
- Ultimate Spider-Man #200 (2014)
I noted that 2012’s outstanding Spider-Men 5-issue miniseries was strangely omitted even though it’s referenced in this story.