Despite reading comics for nearly twenty years, and starting out as a Marvel reader, I’ve somehow never been a Spider-Man reader. I’ve always enjoyed Peter Parker when I’ve encountered him in other titles, but largely due to feeling that it would be hard to get on board mid-stream, and confusion over the sheer variety of Spider-Man books, I never became a Spider-Man reader. So it’s with surprise that I find myself absolutely adoring a Spider-Man book, even if it’s not Peter Parker.
Reading “Ultimate Spider-Man” at this very specific DCU relaunch moment in time has been particularly interesting, as it’s almost impossible not to compare this fresh start with DC’s fresh starts. Obviously DC had a much more difficult task in relaunching an entire line, while Marvel obviously just has this one title to get right (for now), but the rightness of “Ultimate Spider-Man” leads me to believe that it’s the better way. It’s using a scalpel rather than a chainsaw, if you will. This book does everything the DC relaunch proposed to do, except this book does it flawlessly. More diversity? Check. Actually, considering the high-profile (and brilliant) female artist driving the book, I’d call that a “double check.” New reader friendly and easy to jump into? Check. Little to no info dumps and convoluted exposition? Check. A great comic book that could make fans out of just about anyone? Check.
Brian Michael Bendis and Sara Pichelli are working together in beautiful synch on this book, bringing us the origin story of a brand new superhero in a powerful and engaging way. Miles Morales, recently bitten by a lab spider, is learning (much to his chagrin) that he has superpowers. Meanwhile he wrestles with family life and finds he has won a lottery, which grants him a spot at a charter school that can change his life. In a few short issues Bendis has set up a believable and emotional family for Miles as well as a funny best friend “sidekick.” The stakes could not be higher for Miles in both of his worlds. In this issue Miles gets his first taste of superheroing and Bendis handles it with ease. You feel Miles’ compulsion to spring into action, but also his trepidation and outright fear. The results of his actions are successful, but almost by accident. It’s harrowing to realize how close he comes (and will come?) to disaster. He is, after all, just a kid forced into the role of superhero thanks to powers he did not ask for and does not want. As if the book needed even more good things going for it, it ends on an intriguing cliffhanger that makes the next book a must-read.
For her part, Pichelli delivers absolutely perfect visuals. Miles and his entire world feel fleshed out and well considered, from his hairstyle and clothing choices to body language and facial expressions. Pichelli has wholeheartedly embraced the building of Miles’ character and world, and you can see the thought and attention to detail that went into every frame. Yet it somehow feels flawless and almost easy in execution. Her storytelling is blissfully clean and painstakingly clear (thus an excellent match for Bendis’ sometimes wordy scripts). She handles the emotional moments and the heart pounding action scenes with equal aplomb. Pichelli’s work here is the best I’ve ever seen it, and if she keeps it up she’s on track to become one of the best superhero artists working in comics today, if she’s not already there.
For his part, Justin Ponsor’s colors are exactly what I look for in a colorist, so integrated and complimentary to the artist’s work that they almost become unnoticeable. It’s as if Ponsor’s colors have literally become one with Pichelli’s art so that you cannot even separate the two if you tried. It’s exceptional.
“Ultimate Spider-Man” is a relaunch done exactly right. A perfectly chosen creative team paired with a modern and forward thinking character to create a nearly perfect book that can work for long-time fans and new readers alike. Against all odds and 20 years of reading, “Ultimate Spider-Man” is the book that has finally made me a monthly Spider-Man reader.