When “Ultimate Spider-Man” first launched more than a decade ago, the opening issue left readers confused. It heralded the arrival of what would later be called “decompressed” storytelling, preferring deliberate, dialogue- and mood-heavy scenes over the abbreviated, distilled style of the years that preceded it. The result was a first issue of a series that, utterly against expectation, didn’t feature Spider-Man at all, mostly the still-powerless Peter Parker, and only touched on the moments beyond the fateful spider-bite.
If the relaunched “Ultimate Comics Spider-Man” is anything to go by, then Bendis and company have decided not to mess with a successful formula. Those hoping to see more of Miles Morales, following the character’s first in-costume appearance in “Ultimate Fallout” #4, will not be disappointed. Those hoping to see more of Morales as Spider-Man, though, are in for a slightly longer wait.
But enough about what isn’t in the book, because there’s a lot that is. For a start, we’re introduced to the three adults who will presumably make up the principle members of Morales’ supporting cast — though the spectre of Uncle Ben quickly looms large (metaphorically) over one of them in particular. We see a character who could be Morales’ first villain (or possibly his mentor) — a newly-ultimatized version of an existing Spider-Man character who debuted during the Lee/Buscema years. We also see the first power Morales discovers, a power that Peter Parker never possessed.
Speaking of Parker, one thing that will surely upset some readers is the character’s lack of presence in this book. It’s understandable why, given both the chronology of events and, philosophically-speaking, the need for Morales to stand on his own feet as a character — but Bendis’ assurances that Parker would be a factor in Morales’ origin may lead fans to expect him to appear. He doesn’t. At least, not yet.
In many ways, “not yet” is the main criticism that you can apply to “Ultimate Comics Spider-Man” #1. It’s a strong start, but even with Bendis’ dialogue-heavy interactions and trademark slow pace, it’s all over far, far too quickly. A double-sized issue would have been fantastic. Admittedly, “I wanted to keep reading” is hardly the harshest criticism a book can face, but it feels like the engine’s just warming up when it cuts out entirely, and that’s sure to negatively impact readers’ perception of the issue.
At least it’s a technically strong book. Bendis’ writing is as at home on this title as it’s ever been, while Pichelli’s artwork represents her strongest effort to date. It seems as though her star has risen quickly, and yet she’s never failed to meet the challenges, fully justifying Marvel’s decision to put her on what is likely to be the most widely-read Marvel title of the year. Her strengths — body language, fashion and location work — make her at once a perfect collaborator for Bendis and well-suited for a book like “Ultimate Comics Spider-Man,” which needs to look grounded, youthful and relatable.
In a month when readers have been prompted to think about the craft of the first issue (courtesy of DC Comics) “Ultimate Comics Spider-Man” #1 makes it look easy, striking a strong balance between showing what readers need to know and teasing what might come later. Most importantly, what the issue lacks in costumed antics, it makes up for with character. It’s only the second time we’ve seen Miles Morales on the page, but already we’re starting to see how his background and outlook differ from Peter Parker’s. It suggests that we’re going to see a Spider-Man quite different than the one we’re used to — but at the same time, it’s still one who you’ll want to read about next issue. A very conventional start to the series, but in the Ultimate line in particular, that’s exactly what it should be.