Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Books: Ultimate Comics: Spider-Man (2012)


Ultimate Comics: Spider-Man
Vol 1
Written by Brian Michael Bendis
Art by Sara Pichelli

Available now from Islington Libraries
You can reserve this item for free here:

Ultimate Comics: Spider-Man
Vol 2: Scorpion
Written by Brian Michael Bendis
Art by Chris Samnee and Sara Pichelli

Available now from Islington Libraries
You can reserve this item for free here:

Peter Parker No More! Killed off in (spoiler alert) Ultimate Comics: Spider-Man: Death of Spider-Man everyone's favourite, friendly bespectacled nerd (do we still call 'em that?) bit the dust in 2011 in an (supposedly) final epic confrontation with the Green Goblin: no - this wasn't some cheap publicity stunt (altho it did get quite a lot of press coverage) and no - this wasn't some big fake-out that was going to be reversed a few months down the line ("You thought I was dead? Actually I was just sleeping the whole time!") this was the real deal: dead. For good. No take-backs. Death - for real this time.

Ok - we've been through this before: but let's do it one more time just in case there's anyone who's only just joining us: as much as it's kinda dopey to talk about who's real and who's not when we're dealing with made-up stories (hate to break it to you - but there's no such thing as getting superpowers from radioactive spiders - and according to my sources Stan Lee and Steve Ditko just made the whole thing up) but - yeah (get ready for the metaphysics): the version of Peter Parker that died wasn't actually the "real" original Peter Parker (who is still having merry adventures in mainstream Marvel continuity [1] and - strangely for someone who's been going since 1962 [2] - he doesn't look a day over thirty [3]) rather - the one they killed off was the rebooted Peter Parker from the "Ultimate Marvel" Universe [4]: which means (roughly) to put it in terms that non-comic geeks will understand - they killed off Captain Kirk but the Chris Pine version rather than the William Shatner one or (an even better example - plus - woo - foreshadowing!) they offed the Tobey Maguire version of Spider-Man but kept the Andrew Garfield one alive (does that compute with you? Yes. Good. Ok).

So if the Peter Parker of the Marvel Ultimate Universe (or whatever) is dead - then who's that in the Spider-Man costume? Well - world: meet Miles Morales. Basically: the biggest breath of fresh-air to blow into superhero comics since - well - since forever (and I gotta say I like how Bendis kept the whole both names starting with the same letter thing so beloved by other comic book characters: Peter Parker, Lois Lane, Lex Luthor etc)

There's a story that's been repeated lots and lots around the internet [5] so here's the short version: back when they were looking for the main actor to play Peter Parker in the film that became The Amazing Spider-Man [6]: (a role which we all know by now went to Andrew Garfield) a website called io9 ran an article called: The Last Thing Spider-Man Should be is Another White Guy [7] which basically just asked: "hey - wouldn't it be great if Spider-Man was played be an actor that - well - wasn't just another white guy? And in the comments to that article someone else (named "Rootadoo") uttered seven little words that ended up making a massive impact: "May I suggest one Mr. Donald Glover?" [8]. This lead to an internet storm which resulted in "#Donald4Spiderman" becoming a top 10 trending topic (which erm is apparently a good thing - but I really don't know that much about the twitscape) and resulted in articles in places of esteem like the Washington Post ("Donald Glover may or may not have Spidey sense, but the actor-writer's already proved one thing over the weekend: He definitely has business sense").

But for - our purposes at least - the big upshot of all of this is that in the first episode of the second series of Community ("Anthropology 101" [10]) as an in-joke Donald Glover wore Spider-Man pajamas and Brian Michael Bendis - the guy who's been writing Ultimate Spider-Man since 2001 - saw him and thought: "He looked fantastic!... I saw him in the costume and thought, 'I would like to read that book.'" And - so - Voila!: a brand-new 21st Century Spider-Man - no longer restricted to the same old cookie-cutter paradigm.

Because - well - yeah - ok. Especially in America where (no duh) they kinda have a few hang-ups about race the story has been "OMG: first black Spider-Man!" [11] but things (and these books) are actually much better than that.

Because this is a world where DC made a big announcement that they were gonna make one of their lead superheroes gay [13] and then it turned out that it was some fifth-tier Green Lantern that - even I - who writes on something called the Islington Comic Forum (that is - no duh - all about comics) had never even heard of him [14]: so it is obviously a good thing to have things that make stuff less Caucasian (and hey - we're trying to feel good about things here - so let's not point out that it's still been written by a white guy).  And it's possible that after Peter Parker died Marvel (or the superheroes or whatever) could have just jumped universes or dimensions (which - hey all joking aside - is something that happens quite a bit) and found a new Peter Parker with darker skin [15]: and - from the sounds of things - that would have been greeted in much the same way by the majority of the world ("OMG: First black Spider-Man!"): but you what - that would have been super-lame and super-boring. Because - hey - it's been fifty years: by now I think we've had enough Peter Parker stories to last a lifetime (hell - several lifetimes). But a new Spider-Man? Someone trying to find their way - growing up the shadow of Peter Parker's legacy? Ok - now you've got a hook: now I'm interested.

And bam! Beginning with the myth of Arachne (an intentional reference to the Spider-Man: Turn off the Dark Musical? Oooh - I hope so!) before getting in a few jabs about how the school system in America tends to work ("It's a lottery.") it hits the ground running and dares the reader to try and keep up (does his Uncle look a little like Snoop Dogg when he first appears or is that just me?). Unlike the Amazing Spider-Man film (judging from the posters and the reviews at least) it doesn't go dark and gloomy. In fact - if you wanted me to try and sum up how the writing and art and the mood all hit me: well - it was like popping down to the park on the first day of summer: it feels hopeful and bright and humming all over with a nervous and contagious energy [16].

If superhero comics want to survive (or: to put it another way - if superhero comics want me to read them) then this is exactly the sort of stuff that they need to do (in fact: I'd recommend that these books were given out as compulsory reading to any writer or artist thinking of stepping into the superhero game). It's just a new spin on an old-classic (kid gets superpowers - needs to learn how to deal with them is a story we've already heard a few thousand times already - since - well: the first Spider-Man): but these is refreshing for the way it struggles (how Miles struggles) with what has already happened and who Spider-Man is and what he stood for: it would like if Andrew Garfield had to spend the first half an hour of the Amazing Spider-Man listening to people berate him for not being Tobey Maguire (and - hey - that's a film that I would pay to watch): and - frankly - I wish that there was lots more of just this type of thing. Going forward whilst paying respects to what came before - and (finally) finding a way out of the endless spiral of characters running through the same motions again and again and again.

[1] Which I do - on occasion - try to read: but they just end up making my head hurt.

[2] In fact - yeah - he just celebrated his 50th birthday which is why we have this lovingly written article from David Brothers: 50 Years Later: Growth And Maturity in Amazing Spider-Man 1-50 (which I'd recommend you read even if you've never read a Spider-Man): "In the beginning, Peter Parker was fifteen years old. He was too young for full manhood, but too old to be treated like a child. He was coddled by his family and abused by his peers. He was a beloved nephew and professional wallflower, a bitter bookworm and great student. Then he got bitten by a radioactive spider and everything changed. He became Spiderman first, and then Spider-Man. He grew up, moved out, found friends, discovered love, lost love, found love again, and became a man. The first 50 issues of Amazing Spider-Man chart the growing pains of Steve Ditko and Stan Lee's baby boy, and show us something rare in cape comics: true and gradual growth."

[3] Oh the irony: a character that it once possible to praise as an exemplar of growth and development as been reduced over the time to yet another casualty of comic books permanent arrested development [16].

[4] Which - hey - has been running since 2001 and for a lot of people kinda was the definitive version of Spider-Man (in the same way that there's a whole generation of kids so let's not act like it's not a big thing

[5] Check this video out for the best version - straight from the mouth of Donald Glover himself.

[6] Which I haven't seen. And frankly - I don't want to see. But I'm sure at some point soon (modern blockbuster have this strange sort of hold over me) I will no doubt need up watching. And so (if I ever do) I'll edit this footnote and let you know.

[7] "There is literally no facet of our lives that hasn't been made better by colorblind thinking — our armies are stronger, our sports teams are better, our children are more beautiful — why can't it extend to our on-screen superheroes?"

[8] For those of you that don't know: Donald Glover (nope - no relation to Danny Glover sorry) is a young black male actor who likes to keep himself busy as a writer, comedian, rapper and as one of the stars of an amazing little TV called Community [9].

[9] See: YOU ARE OUT OF FUCKING EXCUSES. HULK COMMAND YOU TO WATCH COMMUNITY… RIGHT NOW for more details about Community if you're one of those poor saps that somehow hasn't yet got around to watching it yet (it's like Spaced crossed with The Simpsons (back when The Simpsons was the best thing on TV) - and yeah even if it does take a few episodes to warm up - (just give it up until Abed starts dressing up as Batman) it's pure priceless TV gold).

[10] "Well Shirley, since you have clearly failed to grasp the central insipid metaphor of those Twilight books you devour, let me explain it to you! Men are monsters who crave young flesh!"

[11] If you wanna get technical about it: Miles is actually half-black and half-Hispanic. But hey - I guess in America it doesn't matter what mixture your parentage is [12] as long as one of your parents is black then that - supposedly - means that you are too. (see: Barack Hussein Obama II - whose Mum was American and in Kansas and all that: but - you know - he's still America's first African American President). But - hey when the news was announced the Daily Mail ran an article that hysterically screamed: Marvel Comics reveals the new Spider Man is black - and he could be gay in the future (whose comments included: "Tell this "Spider Man" we don't want him "coming out" of his lair, at least not until he has untangled himself from his own web of deception!" and "It really seems as if the media and the politicians want to stamp out white people at all costs."): so I guess those kind of details tend to lost a little in the translation...

[12] And speaking frankly - the whole idea of being mixed or half-this and half-that I've always found a little bit - well - silly. Which I guess is due to my own mixed-up family background (my grandma was half-Irish, half-French, granddad was Polish, other grandma German and other granddad Ghanaian - which I guess makes me a somekind of mongrel I guess?)

[13] I mean... I wonder who it could be? Cough!

[14] He's called Alan Scott and if you're interested you should read this: The Failures of DC’s Gay Green Lantern Alan Scott: "Far from being a landmark, Alan Scott’s story has become so tiringly predictable."

[15] I can see it now: "Yo! S'up Aunt May?"

[16] There's even an inadvertent (?) Arrested Development reference ("My Name is Judge").


Further reading: Spider-Man: Down Among The Dead Men / Venomous / The Last Stand, Ultimate Comics: Doomsday, TakioThe Life and Times of Martha Washington in the Twenty-First Century.

Profiles: Brian Michael Bendis

All comments welcome.

No comments: