Wednesday, 7 February 2018

Ultimate Comics Spider-Man, Volume 1 Review (Brian Michael Bendis, Sara Pichelli)

Let me attempt to put the brakes on the dog-pile by saying I’m just not a huge Spidey fan which is the only excuse I have for not getting around to reading Ultimate Comics Spider-Man, Volume 1 until now! But, really. Wow. Am I glad I finally did - this was a truly outstanding book. 

Miles Morales is an ordinary New York teen - until he’s bitten by a radioactive spider, yadda yadda yadda. It’s the classic Spider-Man origin, repeated again. How could that be good, right? Because, simply put, Brian Michael Bendis is at the top of his game here, skilfully finessing the Spidey origin for a new generation in this quality comic. But take away the superhero angle and it’s still a compelling read. Seeing this kid begin his journey through his formative years, the complex relationship between his dad and his uncle, the emotional talk his dad gives his son about his criminal past, is a first class story by itself. 

Then throw in the Spider-Man stuff with Miles having to deal with the powers, how his uncle (who has his own secrets, coughProwlercough!) was involved, getting thrown straight into the world of the Marvel superheroes, and all done just as Ultimate Peter Parker dies… It’s easy to see why Ultimate Spider-Man is ranked way up there as among Bendis’ finest work. 

Bendis adds a few bells and whistles to his version of Spider-Man, giving Miles the ability to camouflage himself against his surroundings as well as having a venom strike. But there were a number of really clever touches throughout that I just had to give it to Bendis for his ingenuity. Like how he inserted Norman Osborn directly into Miles’ origin so the Green Goblin will continue to have a pivotal role in Spider-Man’s adventures even though the relationship is different from Peter’s. And how Gwen is the one who inadvertently (not to mention bittersweetly) supplies the “great power/responsibility” line to Miles. It was also a fun detail, and made sense, that, in a world where Spider-Man existed, Miles would get his first costume as a Halloween outfit. 

And, godammit, Peter’s death even though we see it briefly, from Miles’ perspective? Still so powerful. When Peter smiles at May and tells her that he couldn’t save Ben but he could save her… and then he dies. Fuuuck. Ing. Hell. I said earlier I’m not much of a Spidey fan but Bendis is so on point here that he can bring the feels even to my ambivalent heart. What a devastatingly beautiful scene. 

And speaking of beautiful, Sara Pichelli’s artwork is stunning. As well as absolutely nailing the characters’ expressions in a way that perfectly sells Bendis’ script, she helps you understand exactly why Ganke is Miles’ best friend, drawing him in such a vividly warm, likeable way. My favourite panel was the look on Miles’ face when he saved the little girl from the burning building - his first act as a superhero - realizing in that instant what he’s just done, how his life has changed, who he is now, his life’s purpose, and generally feeling good for having done good, all captured in a single expression. Perfect. 

I rarely use this word as I feel it’s overused but it’s wholly apt in this instance: Ultimate Comics Spider-Man, Volume 1 is a masterpiece. It’s one of Bendis’ best books, one of the best Spider-Man books and one of the best superhero origin stories ever published. It’s delightful, it’s entertaining, it’s moving, it’s smart - it’s flawless. If, like me, you’re aware of it but for whatever reason have never read it, I highly recommend you sort that out quicksmart - you’ll get why Miles Morales became as popular as he is.

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