Spider-Man has had a tumultuous history, especially when it comes to his adaptations. He’s been Arachne’s pet project in the ill-fated Spider-Man Turn Off the Dark, a genetically-altered skateboarder/science experiment in The Amazing Spider-Man films, a wisecracking fourth wall breaker in Disney XD’s animated Ultimate Spider-Man, and he was, uhm, something in whatever Toei’s live-action show with the robot was.
But almost none of these non-comic book incarnations fully capture exactly who Spider-Man is. That didn’t truly happen until Captain America: Civil War. Finally, we saw a wisecracking Spider-Man who was just the right mix of annoying and clever, his powers and skills the right match for his youth and abilities, and a Peter who was the perfect combination of nerdish weakling and genius hero. Finally, we saw Spider-Man, in the flesh.
Now, all we need to do is see him die.
But before we dive fully into that, let’s look at where we stand with Tom Holland in the hero’s tights. With Spider-Man: Homecoming, it looks like Spidey’s going to get an adaptation that does right by him. It’s the first Spider-Man film to take place in the Marvel Universe, where he can aspire to join the Avengers and fight the Kingpin (hey, we can dream, can’t we?) in a story that’s just as integral to the Marvel Universe as Spidey’s adventures are in the comics. It’s interesting, then, that it seems to be doing so by taking its cues — tone, story, villain, characters — from one of the best comics he’s ever appeared in: Ultimate Spider-Man.
For those who don’t know, the Ultimate Universe was a new version of the mainstream Marvel Universe, featuring newer, different versions of the older characters — basically a reboot, if you will, of the entire Marvel Universe, but one that was launched alongside the existing MU rather than writing over it. Some of the stories were met with cheers (The Ultimates is still beloved by many) and others with dead silence or anger (Ultimatum remains possibly the worst received comic Marvel has released in decades). The one character that lasted through the ups and downs, the changes of the Marvel Universe, was Spider-Man. A large part of that was due to the fact that while the other characters creative teams were changing — sometimes every six issues or so — Spider-Man’s team remained together for the majority of the entire run.
No matter your opinion on the entire Ultimate line, it’s hard to deny that Ultimate Spider-Man is a success, thanks in large part to having one of the longest-lasting creative visions of all time. The team of Brian Michael Bendis and Mark Bagley worked together on the comic for over a hundred issues, longer than even Stan Lee wrote with the character. After a while, Bagley left and other artists stepped in, including Stuart Immomen and Sarah Pichelli, the latter of whom worked with Bendis to co-create the half-black, half-Hispanic character Miles Morales, aka Spider-Man.
Yes, Ultimate Spider-Man is where Miles Morales (current star of Marvel’s adjective less Spider-Man series) comes from. He’s now part of the main Marvel Universe thanks to the reality-warping conclusion of Marvel’s Secret Wars event, but he came entirely from the Ultimate Universe. Though he now works alongside Marvel’s classic heroes, his story still doesn’t work without him having first existed in the Ultimate Universe. In fact, his entire origin is inextricably linked to events that only occurred in the Ultimate Universe.
Such as the death of Peter Parker.
One of the most shocking events to take place in the Ultimate Universe’s when Bendis and Bagley killed Peter, fans were shocked. Despite being an alternate incarnation of the original Peter, the Ultimate version had struck a chord with readers, and what could have felt like a shameless gimmick was instead a story that had a true emotional impact on fans. It being a “permanent” death also opened the door for the truly revolutionary concept of placing someone else under the Spider-Man mask – permanently.
Shortly after Peter Parker’s death, Miles Morales arrived on the scene to carry on the deceased hero’s legacy. Controversial at first, readers quickly accepted Miles as Spidey, and even as the Ultimate Universe’s once bright light began to wane, Miles’ series — Ultimate Comics: Spider-Man — continued to hold fans’ attention.
This series was focused on Miles attempting to live up to Peter Parker’s reputation. He stumbled through his life, accidentally letting his best friend in on his secret, getting new tech from an older hero, and dealing with life as an unsure teen with powers in a world filled with heroes.
If that sounds familiar, it’s because it’s basically the plot of Homecoming.
The movie seems to be an odd mix of Peter’ plots — his younger aunt and their relationship, new and cool versions of older villains, his trouble with girls, his desire to be in the Avengers — with Miles’ world — the school, the best friend who finds his secret, the updated New York, the apartment life, the struggle to live up to almost impossible ideal of what it means to be a hero.
His Ultimate Spider-Man tenure wasn’t long, but Miles was a remarkably good character, holding up the legacy of what was the single most important series of the entire Ultimate Universe. Innfact, it was quietly one of the most important series Marvel’s published in the last two decades.
Aside from being the most reliably readable Ultimate title, it essentially created the Ultimate Marvel Universe, which is what the films we know and love have largely based their specific characters on, as have the various Disney XD animated series. And while it’s not yet been released, from everything we’ve seen of Homecoming, Ultimate Spider-Men’s Peter Parker is finally set to arrive in the MCU.
Who knows? All we know is that we really really want Miles Morales to end up swinging in the MCU. Hey, if Homecoming is going to rip so much from his comic, might as well take him as well. In fact, let’s be blunt, the only big thing that seems to seperate Miles’ tale from Homecoming is that Peter is alive in it.
Superhero movies are full of white male heroes, and while Tom Holland is perfect as Peter Parker, it’s time to give young audiences a mixed-race teenager, someone who, like them, is just trying to find his way through life. If you want the Homecoming series to be the best Spidey series, the path is clear: By the end of Holland’s contract, truly and fully embrace the Ultimate Universe and kill Peter Parker.
If you want to show the hero that Peter is and always has been, if you want to show the meaning of great responsibility, you need to show him fall and another hero rise. If you want Homecoming to be the first chapter of the perfect adaptation of the best Ultimate Spider-Man had to offer, then all we need is the death of one hero
And the rise of another.
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