Review by Ian Keogh
Between his start at Marvel in the late 1990s and his departure in 2018 how many collections of Brian Michael Bendis’ work were published? Well, there were 22 of his original Ultimate Spider-Man run, combined for a further dozen hardcovers, then another 4 in the second Ultimate Spider-Man series, and further repackaging to boot. Factor in over ten years on Avengers as well, never mind all the other series. So, does 200 books sound a ballpark figure? All the number crunching is by way of pointing out that if you want just a single collection of Bendis’ work, the distillation of what makes him such a great writer at his best, this is probably the one to go for. If there’s anything better, please let us know.
Why’s it so good? We have an extremely likeable lead character in imaginative plots that constantly surprise, four superb artists drawing their hearts out, and a re-boot carried out to the highest standards with strong emotional content and thoughtful twistings of the familiar. That is if you’ve read the original Spider-Man’s origin. If not, there’s perhaps a little less tension as Bendis plays about switching the essential elements of it. This is still a teenager bitten by a spider, but one who ends up with different powers, and who’s a different person, Miles Morales, not Peter Parker. Sure, Parker appears, both the Ultimate universe one, and the longer-running Earth 616 version, but this is Miles’ story.
Sara Pichelli designed Miles and his world, and draws the introductory four episodes, laying out the fifth for David Messina, and she illustrates the teaming with the Earth 616 Parker. She sets the tone with page after page of strong art that pushes all the right emotional buttons, and what she doesn’t draw is the work of David Marquez (sample spread) or Chris Samnee, which is some artistic line-up. Perhaps all of them are under-rated, but study any of their pages and while there may be some minor stylistic differences, everything needed to understand the story is there along with a dynamic way of showing it. Other artists may have greater flash to their pages, but this is great superhero art.
Combining fifteen straight chapters results in a more satisfying read than smaller collections. We meet Miles at thirteen getting on with his life, meet his family, are with him when he’s bitten by that spider, then as he gradually coming to terms with his new identity, before meeting Peter Parker. It’s a logical progression that takes time to develop Miles and his environment before we see him swinging into action as Spider-Man, written with great understanding and a superb storyteller’s instinct for wrong-footing an audience.
If you’d prefer you can pick up this content as Spider-Men, and Ultimate Comics Spider-Man volume 1 and 2, or with the continuations in Miles Morales: The Ultimate Spider-Man Omnibus, but let’s be realistic about what you can afford. This is the ideal format.