An issue with many ups and downs, and an important ending that just didn’t click with me.
Miles Morales gave up being Spider-Man after his mother died in his arms, an understandable reaction from the teenaged hero. Blaming himself for her death isn’t right or fair, but I can certainly see how someone so young would want to leave such a dangerous lifestyle behind after a tragedy of that magnitude. However, now that it’s been more than a year, everyone else in his life is totally, unreasonably pissed off at him for not returning to the costume. Gwen Stacy, Ganke, and Spider-Woman each take a turn this issue trying to convince Miles that the world needs him to be Spider-Man. They are obnoxious about it, and not very convincing, yet in the end, inevitably, it works anyway. Brian Michael Bendis writes a two-page speech from Spider-Woman that, from my point of view, is really rather flimsy, but it works on Miles. It makes his decision to be Spider-Man again feel hollow and a little unearned, which is too bad, since it’s obviously a major plot point in the ongoing saga of Miles’ life.
Bendis’ script isn’t all bad. Even though Gwen was gratingly whiny and selfish, I liked the opening conversation between her and Aunt May. It displayed quite succinctly how Spider-Man means different things to different people, how even those who knew Peter Parker don’t agree on the necessity of Miles (or anyone) following in his footsteps. And I just liked the things May said. It’s always nice to have a voice of reason, especially when used to balance out another character’s temper tantrum (looking at you, Gwen). That scene slides naturally into Miles and girlfriend Katie Bishop having a drawn-out conversation in typical Bendis style about the fact that Miles and Ganke are fighting. It is a waste of four pages, because it leads directly to a flashback of the fight itself, making Miles and Katie’s chat largely meaningless. Then we see Ganke tell Miles a bunch of things that are totally true—it’s not Miles’ fault his mother died, he’s saved more people than he’s harmed, everyone believes in him, etc—but Ganke does it by arguing and even insulting Miles, which is exactly the wrong approach. Ganke’s a teenager, too, though, so his methods ring true for his age, but still…as much as I can see Ganke’s point, I also totally get why Miles would push back against such aggressive tactics.
Making all of these scenes a little stronger is David Marquez’s art. He’s so good at capturing the full spectrum of human emotion. Katie’s concerned curiosity, Miles’ frustration and fear, Ganke’s anger, Gwen’s pain, Aunt May’s thoughtful concern—Marquez nails it all in every panel. Bendis needs an artist who can do the subtle emotional work like this, because his scripts are so often full of long conversations, just like this one. Marquez elevates them, brings them to life without needing to do anything drastic or exaggerated. There is deep, raw feeling on the face of every character, and a lot gets said silently in these scenes, even though a lot also gets said out loud.
But where Marquez really takes off this issue is in the one scene without Miles, a flashback to Cloak and Dagger’s escape from Roxxon. Before the young pair gains control of their powers, they are beings of pure light and dark matter, Dagger’s body glowing and Cloak’s barely visible. The insane scientist who created them also reveals himself to be some kind of monster, almost goblin-esque, and the three of them have a brief but gorgeous battle before Cloak and Dagger flee. It is easily the most interesting and exciting part of the issue, primarily because of the work Marquez does. Without losing any of the detailed emotions of the rest of the issue, he also brings some awesome action to these pages. The characters move fluidly, their powers look great, and the destroyed laboratory setting is a perfectly desolate background. I continue to be thrilled that these characters have joined the cast of this series, and every second spent with them only makes me want to see more. Marquez is a bigger part of that eagerness than Bendis, doing gorgeous and thoughtful work with these Ultimate versions of classic characters.
After Cloak and Dagger get away, there’s not much left except to have Spider-Woman finally be the one to get Miles back in the superhero game. She does so by explaining that, just like him, she is the result of morally bankrupt scientists attempting to recreate Spider-Man. I haven’t read enough Ultimate universe stuff to know if this is new info or a already-known part of Spider-Woman’s history, but evidently she is a failed clone of Peter Parker’s DNA. She goes on to say that Cloak and Dagger are also the creations of wicked assholes trying to create superbeings, and that more and more people will fall victim to these mad scientists if nobody tries to stop them. It’s not untrue or even a bad point, necessarily, but I don’t quite buy it as a good enough reason to get Miles back in costume. First of all, this is a universe wherein the U.S. Governement (a.k.a. Spider-Woman’s employers at S.H.I.E.L.D.) have whole battalions of soldiers with powers based on established superheroes. The recreation of superpowers is a long-established part of this reality, and pointing out to Miles that bad guys do it, too, just doesn’t pack much punch for me. I suppose I can see that it would work on Miles because of the empathy angle; he’s a victim of evil scientists so he feels for others in his position. But…he’s a smart kid, seems like he could have figured out on his own that he isn’t and/or wouldn’t be the only example, and he’s already heard arguments from Ganke about how many people he could theoretically have saved while he was refusing to be Spider-Man, so I don’t really buy that Spider-Woman repeating the point in a slightly more specified way is what gets Miles to change his mind. Whether I believe it or not, though, that is what happens, and Marquez gets to do a marvelous full-page splash to close out the issue of Miles and Spider-Woman thwipping off into a new day together.