SLUGFEST: Ultimate Comics Spider-Man #1

A comic review article by: The Firing Squad

Jason Sacks:
Travis Walecka:
Nick Boisson:

Jason Sacks:

We've all been reading a whole bunch of first issues lately and will be reading a whole bunch more over the next couple of weeks. Face it, we're all kind of caught up in the big DC reboot mêlée and are enjoying seeing how the House of Superman creates its beginnings for its new series.

With the reboots, we've seen several different theories for what makes good first issues. Some, like Action #1, explode with thrills from beginning to end, making the reader breathless and panting with anticipation for the next issue. Others, like Stormwatch, build with exposition. Detective begins with nasty violent action, Superboy with mystery, Batwoman with breathtaking artwork and Hawk and Dove with... umm... art that isn't breathtaking.

Meanwhile, at the House of Ideas, the first issue of a similarly-intended reboot of Ultimate Spider-Man begins with … umm… a whole lot of talking.

Yeah, our old friend Brian Michael Bendis is at it again, and that's really kind of all you need to know about this comic. It's a Brian Bendis comic about Spider-Man. That usually means the comic will be slow, earthy, human and, oh yeah, kind of slow.

And, shock of all shocks, this comic is slow, earthy, human and, oh yeah, kind of slow.

Honestly, the new Ultimate Spider-Man #1 is not too completely terrible, in the way that the better Brian Michael Bendis comics are, which is to say the comics that aren't complete trainwrecks like Secret Invasion or Avengers or Avengers Disassembled or whatever big wretched stupid Bendis event you hate most. It's a decent Bendis comic like Alias or Powers before the monkey fucking or the earlier issues of Ultimate Spider-Man before the series just got stupid and became violence porn.

I got fairly kind of interested in the little plotline of Miles Morales getting his ticket out of his shitty neighborhood in Brooklyn by winning the lottery and getting a chance to go to a good charter school. For a moment there this story felt like a little bit of a semi-realistic urban story, which is to say some sort of Lifetime movie about "From Brooklyn to the Presidency" or something like that.

But of course, this is Marvel Comics, so Miles Morales's ultimate fate will be to become a fake and stupid member of Ultimate SHIELD where he'll get to hang out with Ultimate Samuel L. Jackson and chatter lots and lots of semi-clever dialogue from the computer of one Brian Michael Bendis.

But that's a few months down the line, assuming that Miles doesn't get killed or something and then replaced again by Ultimate Peter Parker. Right now we're looking at the first issue of this series and wondering just what the hell Marvel was thinking when they greenlight this first issue.

Because instead of starting with action, or mystery, or the insanely awful splendor of Rob Liefeld's artwork, we get this absolute by-the-numbers Brian Bendis comic, where blah blah blah and yadda yadda yadda and who cares anyway?

This comic opens with a blah scene that just kind of sits there on the printed page, then perks up a bit in the scenes when we see young Miles, then kind of descends back to blah after that with the scenes of young Miles and his criminal Uncle. In this crazy market, when you're marketing this comic as the 53rd< big event first issue in a month, that just ain't enough to make this comic stand out.

Jason Sacks has been obsessed with comics for longer than he'd like to remember. He considers himself a student of comics history and loves delving into obscure corners of this crazy artform. Jason has been writing for this site for about seven years and has also been published in a number of fan publications, including the late, lamented Amazing Heroes and The Flash Companion. He lives in north Seattle with his wife and three kids.

Travis Walecka:

What a weird night for a review. First off, my typically brilliant-minded publisher asked me what I thought about this book. "Ah, it’s Bendis. Lots of talking. I’m not sure what to say…" Then, I get called into work at a local pub just before I was ready to read and write about this reboot.

Thankfully Bendis has a lot to say himself, without saying much at all. Allow me to explain (or don’t, and read everyone else’s take... I dare ya.)

Brian Bendis is unquestionably a luminous guy when it comes to penning solo characters. We love his Powers, Daredevil, Alias and, of course, Ultimate Spider-Man. Marvel’s star writer definitely has the handle on general people-speak, tactical milieu, and human emotion. There wouldn’t be a better guy to redo what was already a great title.

Without worry, there aren’t a zillion characters running around in this comic -- or sitting around -- all chatting similarly sarcastic. In fact, we don’t get much out of the young Miles Morales at all. And this "slow burn" ploy works, because if you remember what made Peter Parker so great in the first place, it wasn’t his sentimental conscious alone. It wasn’t his web-shooters, scientific innovation or unparalleled heart. Spider-Man worked because of the cast.

Bendis is letting the branches grow while the roots stay firmly in place. After reading this issue, you do want to know more about the kid, right?

If you don’t, you’re giving up far too early. Or you’re completely unwilling to accept change. Now, if this was the 616 Marvel Universe, then I would understand the uproar; but this is the Ultimate Universe, where anything goes, all the while leaving just enough Marvel flair. So, in the Elseworlds version of Marvel, we have a black Spider-Man. We have Mike Epps playing the cool uncle who moonlights as an Ultimate Prowler at night. We have the Charles S. Dutton (see: Roc, yes I’m now officially ancient) overprotective dad. We have the Vivica Fox mom who lives through her son. You’d thought she just beasted through 12 cars on the Talladega racetrack the way she won that Charter School lottery.

The All-New Ultimate Comics Spider-Man will undoubtedly be an interesting ride, and Morales proves on the final page he’s a little different -- and far from just ethnicity and upbringing -- than the Spider-Man you grew to love. After the way Bendis presented this new world with the first issue, and clean, personably terrific Sarah Pichelli art to boot, I’m willing to give this one a shot at love too.

Travis Walecka has gone through more phases than Paris Hilton has gone through tan lines. Or, more apropos, more phases than there are Batman titles. Hip-hop critic. MMA fighter. Furniture mover. Screenwriter. Hollywood bouncer. This guy puts Dean Malenko to shame, or at least Hayden Christensen. Nonetheless, the newfound phase of this all-too-positive "Loose Cannon" (as monikered from various music and film review sites) is simply comics. And it's going on three years strong. After blowing the lot of his savings on graphic novels and stupid "collectible" figurines, Travis decided to leave them all in Boston and head to his next destiny: Hollywood, California.

Nick Boisson:

In 2000, Marvel Comics launched their Ultimate Universe of comics with the first issue of Ultimate Spider-Man, from Brian Michael Bendis and art by Mark Bagley. The issue was met with much anticipation as fans of classic Spidey and a few newcomers all rushed their local comic shops to pick up that issue. But, when they finished that issue, there was no sign of Spider-Man anywhere. Bendis had chosen to use what is referred to in comics as "decompressed" storytelling, a format which emphasizes character development and (usually) strong visuals leading to a more drawn-out plot. The 11-page origin of Spider-Man was told throughout seven issues in Ultimate Spider-Man. And, as the saying goes, if it ain't broke, don't fix it. In Ultimate Comics: Spider-Man #1, Bendis and his new Spider-Man artist, Sara Pichelli, introduce us to Miles Morales -- the young man who will be our new Ultimate Spider-Man.

Now, the first thing that needs to be discussed is Miles Morales himself. Since the week that Ultimate Fallout #4 was released, there has been quite a bit of controversy over this young, fictional lad. Frankly, too much has already been said on the subject, so I will try and stay out of those murky waters myself. Well, I'll get into it a little bit...

What interests me with Bendis' choice for the new Spidey isn't what color young Miles Morales' skin is (which is what has mainly been focused on by the media) but what his inclusion into Marvel's Ultimate Universe could end up representing in comics. Namely, the choice of an inner-city youth as Spider-Man. I have thought long and hard about this idea and have come to a final conclusion: there may be no one more ideal to be Spider-Man. Why, you ask? Spider-Man started off as a crusader for the people, for the proverbial little guy. He was our friendly neighborhood Spider-Man. In 1962, what made that concept great was that Peter Parker was the everyday little guy. But, nearly half a century later, Peter Parker no longer fits that description. Inner-city kids hoping for a lottery to get them into a good charter school is becoming a norm in the metropolises around this country. Bendis getting a Spider-Man that represents this ever-growing group in our ever-dwindling economy is something needed. Not because it is "the right thing to do," but because it will bring about stories that have never been explored in any of Marvel's universes. Or in DC's either, for that matter.

As for the story that is explored in this issue, we learn how Miles gets his spider-powers. He, of course, is bitten by a genetically-altered spider, but it is how he comes into contact with this spider that may end up leading young Miles into his first outing as the new Spider-Man. I do not wish to give away too much of the story because, if you have not done so yet, you should go out and pick this issue up. As I previously stated, Bendis is once again using his penchant for decompressed storytelling in this introduction to Spider-Man, as well. He succinctly bridges how Peter Parker fits into our new hero's world and does it without it seeming gimmicky or preposterous that someone else is bitten by another enhanced spider.

I have also, quite a number of times, referred to Miles as young. I feel I keep doing this because the boy looks even younger than Parker's 15 years of age. I want to say that Miles Morales is still in middle-school, about 13. Maybe 14, but that may be pushing it. That is not in any way a bad thing. It is merely something that should be noted.

On this most recent venture, Brian Michael Bendis has chosen a brand new artist to tell the story of our new wall-crawler: Sara Pichelli. Since my introduction to her work on Ultimate Fallout #4, I have become a fan. Especially alongside Bendis' love for character development, you need an artist that can make you feel for a character by just seeing their face, without having them say a word. On Page 12, when Miles' number comes up in the charter school lottery, you see close-ups on a couple faces of children who were not picked. Both kids had different reactions, but, just by their appearance, you know they both feel the same way. That is a telling of a great artist. One who can tell you the entire story without there being a single word balloon on any page. In some panels, Pichelli also implements an almost collage-style technique, having the characters in the panel set against a background that is unrelated to their setting. As if one cut out the characters from the comic and pasted them on paper. I personally dig the hell out of it! It makes the character -- or characters -- pop out.

Bendis and Pichelli also left a couple visual cues, specifically to the number 42. The spider that bites Miles was experiment "No. 42" and Miles' winning lottery number to get into the charter school was 42. I'm left wondering if Bendis is getting a little Lost on us. I'm interested in seeing if it becomes anything.

This is truly a great premiere issue! No, we don't get any superheroics, but Bendis and Pichelli already gave us a little of that in Ultimate Fallout #4. I'm curious to see how Bendis ties this story in with what is happening in the other comics in the Ultimate Universe. Recently, all of the Ultimate Comics books have been focusing on the world's stance against mutants and the US government's involvement in creating the mutant X-Gene. I'll be interested in seeing how -- or even, if -- Bendis ties Ultimate Comics: Spider-Man to the rest of the line. And, if nothing else, the ending will keep me reading for a good while. Did I see a NEW spider-power? The two weeks until the next issue could not come fast enough!

Nick Boisson grew up on television, Woody Allen, video games, Hardy Boys mysteries and DC comic books, with the occasional Spider-Man issue thrown in for good measure. He currently roams the rainy streets of Miami, Florida, looking for a nice tie, a woman that gets him, and the windbreaker he lost when he was eight. He sometimes writes things down on Twitter as @nitroslick.

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