Spider-Man #1 is about as perfect a debut issue as you could hope for. Buy it.
For longtime fans, this issue doesn’t read like a reboot but more like “Take 2.” The basics are still here: Brooklyn Visions Academy, best friend Ganke (whose first panel had me laughing out loud), and parents Jefferson and Rio. But how does Miles fit in a world where Peter Parker is alive and an international Spider-Man?
One of my frustrations with the previous Miles Morales series (both of them) was that we didn’t get to see much of the character’s everyday life out of costume. Stan Lee famously described Spider-Man as “the hero who could be you”, and Ultimate Spider-Man delivered on that idea, as we saw Peter navigate school, family, friends, dating, and work, all in addition to protecting the city. Poor Miles never seemed to get that chance, as his narrative often had to pivot around other events. He’s been easy to cheer for, but difficult to relate to. Now that he’s THE Spider-Man for New York City, it’s clear that his creator is working to put that right.
Bendis quickly establishes Miles, his cast, and his problems by showing him overwhelmed by Spider-Man’s impact on his personal life, and the people upset with him for shirking his responsibilities. His fumbled non-excuses are a believable teenage response. What makes Miles great here is that he knows the problem, but quietly keeps doing what’s right in the hopes that it’ll work out. That’s a familiar Spider-Man storytelling beat, and a key strength of this issue.
It’s important to note that Miles isn’t Ultimate Peter 2.0. He’s got two strong male figures in his life with his dad and Ganke, both of whom know his secret and are there to support him in meaningful ways. As a parent, I was particularly taken by Jefferson reassuring Rio – he’s got great faith in his son and is willing to let him stumble and fall if necessary in order to be a better person. I’m hoping this is the mellowed-out Jefferson from my favorite part of the series so far, and that his earlier prejudices remain in the past.
Of course, the name of the book is Spider-Man and we get some exciting action as the demon Blackheart attacks the city. The sequence helped further establish our new hero with dramatic fight choreography punctuated with fun dialogue. The small touch of having New Yorkers cheer Miles on as “Spidey” sealed the deal for me: This is going to be a great book.
It’s a real treat to see Sara Pichelli back on the series, who delivers some phenomenal design work in this issue. Miles and Ganke are slightly older than when she first created them, and Pichelli has developed her original designs beautifully. Miles is now gangly and slightly awkward (still growing into his body) while Ganke has grown out his hair and put on a bit of weight. Their updated appearance combined with their poses and playful expressions make them seem strikingly realistic as teenagers.
Pichelli’s range is impressive, from Miles’ aggressively cute cartoony daydreams (reminiscent of the “Ultimate Spider-Man” television series) to the raw nightmare fuel of Blackheart. The real terror for me may have been Miles’ teacher, who was amusingly grotesque and a balance from the previous series where everyone was incredibly beautiful.
Making Miles sixteen years old is a great idea. I think that’s an age where we really start coming into our own and kicking around thoughts about identity. As a minority dad with biracial kids, part of me always appreciated that Miles’ ethnicity never factored into his storytelling (just as it didn’t with Peter). That said, I think it would be a missed opportunity to avoid it entirely.
From a recent EW interview, it sounds like Bendis’ personal life plus a few years of meaningful interactions with fans about Miles has encouraged him to consider race within the narrative. I’m curious to see how that will play into the thoughtful measured storytelling that made Ultimate Spider-Man an all-time classic in the first place. I noted that Miles is supposed to be reading To Kill A Mockingbird for school and I don’t think that’s a coincidence.
My only criticism (and it’s nothing new) is the use of Miles’ venom sting, which continues to be an anticlimactic END FIGHT NOW button. I think I’d welcome seeing this power if it came with limitations – e.g., it leaves Miles physically exhausted or is painful, something to make it more of a risky last resort option than a convenience.
But that’s really it. This book had me smiling and hooked from start to finish. I honestly didn’t see the cliffhanger coming, but smiled when I recognized it as a parallel to Miles Morales: Ultimate Spider-Man #1. Needless to say, I’m eagerly awaiting the next issue!