I’m not exactly a huge comic book nerd, but in the last 4-ish years, I’ve read my fair share. There are a lot of bloated, pointless events used for marketing (Civil War, Flashpoint, Fear Itself) and lackluster main books (Detective Comics and Superman), but the one book that I could always count on for a great read was “Ultimate Spider-Man” by Brian Michael Bendis.
A lot of you probably don’t know that the Ultimate Marvel universe is completely different than regular Marvel Comics. Think of the universe as a big reboot, similar to what Batman Begins did for Batman films. They took existing superheroes and kept the main pieces of their origin, but shapes the story as their own from there. Spider-man was still Peter Parker. He still got bit by a radioactive spider. Uncle Ben still died.
The main differences came in the storytelling and character development of the series. The stories became more relevant and modern issues were touched upon. Characters were less stereotypical. Most importantly, you didn’t have to know every single fact about the last 40 years in comic history. In addition to this, more risks could be taken in the Ultimate universe because it wouldn’t affect the tradition of the original (aka 616) universe. Gwen Stacy didn’t have to die. Venom didn’t have to come from an alien planet, but rather from cancer research gone wrong. Finally, Peter Parker could die.
Parker’s death was incredibly well done. Ultimate Spider-Man had pretty much done all it could in it’s 10 year run with Pete. They went through fights with the Green Goblin, Doc Ock, the Symbiotes, and a bunch of other things. Throughout the series, you saw that Pete was still a kid, and while he was a great super-hero, he was always very reckless. The story culminated in Pete dying, but also saving his family and friends. Everyone doesn’t believe that Pete is dead, as per comic death usual, but this is the Ultimate universe. Wolverine is dead. Cyclops is dead. A whole bunch of crazy stuff has stuck.
Marvel then announces, for PR and marketing reasons, that they’ve killed Spider-Man and his replacement is half Black, half Latino. The general public goes into a fit saying that it’s stupid and all done for publicity. How could they kill an American hero? Why does he have to be Black and Latino? Is Marvel just trying to fit all their minorities into one guy? I wasn’t really too amused by the situation either. I thought it was a big stunt, however, I knew that if someone could pull this off with class, it was Bendis.
Brian Michael Bendis masterfully uses logic, wit, emotion, and action to write the most consistently great stories in the Marvel imprint. I knew he’d write Miles Morales, aka Blacktino Spider-Man, as a person rather than a stunt. He wasn’t going to go in and write him up as some kind of crazy stereotype. Instead of milking the launch publicity and rushing into the story, Bendis has chosen to mirror the first issues of the Ultimate Spider-Man, when Peter Parker was first getting his powers. Rather than jumping into the explosions, fist fights, and super-powers, he is slowly transitioning Miles from a kid, hell bent on getting into a charter school, into a full fledged super hero. This slow burn helps the reader discover who Miles Morales is while also making them emotionally invested in his situation.
Bendis is exceptional at developing the story at the slow pace, while also making the read entertaining. You learn about his family life, his friends (hilarious Asian nerd best friend), and what he cares about (hint: being normal). Through three issues, the only super things he’s done have been sticking on a wall, discovering that he can go invisible, and saving a kid from a burning building. Everything else has been character development. Who knew a super-hero book could be so good with such little action? Bendis knows because in the end, it’s always about the characters, (see: Breaking Bad, The Wire) and not really about the big explosions.
I look forward to the rest of this series, not because Spider-Man is Black and Latino, but because Spider-Man is fresh again.