I’ve been reluctant to continue picking up the Ultimate line of books. The stories in both The Ultimates and Ultimate X-Men have been all right but nothing spectacular of late. In fact, it’s a downright lousy place to be living in. Who cares if you have powers when it appears to be some ultimate depression covering the world? Well, except for the pages of Ultimate Comics Spider-Man. Although it’s in the same universe, we don’t see as much of an impact from the events of the other books (apart from the occasional crossover with the Ultimates), but instead this feels much more like a Marvel book of the 60s. And it truly sets it apart from the rest of the Marvel Ultimate universe.
Say what you will about Brian Michael Bendis, sometimes he hits it out of the park. This issue of Ultimate Comics Spider-Man does just that. Almost 2 years ago we were treated to the origin of the new Spider-Man, Miles Morales. Miles has a family with the occasional secret, and once bitten by a spider he gets… Well, you know what happens next. But Miles is not an exact copy of the Spider-Man we all know. Along with the normal clinging to walls, he also has some additional powers in the nature of venom blasts (a la the Spider-Woman of the Marvel 616 universe) as well as the ability to turn invisible for periods of time. The spider that bit Miles was not the same type of spider that bit the original Spider-Man, Peter Parker, and it’s a wonderful comparison to show as well that not all heroes are the same. When he got his powers, Miles was not drenched in tragedy; rather, he used the powers he obtained and struggled to uphold the same beliefs and ideals of the original Spider-Man. That said, all Marvel heroes of the 60s did have to suffer through a personal tragedy: with the original Spider-Man it was the death of Uncle Ben; with Daredevil, it was the loss of his vision; with Mr. Fantastic it was the guilt of living with what he had done to his best friends. With Miles, we were lacking that tragedy which made him question himself… until recently. In this most recent story arc, Venom has attacked and is looking to destroy Spider-Man. Miles’ father was recently injured and is in the hospital, and Venom mistakes the dad for Spider-Man and goes to kill him. Suffice to say, by the end of this issue, Miles also suffers the tragedy that will make him question himself, his powers, and his ability to remain in costume. And, as I said before, Bendis hits it out of the park here.
The art by Sara Pichelli has been gracing the book since this series launched 2 years back. Her style is amazingly suited to the tone of the book, so it’s quite sad that she is leaving after this issue. The saving grace, though, is that she is ending with an arc that defined the first full act of Miles in costume. Her rendition of Venom is pure creepy in this series, and I really enjoy the fact that every character has a unique look. Miles does not look like a clone of Peter, and that doesn’t even begin to take into account his heritage. No, there are similarities in the personalities, but physically Miles and Peter are quite different. Pichelli has been able to make this distinction quite well, across everyone. From happiness to fear to anger, we can see quite well visually what each character is feeling simply by their faces and the body language. Not many artists can pull this off, and when she is paired with colorist Justin Ponsor she pulls the depth of the characters off with amazing detail.
As I started here, I have not been too impressed with the Ultimate line of late, with the exception of this series. Bendis and Pichelli have completed the first phase in the life of Miles Morales, and I’m interested to see what Bendis does with his new visual partner beginning next issue.