By Taylor Anderson
This article contains SPOILERS. If you haven’t read the issue yet, proceed at your own risk!
Spider-Man is an oddly political figure these days. When news leaked a couple years back that Sony required Spider-Man to always be white and straight, people were furious. Similarly, a different group of people were infuriated when it was learned that there would be an afro-latino Spider-Man represented by Miles Morales. Bearing this in mind, the meet up of old and new in Generations could be a chance to address these timely issues head-on, but sadly, it’s not.
It’s hard to exactly say what is missing from this issue, but it lacks the heart and meaning that many of the other Generations issues have been able to catch. While there’s a lot that goes into this — one of the things that hurts the issue is that there isn’t any definite sense of momentum. The issue opens with Miles dropped into Peter Parker’s past in college. From there, Miles and Peter meet on a couple of occasions and Miles visits his family home and sees himself as a kid. These events are meant to show the pain of growing up in both Peter and Miles’ life but one never gets that sense until the final pages of the issue when Miles realizes this for himself. Had the idea of personal pain and anguish been introduced better in the beginning of the issue, perhaps things would have had a better flow.
This ultimately makes the issue somewhat listless, but Ramon Perez’s art is the engine that keeps it humming along. Again, the idea being explored in this issue is personal anguish, and nothing captures that feeling more in this issue then when Perez draws Miles pondering his life while viewing New York from afar.
Miles’ anguish is that he’s in search of himself. For anyone one who has been young and lived in a big city, this scene probably looks familiar. Seeing a bright metropolis from afar has a way of making a person feel small yet full of wonder at the same time. When you’re young and trying to find your rudder in life, moments like this come to define you. Perez has captured that feeling and moment perfectly here, so even someone like me who hasn’t read that many Miles Morales issues understands exactly who he is.
While beautiful moments like this exist in the issue, it’s a shame the idea of personal anguish and pain wasn’t somehow mixed into the conversation about a society which currently finds itself similarly hurting. The divide in America right now is wide and a lot of what separates the country can be found in the different ways people react to Spider-Man news. Maybe that’s a tall order, but it feels like the chance to address some pressing issues has been lost.
The conversation doesn’t stop there. What do you wanna talk about from this issue?
Bendis got his start with books with a strong noir focus, and with Ultimate Spiderman, a book that leaned heavily on the real world of Spiderman. In fact, a big part of his dialogue is an attempt to reflect the way people really talk. I discussed this a bit in the Iron Man/Ironheart issue, where his realistic dialogue undercuts the grandeur of the story with misplaced babble (still my favourite Generations issue. And still the most interesting). But with this issue, I think the dialogue is just a symptom of a bigger feature of Bendis, one that really works against him.
Bendis is a genre writer in his blood. That is indisputable. But he is a writer who doesn’t just write ‘realistic dialogue’, he writes realistic responses. His aesthetic is realism. Which means that there are limits to his use of genre. Noir, espionage, YA are perfectly suited for him. But is it a surprise that he failed so badly with Guardians of the Galaxy, and similar books? Books where the concepts are so insane, so pushing boundaries, that a focus on realism gets in the way. Is it a surprise that his only event that actually works is Civil War II, which is essentially an anti event where the whole point is that literally everything you expect from an event is slowly stripped away to reveal a story about two characters ‘realistic’ nervous breakdown to the death of a loved one. That the only cosmic level story I can remember Bendis pulling off was told from the perspective of a pair of Chicago detectives who, despite their extraordinary natures, are infintessimaly small compared to what they face.
Which is to say, Bendis is not the right person to write a time travel story. Or at the very least, write this sort of time travel story. He could probably write good Doctor Who, though it would be heavily influenced on the companion’s shock at the new circumstances. But to tell a story where time travel is just the means to justify the premise goes completely against what Bendis is. He can’t write the ‘Just go along with it’ that every other Generations issue (even the bad ones) uses to focus on the important stuff. Bendis is fundamentally incapable to write a character that just accepts they were sent through time. The Iron Man/Ironheart issue may be the best issue of Generations, it it was also an issue all about culture shock. This issue isn’t, which really screws it over.
Basically, the Miles stuff is a disaster. Even the beautiful scene of him first meeting Ganke doesn’t change the fact that Miles is, essentially, aimlessly wandering all issue. His responses to time travel make logical sense, but create no dramatic arc. His arc is a disaster, even if individual moments work.
Which is a shame, as the Peter Parker stuff is truly perfect. The original Spiderman issues were Watchmen before Watchmen. A powerful deconstruction of superheroes. A story where becoming a superhero didn’t make life easy or get you into romantic comedy hijinks with Lois Lane, but made every aspect of your life even harder to deal with. And Bendis embraces the true pain of those early days.
This Peter is a man that has been beaten down so much, he isn’t even a nice person. He lashes out so viciously to Miles bumping into him, because he is so used to being the victim he can’t imagine a world where he isn’t and treats everyone like his worst enemy. A man constantly grappling with his helplessness in life, whether it is declaring a major or Aunt May. A man that is fundamentally broken, walking through life unable to win. Just failing and failing again. To me, my favourite page was seeing the iconic image of Peter climbing up to a rooftop, wonderfully depicted in a retromodern way, only to, instead of becoming Spiderman, sit on a roof and cry.
Maybe this is because I am watching Bojack Horseman for the first time, but if Bendis revealed that during these events, Peter was suffering depression, I’d buy it. Regardless of the exact specifics of Peter’s mental health, though, Peter is depicted as hurt and broken to such an astonishing length, that those early issues of Spiderman become revolutionary again. It feels so raw, whether it is his biting comments to Miles, his rooftop cry or just falling asleep, almost pathetically, at the end. Finally getting a win, but not even meaningfully changing the fundamental problems.
Such a powerful, intense portrait of Peter. So amazing, that I wish more books could write Peter like this. Spiderman has always been a story about how being a superhero is hard, and Bendis reminds us just how hard it used to be. Just how impossible. Honestly, if someone could use this sort of Peter Parker for a run, I think it would create an all time classic (a second all time classic. Let’s not forget that this is the original Peter). I can’t understate how much I love this depiction of Peter.
Which is why Miles’ lack of dramatic arc for realism so ruins this book. If Miles had a story that honestly got to confront this, that would be amazing. But the Miles stuff is so directionless, so lacking in function that we have an issue that horrifically stumbles and loses everything. A story where Miles understands just how hard things were for Peter could have been amazing. Instead, we have half of the best Peter Parker story in recent memory and half the worst Miles story.