He may have abandoned his alternate universe of the same description, but Miles Morales is, without a doubt, the ultimate Spider-Man. In just a few short years, the webheaded wunderkind has stolen the shine from right underneath Peter Parker’s nose. His adventures hearken back to the high school heyday of the original wall crawler (soon to be returned to on the big screen in “Spider-Man: Homecoming”) while offering a completely new, modern and unique perspective of the teenage superhero.
The creation of Brian Michael Bendis and Sara Pichelli, since his debut in 2011’s “Ultimate Fallout” #4 Miles has gone on to utterly dominate “Spider-Man” across all media, with appearances in video games, the “Ultimate Spider-Man” animated series and a movie in the pipeline. As well as doing the usual superheroics to a tee, Miles has opened the character up to a wider, more diverse audience in the process. But why stop there? Here are 15 ways Miles Morales is a better Spidey than Peter Parker.
15. THE COSTUME
The original Spider-Man costume is one of the all-time greats when it comes to superhero get-ups. Nobody’s arguing that. It’s barely changed since Steve Ditko first drew it back in 1962. Besides some tweaks to the under-arm webbing and the eyes on the mask, and besides a glowing spider on the chest here or a brief flirtation with a different color scheme there, nobody’s looking to go all “Project Runway” on it. It’s perfect. It doesn’t need to be redone. Which is also one of Peter’s weaknesses.
Is it not getting a little dull to be still clad in the same costume after nearly half a century? Miles’s uniform, by contrast, is a modern marvel (pardon the pun.) More than a simple palette swap of the original, it inverts the color scheme while adding some more contemporary design elements, the red piping redolent of sportswear or stylish sneakers, the darker aesthetic suiting his stealthier approach. It works way better on a t-shirt, too, if that can be admitted as evidence in the case.
14. A MORE COMPELLING ORIGIN
As with the costume, one of the most iconic things about Spider-Man lies way back at his inception: that origin story. “With great power comes great responsibility” is a phrase which has entered mainstream usage. The story of how an initially arrogant and self-serving Peter Parker dedicates himself to fighting crime after his lack of intervention leads directly to the murder of his Uncle Ben is nigh Shakespearean in how well-known it is. And that’s just the problem.
Similar to Batman’s patricide-fueled motivation, it seems like Peter should probably have found some closure at this point. There’s also not a great deal of complexity within that motivation, is there? Compare that to Miles, whose powers are the result of a spider stolen by his criminal uncle, who his more straight-laced father has all but disowned. His early adventures as Spider-Man lead to the death of his actual mother, cementing his ambiguity about becoming a full-time vigilante. It’s a far richer base which has begat far richer stories.
13. THE STEALTHIER APPROACH
The early warning Spider-Sense is the ace up Peter Parker’s sleeve, although rarely does he use it to its full potential. Either he’s warned ahead of time that he’s about to be bonked on the head, while swinging idly around the Manhattan skyline, or he’s caught completely unawares by villains like Venom who don’t activate the sense in the first place. Imagine if he was more pro-active with it, using it to scope out enemy strongholds for weaknesses and danger before heading in.
That’s the approach of Miles, who along with the Spider-Sense also has the ability to “cloak” himself, going temporarily invisible so he can take a more stealthy approach to crimefighting. It’s also susceptible to bad guys the trick doesn’t work on, but it’s an interesting addition to the arsenal which plays up the fact that the 14-year-old hero hasn’t quite the physical presence of his adult predecessor. That, in itself, makes for less-balanced and consequently more tense battles. You truly don’t know if he’ll make it through most encounters unscathed!
12. HIS BITE
The times they are a-changin’. As the might-makes-right approach of the traditional, outside-the-law superhero comes under closer examination in the modern age, the more upstart members of the Marvel Universe have started taking a different approach to the conflicts they find themselves at the center of. Squirrel Girl helps to rehabilitate her “enemies,” Ms. Marvel empathizes with them, and it turns out there are alternate routes to success than simply pummeling people.
Of course, the antagonists Spider-Man comes up against aren’t always open to negotiation. Traditionally, Peter Parker would give his enemies a jolly good thrashing before stringing them up in webbing for the cops to collect, but Miles Morales can just cut out the middleman. He doesn’t need to do any pummeling at all. Thanks to his ever-so-slightly different origin story to Peter, he boasts an alternate powerset, which includes a “venom bite” (which he delivers in a very similar way to a Vulcan nerve pinch) that has been shown to floor even big tough bad guys like Scorpion, without the need for further physical violence.
11. A STREAMLINED ROGUE’S GALLERY
He may not have the best rogue’s gallery in comics, but Spidey surely boasts the largest. Almost every one of his main antagonists has inspired copycats (the various Goblins) or else ceded their mantels to younger replacements (Vulture, Venom). New creative teams are always throwing new enemies into the mix, with decidedly mixed results, from Typeface to Komodo. It’s not so much a rogue’s gallery at this point as an entire museum.
It’s beginning to get a little overcrowded in Peter Parker’s side of the ring, which means that a returning foe is as likely to inspire a “who’s that?” response from readers as excitement or terror. Even the classic villains are close to being overused, with Norman Osborn invariably trotted out as the one behind everything at the end of any huge story arc. Miles has no such problem, with his nascent superhero career offering a far more streamlined rogue’s gallery, including existing Marvel villains, “Ultimate” takes on Spidey enemies and more!
10. HE NEARLY BEAT GALACTUS ONE TIME
In most cases, the appearance of Galactus on Earth is cause for panic, and for all the planet’s mightiest heroes to team up in desperate hope that their powers combined can beat back the eater of worlds. For Miles Morales, that’s just a Tuesday. Well, “Ultimate Cataclysm” didn’t specify when it was set, but you catch our drift. Peter Parker has had cosmic adventures, including a spell as Captain Universe in the early ‘90s, but his adventures are mainly earthbound and street-level. His dealings with Galactus are minimal.
Miles is mostly a down-to-Earth kind of Spidey, too, but there are exceptions… like the time he fought Galactus. During a rupture between universes, the Ultimate Galactus (a sort of alien hive mind) merged with the original, who attacked the Ultimate universe and was only halted in his tracks — having already decimated New Jersey — after Reed Richards and Miles Morales ventured into the regular Marvel continuity to get some intel. He didn’t do it single-handed, but he got closer to beating Galactus than Peter ever did.
9. HIS MOVIE LOOKS GREAT
The upcoming “Spider-Man: Homecoming” appears to be taking as much from the Miles Morales version of the characters as the classic teenaged Peter Parker from the ‘60s comics, including a more diverse supporting cast and a best friend who looks suspiciously like Ganke. Tom Holland impressed in the title role during “Captain America: Civil War” and the ensemble is rounded out with an impressive collection of comedic and dramatic actors, but the unknown quantity in all of it? Director Jon Watts, whose resume behind the camera up until this point includes trashy direct-to-video horror “Clown” and indie darling “Cop Car.”
It could go either way with Watts. The big-screen debut of Miles, meanwhile, is as assured a hit as you get in Hollywood these days: an animated feature written by Phil Lord and Chris Miller, the endlessly inventive comedy geniuses behind “The LEGO Movie,” the “21 Jump Street” reboot and the upcoming Young Han Solo film. Throw in “Rise of the Guardians” director Peter Ramsey and “Dope” star Shameik Moore, and it’s a dead cert. “Homecoming” will be entertaining at the very least. The Miles movies has the makings of something special.
8. HE’S AN AGENT OF S.H.I.E.L.D.
Peter Parker is an autodidact… when it comes to superhero business, anyway. He flourished in the academic settings of high school and college, but when he pulled on the webs, he was on his own. Much of the pleasure of early “Spider-Man” stories was in seeing the hero fail, or succeed in spite of a scrabbling panic to save the day, compared to the more polished and confident adult Marvel heroes. It’s something that’s more or less been lost as he himself has entered adulthood.
Miles Morales, meanwhile, has the benefit of being a semi-self-taught rookie and having had a spell as an Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. In the Ultimate universe, he was recruited (as Ultimate Peter Parker was) in pursuit of both stopping him from causing international incidents, and honing his abilities. So, while the adult Peter Parker is mostly competent but frequently sloppy, Miles walks the line between well-trained and still technically a child, a dichotomy which makes his enemy encounters all the more fraught with tension.
7. HE’S A TEAM PLAYER
He may have been the face of “Marvel Team-Up” during the ‘70s and holds an ongoing reserve Avengers membership card, but Peter Parker is mostly a lone wolf. Even excepting the extended family of Spider-People, he tends to prefer to work alone, as much about protecting those around him (who have a notably high mortality rate) as it is about how his wise-cracking patter irritates anybody who spends an extended period of time with him. The irony of it is that he is at his best when he’s bouncing his particular foibles and personality off of somebody else.
Readers have gotten a chance to see the different sides of Miles — that is, how he works differently in a team situation compared to alone — plenty of times. The underrated “All-New Ultimates” had him band together with some street-level fellow teen heroes, and the current “Champions” book revolves around a similarly adolescent hang-out situation with Ms Marvel, Nova and the newly Amadeus Cho’d Hulk. Placing the character in different contexts allows his personality to be thoroughly rounded out in a way that Peter sticking to himself doesn’t necessarily.
6. LASTING CHARACTER PROGRESSION
The basic root of all stories is to put your hero through the ringer, and have them emerge at the other end not only having achieved their goal (saving the world, getting the girl etc,) but also having gone through some evolution and maturation. Character progression, the boys in the biz call it. One of the issues of comic books, a serialized form where multiple different authors will work on the same character over the course of years, even decades, is consistency of character and creating lasting change in them.
Unlike Peter Parker, who has admittedly moved on considerably since his introduction as a teen milquetoast but has nonetheless fallen prey to retcons, re-imaginings and really bad story arcs up the wazoo, Miles has benefited from his core solo book being almost entirely with the Bendis/Pichelli/David Marquez creative team. Not only have readers watched him grow and change over time, he’s done so with consistency and not without consequences which stick.
5. A SINGLE VISUAL STYLE
Besides the consistency in character, the solid stalwart creative team behind the Miles Morales “Spider-Man” books has also resulted in a consistency of visual style. In the early days of Peter Parker, the art was one of the real strengths, even above the classic plots of Stan Lee. Steve Ditko’s still-unusual style was tamed a little when John Romita, Sr. came on board, but there was a continuity in the look of “The Amazing Spider-Man” throughout the ‘60s which made for a clear, definable signature.
In the age of rotating creative teams and fill-in artists, that kind of consistency is a rare thing. Peter’s certainly not been with such a steady pair of hands since, perhaps, John Romita, Jr. followed in his father’s footsteps during the ‘90s or Mark Bagley on the original “Ultimate Spider-Man.” Nearly all of Miles’s appearances in his own series have been drawn by Sara Pichelli and David Marquez, however, who each bring a bold line and cartoonish, manga-influenced energy to the character.
4. THE SUPPORTING CAST
One of Peter Parker’s great strengths as a character was always his supporting cast. Outside of the tights, he had plenty of interpersonal drama to contend with between his extended family, colleagues and romantic interests. Back on patrol, he also had a varied and well-defined collection of loved ones for whom maintaining a secret identity and keeping them safe was paramount. In recent years, between “Brand New Day” and other continuity finagling, that’s fallen by the wayside.
Aunt May has passed away and been resurrected more times than Superman, most of his pals have moved on, and nobody’s really stepped in to fill that gap. Miles, meanwhile, has been party to plenty of teen crushes, has had to reckon with not only his own fraught familial situation but also that of Peter, and has to balance his superheroics with attending a private school for the gifted. Best of all, though, is Ganke: his LEGO-obsessed best friend and confidant, an endearingly dorky rock to lean on that readers also can’t help loving.
3. NO CONTINUITY BAGGAGE
For new readers, getting into comic book series that have decades of history can be intimidating. No matter the amount of recap pages, helpful captions or so-called “jumping on points,” there’s always going to be an unspoken baggage of continuity underlying the modern-day issues they pick up, which, at best, make old enemies feel less stale to new eyes and at worse render plot twists, cliffhangers or entire storylines completely incomprehensible without knowledge of prior arcs involving these characters.
Spider-Man has a particularly cluttered biography, between the “Clone Saga,” “Spider-Verse” and the history-altering “Brand New Day.” Those coming from other Spidey media expecting more fun stories of a webhead fighting bad guys and maybe tussling with other animal-themed villains might leave disappointed. That is, unless they pick up a Miles Morales book, which despite their own origin in universe-rupturing crossover events are about as accessible as a modern Big Two superhero series gets, lacking that excessive amount of history and backstory.
2. HE’S STILL A TEENAGER
The debate over whether or not to allow comic book characters to age will never be done. On the one hand, you have the example of “The Simpsons,” where Bart Simpson has been a rabble-rousing 10-year-old for over 20 years and likely always will be there. On the other is John Constantine who, in the original “Hellblazer” run, aged in real time. Most superhero books land somewhere in the middle, with the de-aging properties of reboots and relaunches accepted into the fold. It can be difficult removing a character from the original age, however.
Spider-Man is a character whose entire existence is rooted in teenage angst and the drama of high school. Removing Peter Parker from that made sense at a certain point, but after he graduated college, creators have floundered to find something for adult Peter to do, cycling through freelance photojournalist to scientist to CEO to public school teacher. Miles remains a 14-year-old high schooler, that rich vein far from fully tapped at this point. For fans craving the classic high school Spidey experience, look no further than Miles Morales to deliver the hormone-fueled goods.
1. HE STILL HAS A LOT TO LEARN
Miles Morales is still relatively green. He’s been receiving a helping hand from an Avenger here, another Spidey-adjacent hero there, but the fact is he’s a kid. A kid of better-than-average intelligence and the proportionate strength and agility of a spider, but a kid nonetheless. There’s still an almost infinite amount of scope for him to learn and grow, and also for him to completely mess up in the way rookies do, all of which make for interesting stories and a clear character progression in the years to come.
Peter Parker, comparatively, is spinning his wheels. He’s done everything, beaten everyone, self-actualized several times over as a spider-god, the literal center of the multiverse in “Spider-Verse,” and now as an international industrialist. At this point, writers have to keep applying new gimmicks to the original Spidey to make him interesting, and though the results have sometimes been magnificent — thanks to Dan Slott, J. Michael Straczynski and their innumerable collaborators — it feels like arranging deck chairs on the Titanic. With Miles, the fascination and entertainment comes naturally.
Do you think Miles is the Ultimate Spider-Man? Tell us why or why not in the comments!