Comics in Marvel's Ultimate line tread a very strange line: write too differently, people turn off and ignore it, write too much like the main universe, people turn off and ignore it. Robert Kirkman’s Ultimate X-Men run is a prime example of writing to similarly, which kind of just exploded events from the eighties and nineties into incoherence. Jeph Loeb's Ultimatum event, with all the cannibalism and general stupidity, went way too far the other way. The whole line is consciously anxious about being the same as its roots and very rarely is this line actually tread well.
Ultimate Spider-Man has been around long enough to run into its own repetition, and writer Brian Michael Bendis did something drastic, appearing to write very differently down to the protagonist. By killing off Peter Parker in favour of Miles Morales, a character who is younger, fairly different, and never seen before, Bendis seemed to go really far into the 'differently' side. Of course, it didn’t really, and much of my previous laments about this supposedly new status quo are how much the series regurgitates the familiar. Different, but completely the same, until now. Ultimate Spider-Man #23 has leaped a year forward, a year where Miles and his father have grieved the loss of Miles' mom and hung up the Spider-Man threads. And with this new normal, as it were, Bendis has brought the series into even more familiar territory rather than, as so many people are saying, taking things in a new direction. Miles is closer to Peter’s age now, he’s got his “Uncle Ben” moment, and he seems to be in line for some better teen drama that a thirteen year-old couldn’t really handle. Oh, and the original supporting cast is coming back even more, especially Peter Parker’s leading ladies of Mary-Jane Watson and Gwen Stacey.
Thing is, I am not complaining. I love those old characters and was sad to see them leave. Perhaps now, with this more streamlined and familiar narrative, the series can maybe be a bit less covert about its self-plagiarism and more focused on moving into legitimately new spaces. Miles is, after all, a much different character after this year hiatus: and his social network, from his father to his new girlfriend to the ever loyal, Lego-loving Ganke, have all dramatically changed. Maybe, by owning up to how things have changed into the same sort of thing, Bendis can stop replicating and make more issues like this one, with a story that's funny for being so dark, that explors complex relationships, not only between characters united in tragedy, but between people and the systems they are forced into. Peter Parker always tread the line of becoming a gun-for-hire for S.H.I.E.L.D, but now Jessica Drew is making things even more difficult for Miles, who already owes the agency a debt, a story I'm excited to watch unfold. These past 22 issues have proven a very necessary breeding ground for a status quo that, while being very much like the old, still has something beautiful to explore.
Art-wise, Sarah Pichelli is obviously missed, being one of the most talented artists Marvel Comics has managed to hold onto in these past few years, but David Marquez’s style and energy are giving Pichelli a run for her money. Marquez has taken great care to make these characters age well, Miles is lanky and awkward like only boys at that stage can be, Ganke too, and Marquez's designs for the others are immediately familiar while recognizing that things aren’t quite the same. There are few actions sequences here in this issue, but the page of Miles running up the building while going invisible makes full use of a variety of mediums for something at once otherworldly and almost mundane, both strange and familiar, which is the series in general at this point.
Grade: 9/10 The old looks a lot the new, but this book is gorgeous, jump on for a ride!
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