“Ain’t nothing wrong with this chemistry
Ain’t nothing wrong with this place for me
And time will tell the best of pedigree
Experience is another one meant for me
Tell me now and show me how
To understand what makes a good man”
For the past five issues, the surprising central mystery of a series entitled Miles Morales: Ultimate Spider-Man has been the return of Peter Parker. To me, Miles as a character (and a series) has often seemed an underdog in the wider Spidey storytelling universe. So what could his story gain from resurrecting Miles’ larger than life predecessor (and also his equally larger than life arch-nemesis) and put him in the spotlight? Is Peter even the real deal?
Issue #6 suggests that we might have been asking the wrong questions. Today, Spider-Man can be more than Peter Parker. He can be more than Miles Morales. This series is asking the question: Who is Spider-Man?
So far, we’ve been steadily teased with fan theories about Peter (“Clone!”) while other plot threads were skillfully sewn in to form a greater narrative web. While the introduction of the Spider-Twins and the mystery of Katie Bishop are interesting, let’s face it – they’re not the big draw. That said, there’s only so far that you can drag things out before intriguing becomes irritating. At some point, it’s put up or shut up. And so here we are.
Bendis acknowledges the reader’s anxiousness and has Miles try to pin things down: “Are you Peter Parker or not? How are you alive?” And of course, the clone theory. After building the mystery over several issues, Peter’s answer is worth the wait and is a perfect example of the emotional tones that have consistently set this title apart.
Peter’s response opens with a remarkable dual page spread. The collage of images isn’t a basic recap of the original Ultimate Spider-Man run, but the story of a life. Marquez chooses to include a number of quieter everyday moments to convey this idea (maybe a bit too everyday in one case, ahem). There’s a lot of emotional depth in the layout, which is fully revealed by Ponsor’s and Keith’s approach to colors. Look at these pages carefully, the dark times seem bigger than the lighter ones, which lay just around the edges of Peter’s life. But those small beautiful moments are glimmers of hope and humanity; they’re the reasons why Peter Parker is who he is. These pages convey the sincerity of Peter’s reply. No matter what your theory was, you can at least rule out the notion that he’s an imposter. This is, for all intents and purposes, the real Peter Parker. And if it’s good enough for those who love him most, it’s good enough for me.
The story of Peter’s escape and return are intriguing and raise new questions (namely who is responsible?), but it’s his reunion with Mary Jane that packs the biggest emotional punch in this issue. The intensity of MJ’s response and Peter’s reaction goes beyond words and feels as real as you could hope to find. It’s beautifully depicted by Marquez, Ponsor and Keith, but in a rare misstep, the text boxes (as brief as they are) unfortunately get in the way. The expressions alone tell you everything you need to know.
Miles’ clone theory is thrown into question as we return to Jameson’s apartment, where Jonah has just shot Norman Osborn at point blank range. Similar to seeing Miles’ bullet wound last issue, I was equally shocked at the sight of Norman, with his smoking torn flesh, blood-splattered robe, and lifeless expression. It somehow didn’t feel gratuitous, but rather had the effect of pulling me into Jonah’s terror as he places a panicked phone call. Norman reveals the extent of his power in true suspense thriller fashion, continuing this series’ record of reading more like a mini-movie than a comic book. The outcome is horrific and upsetting, as another chapter in the Ultimate Universe is seemingly brought to an abrupt close.
Norman’s revelation ties him even closer to Peter than before. But what does it all mean for Miles? It’s perhaps here where we get our answer. What really defines Spider-Man? It’s not the costume, the gadgets, or the specific physical abilities. It comes down to those four words we all know: Great power, great responsibility.
After 50 years, it would seem like variations on that theme have been done to death. And yet Bendis finds a way to breathe new life into it while placing his two leads in perspective. I was initially nervous about Peter’s return overshadowing Miles, when the outcome couldn’t have been farther from that ridiculous idea. It’s not about “Peter versus Miles” or even “Peter and Miles.” It’s about the idea of Spider-Man.
The Goblin returns and in a phenomenal punch-the-air moment, Miles tells Peter to stay and look after his loved ones (“they’re your responsibility”) while confidently stepping into the role of great power. With this moment, Miles makes both Spider-Men equally responsible for saving the day. Oh yeah, you so got this, kid.
The issue closes with an explosive rematch. I was grinning the whole time, seeing Miles simultaneously deliver an incredible physical and verbal beatdown. His nicknames for Norman are inspired while his attacks are strategic and devastating. It was also a bold visual to have Miles fight unmasked, asserting that it’s more than the costume; His actions and motivations make him just as much Spider-Man as the original.
One small continuity glitch: Miles was badly injured in the last issue. If we assumed that 60 minutes (give or take) have passed since then, he does remarkably well in his fight with the Goblin. Plus his SHIELD-issued costume seems to have repaired itself.
This series should be applauded for well-crafted storytelling and astonishing artwork that encourages and rewards readers willing to look closer. We all know the common complaints: It moves too slowly, too little happened, is that it, etc.? Look again. Books like this one are operating on a different level. Take your time and enjoy. It really doesn’t get any better.
And there’s still more to come! Why did Jefferson really leave? And is Norman’s connection with Miles closer than we’d perhaps thought..?