Review: Spider-Man – Miles Morales, Vol. 1 by Brian Michael Bendis & Sara Pichelli

spider-man-volume-1Until the series ended, Brian Michael Bendis’s Ultimate Spider-Man was a staple of my comics reading. When it launched in 2000 I was thirteen-years-old, and the perfect age to read about a teenage Peter Parker. As I got older, and my interest in the medium fluctuated, Ultimate Spider-Man remained an essential component of my reading life. Even when ‘ultimate’ Peter died, and was replaced by the Hispanic teenager Miles Morales died – by which time I was a full-fledged adult – I remained whole-heartedly invested in the world and its characters.

And then everything changed.

During the 2015 mega-event “Secret Wars,” both the Ultimate Marvel universe and the mainstream Earth-616 universe were destroyed.  When the dust finally cleared and the crisis concluded, Earth-616 was restored — along with Miles and his family. Thus, when Spider-Man: Miles Morales, Vol. 1 opens, Miles is one of two “Spider-Men” operating in New York City; and he’s a card-carrying member of the Avengers, too.

My biggest fear was that this opening volume would focus on Miles’s transition from one universe to another; but that’s not the case at all. There is a real push to make this a fresh start and a true first chapter in Miles’s story. The only problem is, it cheapens the drama that’s come before, and brings into question the continuity of what we read in Miles’s adventures in the Ultimate universe. One of the most devastating moments Miles experienced was the death of his mother; now that’s reversed. There was real emotional when Miles’s father discovered his son was Spider-Man, and his anger and refusal to converse with his son was deeply affecting; now that’s been wiped away.

Spider-Man: Miles Morales, Vol. 1 is a callback to the archetypal high-school superhero story. Basically: I have to save the world but I have homework, too. And while we’ve seen it time and time again, Bendis does it so well, and frankly, it’s nice to read a superhero comic working on a smaller-scale. Between you and me, I’ve a little over world-ending scenarios. The best Bendis comics– Alias, Daredevil, Ultimate-Spider-Man — have always been character-focused, which suit his heavy-dialogue style, and it’s the quieter moments that prove the most memorable here. Miles’s confrontation with his grandmother over his flailing grades is hilarious; so too his conversation with best friend Ganke about whether it’s better to be “skinny and black” or “chubby and Asian” in America. Sure, there’s a whole plot-thread in Spider-Man: Miles Morales, Vol. 1 about Black Cat and Hammerhead teaming up to take out Spider-Man; but what makes the volume resonate is the building friction between Miles and Ganke over his secret identity. The super-heroics are just the backdrop for a fun, emotive high-school story.

Sara Pichelli’s illustrations are gorgeous. The action is dynamic, but the way she nails the smaller moments – the mannerisms and expressions of characters during their conversations – is peerless. In issue #4 she draws ten pages of dialogue between Miles and Ganke in the school cafeteria. Boring, you might be thinking. But just check out the way she lays it all out. It’s incredible. Just like the whole book, really.

No, Spider-Man: Miles Morales, Vol. 1 doesn’t redefine superhero comics. As a standalone tale, it’s not even particularly memorable. But as the next phase in the Miles Morales story – as another part of an unfinished collage – it’s fantastic.

ISBN: 9781846537165
Format: Paperback  (198mm x 129mm x mm)
Pages: 120
Imprint: Panini Books
Publisher: Panini Publishing Ltd
Publish Date: 7-Sep-2016
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

Review: The United States of Murder Inc. Vol. 1: Truth by Bendis and Oeming

United States of Murder IncThe Eisner Award-winning team behind the mega-hit Powers have reunited for The United States of Murder Inc., an ultra-violent alternate history crime story in which the five families of organized crime never lost their stranglehold on the United States. The nation is effectively split down the middle, and co-exist uneasily, a brittle truce between both sides. Expectations were naturally astronomically high for Bendis and Oeming’s new series, and the first volume of The United States of Murder Inc., Truth, delivers in spades.

Truth opens with Valentine Gallo becoming a ‘made man’ of the Bonavese family. Following a decadent celebration – booze, women, and whatever else we weren’t privy to off-panel – Valentine is handed his first task. He is to deliver a package – a seemingly innocuous briefcase – to a United States senator at The Ambassador hotel in Washington D.C. Of course, in fiction there is no such thing as an innocuous briefcase…

Indeed, moments after he steps out the door, a fireball erupts from The Ambassador, reducing the building to rubble. The uneasy truce that has existed between the United States Government and its corrupt opposite is suddenly under threat. Now both sides want Valentine to pay. His only ally is the trigger-happy hitwoman, Jagger Rose, who demonstrates an alarming propensity for killing Valentine’s friends.  But following an earth-shattering revelation from his mother, the newly made man finds it increasingly difficult to separate friend from foe.

The dialogue crackles, as we’ve come to expect from a Bendis scribed comic; but more than, the plot zips along at a fantastic pace. At times, especially in his late-Avengers work, I felt Bendis occasionally treaded water – six issue story arcs could be reduced to four or five – but there is no sign of that here. In The United States of Murder Inc. he packs each chapter with new characters, locations, and reveals; and Oeming renders them with dynamism only he is capable of. Truth is violent and bloody, but Oeming’s artwork – about as far away from realistic as you can get – ensures these moments are palatable rather than gratuitous.

The first volume of The United States of Murder Inc. sets up an incredibly vibrant world, and ends with the kind of cliffhanger that’ll make the long wait for its next installment excruciating.

Review: Avengers Prime by Brian Michael Bendis and Alan Davis

Avengers PrimeNews hit last week that the Marvel Universe is coming to an end in May. As someone who has been reading comics for almost twenty years now, I took the news in my stride: the way I see it, universes on both sides of the fence have undergone minute revamps, as well as massive overhauls, since I became invested in their characters. I have no ownership of them; I’m merely along for the ride. If the powers-that-be choose to reinvent their respective wheels, go for it. I’ll try out the comics when they come out, and if I don’t like them I’ll step away. Such is life.

Until then, I’ve got a bunch of unread collections to get through. And as the MU as we know it will soon cease to exist, it seemed fitting to reminisce on times-gone-by with AVENGERS PRIME by Brian Michael Bendis and Alan Davis; a limited five-series that focuses on the ‘core trio’ of Avengers: Iron Man, Captain America, and Thor.

Chronologically speaking, AVENGERS PRIME takes place after “Dark Reign,” and was the series that welcomed in the “Heroic Age.” What this means, basically, for the uninitiated, is that Norman Osborn’s (aka The Green Goblin) stint as the Director of SHIELD has come to an end with the fall of Asgard, and the Avengers as dysfunctional as ever; their mistrust has increased and fermented ever since the Civil War. AVENGERS PRIME begins right after “Dark Reign’s” final battle, when Cap, Thor and Iron are teleported to mystery mystical, and hostile, land. Separated, the three endure personal challenges, eventually regrouping in a tremendous culminating battle.

As always, Bendis’s dialogue is apropos, and in this instance he completely annuls his perpetual use of captions, allowing Davis’s timeless art the room it needs to shine. The story is a little one-note; little in the way of revelations or gasp-worthy twists. But it’s a fun story that underlines the differences between the team’s key members, and also the ties that bind them. It’s about friendship, and all too often nowadays that gets forgotten, with a greater focus on larger-scale threats and universe-ending apocalypses. It’ll be interesting to see what kind of relationship is forged between the trio in the forthcoming Marvel Universe.

Iron Man Cap Hug

Review: Words For Pictures – The Art and Business of Writing Comics and Graphic Novels by Brian Michael Bendis

Words for PicsIn October 2000, at the age of twelve, I sweet-talked my father into buying me a copy of Ultimate Spider-Man #1. The issue’s writer, Brian Michael Bendis, meant nothing to me. He was an unknown.

That changed thirty pages later.

From my earliest days I understood the compartmentalized process involved in creating comics, and could identify respected artists and writers, and even inkers on occasion – but my purchasing decision was never based on who was responsible for the product. I bought everything Superman, Batman and Spider-Man, and that was that, no questions asked.

But something changed with Ultimate Spider-Man #1. Bendis’s storytelling choices, his back-and-forth dialogue, resonated with me, as it did with the vast majority of fandom. From that day on, I made it my mission to read everything Bendis published, and continues to publish. Much like Greg Rucka and Ed Brubaker, Brian Michael Bendis played an essential role in my formative years as a storyteller, and as a storytelling connoisseur.

And now he has written a book on writing comics.

With WORDS FOR PICTURES, Bendis has created the ultimate writers’ resource. A one-stop-shop for aspiring creators, and those already heavily vested in the craft. And even those without the slightest creative inclination will find Bendis’s exploration of the process captivating. WORDS FOR PICTURES isn’t just a ‘How-To’ guide; it’s littered with interviews with industry professionals; writers Ed Brubaker and Matt Fraction; Marvel Comics editor Steve Wacker; artists Mark Bagley, Michael Allred and Chris Bachalo; and that barely scratches the surface. It might be Bendis’s name emblazoned on the books cover, but this book isn’t an insular breakdown of the process; it encompasses a grand selection of industry professionals, and the book is a greater resource because of this.

What is the Marvel Style scripting method? What’s the best way to foster a relationship with an artist? Bendis answers these specific questions, and more, but also offers his thoughts on grander subjects; why do we write? How can you identify an idea as good or bad? It’s in these moments, when Bendis extrapolates his own opinions, that WORDS FOR PICTURES transitions from writers’ toolbox to writers’ inspiration. This is a guy who has been writing comics professionally for almost two decades now – how does such a prolific creator retain his passion and determination? And what can we, as writers aspiring to match his exploits, from him?

There are several comic book writing resources available for ambitious creators, but few can match the star-power and comprehensive content offered in WORDS FOR PICTURES. This is the kind of resource that’ll sit on my desk for months; something I’ll return to, frequently, for intermittent moments of motivation and encouragement. In WORDS FOR PICTURES, Bendis tells it like it is; there are no guarantees in any creative industry, and he acknowledges working within its confines is rife with failure – but after reading it, I’ve never been more determined to succeed.