Written by Brian Michael Bendis
Art by Sara Pichelli, Gaetano Carlucci and Justin Ponsor
Lettering by Cory Petit
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10
Miles Morales' solo title in the mainstream Marvel universe makes its debut this week, and for better or for worse, it's back to basics in a big way. Spider-Man sets up all the exposition anyone might need to learn who Miles Morales is and what his place in Marvel's pantheon of heroes, but it's also a surprisingly no-frills kind of affair. New readers will still likely be charmed by this issue, however, even as veteran fans may rankle at this less-than-ambitious start.
Ultimately, the best compliment I can give Spider-Man is that it's definitely user-friendly - Bendis starts this book off with a solid hook, as Miles faces off alone against Blackheart, the son of Mephisto himself, before dropping us off into the quippy soap opera antics of Miles Morales, struggling high schooler. Diving into Miles' personal life is definitely the highlight of the book, and Bendis manages to keep the pacing running fast despite packing in his trademark David Mamet-style dialogue. For anyone who's ever read an issue of Spider-Man, Miles's major conflict - trying to balance schoolwork, relationships and parents alongside his superheroic extracurriculars - is definitely familiar... or as critics might think, perhaps too familiar.
For a writer as long-established as Bendis, it's understandable - perhaps even forgivable - for certain writing tics to creep into his work. But to me, when you have an issue that is filled with these tics, you better add something extra to make it worth the reader's time. There are a few fun moments here - Miles picking up Captain America's shield is a nice shorthand to show he's the new standard-bearer for the Marvel Universe - but much of Bendis's approach to Blackheart falls flat, such as the placeholder dialogue ("What did you do??!!" being a repeat Bendis-ism) and especially the easy, anticlimactic way that Miles gets the better of the interdimensional demigod.
Sara Pichelli's return, however, keeps this book looking fluid and kinetic. In some ways, she channels a bit of Steve McNiven, particularly with the lushly inked Blackheart, while other times she seems more of a cross between her Ultimate Spider-Man cohort David Marquez with a bit of the stiffer rendering of a Billy Tan. Pichelli's greatest strength has to be her expressionwork, which makes the soap opera of Miles' daily life feel that much more compelling (watching his face when his mother asks him if he's on drugs is a great comedy moment). Miles's black costume also works well for Pichelli, since she doesn't have to spend too much time on the nitty-gritty of Miles' costumed musculature, instead being able to focus on his acrobatic poses.
In some ways, this version of Spider-Man feels like a promise unfulfilled, especially with a creative team that we know is capable of so much more. Right now, this feels like decent work, and is as good an entree as any for people who are unfamiliar with Miles Morales as a character or a concept. It's not offensive - it's not even bad. But for anyone who has more than a passing familiarity with Bendis's work, you're going to see a lot of similarities to a lot of older comic books. Miles Morales has gotten a big promotion since the end of Secret Wars, and here's hoping this creative team soon takes the steps to earn it.