[SPOILER WARNING: THIS ARTICLE CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR "ULTIMATE COMICS SPIDER-MAN" #14, ON SALE NOW]
What's tougher than being a Marvel Comics super hero? Being a legacy hero, especially if the person who preceded you casts a long shadow. Miles Morales, star of "Ultimate Comics Spider-Man" is currently finding this out. In Marvel's Ultimate Universe, teenager Peter Parker AKA Spider-Man died late last year while defending his beloved Aunt May from the onslaught of a number of his deadliest enemies. Miles, who had received spider powers earlier in a similar accident involving a spider bite, was on hand to witness Peter's death and that inspired him to pick up the mantle of Spider-Man.
Unfortunately for Miles, Peter Parker's death moved a lot of people, many of whom were less than thrilled to see someone following in his footsteps, especially a 13 year-old boy like Miles. The Ultimate Universe's new Spider-Man is a determined and heroic kid though, and he's slowly been winning the approval of some of his detractors. In "Ultimate Comics Spider-Man" #14 by writer Brian Michael Bendis and artist David Marquez, Miles received two endorsements that will go a long way toward legitimizing his claim to the Spider-Man identity. CBR spoke with the creators about the endorsements and their upcoming plans for the series.
Miles' first endorsement came from Peter Parker's Aunt May. When she first learned of the Ultimate U's new Spider-Man she was shocked and horrified, but after seeing Miles in action with a Peter Parker from the main Marvel Universe in the "Spider-Men" miniseries by Bendis and artist Sara Pichelli her opinion began to change, and in issue #14 she unofficially passed the torch by giving Miles Peter's web-shooters.
"This is a cool moment for Miles. It's like being handed Excalibur because he's not just getting web-shooters, he's getting Peter's web-shooters," Brian Bendis told CBR News. "It's funny, a lot of people wanted this to happen in 'Spider-Men.' I got letters saying, 'Just have him hand over the web-shooters.' It's funny because I thought about it and went, 'Peter needs his web-shooters.' Just because you meet someone you like doesn't mean you give them your car. How is he supposed to get home?
"So it didn't seem appropriate for the Marvel Universe Peter to hand over his web-shooters, but it did let Aunt May see Peter with Miles," Bendis continued. "She was focused on Peter, but Miles was there too. So there's Aunt May looking at Miles a little differently and thinking, 'My Peter would want him to have these.'"
David Marquez added, "One of the things that I think works for Spider-Man in general, whether it's Peter or Miles, is the idea of responsibility being thrust upon you and having to up your game. I think with Miles, like Peter, it's hard for him to accept the role of super hero. He has the stamp of approval from Aunt May now, though. So before he very much felt he was an impostor playing at someone else's name. When Miles and his uncle Aaron met for the first time as Spider-Man and the villainous Prowler in issue #10, his uncle made a point to say that, 'This suit isn't yours.' Now the web-shooters have been given to him and it's [the] web-shooters and by whom that give him a sense of authenticity that he didn't feel before."
Bendis and Marquez aren't just making things "official" by giving Miles web-shooters. They're also opening up the space "Ultimate Comics Spider-Man" can operate in.
"One of the iconic and fun things about Spider-Man in general is seeing him swing through Manhattan. Thus far, we've only seen Miles maybe a few stories up, running around roof tops and maybe climbing walls. We really haven't had a chance to take advantage of the big sweeping New York vistas; the bridges and skyscrapers of Manhattan. I think more than anything else giving him the web-shooters opens up the world to him in a way that wasn't possible before. It also adds a whole lot to his ability in terms of fight and action scenes," Marquez explained. "They basically expand his repertoire not only in terms of geography, but in terms of the way he fights, moves, and finds solutions out of all the crazy binds he gets himself into."
Miles' new freedom of movement with the web-shooters also offers up Bendis, Marquez, and other creators a chance to continue to show the ways Miles Morales differs from Peter Parker. The character's smaller size and lack of experience means that the poses Miles adopts and the way he moves while web-swinging will be much different than the way Peter Parker moved and looked.
"One of the things Brian and I talked about the most when I first came on the book is that Miles is not as polished as Peter became. Over the the ten years that we as readers were looking at Ultimate Peter Parker we could see pretty quickly that he adopted all the classic agility that we were used to seeing from Spider-Man. He's very graceful and acrobatic," Marquez stated. "With Miles I've tried to make things look a little less polished and a little bit more out of control. He's able to take advantage of some of the agility his powers give him, but he doesn't have the smoothness and grace that Peter has. So when he's moving it should be slightly uncontrolled and almost like a crazy cat landing on its feet. The degree to which I accomplish that successfully is up for the reader to decide."
Bendis added, "This whole idea came years ago from Mark Bagley. Once we passed our first story line in 'Ultimate Spider-Man' he said, 'I've done 'Amazing Spider-Man' for years before I was on this book and this character is a different person. He's skinnier and younger. He's got a different energy level. So he'll look different when he does things like swing or walk up a wall. Plus for my own sanity, and so I'm not drawing the same thing over and over again, I'll be using different camera angles than what you're used to seeing in 'Amazing Spider-Man.' So if you really look at those first 40 issues of 'Ultimate Spider-Man' you'll see Bagley always came up with a new way to draw Spider-Man and it was pretty cool. We're going to use that philosophy with Miles. He's a different person with a different physicality."
Miles' new web-shooters may have helped solve his problem of how to get around the city quickly, but using them freely will lead to a different and much more costly problem. "Peter was a scientific genius and he invented the web fluid and all that. Miles is a very nice guy and very smart, but he doesn't have Peter's scientific acumen. So even though he's handed the web-shooters, a couple cartridges of web-fluid, and the formula it's not going to be easy for Miles and his friend Ganke to make web fluid," Bendis explained. "So I'm going to have a whole lot of fun with that. It's going to cost them a lot of their allowance money just to make web fluid. So webs are going to be relatively expensive for Miles. He's going to have to think about how he uses them. Peter kind of used them a little more frivolously. That's not going to be the case for Miles, which I think will be a lot of fun."
Miles' secret identity means he won't be able to turn to adults like his parents to help with the cost of making webs. Other adults like May Parker who know his secret won't be able to help much either. "Aunt May will appear once in a while. Meeting the other Peter in 'Spider-Men' and getting to say one last good bye to him and then bequeathing the web-shooters to Miles has given her a couple of very cathartic moments to help her deal with a terrible loss," Bendis explained. "So she's going to get on with her life. There's not a lot of room for her.
"There is, however, room for someone closer to Miles' own age. I don't think MJ can handle it right now," Bendis continued. "Gwen Stacy, though, is different. Peter took in Gwen so there's no reason Gwen can't return the favor by helping Miles. So that's something cool for him. He gets to have an older sister figure in his life if that's the way their interaction goes. It certainly won't be a romantic thing. It might be to Miles, but not to Gwen."
The Ultimate Universe's incarnation of Captain America will be another prominent supporting character in Miles' life moving forward. When "Ultimate Comics Spider-Man" #14 began Cap was still haunted by Peter Parker's death and ordered Miles to give up the Spider-Man identity. Miles, of course, didn't listen and on the final page of the issue he helps Cap defeat the Ultimate version of the Rhino. Cap responded by giving the young hero a sort of unofficial endorsement. That endorsement came in the form of an offer to train the new Spider-Man.
"Cap clearly had to do something because Miles was going to continue to be Spider-Man whether he was there or not. Cap is still left feeling that even if he tells the kid off and Miles dies tomorrow he's still going to feel really bad. So he's kind of stuck with him," Bendis explained. "On top of whatever Cap's torn feelings about Miles are, there's a lot going on in 'The Ultimates' that's going to affect Miles and Cap's relationship dramatically."
Marquez added, "In issues #13-14 we've been driving home the point that Peter Parker's death really hit Cap hard. I can't remember verbatim the lines Cap uses but they were something to the effect of, 'This was a kid. I thought he was ready, but he wasn't. I should have trusted my gut to begin with and not let him go on these adventures." And bear in mind this is a Cap that's very different from the 616 Cap. Ultimate Cap is much more old fashioned and hard lined. So the responsibility for Peter's death weighs very heavily upon him, and with Miles he views this as a second chance to redeem himself from the mistakes he made previously."
Cap agreeing to train Miles means two things. One, that he's about to be welcomed into the larger ranks of the Ultimate Universe's hero community. And two, Miles is about to be thrust into the drama of the current "Divided We Fall" and "United We Stand" arcs running through all three titles in the Ultimate line.
"In the past we talked about how with the relaunches we had a really great opportunity to connect the books in a way that was sometimes impossible during Millar and Hitch's "Ultimates" run because of the scheduling. So me, 'Ultimate Comics Ultimates' writer Sam Humphries, and 'Ultimate Comics X-Men' writer Brian Wood get on the phone every week and we talk stuff out," Bendis said. "We feel like it's a cohesive universe. What's going on in 'Ultimates' does effect the entire Ultimate Universe and Miles can react to it for the first time and try to envision his place in the larger Ultimate Universe.
"This is a great team to work with. I've been a fan of Brian Wood's for a very long time. He was doing very interesting work around the time we were doing our black and white stuff, and I've always enjoyed his stuff a lot. I didn't really know him though. We never hung out and I don't think I had ever been introduced to him at a show," Bendis continued. "And I was a big champion for Sam to come here. He really feels like he's got the stuff, and is a very funny guy. So we have a good time together on the phone. We talk things through and it's made the whole Ultimate experience unique. We have such a small, little universe to play in, it's just the three of us. So it's a lot easier to coordinate than in the regular Marvel Universe where there are literally dozens of us."
Adventuring with the Ultimates means Miles will be confronting first hand the unrest and social upheaval America is experiencing in the wake of a high-tech terrorist attack on the nation's capital in the pages of "Ultimate Comics Ultimates." It gives Bendis the chance to examine and tackle some of the nation's biggest social ills from the perspective of a noble boy.
"It's exactly the same for any of us when we're growing up and you open your eyes and realize that the world is screwed up. You try to find out what you believe in and where you believe it. This is an extension of that because Miles literally enlists himself. He shows up to fight with the Ultimates. A lot of people can respect and respond to that, but it may not be the right place for him right now," Bendis remarked. "The fact that his instinct is to go help is very heroic. It says a lot about him. It certainly solidifies Captain America's feelings about him. It would be very easy for Miles to stay home and wait things out or stay in Brooklyn and do what he can from there, but this is something else he decides to do."
Marquez drew "Ultimate Comics Spider-Man" #15 where Miles Morales will enlist in the Ultimates' fight against the various militia and anti-mutant terrorist groups trying to tear America apart. The artist is enjoying the chance to draw Miles working alongside the physically imposing members of the Ultimates.
"Cap is a huge guy. Thor is even bigger. Iron Man is also a big guy once Tony is armored up. And Miles is a 13 year-old who's maybe scraping five feet now. So I think that visual contrast is really interesting," Marquez said. "Beyond that it's really fun because I've really fallen in love with drawing Miles. I love the costume design, but it's also fun just to draw these other icons. When I started reading the Ultimate comics back in 2001, when they first started coming out, my two favorite books were 'Ultimate Spider-Man' with Bagley and Bendis, and Millar and Hitch's 'The Ultimates.' So It was fun to draw these other characters that I have a really strong attachment to as well.
"This is my first super hero event story and it's nice because you get to stretch yourself out beyond your comfort zone of the monthly book you've been working on. One of the cool things about the Ultimate Universe is that you're able to do these things that you're not able to do in the 616 Universe; like blowing up Washington DC and all these other crazy things," Marquez continued. "It's fun to bring Miles into the broader Ultimate Universe and really see how each of the events from the different books impact one another. There's a fun interconnectivity that isn't always done as well as it could be."
Immersing Miles in the world of the Ultimates creates some complicated problems for the new youthful Spider-Man. Chief among them is whether or not the super team will reveal his secret identity to his parents. Those aren't the only problems Miles will deal with in upcoming issues though. In issue #15 Bendis and Marquez introduce the Ultimate incarnation of Maria Hill who is a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent turned
homicide detective investigating the death of Miles' Uncle Aaron.
"I was thrilled to discover that Ultimate Maria Hill had not been introduced yet, and I was amazed that I hadn't introduced her before," Bendis said with a laugh. "So she comes in and she's an ex- S.H.I.E.L.D. agent who is now a homicide detective. We're going to find out why she's no longer part of the organization and her investigation into the Prowler's death brings a lot of danger close to home for Miles."
Marquez will draw Hill's debut in issue #15 and then move on to issues #16.1 and #18. Artist Pepe Larraz will bring to life issues 16 and 17. "Pepe Larraz is doing issues #16-17 because Sara Pichelli is healing. I believe she talked online about how she screwed up her wrist doing 'Spider-Men,' but she still heroically made it to the finish line," Bendis said. "So she's going to heal for a little bit and then come back with issue #19, which kicks off a a big arc."
When Pichelli returns to "Ultimate Spider-Man" the plan is for her and Marquez to alternate stories on an arc-to-arc basis. At the time of this interview, Marquez was working on issue #16.1, which sets the stage for Pichelli's return arc.
"We're debuting a new Venom story line for Miles, and issue #16.1 is our big prelude to that story. So in the grand tradition of a Point One it's certainly an excellent hopping on point. It sets up everything about Miles and big mysteries about what's going on with Venom and stuff like that," Bendis remarked. "If you've been following 'Ultimate Spider-Man' this whole time and know the whole Venom story you're good to go and here's a new chapter in it. And if you don't know anything you're just like Miles, so you're in good hands."
Bendis and his collaborators began 2012 by introducing the world to Miles Morales and have since done their best to broaden the scope and scale of the new Spider-Man's world. They've accomplished this by introducing him to his Marvel Universe counterpart in the "Spider-Men" miniseries, forcing him to confront his villainous Uncle Aaron, and plunging him into the larger world of the Ultimate Universe within the current story line. Much to the creators' surprise, their readers responded to these tales in an incredibly positive way. Bendis and Marquez couldn't be happier with fan reaction to Miles Morales and eagerly anticipate their readers' responses to future "Ultimate Comics Spider-Man" stories.
"On paper this certainly does have a 'jump the shark' moment written all over it. 'Oh, you killed the main character that no one had a problem with and replaced him with this other kid?' Then the convention season began and all summer long at every convention there were a bunch of people dressing up like Miles. There was cosplay and cool things on Tumblr, like other day, I saw a girl couldn't find a Miles shirt in her size so she made one herself. Miles Morales fan films have started showing up. I don't know if you've seen them, but they're kind of great," Bendis remarked. "Readers have fully embraced Miles, and me, Sara, and David couldn't be more flattered or touched. We love Miles so much and we're so happy that love is making it to the page and then back off the page. It's the best feeling in the world.
"Now that Miles has set up what his status quo will be, we can start bringing in some new elements, some brand new villains, and some classic Spider-Man villains for him to discover," Bendis continued. "We thought Venom was a perfect place to start. So while Miles and Ganke try to figure out web fluid there's going to be a lot for Miles to deal with. And we'll have Miles' first love interest coming very soon. Sara made me wait until she came back to the book to debut her."
"It's been a blast working on this book and I'm looking forward to wrapping up my first year's worth of work," Marquez added. "I've been working on 'Ultimate Comics Spider-Man' since January so I'm about eight or nine months in, and I'm excited to finish this first year and take things from there."
"Ultimate Comics Spider-Man" #14 by Brian Michael Bendis and David Marquez is on sale now.