"Miles Morales is going to be an epic fail." That's a thought that moved into my brain earlier this year and started paying rent every time the new Spider-Man was shown slinging through the Manhattan skyline. I had that thought even before we knew he was going to represent two minorities, back when we knew that Spider-Man was going to "die"and "someone else" was going to take his place. The theories ran rampant; some people speculated that Ultimate Peter Parker was going to be paralyzed and turn into Marvel's answer to Oracle, the identity Barbara Gordon, the original Batgirl, assumed after losing the use of her legs. I figured Peter Parker would fake his death and fight crime on the sneak, much like the X-Men did during Chris Claremont and Marc Silvestri's run. One thing was for abso-positively-lutely sure, however: there was a bigger chance of Marvel integrating its early ‘90s Barbie comics into the Marvel Universe than of them actually killing Ultimate Peter Parker and having it not only work, but making it stick. Once Peter Parker was reunited with his dearly departed Uncle Ben, it sank in that Marvel was really going to do this.
And there was no way it was going to work.
Now, we're two issues into the third iteration of "Ultimate Spider-Man" and I am happy to report that not only is Miles Morales working, not only is Miles Morales my Spider-Man, but I believe that he's exactly who Spider-Man should be in 2011. A bold statement considering the fierce loyalty shown to Peter Parker over the years, but the statement Brian Michael Bendis and Sara Pichelli, the creative team behind this comic, has made is equally bold. These first two issues of "Ultimate Comics Spider-Man" have been a bullhorn poised over the rest of the previously slumbering comic book community, sounding off that the future is here. The future of Marvel is Miles Morales. And he's exactly who Spider-Man should be in 2011.
Even if my opinion has you rage-quaking in your Spider-Man underpants (which every self-respecting nerd has to own, right? I own two pair!), you have to agree that Bendis had superhuman-level confidence to call a do-over on Stan Lee and Steve Ditko's most famous creation. By doing this, Bendis was painting a big ol' target on his forehead, one that Twitter-ready nerds would readily shoot vitriol at (in 140 or less characters). Why would he do this? And how could he ever live up to the pressure? How could he possibly make his readers not miss the Peter Parker that he himself spent a decade developing? Miles Morales: epic fail. Right?
First and foremost, Bendis proved that Spider-Man is more than Peter Parker. Responsibility and family are two aspects even more intrinsic to the wall-crawler than puny Parker, and it's these two thematic elements that have pushed every great Spider-Man story into legendary status. Miles Morales already has a check mark in both of those boxes. The familial responsibility he feels is pushing him out of his comfort zone and into a new school, one where he can have opportunities his parents just can't give him. While money-woes were as consistent as web-slinging in those old Stan and Steve stories, Peter Parker's education was never in doubt. He was a bona fide genius. In the smarts department, Miles Morales seems much more everyman than Peter ever did, and desiring opportunities out of the reach of your socio-economic background is a modern obstacle that people can relate to.
And that family putting Miles into a private school lottery? It includes his parents. His actual parents. Who are not dead. Miles Morales has honest-to-God living and breathing parents (who will undoubtedly be put into peril on a semi-monthly basis, but still). He also has an uncle, a criminal uncle, who doesn't see eye-to-eye with Miles' father. The relationship between the elder Morales and his brother, laid forth by Bendis in the second issue, was complex in its history and captivating in its dynamic; a whole series could be built around the brothers who went wrong early, and the one who eventually went right. But they aren't the focus of the story, they're the rich supporting cast of Miles Morales -- who, I reiterate, is probably going to cause them all a mess of pain.
Secondly, Bendis and artist Sara Pichelli are using Miles Morales to illustrate Marvel's Manhattan in a way that I have never seen before. As a New Yorker, this is the first comic in a long time to feel like New York. To look like New York. To star characters that look like the annoying kids who get on the subway and yell and curse and run around and carry their big stupid skateboards and -- I tell you, kids these days...27 is too young to be cantankerous, right? The detail Pichelli puts into everything, from the buildings to the clothing, is spot-on. Without the energy and fresh perspective of a relatively new artist, this series could have easily fallen under the radar. Just compare the art on this book to that of any other teen-hero book launched in the last month (there were a few). "Ultimate Comics Spider-Man" does not look like the work of a veteran artist of twenty years and all the Big Companies doing their usual craft. It looks like Now.
The only clumsy part of Bendis and Mark Bagley's initial "Ultimate Spider-Man" run were the "modern" changes they made to the character and his environment, like Peter Parker working for a website and Uncle Ben's ponytail. They seemed like surface level updates to an icon whose history was covered in Comics 101. Now, with a totally new character in place, the modern trappings don't feel forced so much as effortless. Perhaps it's due to the fact that the internet and text messaging are more ubiquitous now than when I was a sophomore in high school. When I read the text message exchange between Miles and his friend Ganke at the end of "Ultimate Comics Spider-Man" #2, it just felt right. In it, Miles discovers he might be the next Spider-Man through a series of text messages and hyperlinks, linking him to the reports on Spider-Man's origin. This is how I talk with my friends, and it's definitely how teenagers talk to each other. And this isn't like Bendis' valiant attempt to bring back the thought-balloon ("Mighty Avengers" anyone?); this is a new method of storytelling being used by characters who would absolutely use it in a way that does not come across as Your Dad Discovered Facebook. Bendis knows what he's doing.
But solid thematic choices, art from a vibrant new voice and Bendis becoming fluent in the language of modern tech don't mean a thing if you can't relate to the character. One response I read over and over after the initial news of Miles Morales' race was that white people can't relate to an ethnic Spider-Man. To that I say two things:
- You are racist if you believe that. And I fully encourage you to read the first two issues of "Ultimate Comics Spider-Man" and defend your statement without sounding like David Allen Coe (that's a reference for my fellow Southerners).
- I should know better than to read comments on Fox News' website.
The creators behind Miles Morales have put so much artistry and care into creating a three dimensional character that his race is no more interesting than the other unique choices they have made in defining the new Spider-Man. I am a white, gay male, and I relate to Miles Morales more than I ever did Peter Parker. I latched on to the scene between Miles and his father in the second issue, where they have a conversation that naturally builds towards Miles revealing that he can now turn invisible and sting people (you know, like gay people! Infinite JK). That is, until the Human Torch and Iceman fly overhead and his father reveals how much he hates mutants, causing Miles to stop his revelation before it can be revelated (fake word!). Miles Morales cannot tell his father who he is because of his fear of disapproval. He's not keeping quiet because of the stock reason all heroes have for keeping their tights under their clothes ("I do not want to put you…in danger!!!"). Miles is going to maintain his secret identity for the very same reason I kept one from my parents for years. Race, class, powers, continuity -- all of that does not affect the fact that I now relate to this Spider-Man more than I do most all other heroes. And I'm sure this wasn't even Bendis' intent. I'm sure this is just another brick in his storytelling structure, but it's the one that got me.
And that's why I believe that Miles Morales is the absolute best Spider-Man for 2011. His adventures have no precedent. There is no official canon to follow or forty year old stories to adapt. This is a new Spider-Man for the modern comic book age. I have no idea where his story is headed, but right now, Miles is the Spider-Man to beat. Sorry Pete.