This is Brian Michael Bendis at his best.
There’s no diner scenes. No shots of superheroes drinking coffee. No infamous Bendis “wall of words” slowing down the story’s pace. There’s not even a pop-culture reference or winking aside to detract from the proceedings.
Miles Morales: The Ultimate Spider-Man #4 is a slam-bang Spider-Man adventure comic, and while not quite one-and-done, it’s a completely satisfying package. Smart, funny, and fast, this issue feels very much on par with the best of the original Ultimate Spider-Man run. Bendis simultaneously taps his own rich Ultimate Spidey history without shortchanging the current happenings.
As the cover suggests, there are two Spider-Men in the issue, and both share the action and wise-cracking duties in stride. Bendis keeps the caption narration with Miles Morales, and his internal dialogue is witty and real. Bendis brings the “full Parker experience” via the world of Miles, and it works wonderfully.
When the other Spider-Man does show up, it’s like Bendis’ writing slips into an old, comfortable suit. The dialogue is sharp and propulsive, not obstructive, and even readers completely unfamiliar with the current title’s cast and ongoing subplots receive enough information to quickly fill in the gaps. For longtime readers of Ultimate Spidey, there’s a layer of tangible emotion resting on top of the punchy twists and turns.
Surprisingly, neither Spider-Man really overshadows the other. There’s room on the page for both to shine, and shine they do. They fit together so well that readers might wonder if having two Ultimate Spider-Men would be a bad thing at all. It certainly works in this issue.
The artwork by David Marquez is exquisite and bold. He lays out the issue’s extensive action (the core of the book is basically a fight scene) and drives home the surrounding drama with excellent renderings of the supporting cast. While the Goblin vs. Spider-Man (and Spider-Man) pages dominate, it’s Marquez’s work on the supporting cast drama that gives the story its soul. The reactions and emotions of Aunt May and Gwen Stacey, Ben Riley, J. Jonah Jameson, Katie Bishop and more that make the action taking place on center stage all that more meaningful.
The pages of Miles Morales: The Ultimate Spider-Man #4 carry the rollicking energy Marvel’s Ultimate banner was once known for. It’s an exciting and energetic read that feels exactly like a 21st century Spider-Man comic should. The Ultimate line was designed to put the Marvel Universe characters into the world of now, and even though this issue brings back many elements of the past, it feels like an entirely fresh take.
The only detraction is a minor one yet impossible to ignore–the situation hinted at on the cover does not manifest itself in any way in this issue. The book was solicited by Marvel as “SPIDEY VS. SPIDEY! What more do you need?” and yet there’s absolutely none of that to be found. Zero. Zilch. Kind of an odd way to position the story, because what is present is pretty darn awesome in its own right and doesn’t need any fabricated hype to lure in readers. Why pull a bait and switch when the product you’re selling is top notch? As stated, a minor thing, yet covers are an indispensable part of the comic reading experience and the juxtaposition between this cover and what really happens on the inside pages keeps an otherwise fantastic issue from being perfect.
If you haven’t visited Ultimate Spider-Man since the Bendis/Bagely heyday, this issue is worth picking up to retest the waters. The firecracker dialogue, taut drama, extensive supporting cast, and perfectly paced Spider-Man action make this a new/old take on the web-slinging world that’s bound to please even the most casual Spidey reader. If there’s any book that feels like the Spider-Man of today, this is it.