"Spider-Men" #3, underneath the knockout Jimmy Cheung cover, is the middle stanza in Brian Michael Bendis' love song to all things Spider-Man -- or all things Spider-Men. The cover showcases the two Spideys taking on a handful of villains from the 616 Universe with Mysterio looming large in the background.
Mysterio truly steps up his game in this issue as Bendis punches in some gut-wrenchingly raw emotional moments and Sara Pichelli draws the living heck out of it all. Bendis provides beats for all of the characters in this issue, but gives the grandest part of the stage to Mysterio. The groundwork was laid for Mysterio's ascent in the last issue, which is critical to the overall plot. As the Spider-Men battle their theatrically inclined foe, Bendis delivers some classic Spidey banter, illuminates the differences between Peter Parker and Miles Morales and elegantly crafts the relationship between the 616 Spider-Man and Mysterio, highlighting the opponents' familiarity with one another. Once the reality of the situation sinks in and Peter realizes he has to both fight Mysterio and save Miles, Parker's quips and customary Spider-Man battle banter lessens, fully illustrating the concern and focus Peter must re-direct. Mysterio picks up on it and goads the hero, ultimately leading to his (temporary) downfall.
Bendis certainly has a great grasp on Peter Parker and gives him a little more attention in this issue, focusing on Peter's alienation in this word that is so much like his own, yet different in quirky little ways. After the threat of Mysterio is neutralized, Peter tries to figure out his situation by further investigating the world around him without accompaniment from Miles or any of the Ultimate Universe's other heroes. This solidifies to a crystallized realization that the Peter Parker of this world is dead. Bendis' grasp on Peter Parker as a character really shines through in this moment as the writer crafts a heartbreaking emotionally-overloaded cliffhanger certain to pluck the heartstrings of any Spider-fan.
From the bigscreen action of the Spider-Men going all out against Mysterio and his mind-bending illusions to the quiet, tear-jerking final panel, Sara Pichelli, colorist Justin Ponsor and letterer Cory Petit deliver the most beautiful book on the stands this week. The texture of the lawn on the final page is every bit as tangible as the weathered planks on the dock of the opening spread. You can almost smell ozone as Mysterio's fog is utilized during the battle. Most importantly, Miles and Peter have different physiques, body language and emotions (even through their masks) that guide readers throughout the issue and the series. Quite simply, this is how a comic book should look. I would imagine that it's hard to live up to the work Jimmy Cheung puts on the cover, but Pichelli easily meets Cheung's levels throughout "Spider-Men" #3.
I've made no secret about my love for team-up titles and the nostalgia inherent in the base concept. The best part of "Spider-Men" is the concept, which is broad enough to touch younger and more seasoned readers. Although this issue is in the middle of the series, it's strong enough to welcome new readers and brilliant enough to convince them to go back and catch up. For me, this comic is quite simply grand enough to earn my money once in serial form and again when the inevitable hardcover collection releases. It's a great time to be a Spider-fan, and "Spider-Men" #3 makes a strong case for that argument regardless of who you claim as "your" Spider-Man.