Written by Brian Michael Bendis
Pencils by Sarah Pichelli
Published by Marvel Comics
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First things first- I have to admit something. And its not something Im proud of. In fact, I often lie to others in order to protect myself from the shame of this great, terrible secret. I, Dean Threadgold, some one who is not just a comic book aficionado, but also someone who aspires to be a comic book writer, have actually never, ever read a single issue of Brian Michael Bendis Ultimate Spider-Man run. Yes- you read that correctly. Despite loving Bendis work on other titles (his Daredevil run is one of my all time faves) USM slipped me by until it was well into the double figures and, by that point, it seemed like too much hard work to catch up with the character.
Now, 160 issues later, the series has been relaunched with a new number one and, more importantly, a new face under the mask- providing the perfect jumping on point. Bendis weaves a carefully paced intro that allows anyone- even those that have never even head of Spider Man (does such a thing even exist) to pick up this issue and not be confused. This is a very accessible book and, like the Ultimate Universe when it first debuted over ten years ago, ideal for new readers.
Understandably, the decision to kill off Peter Parker and have someone else become Spidey generated a vast amount of controversy, though sadly a lot of it was for the wrong reasons. Rather than the usual tirade of fans lamenting the loss of their favourite character, all the fuss seemed to revolve around the race issue (Mile Morales, the new Spider-Man, is half African-American and half Hispanic). However, upon reading this first issue any qualms should be laid to rest. This is a genuine tribute to the spirit of the original Stan Lee/Steve Ditko creation and, despite not being Peter, this is indisputably Spider-Man. Its already apparent that Miles Morales has very similar life lessons to learn, yet the fundamental differences between Miles and Peter stop this from feeling like a mere rehash of old ideas. The classic Spiderman themes are being explored, except this time they are being examined in a new light. This isnt just Spider-Man for a new generation; its Spider-Man for an entirely new, modern world.
As an introduction to a new character, this book does a lot right. Sarah Pichellis artwork is just gorgeous- with everything from facial expressions to body language being conveyed with a cleanness and clarity that is remarkable. She bring these new characters to life in a way that makes them instantly memorable. Justin Ponsor's colours bring the pages to life in a vivid way, perfectly complimenting Pichelli's line work.
Bendis characterisation is spot on too, effectively conveying the qualities that already make Miles a hero without him even putting on a mask. A standout scene involves Miles winning a place at a charter school via a simple lottery, with Miles asking should it be like this? upon seeing all the disappointed faces of the kids that werent as lucky as him. Already Miles shows a natural sense of what is fair and what is unjust and, like Peter Parker before him, we instantly like him because of this.
However, as a first issue this book is a slight letdown. Like a lot of Bendis work, this is decompressed storytelling in its purest form, meaning we dont get much other than a quick intro to the character. Those hoping to see Miles swinging from the rooftops beating up bad guys will be disappointed. While this methodical pacing helps Bendis generate empathy for the new cast- he is building a new world from the ground up, after all- it does leave the reader with the impression that very little happened. Compared to this, DCs Justice League # 1 was jam packed full of plot. By the time I reached the last page I was honestly surprised that there wasnt more story and, if Im honest, very disappointed that the book ended where it did. However, reaching the end of an issue and being desperate to know what happens next can hardly be considered a bad thing, though it would be a shame if this decompressed style ends up hampering the overall effectiveness of the narrative. Though lets be honest- if anyone can pull of long-form storytelling then its Bendis, and I for one am excited to see where this character goes.
Peter Parker might be dead but, judging by the merits of this opening chapter, Ultimate Spider-Man will be around for a long time to come.