Miles Morales and The Death of Spider-Man or How Marvel Created One of Its Most Important Characters Ever Only to Turn Around and Nerf His Significance

Greetings drunk (and sober) comics fans! I guess that’s totally going to be my blog intro even though it doesn’t really make sense. I mean, who is really reading blog posts while intoxicated? I suppose some people do, who knows? Regardless, here’s a blog post for you, the fans, who voted overwhelmingly that you wanted to read about great runs and arcs in comics. And what better subject for that than the center point of a discussion recently in the circle of podcasters and fans we regularly interact with on Twitter, Miles Morales, THE Ultimate Spider-Man.

 First issue of Mile's solo series by Bendis and Pichelli

First issue of Mile's solo series by Bendis and Pichelli

                I’ve named him as such in the intro to this post because one simply cannot discuss Miles Morales without noting his introduction and its place within Ultimate Marvel/Ultimate Comics as a whole. When I say Miles is THE Ultimate Spider-Man what I mean is that he is the Spider-Man of Earth 1610, or at least he was before that universe was nullified from existence (or was it? Shoutout to anyone who read Al Ewing’s recent Ultimates series).

                So before we talk about Miles himself, let’s talk about Ultimate Comics. I’ll likely make a post about the line itself later on because it is one of my absolute things in comics ever so I’ll keep this brief. Though while, as I said, Ultimate Comics is one of my favorites I feel implored to note I’m not some mark for the line. It is not without its “issues” (pun da-dun-duns), but even as bad as some things like Ultimatum were, I feel they are absolutely integral to a full reading of the timeline of the 1610 or even any of its individual series; though the Spider-Man series was probably the least directly affected by the event. Ultimate Marvel, as it was called at the time, breathed new life back in to Marvel Comics after a pretty rough patch with the crash of the speculator’s market and Marvel filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, and it gave writers a chance to play with classic characters and, in the beginning, their origins in a space that would not directly affect the continuity of 50+ years of publication but was still high-profile enough to matter.

 Early roster of Marvel's Ultimate universe by Bryan Hitch

Early roster of Marvel's Ultimate universe by Bryan Hitch

                One of those writers was a then-indie creator by the name of Brian Michael Bendis, you may know him from such events as Secret Invasion, Dark Reign, Siege, and (ugh) Civil War II. Okay, full disclosure here, I’ve long said that Bendis is a very hit-or-miss writer. I believe he has a good track record for being more the former than the latter but yeah, he’s written some absolute duds. However, when he hits he hits it out of the park, the county, the stratosphere, the man simply knocks this analogical baseball into orbit; and Marvel gave him free reign on starting an alternate continuity reboot of their world where he did just that. There’s a reason why Bendis wrote Ultimate Spider-Man from beginning to end, and in a way still is (but we’ll talk more about that later); it’s because he is just that damn good at it. From the very beginning Bendis took steps to not only connect the origins of Peter Parker and two of his greatest villains, threading together previously unconnected pieces of the mythos; but he also changed the very approach writers took to scripting and producing issues. Gone were the narrative boxes and thought bubbles of days past. Bendis wrote his book more like a television show, guiding the reader through a story rather than yanking them by the arm through it; and it worked. This is why more comic writers tell their stories this way today than don’t; and that’s what storytelling should do over time, evolve.

                Bendis also made Pete a character that was more relatable for a modern audience. He was a nerd, but he wasn’t a caricature of a nerd; and he felt like he fit in the world of the late 90s, 2000s, and on in to the next decade, in the same way the character had for readers of Stan’s orginal run in the sixties and subsequent writers of the next two decades. As a child born in the 80s and growing up in the 90s I would say my generation loved Pete, but we didn’t connect to him in the same way previous generations had. He was already an important and established character in his world when we came along, and we simply couldn’t identify with those original stories from a vastly different era than the world we were living in. Bendis made a world where we could, a world that was truly right outside our window.

 Ultimate Peter by Mark Bagley

Ultimate Peter by Mark Bagley

                I stated before that Bendis’ series was the one in the line to be less directly affected by the Ultimatum event, which is true, but more changes were made with the character and his relationships leading up to and after that, which is why what we’ll talk about momentarily was so impactful. Peter briefly dated Kitty Pryde and maintained a friendship with her after, and Aunt May took in Gwen Stacy, Bobby Drake, and Johnny Storm when the three had no place to go. This created a family dynamic between these five characters we had never seen before, aside from the previously existing friendship between peter and Johnny in the 616. It also helped to further ground Peter, having him experience real-world problems of the day. Peter, and his supporting cast, all felt tangible, believable, like they were someone you might actually know; and that’s what made the Death of Spider-Man story so huge. Even though it took place in an alternate continuity from the “real” Marvel Universe, readers had been with this version of the character for over ten years; and because this was the Ultimate Universe, we knew this was permanent (or at least we thought it was, thanks Bendis, ya knob).

                The Death of Spider-Man took place across two books, his own and Avengers Vs New Ultimates. In the latter book, both teams had been pitted against each other in a situation manipulated by the older brother of Tony Stark; and in an attempt to take down Captain America, The Punisher took a sniping position and fired a shot that instead hit an intervening Spidey. Wounded from this, Peter then had to take on a new incarnation of the Sinister Six; and in the climactic final battle with the Green Goblin, Peter was victorious, but at the cost of his own life. Lying on the front lawn of his home and dying from his injuries, Peter was surrounded by the family we’d watched slowly form around him. With his final breath, to the person who was most important in his life, he told his aunt “Don’t you see…it’s okay. I did it. I couldn’t save him. Uncle Ben, I couldn’t save him… No matter what I did. But I saved you. I did it. I did…” I can’t even write about this without tears streaming down my face, my chest tightening up, and my breathing becoming constrained. It impacted me that much; and Bendis says much the same about having written the panels:

 

Listen, I sat there typing this thing with tears in my eyes like a big baby!" Bendis says. "I went upstairs to my wife, and I go, 'I am so embarrassed. I think I've literally been crying for 45 minutes.' I've had real things happen in my life I didn't cry about, and yet I'm crying about this. I became very proud of it, and that's not an adjective I often put on myself.

 Peter's final moments by Bendis and Bagley

Peter's final moments by Bendis and Bagley

 

                I don’t think there is a single piece of fiction I have ever consumed, short of It’s a Wonderful Life, that makes me as emotional as this moment and a moment at the end of the Fallout series. It is tragic and beautiful at the same time, painful and inspiring, sorrowful in its dignifying of the character’s life. It is by far one of the greatest send-offs for a character ever written, and also shows a fundamental difference between this character and another that many of his very fans also love for similar reasons, Batman. Both are characters motivated by tragedies and the loss of loved ones, but whereas Bruce and Peter both blame themselves to some degree, those motivations move them forward in polarized directions. Bruce’s aim is to strike fear into criminals, to punish them, in the hopes of preventing others from suffering the tragedy that spurred him on. Peter, however, blaming himself for the death of his Uncle Ben, instead sought to HELP people. Both characters battle criminals and supervillains but for disparate aims. That’s a major part of why while we love both characters, we see ourselves in Peter.

                The epilogue to Peter’s death was the six-issue Fallout series, dealing with the experiences of characters across that world as they mourned the loss. There’s two main things that I want to note about this series. First, the final pages of it, where a vengeful Mary Jane, writing an exposé accusing Nick Fury of being responsible for Peter’s death, is confronted by him for the second time. Early on in the series Fury tells her he is aware of what she is doing, and attempts to intimidate her into backing out; but it is in this second moment between the characters that Nicholas J. Fury, the hardest-edged son-of-a-bitch protector-of-the-world, breaks down his walls, sheds a tear, and tells her she’s right; it is his fault. Following this moment, no longer hating Fury, she deletes all of the text she has written and the series ends. It’s a poignant moment, and the culmination of years of character development; and goddamn it I cry over it just as much as I do losing Peter.

 Fury tell Mary Jane she's right by Bendis and Bagley

Fury tell Mary Jane she's right by Bendis and Bagley

                The other important aspect of this series is it is where we are introduced to the character of Miles Morales. First appearing in an ill-fitting replica Spider-Man costume he defeats the much more menacing Ultimate Version of The Kangaroo, but is also told by Roo’s victim that the costume is in bad taste. Shortly after he is confronted by that world’s Jessica Drew, a female clone who became the Ultimate Spider-Woman. Jessica initially demands Miles stop what he is doing, but later presents him with his very own costume and web shooters, designed by S.H.I.E.L.D. After this Miles became the star of his very own book as the new Spider-Man. Like many changes Marvel has made over the years, and despite it being an alternate continuity, this was very controversial, being picked up by major news outlets and drawing the ire of many hardcore and casual fans alike. On the flipside of that coin, though, Bendis and artist Sarah Pichelli’s series inspired hope. For many fans of color this was a major milestone, a high profile superhero who was black and latino; and, for me personally, seeing a young man pick up the mantle because of the legacy that Peter had left behind and the importance he saw in carrying it on. Miles believed the world needed a Spider-Man, and as fate or circumstance would have it, he was given the means to be that hero.

 Miles foils the Kangaroo by Bendis and Bagley

Miles foils the Kangaroo by Bendis and Bagley

                Years later I think it is easy to forget how huge this all was; and it doesn’t help that Marvel dissolved the Ultimate line and folded Miles and many others into the prime continuity and to a degree, in my eyes, diminished his importance. For me, Miles in many ways is THE Spider-Man, the new Spider-Man, who took up the responsibility because the world, his world, had lost that hero. Sure, fans still look to Miles as being a milestone in diversity and representation for characters and fans of color, but before the incursions and Secret Wars, the character meant so much more in his home universe. The dynamic of Peter now being the more international Spidey and Miles being the street-level New York one is certainly interesting, but the character seems less significant, less integral to the world than he did previously; which is what the impetus for this blog post was.

                To circle the wagons back to the discussion mentioned at the beginning of this post, one which I hope to do a livestream soon for a few of us to break down even further, my good friend and the co-host of the SuperSuit Show, Task, posed the question to me of whether or not Miles is actually a “beloved” character. I would say that, yes, to myself and many others he is; but would add the caveat that he’s more important to many for what he is, rather than who he is and what he has done. And, as I said, I also feel that he was downgraded recently; which is disheartening for someone who cares so much about his character and what he means.

 Miles in the Prime Marvel by Nico Leon

Miles in the Prime Marvel by Nico Leon

                I’d love to know your thoughts, so feel free to drop a comment below or hit me up on twitter at @drunkcomicsfans. What does Miles mean to you? Is he beloved? Was bringing him into the prime universe a disservice to his character? Should Bendis give up the reigns of the character to a new writer? Are you a fan of Ultimate Comics or has this made you want to read it now? Let me know and remember, whether comics are great, terrible, or anything in-between, there’s always alcohol. Dex OUT!

 My ass NEEDS a drink after writing this piece...

My ass NEEDS a drink after writing this piece...

-Dexter Busch-etelli the drunk comics fan