Graphic Novel Review: Spider-Men

10:47 30 November 2012

Spider-Men

Spider-Men

Archant

(Panini Books, £10.99)

IT was the crossover they said would never happen.

In 2005, then-Marvel head honcho Joe Quesada was asked whether the relatively new Ultimate universe would ever crossover with the main Marvel reality. His reply was that if this ever happened then they would be officially out of ideas.

Obviously someone forgot to tell Brian Michael Bendis this was the case…

Flash forward seven years, and as part of the 50th anniversary of Spider-Man Bendis announced plans for the wall-crawling Peter Parker to meet his Ultimate Comics counterpart Miles Morales, who inherited the Spidey mantle following the death of his reality’s Parker.

Having scripted the adventures of the Ultimate Spider-Man since his conception in 2000, in the guises of both Peter Parker and Miles Morales, there was nobody better served to write this story than Bendis, aided here by the artwork of current USM illustrator Sarah Pichelli, and the result is an absolute triumph on every level.

The 14-year-old Miles is a relatively new addition to the Ultimate staple, far less experienced and confident than his predecessor, and also desperately trying to live up to Peter’s legacy after he died a hero. In contrast, the mainstream Parker is enjoying one of the most consistently positive periods of his troubled life, with a burgeoning career as a research scientist and membership of the Avengers.

Thanks to the machinations of the malevolent Mysterio (try saying that three times fast), Parker Spidey ends up falling through a dimensional rift into the Ultimate reality, where he first discovers the fate of that universe’s Peter and then encounters his young replacement.

In true Bendis fashion, the highlights of this relatively simple story are the character moments. Seeing the Ultimate Aunt May first horrified to meet an older version of her late nephew, then coming to terms with his existence, and finally embracing him as the fulfilment of her Peter’s lost potential… Hey, you have to be a stronger man than I am if this doesn’t leave you welling up. Simply beautiful story-telling.

In contrast, Parker comes face-to-face with younger versions of his dead girlfriend Gwen Stacey (and swerves constant interrogation about her counterpart’s life) and ex-love Mary Jane Watson, leaving all three changed by the experience, and not necessarily in a positive way.

For Miles Morales, who embraced his destiny as the new Spider-Man following Peter’s untimely death, it is an opportunity to receive the blessing of his inspiration, and to come out of this encounter a much more confident crime fighter, spiritually and emotionally rewarded by the meeting.

There are also some lovely touches when Parker faces up to the Ultimate versions of Nick Fury and Tony Stark, which prove once and for all that this crossover was far from a case of Marvel’s creative bankruptcy, but in the right hands proved to be a story which not only deserved to be told, but which has left all characters involved better off as a result.

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