Ultimate Comics Spider-Man (Review)

 

This is about to go live on MouthLondon but you get a first look at the full, unedited version. Oh lucky, lucky you.

During the Summer Marvel Comics made an announcement that captured the comic-reading world’s imagination like no other announcement they’d ever made. Where it says imagination you should probably read bile and fury however as the revelation of an all-new bi-racial Spider-Man filled column inches and caused many a nerd eye to squint in suspicion and anger. There was so much righteous indignation about this move that a lot of us could use a reminder that this is a) an alternate reality Spider-Man and therefore not in the main Marvel canon and b) he isn’t real.

A lot of the derision hammered into laptop keyboards late at night has some worth of course. Recreating a main character, an iconic one in the truest sense of the world, to be of both black and Hispanic descent screams ‘look, we’re inclusive! Look how diverse we are!’ With Marvel’s counterpart DC making every second female protagonist gay and introducing a new gay AND Mexican super hero you could be forgiven for expecting next month to bring us the brand new wheelchair-bound, half-Inuit, Islamic, lesbian Supergirl.

In amongst the commotion you might even be forgiven for not even remembering there was an actual new Spider-Man comic coming out and so this month with the release of Ultimate Comics Spider-Man Issue 1 we ask the only question that should have mattered in the first place: Is it any good?

And the answer is yes. Yes it is.

Our writer here, Brian Michael Bendis, ties the new tale directly to the last by opening up with long-time Spider-Man mortal enemy Norman Osborn seeing to his nefarious affairs in a lab with genetically engineered spiders in much the same way he opened Ultimate Spider-Man over a decade ago. This is also a good example of why a lot of people can’t stand Bendis. His dialogue, so intent of capturing the cadence of actual, real-life conversation, (pauses, repetitions and all) grates. It always has done. But where it falls flat in big super-hero action sequences, it bounces along well in the early scenes here and it is mercifully reigned in for the rest of the issue. After the intro we then jump eleven months to the present. The lab lies in ruins and the Ultimate universe’s version of little-known character the Prowler accidentally smuggles out a modified spider during a heist (the spider is marked number 42 thus growing the nerd cult of that number even further!)

The doubts a lot of fans may have had about how a new character could possibly replace the unwavering morality and dedication of Peter Parker are eased by a masterful couple of pages. Our introduction to the new Spider-Man, Miles Morales sees his parents take him to a literal lottery for a place in a prestigious academy. It’s just two pages of people waiting for a name to be called but it’s probably one of the most tense comic moments in months. His number is called of course (guess what number it is. Go on, guess!) and in one quick set of panels we see the faces of disappointed children and Miles himself not able to feel happy in front of them, if anything he feels guilt. This is quality character introduction.

Those expecting the debut of the new costume and high-flying, criminal punching splash pages will be disappointed. We’re going for the slow burn here. More social issues are introduced as Miles visits his shifty uncle who his father does not want him seeing. It quickly becomes apparent that the uncle is the Prowler which sets us up for the spider bite which induces a much more violent reaction than Parker’s 60s transformation.

Bendis leaves us dangling as Miles’ father runs out into the street to find him only to run straight by as Miles’ first power begins to manifest: invisibility. Wait, what? Clearly there are some more tricks up this title’s sleeves.

I’ve gone all this way without mentioning the art! Pichelli’s thick lines keep everything fun and cartoonish but there is real emotion etched into those faces. It’s the kind of blend between realism and fantasy that really works for a comic like this.

It’s incredibly easy to be cynical about Marvel’s diversity-friendly choices here but to avoid this wonderful first issue because of that would be denying yourself. It’s a great set-up, an intriguing new take on an old premise and it’s fun most importantly. With these sort of new debuts coinciding with the total relaunch of all of DC’s major titles there has never been a better time to get into super-hero comics. Do yourself a favour and geek out a little. Just remember to check your cynicism at the door.

DH.

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