The arrival of Miles Morales: Spider-Man #1 is very, very well timed. For starters, Miles’ star is about to ascend higher than ever before thanks to the new Into the Spider-Verse movie, so having a comic starring the character with a giant #1 on the front is a smart move. Aside from the colorful superheroics on display, though, there’s the tease of a political undercurrent that promises to become ever more important as this opening arc progresses.
Straight off the bat, you should know -- this is a masterful Spider-Man script from Saladin Ahmed. The art, which we’ll get to, is also superb, but this issue is both a textbook example of how to launch a new Spider-Man title and a reenergized introduction to the character of Miles Morales. It’s everything that a fan could possibly want, and further reiterates the point that Miles as a character is able to provide those classic Spider-Man feels in a way that Peter Parker just can’t anymore.
All the boxes are ticked: Dynamic opening splash of our hero swinging through the city. The establishment of power versus responsibility. The hectic work/life balance of a high school student. The introduction of an engaging and diverse supporting cast. The appearance of a classic villain that gives way to a new emerging threat. It’s all here -- but this isn’t merely a by-the-numbers book. Ahmed merely uses those well-established tropes as a jumping-off point. They’re the rooftop from which the book first jumps, before really getting into the swing of things.
For a relatively short-lived character, Miles Morales has already built up quite a complex backstory. Jumping across from the Ultimate Universe (which is a fairly irrelevant fact now, all things considered), he’s already surrounded by friends who know his secret, family who are actually supervillains, and much more. As all good first issues do, though, Spider-Man #1 recaps all of this over a few pages, finding an in-story way of presenting it naturally. After that, we’re off to the races. Ahmed smartly focuses primarily on Miles and his personal life, slotting his role as Spider-Man in as just one more plate for the young hero to spin. This is how it should be. Spider-Man will always be a book about trying to find that balance, but the book itself always works best when we see more of the man and less of the Spider-Man.
Artistically, Garron is a natural. It’s deceptively difficult to produce a good Spider-Man comic, but Garron captures the dynamism and the energy with apparent ease. As Miles contorts and twists his form through every swing, the city is forever there in the background, both of which are vital components of any good Spider-Man scene. The book opens up to a couple of full splash pages throughout, most notably of which is the introduction of a classic villain that shows them on a scale that illustrates just how imposing and scary they really are. Similarly, David Curiel’s colors are vibrant and atmospheric, and even the night sky in a few panels is alive with color.
As Miles swings through the issue, there’s a page which stands out more than any other. As his narration is tied to him writing in a journal, Miles opens up about his greatest vulnerabilities. He talks about how he’s confused about his school, his feelings for the girl he likes, and about the world around him. The art could show literally anything to emphasize these words, but Ahmed and artist Javier Garron choose to depict a long line of people, waiting outside a storefront that simply says “Warm Meals.”
As Miles looks on from above, he makes eye contact with a young girl, cold and upset and waiting for food. “I’ve never been more confused about my responsibility,” says Miles. There’s always a risk when choosing to touch on real, current political and socio-economic problems in superhero fiction. Firstly, it can sometimes be insensitive or a little clumsy, but mostly it’s hard to move forward with a fun story about a brightly costumed superhero thwarting a brightly costumed villain’s bank robbery when they could be doing something about homelessness or racism instead.
Here, though, Ahmed and Garron not only begins a dialogue about the very real problem of poverty in America, they depict the central hero confronting that conflict within himself. As the issue progresses and we move towards the cliffhanger, we see that the problem isn’t just a throwaway page, either; it’s a moment that's going to be involved directly in the plot moving forward. There are still superheroes and supervillains (a rather recognizable one at that), but it’s clear Ahmed and Garron are aiming for something more meaningful with their work, shining a light on reality, but through a brightly colored lense.
Any good debut issue of Spider-Man is about balance. Power and responsibility, good versus bad, high school versus swinging through the city. Much like Miles himself, Ahmed and Garron had to balance things within this issue perfectly. Exposition versus plot, the expectations of longtime readers versus new, and most importantly, the reality versus the fiction. Not only does this book succeed on all counts, but by choosing to subtly introduce real political issues into the problems that Spider-Man faces, the creative team has elevated this debut issue from great to important.