The continuity of Marvel’s Ultimate universe spin-off is tight, well-written and easy to follow. Any character can die and, unlike the characters of the main Marvel comics, they stay dead. One of the most notable victims of the Ultimate comics’ ruthlessness is none other than Spider-Man himself, Peter Parker.
After Parker’s death, the mantle of Spider-Man was taken up by a 13-year old successor with an alliterative name of his own, Miles Morales, in the relaunched monthly title “Ultimate Comics Spider-Man.”
Morales made news in the summer of 2011 by: 1. being the new Spider-Man, and 2. being half-black, half-Latino. I don’t feel the need to discuss his race at any length; even though the race change sparked controversy, it’s hardly even mentioned in the comics. Race issues aside, Morales is brilliantly suited to being the new Ultimate Spider-Man.
Surprisingly enough, Morales’ origin story didn’t feel contrived, or even implausible (by comic standards, at least). Norman Osborn correctly deduces that the spider that gave Peter Parker his powers was created in Oscorp’s laboratory, and he sets to work to recreate such a spider for himself, but wouldn’t you know, one of the genetically modified spiders gets stolen with some other sci-fi research by a supercriminal called the Prowler. As fate would have it, the Prowler’s nephew, Miles Morales, happens to get bitten by the spider and is bestowed with his own set of spider superpowers.
In addition to the classic strength, speed, wall-crawling, spider sense and, more recently, web shooters, writer Brian Michael Bendis has given Miles a couple of new powers. One is a camouflage ability that allows Morales (and his clothes, for some reason) to blend into his background and become invisible. The other is an electrically charged “venom strike” that subdues most humans and tends to serve well as a plot device.
The new powers help Morales out of tight spots, but his youth, inexperience and comparative lack of super strength make sure that he never feels invincible or out of danger. On the contrary, every time he runs into a villain, I cringe and think he’s about to get himself seriously injured or worse, because the kid barely knows how his powers work and is clearly making it up as he goes.
It’s also worth mentioning that Morales is succeeding a superhero who died in action and showed us that even important superheroes in commercially successful titles can die in the field. Thanks to Morales’ inexperience and reminders of his mortality, the fights in “Ultimate Comics Spider-Man” are probably the most convincingly suspenseful of any comic I’ve ever read. Every time Morales lives through a fight, I heave a sigh of relief.
More importantly, Morales is interesting as a character. In the 160-issue run of the original “Ultimate Spider-Man,” Bendis’ writing always kept Peter Parker’s personal life interesting with girl troubles, school troubles and an onslaught of bad press for his alter-ego.
Morales has a similarly tense relationship with the newspapers of NYC and his own attempt at maintaining a normal life, but it’s hard to extract good romance drama from a middle schooler. Instead, his colorful family life in the rough part of Brooklyn more than fills the gap.
Morales’ Uncle Aaron, as previously mentioned, is a supervillain, and his own father is a superhero-hating ex-criminal looking to better the lives of his family. Much like Peter Parker, Miles Morales has the classic Spider-Man guilt complex that drives him to protect his loved ones through self-sacrifice and the kind of bravery that gets him into trouble.
The stories recognize the fact that Morales is taking up a well-established mantle from someone else, but he still carves his own path as a hero. Miles’ new costume is a perfect metaphor: The black suit with red webbing is instantly recognizable as Spider-Man, but a variation on the theme.
Brian Hampel is a senior in architecture. Please send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.