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: Spider-Man – Family Business

Family BusinessWriting partnerships aren’t uncommon in comics, but I’m always cautiously optimistic about them. Oftentimes the pairings don’t work, and the writers end up trouncing the facets of their storytelling I admired about them in the first place. In THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN: FAMILY BUSINESS, fan-favorite writers Mark Waid and James Robinson partner with penciller Werther Dell’Edera and painter Gabriele Dell’Otto to throw a new curveball into the life of our Friendly Neighborhood Wall-Crawler: a sister. The result is a fun, if fleeting, action-packed romp, which takes Spidey from Manhattan all the way to Cairo, with several stop-overs along the way.

Whether events in this narrative affect future continuity in the on-going monthly Amazing Spider-Man series seems unlikely: but for all intents and purposes, FAMILY BUSINESS throws the spotlight on the Peter Parker we know and love. Waid and Robinson, long-time pros, avoid excessively detailing ‘the story so far;’ we’re thrown into the action immediately, and pick up the necessary pieces along the way (such as the fact Peter Parker’s parents were CIA operatives). In this tightly-plotted 100-page adventure, Spidey is cast as the Jason Bourne archetype, and he and his never-before-seen sister (a CIA operative, like their mother and father) partner together to deny the bad guys (lead by Wilson Fisk, The Kingpin) whose diabolical schemes link back to the deceased Richard and Mary Parker. Of course, everything is not what it seems: there are double-crosses and revelations along the way, and the writing duo ratchet up the tension nicely. We’ll never know how the writers plotted and scripted this graphic novel, but it’s a partnership that works.

Dell’Otto and Dell’Edera work in beautiful tandem to create 100 pages of stunning artwork. The painted style isn’t integral to the success of the story – FAMILY BUSINESS would’ve worked with a more traditional artistic style – but in this oversized format, their work really benefits. Waid and Robinson allow the illustrators the space to let their artwork breathe; the full-page shots of Spider-Man swinging into action are, well, amazing. The action-sequence inside a lavish Monte Carlo casino is especially wonderful.

There’s a lot to like about FAMILY BUSINESS, and it’s a fantastic package, reiterating the decision by Marvel Comics to completely overhaul their line of original graphic novels. But as fun and action-packed as the story is, it’s perhaps too light-hearted. Given the format and the marketing push behind these graphic novels, I’d like to see writers offering readers something special, something different. There is no denying FAMILY BUSINESS is a fabulous Spider-Man story, and my copy will eventually grow dog-eared from recurrent readings; but it’s nothing that wouldn’t be possible in the monthly comic book series. That minor quibble aside, for new and long-time Spidey readers, you’ll get your money’s worth here.