What's better than Spider-Man? Two Spider-Mans! Or in the case of Brian Michael Bendis and Sara Pichelli's latest project, Spider-Men (first issue out June 13). But while this book looks gorgeous, this opening issue still isn't quite as spry as you might expect, as the story is hampered by some fairly substantial decompression.
That said, for those who have somehow missed Bendis's decade-long association with Peter Parker — say, if you've skipped Avengers, New Avengers, or even Ultimate Spider-Man to a lesser degree — this issue will serve as a fine introduction for the character. Bendis strings together a surprising amount of action for this book, weaving through monologues and crime-fighting with gusto. But it's when Peter winds up seeing the Ultimate Universe that things start to look different: Considering the Ultimate Peter Parker died at the hands of the Green Goblin, it's interesting to see how "our" Peter might react to that very public news.
The highlight for this book, while not perfect, is Sara Pichelli's artwork. Her take on Peter Parker is very different than the way she's drawn Miles Morales in the past — Peter's a little bit bulkier, in that John Romita Sr. style, and when she and colorist Justin Ponsor are in sync, she reminds me a little bit of Stefano Caselli, with some very fluid linework for a very fluid character. The opening image of Spider-Man swinging over New York City is a great first impression, and even the little bits of body language Peter shows displays an awkwardness that fits with the character. That said, there are a few hiccups to Pichelli's inking, which occasionally makes some characters — particularly their faces — look scratchy, almost in a Billy Tan vibe.
But the real downside to this issue is the pacing and the plot. You'll notice I didn't mention much about Miles Morales, the new Ultimate Spider-Man, and there's a reason for that. This is a very utilitarian first chapter, basically assigned just to get one character from Point A to Point B — and considering this is a two-character story, that's going to leave some people feeling a little empty-handed. As I said earlier, Bendis on Peter Parker isn't anything new, and an issue of monologuing isn't the main draw of this book. The team-up is what matters, and because Bendis eats up several pages with Peter's chattiness, that team-up doesn't really get its just dues in the opening issue.
Considering how many comics are out there on the stands today, that's a hurdle that may be difficult for Spider-fans to overcome. I have no doubt that Spider-Men will read great as a collection, but as an individual issue — or even as an opening hook to draw in readers — I feel that the character focus for this issue was a bit of a misstep. If the art didn't look great, and the voice didn't ring true, Spider-Men would be squashed already. But even now, it's a little disappointing that the crossover to shake two worlds still feels a little bit business-as-usual.