Ultimate Spider-Man and Amazing Spider-Man are two of Marvel’s most consistent titles, with writers Brian Michael Bendis and Dan Slott respectively putting an incredible amount of energy into two very long-running books which should by rights have become stale and repetitive by now. But while Peter is fully established and one of the most powerful, recognisable personalities to be found anywhere in comics; Miles is still new and relatively untested as a character. While Ultimate Spider-Man is a well-written book, Miles has only been the star for a few months and the pacing is glacial.
In a few years we’ll probably be able to look back and view Miles as a character with a rich history (well, let’s hope so!) but at the moment of writing, he’s neither punched an eight-limbed astigmatic nor hit the jackpot.
Which is why Spider-Men is a smart idea for Marvel. Bendis is in charge of the entire storyline – rather obviously, given his affinity for Spiders both Peter and Miles – and has five issues to bring the two characters across universes, and into sight (and fists) of each other. And it’s probably one of the freshest, most energetic and fun takes on superheroics that I’ve read in ages. The story is so by-the-numbers that I could already likely tell you what happens in each of the following four issues, and guess at least three of the cliffhangers – but the characterisation is invigorating, the pacing fast, and the concept strong.
Peter takes most of the attention in this first issue, with Bendis finally getting his chance to do some solo work with the character. He’s clearly been wanting to write about the Amazing Spider-Man for years now, adding him to various Avengers teams and contributing short stories whenever a new anthology or anniversary issue comes out. He’s funny here, although there are still very strong reminders why Bendis’ version of the Amazing Spider-Man is widely hated by everyone who has to spend more than five minutes with him. The jokes tend to work, although sometimes they grate extensively. When Bendis treats this as a throwaway, fun story, which isn’t *important* but is widely entertaining, he is at his best. There’s a rare sense of freedom in the story, which is probably because the Ultimate Universe is still an alterable playground for writers.
It feels a lot like artist Sara Pichelli has loosened up Bendis’ writing over the past few months working with him, with her layouts allowing the book to look structurally like some of the classic Stan Lee stories, but with updated art and lush colours from Justin Ponsor. Pichelli has to spend a lot of time with a character who is relatively new to her here, and it would’ve been easy for her to give Peter the body-type and language of his predecessor. She doesn’t so that. Peter is reconfigured to look bigger, bulkier; and he moves with more swagger and confidence than Ultimate Peter ever did.
While Bendis’ script is solid, there are several moments – especially during a scene midway through – which would’ve crashed without someone as flexible as Pichelli to handle them. Her decision to stick rigidly to a panel layout means that the fight scenes can sometimes feel a little like a progression of moves, instead of a fluid, flowing fight, however. Her refusal to break between panels does slow things a little. But it’s more than made up for through her actual fight choreography, which rolls across slowly and allows readers the chance to see what’s actually going on. There are no wasted panels of posing and charging – these is a properly assembled fight sequence.
The script does at times hint that a sense of extremely artificial danger is going to be blown up as the story continues – Bendis does have a tendency to mishandle the building-up of tension in his superhero stories sometimes, making them feel deflated and directionless. And really, I enjoyed the fun, carefree moments so much that I hope the forthcoming issues aren’t going to hammer a sense of tension into readers – this should be fun, not serious. There’s also a lack of Miles at the moment, with the first issue told entirely from Peter’s viewpoint. That’s a small complaint though – Bendis isn’t going to ignore his creation in a book called Spider-Men. This is a character-focused story, and Miles will surely have his time to shine as it continues.
Currently, Spider-Men looks set to be a brilliantly fun – if slight – addition to the world of Miles Morales. Pichelli is the clear standout, but Bendis’ characterisation is stronger here than it’s ever been in his Avengers work. Together, the pair have set up a purely enjoyable comic book, and three cheers if that continues through to the end.