With the reveal that Miles’ mother Rio had discovered his alternate identity as Spider-Man, writer Brian Michael Bendis’ Spider-Man seemed poised to head down an interesting path that was unavailable to the title in its pre-“Secret Wars” continuity. In the Ultimate universe Rio was murdered by the Venom symbiote moments after discovering Miles’ identity and approving of his superheroics. It was a touching end, one set to give additional meaning to Miles’ actions as Spider-Man.
Since Rio’s return to the living, little has been done to flesh out the character, who was already rather thinly presented in her previous iteration. As such, her discovery of Miles’ identity provided an opportunity to thrust the character into the spotlight and find out how she thinks, especially under the pressure of being a newly aware mother of a superhero. Unfortunately, Bendis seems to be taking Rio down the exact same, well-worn path as Miles’ father Jefferson, one of reluctant acceptance of their child’s dangerous lifestyle, all complicated by some mystery from her past. Here, that mystery is presented as a movie that Rio saw in her youth that would continue to haunt her until present day. It’s a disappointment, not because it isn’t resolved, but because it’s not exactly an enticing, emotionally resonate tease, and so far it bares no direct reflection on Miles, in the way that his father’s backstory did.
That disconnected storytelling is shared by a majority of the other stories in Spider-Man #16. The book starts with a short aside that showcases the new crime lord Black Cat and her stooge Hammerhead’s attack on a base owned by Mr. D. The story is undermined by the fact that readers have no idea who Mr. D is and an even fainter idea of how anything in this story relates back to Miles and his supporting cast of characters. Yes, we’ve seen Black Cat before (not to mention her appearance in nearly every other Spider-Title) but her role in Miles life is one of coincidence at best. Not to mention that Miles and his role in the Marvel universe remains so unclear that it continues to haunt this book like some kind of disturbed poltergeist. It’s time Bendis put all the cards on the table so readers can invest in Miles, his enemies, and his supporting cast as full-fledged members of the 616 continuity.
It’s understandable that Miles would be upset by how his mother is treating him, but shortly thereafter he finds himself venting his rage on several low-level criminals in a cleverly named bar (Romita’s). The sequence is handsomely portrayed, but after the breeziness of “Sittin’ in a Tree” it’s hard to invest in the idea that Miles would just randomly throw down, perhaps to a lethal degree, in a random bar. Yet, the real problem with this moment is that it feels so disconnected from the other stories being told. There’s no unity between these grab-bag stories, which is a problem for a series that has constantly been struggling to find the right momentum (after being interrupted by constant events).
The most interesting story of the bunch is the one saved for the tease. Here Ned… I mean Ganke, continues to persue a romantic interest with one of Miles’ most vocal fans, who just so happens to run a popular YouTube media channel. With Ganke’s fat-mouth proving a problem in the past, it seems only inevitable that he’ll let something slip now, if he hasn’t already ruined the secret just by being involved. It won’t be long until she puts two and two together and figures out that Miles (or perhaps Judge) is Spider-Man.
Yet, it’s hard to be too upset about this book because even though the writing disappoints, there’s no getting past how fun new artist Oscar Bazaldua and colorist Justin Ponsor’s art is. Bazaldua’s pencils are more cartoonish than the series has seen since Miles came on the book, but its Ponsor’s bright colors that sell the package as an excellent fit for Miles’ world. The deep purples and reds of Romita’s interior give the book a youthful, vibrant feel that make its young characters feel right at home. Perhaps these colors prove that Miles picked up more than a kiss from his brief visit to Gwen’s universe, but they suit his world and its colorful cast of characters just right!
Bazaldua’s storytelling skills are top-notch, particularly when he throws his characters into action. His Spider-Man’s legs kick every which way, all with an aggressive grace that’s unique to Miles. His Black Cat is just as over-the-top sexual as she’s always been presented, whether you like that or not, with extra punches of detail in the sharp close-ups.