It's taken five months, but by the final page of this issue Miles Morales has at last put on the Spider-Man costume that he's been wearing on the covers since day one. Not a moment too soon, and indeed, not a moment too late. Miles' journey hasn't just been well-crafted, it's been a textbook piece in setting up a new comic -- a story that reminds us exactly why Bendis is so revered at Marvel.
Despite the big moment at its conclusion, this issue has perhaps been the weakest yet, but even that needs a reminder that it's being measured against four of the best superhero comics to come out this year. Although a meeting with Nick Fury and Spider-Woman seemed inevitable, including the likes of Hawkeye and Iron Man clutters the issue. It makes it slightly less believable that a rookie like Miles can put down Electro where a group of seasoned professionals can't. Similarly, by including these characters, it feels like Miles' arc is being more explicitly connected to Peter's dangling plot threads. Unavoidable, perhaps, but it's arguably a story that could have been given more space, rather than crammed into a few scenes.
But that's largely just nitpicking. The fact remains that this issue, like the others, is a practically flawless read. Of real interest are the ways Bendis is differentiating Miles from Peter, in terms of their attitudes, fighting styles, and power set. Interesting to note is that Miles isn't using webs yet, and to my knowledge hasn't been shown doing so, even in promo art. It's tough to imagine Spider-Man without such an iconic ability, but perhaps that's the appeal of trying to do it. Perhaps if Miles eventually does get to use webs, he'll actually be more comfortable not using them, which would be an interesting twist in itself.
Without wanting to disparage the artwork, it's clear from the look of it that Pichelli had help this issue, and indeed, it turns out that she's only doing layouts. For the majority of the issue, David Messina is doing finishes. There's enough of the Pichelli magic -- the storytelling, the framing, the body language -- that it's visually consistent, and Justin Ponsor's colors certainly help maintain the illusion, but still. You can tell. Messina performs admirably in the thankless role of subbing for Pichelli, and more casual readers might not even notice his slightly heavier lines and deeper shadows, but it'll be hard for those of us that do to hide our disappointment. Although it's perhaps not as great a disappointment as being asked to wait longer for the next issue. Mileages will vary, and compromises must be made.
As ever, the only substantial criticism that can be handed out to Bendis and Pichelli's "Ultimate Spider-Man" is that there isn't remotely enough of it. Every issue feels to short, and every gap between them too long. It remains to be seen what Miles' long-term impact will be on the Ultimate Universe (and pop-culture in general) but if Bendis maintains this level of quality, there'd be no blame to lay at his feet if things don't succeed.