Spider-Man 1

Alternating Currents: Spider-Man 1, Ryan and Drew

Today, Ryan M. and Drew are discussing Spider-Man 1, originally released February 3rd, 2016.

Ryan: The danger of starting your story with a climactic image and then jumping back in time is that it can displace interest. At best, it builds anticipation. At worst, it feels like a bait and switch. It’s like when a friend starts a story with “Did I ever tell you about the time I made out with a mime in Vegas?” and then proceeds to tell you details about how she booked her hotel room. By getting me too invested in the end of the story, you’ve diminished my interest in the preamble. At that point, I’m just listening for mime specifics that indicate we’re getting to the good stuff.

Spider-Man 1 doesn’t have any mime makeouts, but the issue opens with a striking image of the Avengers fallen at the feet of a big ugly Demon and a diminutive Spider-Man building his courage to face him alone. Then, we go back several hours to spend seemingly endless morning with Miles at school as he deals with all of the ways he is disappointing the people in his life. The girl he stood up for a date won’t even let him finish his lame excuse before she stalks off, his mom is on him about his grades, he hasn’t done the reading for class and even his best friend is dismayed with his choice in girls. Just when it seems like Miles can’t do anything right, he hears sirens in the distance and dons his Spider-Man suit. Instantly, the narrative has a verve and excitement that was missing in the school interlude. Writer Brian Michael Bendis and Artist Sarah Pichelli turn the mullish teen into a dynamic and funny figure who saves buses full of kids and bravely faces down Blackheart. As Spider-Man, Miles becomes the kind of kid you want to read a series about.

Miles is so passive in his real life, that the narrative is bogged down. It’s a weird dichotomy, because the things that make him a less than engaging protagonist are also the elements that make him feel like a real teenager. There is an opacity of intention. What does Miles the high schooler want? The only desire he expresses is that he wanted to make out with Julie. While this is understandable (the girl rocks suspenders like a boss), it doesn’t really offer any insight to his character. Miles doesn’t really do anything in this sequence. He is completely reactive, and getting more and more visibly strained by the waves of let-down women who let Miles know he has failed them. The only real levity Bendis and Pichelli offer during the school day are brief playful panels interspersed with people asking Miles what he was up to in lieu of his responsibilities.

daydream

Pichelli does an excellent job contrasting the internal image of a proud Spider-man with a puffed-out chest and open body language with the real Miles. The sadness and isolation of Miles in the second panel above is visceral. The images switch abruptly from the cartoonish style of the first panel to the realism of the classroom. We have a trio of swooning girls with literal hearts in the their eyes in his mind, while in reality, every woman he knows is angry with him. Aside from his school life and his daydream, we get to see a third reality for Miles once he hears the sound of an alarm.

splash

The transition is handled with a spread that takes us from the classroom to the city streets. On the left side above, Miles speaks in single words. It isn’t until we see see his thoughts in red that he expresses anything complex. He is in hero mode and it seems to turn him into a much more observant, engaged individual. Most of the panels are separated with the sound of the alarm but once Spider-Man gets to the fire truck, the sound quiets. As he tells himself to focus and starts to rally his confidence, his body language and that moment of stillness helps build our confidence in him.

hero

Miles’ grace and instinctive fluidity in the suit further draw a contrast with his more passive “real” life. As Spider-Man, he doesn’t fumble with how to respond, he takes action without any angst or second-guessing. In one of my favorite moments in the issue, Miles catches a glimpse of Cap’s shield lying on the battlefield, he no sooner asks himself if he should than he takes the shield. His lack of hesitancy speaks to a much different boy than the one we see moving through his school life like a victim of circumstance. Even in the face a bunch of fallen Avengers, there is joy in Miles when he attacks and defeats Blackheart. It’s almost a shame that the issue ends with someone else looking at him with disappointment.

Drew, what did you think of the issue? Was pacing as much of an issue for your or were you more engaged by Miles’ school day? Given Miles’ efficiency and success at defeating the threat, how quickly will Senior Spider-Man’s lecture run out of steam? Also, how hard do you think it is to clean spider goo off a shield?

Drew: If it’s anything like walking face-first through a strand of spider silk, it will never come off.

Ryan, I think your assessment of this issue’s pacing is spot-on; Miles is an absolute joy in costume, but a passive chump in his civvies. Those high school scenes stop the story cold, opting for the broadest strokes of Miles’ life, but, as you point out, they all end up hitting the same notes: he disappoints the women in his life because of his Spider-Man responsibilities. I think there might be some fun autobiographical subtext here — Miles’ responsibilities standing in for Bendis’ prolific writing output — but making that point three times in a row is overkill.

I understand the desire to get us up to speed on all corners of Miles’ non-costumed life — romance, friendship, family, and school — but all of these scenes contribute to the same portrait of a passive, almost listless teen. Introducing four different relationships is a great way to show four different sides of the character (though might be ambitious for one issue), giving us a sense of his emotional range, but that’s an opportunity Bendis completely misses. Instead, Miles’ penchant for disappointing everyone in his life is drilled into us, begging the obvious question of why anyone has high expectations of him in the first place — this is apparently his resting state, not the result of any new, unusual circumstance.

It’s tough — a passive, mild-mannered alter-ego is such a given in comics, we might take it for granted. For me, it emphasizes the fantasy nature of Miles’ costumed adventuring, such that a passive, mild-mannered reader might see it as their own escape. But, the hero can’t actually be passive and mild-mannered. We need to know that Superman would show this bully what’s what if he weren’t trying to maintain his cover. The tension between what the hero wants to do and what he has to do is essential to making those non-costumed adventures anything but boring. This issue lays no clear motives for Miles, which is odd, given Bendis’ engaging use of narration in the back half of the issue. Why not just have Miles tell us what he wants?

I don’t mean to advocate for “tell, don’t show,” but after eight pages of Bendis dialogue, we know more about what the world thinks about our hero than what he thinks about himself. Which I guess is getting at another diagnosis: this issue is too interested in its own banter to make way for actual storytelling. That’s a common refrain when discussing a Bendis book, but the strength of the issue with Miles’ narration actually makes the case for Bendis’ handle on Miles voice — he just needs to make room for it. Since so many of the scenes in this issue are largely articulating the same point, anyway, they could have easily been altered (or excised) to make room for explicating Miles’ interests and desires. As it is, the uneven distribution of narration leaves Miles’ non-costumed exploits decidedly lifeless.

I always struggle in assessing first issues, as introductions are necessarily incomplete (and often a little boring). Bendis manages to cram in a survey of all of Miles’ most important relationships –he even gets Peter in just under the wire — but the quantity of those introductions undermines their quality. It leaves a big hole in the center of this issue. It’s a hole that can (and, I’m cautiously optimistic, will) be filled as the series progresses, but as it is, this issue isn’t quite the introduction to Miles I was hoping it would be.

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11 comments on “Spider-Man 1

  1. Confession: At this point in time, in 2016, I would rather read a Miles Morales Spider-Man story than a Peter Parker Spider-Man story. That probably makes some sense looking at past years best-of lists: Ultimate has been ahead of Amazing for quite some time.

    This was a fine story and a fun story and it’s a little too pushy to me on “Hey, Avengers!” but that’s ok, I understand the need for cross promotion. My biggest problem is, “WHAT THE HELL HAPPENED TO GET MILES HERE?” I know Secret Wars 9 put Miles in the Universe, apparently with mom and dad, but what is the new history? What are his memories? What are this world’s memories of him? That would go very far in establishing Miles as a person, but his personhood is so messed up…

    And maybe that’s why he’s reactive – he just saved existence. Maybe coping with real life stuff deeper than wanting to kiss pretty girls and scrape by at classes and through life until he’s Spider-Man is enough.

    I think Bendis missed THAT part of it. It doesn’t connect for those that are new to Miles and Marvel, but it also doesn’t connect to those of us that have read every Miles comic.

  2. I’m not really sure that there is any comic like this one coming out of Secret Wars. Most books just continue from where they left off. Things like Old Man Logan, which actually do spin out of Secret Wars, are also done in the knowledge that eventually we are going to get rid of Old Man Logan, or he’ll fade into the background. That is to say, Old Man Logan has an expiration date.

    Miles doesn’t. Miles is here to stay (or at least being written with that idea in mind). Which explains this issue to me. Bendis wants to sell us on the idea that Miles can be a classical Spiderman in the Marvel Universe. And he does. This is the classical story of struggling with real life with the added responsibilities of Spiderman, and that no matter how awesome you are as a superhero, those responsibilities make Real Life more complex than it already is. Basically, Spiderman 101.

    Future issues, will go into what makes Miles, Miles, but I think the goal of this issue was to be the perfect encapsulation of Spiderman. And it was. This is a very well written version of that story, and Bendis proved to any doubters that despite the fact that this isn’t Peter Parker, you can tell a classical Marvel Universe Spiderman story with Miles. But now that it is done, the next step is to develop him in all the other ways.

    • I definitely think you’re right in that this issue was designed to be a kind of prototypical Spider-Man story, hitting all of the similarities between Miles and Peter, while also elucidating some of their differences, I just think it would be possible to do that without being so damn repetitive. I actually think all of the scenes in this issue were fine, we just didn’t need to see all of them. They all more-or-less make the same point: Spider-Man responsibilities get in the way of Miles’ life, and cause his teachers, family, and love interests to be let down. It’s classic Spider-Man stuff, but one of those would have been enough to get at that theme. Maybe two would be justifiable, but Miles getting chewed out by his mom for slacking grades and then, in the very next scene, getting chewed out by his teacher for the same reason, is just redundant. There was plenty of room in this issue to dig into what makes Miles tick, it was just frittered away on making the same point thrice over.

      • I think each of those scenes represented a different pillar of the classical Spiderman experience. Bendis was proving that Miles had girl troubles like Peter, had trouble with the parents just like Peter, and had trouble managing school just like Peter. I felt that broad look was part of the point. Each and every challenge you expect from a classic Peter Parker story is here (except money issues).

        I mean, there was an obvious point to dig into something distinctly Miles when Miles’ father took the phone. Miles’ father could have made mention about how he knows being Spiderman is hard, and established that nontraditional aspect of the dynamic, but I think Bendis’ goal was clearly to set up the classical stuff first, sell Miles’ ability to do the classical stuff, and once he has proven that Miles is a classical Spiderman, then look at the ways Miles is new.

        The fact that Miles disappoints a date, his mother and his teachers because he is Spiderman is all a similar point, but I think the point is that being Spiderman means Miles disappoints dates, parents and teachers. It isn’t so much about repeating a point as it is establishing the borders of the creative space that Bendis is going to use.

  3. I agree that it was a good Spider-Man story and that it was a bit redundant, but I could handle that. There is a huge gap (to me) in HOW DID THIS HAPPEN?

    I have a lot of questions about Miles place in the world. What does the world know about this Spider-Man? Is there only one Ganke? Is it Miles’ Ganke or the other guy and how does that fit in with the world mixing? What about that weird revelation in Spider-Men when Pete looked up Miles Morales on this earth?

    HOW DID THIS HAPPEN AND WHY SHOULD I PRETEND THIS IS NORMAL? is all my brain is screaming, and I mean even normal by comic standards. Maybe I should just sit back and shut up, but it felt like a pretty big cloud hanging over all this.

    To me.

    (Have you guys read Miles from day 1? That might temper some questions.

    • I think you are honestly really over-complicating it. The answer is simply ‘Molecule Man did it to thank miles for the sandwich’. I would honestly treat it as ‘After Secret Wars, the universe was exactly the same as it was before, except that Miles and all of his friends are now part of it’.

      Ganke, Bombshell, his parents are all the same people they were before Secret Wars, at least with respect to Miles. I think we’ll get an answer on how much anyone remembers the Ultimate Universe soon, and I think it is clear that Miles has the years experience he had in the Ultimate Universe even as he is ‘new’ on the scene in the Marvel Universe.

      But going into the exact particulars is an exercise in frustration. Basically, Molecule Man did it

      On SPidermen, who knows. From what I understand, Spidermen 2 never happened because they made the choice of Secret Wars, and decided instead to fold Miles in. I have heard Bendis describe this arc as Spidermen 2, and that may come up, but it also may end up as a forgotten sequel hook to a book that never happened

      • I don’t think the Molecule Man’s “gift” to Miles was folding him into the new Universe (he’s not the only Ultimate Marvel character to transition into this new Universe, as the Maker has proven); the Molecule Man’s “gift” was bringing Miles’ mother back to life. She was dead in the Ultimate Universe, and it’s notable that the first thing Peter asks Miles in the final issue of Secret Wars as they awaken on the New Earth — right after the Molecule Man thanks Miles for the sandwich — is “Did you call your mother yet?” She wasn’t just folded into this universe as Miles was; her death never happened at all, and that’s the Molecule Man’s doing, no doubt.

        I too am curious about what the characters remember about the Ultimate Universe. The Maker is implied to have some sort of vague memories of it, but I don’t get that impression with Miles.

        • I think Molecule Man’s gift was everything. The fact that Miles and his friends and family have a place in the new universe AND the fact that his mother is alive. If only so that the ending of Secret Wars makes sense to people who didn’t know that Miles’ mother was dead.

          My impression is that Miles and the Maker know about Secret Wars and the Ultimate Universe (the Maker certainly knows about the Ultimate Universe. I saw a page of New Avengers online somewhere that made it explicit), but other Ultimate Refugees don’t. They died, and when the Marvel Universe was recreated, they were massaged into the new universe in a way that preserved who they were while fitting them in. I don’t think they remember the Ultimate Universe, but i do think they have memories that are inconsistent with everyone’s else’s, largely on the topic of how long Miles has been Spiderman

      • One of the big things of Miles’ character was his being Spider-Man after Spider-Man died heroically. Of how he had to overcome society’s and Nick Fury’s and Captain America’s biases against him to prove he was a hero.

        So, what does society think of him? Who is he in this new incarnation? In all of Miles’ life, everyone has known him as the new Spider-Man, and a lot of them think he’s ok. What’s that status now? My impression is that I think he remembers all the stuff that happened, but what is his place in the Universe now that Spider-man didn’t die. How did he appear here? If he came into being as Spider-Man as a 14 year old or so, there was already a Spider-Man here, so what do people think about him?

        Until this stuff is answered, it’s really weird to me to see him running around as Spider-man.

        I get the Beyonder and Molecule Man stuff (as much as anyone gets it, since there was a ton of hand waving). But I don’t know what his current status is as far as people knowing who he is as Spider-Man, because everything that he’s done as Spider-Man didn’t happen in this universe.

        • Peter Parker dying is a key part of Miles’ origin, and that can still apply if he remembers it. Naturally, he no longer lives in a world that knows this, but all that means is he now lives in a world that doesn’t know that stuff. Which means the only important question is ‘What does Miles remember?’ Odds are, he remembers everything.

          Honestly, I really do think it is as simple as one day, Miles and company appeared in reality, and everyone just ‘remembered’ they were always here. Miles as Spiderman is new, but Miles as a student at his school is all of a sudden something that had always been there.

        • “Miles and company appeared in reality, and everyone just ‘remembered’ they were always here”

          So what is Ganke’s memory of Miles? There is a complete unwritten history right now, which is … well, a pretty huge retcon.

          And what does Miles remember? There has to be something. There’s a new history that really affected who Miles was that is now completely blank and to readers of Miles since day one, it’s pretty jarring.

          I found it curious it wasn’t addressed, that they really seemed to want to get in a big Spider-Man story and history/continuity be damned. I’ll still read, he’s way up on my list of favorite characters and Bendis has mostly done very well with Miles.

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