Now that I’ve read through the first issue of Marvel Comics’ Spider-Men #1, I can safely say this: it is a crossover between the Spider-Men of two universes, featuring both Peter Parker and Miles Morales. I know, minds blown.
Beyond that, well… I’m not going to spoil anything for you, but as is, there’s not a whole lot to spoil. Without mentioning any details, you can probably figure out what happens in the first issue from the cover alone; and detractors of writer Brian Bendis’ oft criticized “decompressed” style aren’t going to find their message board rants suffering from a lack of fodder here.
What they’ll be missing, though, is how intriguing a large part of the mystery surrounding the events in the issue is, and more importantly, how spectacular Sara Pichelli is on art.
Let’s take the first part, naturally, first: at the heart of the issue, there’s a mystery, something that thrusts the main Marvel Comics Universe, and the Ultimate Comics Universe together, forcing Peter Parker and Miles Morales to meet. What it is, and how it happens is the center-piece of the issue, raises questions for Parker-Man (we’re going to have to delineate them somehow, right?), and looks like it will answer a long-standing mystery in the Ultimate Universe down the road.
That’s intriguing enough, but beyond that there’s one heart-stopping moment for fans of Spider-Man towards the end of this issue that puts you right in Peter’s shoes. I won’t specifically spoil it, other than to say in the Ultimate Universe, everyone knows that Peter Parker was Spider-Man, and died trying to save his friends and family from a rampage by the Green Goblin. In the main Marvel Universe, that information isn’t quite as well known, so... Conflict. Confusion. Heart-stoppage.
Then there’s Pichelli’s art, which if anything is the star of the issue - surprising given Bendis’ tendency to towards hyper-verbiage, as well as Spider-Man’s tendency towards the same (which is why his run on Ultimate Spidey has been the perfect match of writer and character). But Bendis stands back here, like he’s been doing a lot lately in his books, and figuring out how to highlight Pichelli best. There’s nothing nearly as revolutionary as one of their first issues together, which held to a fixed perspective for nearly the entire comic. But for classic looking superhero art, Pichelli excels. Her lines are superb, the characters different from each other, and the last page iconic.
So for that alone, the comic lives up to the hype... But there’s one more important aspect to talk about, and that’s who Spider-Men #1 is for. When the news came out about the book, fans wrung their hands together, quoting the Marvel brass who swore they would never crossover the 616 Universe and the Ultimate Line. That if they had to do that, they would be “out of ideas,” and these hand-wringers pointed to this series as the end of Marvel Comics, their last ditch effort to save a dying industry. Granted, those same fans will probably buy the book in droves, and assumed they were the target audience for this book.
They were very, very wrong.
This book, despite the potentially wonky nature of it, is clearly not intended for comic book fans at all... Okay, “at all” is too strong, they’ll clearly be interested, but that’s not the focus Bendis gives in the script. This book is for people who may have never read a Spider-Man comic book, saw the upcoming movie, and are looking to jump into something new. That’s pretty clear from the first page, which introduces Spider-Man, his philosophy, what’s going on with him, and where he lives. And then by the end of the issue, we have a taste of what the Ultimate Universe is like, and what makes it different and unique. Making it even more clear are the notes and letters on the last few page, including the suggested reading for the book, which position it as the entry point into Spider-Man’s two worlds.
Part of the reason I had to read this book several times is because, the first time through, for the life of me, I couldn’t understand why they were explaining Spider-Man and his status quo. “Who doesn’t know what’s going on with Spider-Man?” I thought. Well... A lot of people. Not comic book readers like me, who pick up 30-40 comics a week. But audience members walking out of Amazing Spider-Man, wondering where to go next? This is the comic book for you.
Once that became clear, it really recontextualized not just everything in the book, but the project as a whole. Marvel is crossing these two lines over not because they’re out of ideas... But because they know showing off two incredible characters from two incredible creators is the best way to bring a new audience into comics. It’s tough to say whether they’ll be successful based on this issue alone, or if there will be long term benefits. But as a teaser or a taste, this works. I’ll be back for more, and hopefully those interested moviegoers will be too... Particularly as, right now, you can’t go wrong with any book that has Spider-Man in the title.