Comic Review: Ultimate Spider-Man, Vol. 2 #17

Ultimate Comics Spider-Man #17
Story by Brian Michael Bendis
Pencils/Inks by Pepe Larraz
Colors by Justin Ponsor
Marvel Comics
Release date: November 21, 2012
Cover Price: $2.99

When we rejoin our hero, things are not going well for Miles Morales in the Hydra/American War that was mostly contained to the Ultimates book during the ‘Divided We Fall’ storyline. In the mystery of publishing schedules, we get the contributions of All-New Spider-Man to the Battle of Wyoming a few weeks after we got the conclusion to the greater story proper in Ultimates #18. It was fun seeing Miles in the background of Ultimates #17 when the Battle of Wyoming starts in that book, especially since Miles had just recently “joined” the Ultimates when his school was cancelled after America started busting into different factions. At least this issue makes sense of his absence in Ultimates #18.

I’m worried. I’m worried that they brought Miles in too late to the greater Ultimate Universe plot to use him effectively. This April, Reed Richards destroyed Washington DC and the majority of the America’s politicians. Meanwhile, Miles had yet to earn the web-shooters from Aunt May and we were still getting the Prowler storyline all wrapped up before we could jump into the Spider-Men crossover. There won’t be a test, I’m just mentioning how the Ultimate titles were working earlier this year. The Ultimates were around, the Ultimate X-Men were around and Peter Parker’s replacement was in the skies of New York, but never the three met until ‘Divided We Fall,’ and that’s over now, with this, the most limp-wristed entry in the crossover event. SHIELD feels too big for Miles at this point and I don’t feel the destruction of Washington DC in his storyline.

Here’s the thing – We had to get Miles and Captain America to face off with each other, and that had to happen after Cap came back into the fold (read: after the beginning of Volume 2 of the Ultimate Universe, everything after the ‘Death of Spider-Man’). Steve Rogers still feels guilty for being unable to train and protect Peter Parker who eventually died after taking a bullet for Cap, then having to fight most of his still-living rogues gallery as the Ultimates were at Secret War with each other and the government. Basically, the Cap/Spider-Man dynamic works really well, but unlike other series that have recently used Captain America for flavor, (Deadpool #1 and Hawkeye #4 immediately spring to mind) whenever Peter or Miles gets involved, they get dragged into an Ultimates story that – honestly – is not the place for them.

Ultimate Spider-Man (be it Peter or Miles) never worked well on an international stage because he was realistically a teenager. There would be moments he was brought into the big boys league, usually because one of his villains was acting up, but Brian Michael Bendis has kept both Peter and Miles age appropriate, which is why throwing Miles into the Battle of Wyoming where the Lost Son of Asgard is using the Mind Gem to control everyday Americans as Hydra soldiers feels so wrong.

We do get a B-story with Miles’ parents that actually belongs in this title. Miles’ Dad was arrested for being a hot-head outside a SHIELD checkpoint established by his Brooklyn home. He gets tossed in an armored van and complains about his rights being violated before the van gets attacked by Hydra agents who free the prisoners (bonus) while executing the drivers (horrifying). Getting himself freed makes sense to Mile’s Dad, but the killing does not and it leaves him traumatized and holding a semi-automatic weapon in his house.

Now, what makes Ultimate Spider-Man such a pleasure as a Spider-Man fan is that a teenaged Spider-Man has the best intentions but really has no idea what his place is in the world. Even in the classic Amazing Spider-Man issues, Peter would put on the costume and a wise-cracking persona. Here, there’s a faux-confidence on display that’s paper thin, and I like it. What I’m loving about Miles Morales thus far is that in each of his two battles with army-level forces, he has no fear, he just has his task. In USM #16 when he fought Hydra with Captain America his initial thoughts are “shut this thing down quick, Parker could do this.” And here he’s paired with Parker’s clone (oh, yeah, that’s who Spider-Woman is…but I have a feeling we’ll be discussing this more in future issues), but still takes a “here we go!” attitude to massive, life-threatening combat.

I like that Miles is so focused on taking out the War Machines that he just rides one into the stratosphere. That’s the kind of tension “web-chutes” took out of Peter Parker’s run. Once you knew Spidey could make his own parachutes faster than he could fall, it became lesser. Miles? He’s, like, on his second day of having web-shooters, so he’s becoming a more effective fighter, but isn’t used to all the tricks. And, right on queue, we get our first “out of web fluid” moment on Page 2.

I’m glad Justin Ponsor is still on the colors to give me some sort of continuity because Penciller/Inker Pepe Larraz‘s Divided We Fall word leaves a lot to be desired. Don’t believe me? Find a frame where a SHIELD Agent is yelling. I bet you anything you can see his/her bottom and lower teeth regardless of angle. Miles’ actual face is obscured or small all through the comic which makes tons of sense when you notice how foreign to the series this iteration of Miles’ Mom looks. When David Marquez or Sara Pichelli were on the pencils, the physicality of miles being 13 really came across. Now, Larraz just has a general idea that he should be shorter, but no greater focus on what makes the body of a super-13-year-old different from the body of the now-18-year-old female clone of the previous Spider-Man. There are so many wacky proportions in this issue, best to leave them unspecified. EXCEPT the panel where Larraz puts a crease in Spider-Man’s mask-eye to show that his brow is in the “angry” position. SETTLE DOWN PEPE. There have been dozens of Spider-Man artists before you and most of them can convey emotion through the mask and dialogue without creasing the white of the eye. It looks sloppy, it is sloppy.

‘Divided We Fall’ is over, everyone, let’s get back to some real Spider-Man. There were a ton of potential plots in the Morales world that were teased then abandoned so Cap could be elected President during a American Civil War. Miles and Ganke have a roommate that’s not stupid. Aunt May, Gwen, and Mary Jane are all back in town and talking to each other. Who is that cute mysterious girl at Miles’ school with the cool hair?

I think what we learned here is that it’s too early to fold Miles into the greater (and CRAZY) Ultimates Universe. Unlike 616-Spider-Man, I’m genuinely interested in Miles’ life as he becomes Spider-Man. I’d like to keep him away from all the Parker baggage for as long as possible. Like, I’d rather see Aunt May meet Miles’ parents than I’d like any version of Osborn’s OZ Goblin formula to show up. Overall in these 17 issues, Miles has just been a good kid who had to face the responsibility of accidentally killing his Uncle. If that was the “great power” storyline for this Spider-Man, then it’s time to make his personal life more complicated with the Harry Osborn and Gwen Stacy analogues of the Morales life.

Or, hey, we could just take an issue to explain the ‘Ultimate Clone Saga’ to everyone right? Because the “what’s our connection” awkward conversation with Spider-Woman seems to be where this next arc is headed…oh, yeah, and VENOM is still back.

Ugh. Ok, Bendis. I’m trusting you do do this next arc well just like I’m trusting Dan Slott to not screw up the ending of Amazing Spider-Man. It’s going to be a tense December of Spider-Man‘s 50th anniversary year over here.

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