Miles To-Go 2: Ultimate Comics Spider-Man #6-12 by Kenneth Laster

Welcome back to Miles To-Go! This entry we are diving into the Prowler arc in which we were all tricked by Into the Spider-Verse into thinking was good! This one really left a bad taste in my mouth and boy oh boy I can’t wait to tell you why. Here’s a hint it rhymes with “schrasicm”! But let’s start off positive.

Ultimate Comics: Spider-Man #6 picks up in a new spot with a new artist. Chris Samnee is filling in for these two issues and man is it a treat. These two issues are definitely a couple that I remember picking up at the time and Samnee’s artwork still remains just as distinctive as his acclaimed Daredevil and Black Widow runs, although with less bold storytelling methods. One thing that could maybe feel off for folks coming to these from Samnee’s other work is the addition of the late great Justin Ponsor’s color work. Ponsor’s work on this book, as mentioned in the last entry, is excellent in keeping a visual continuity amongst the different line artists in these early issues and I think that Samnee’s very distinct style kind of gives Ponsor a challenge. Pichelli and Marquez are much more closer in style than Samnee, so Ponsor has to meet halfway between the two styles. The colors are the same warm gold that ties the book together but the figures have a bit more rendering and complex tones than what Samnee’s work is used to by Matt Wilson who’s choice of colors are more bold and flat, and leans into subtle digital textures to really give Samnee’s work a classic feel. Either way it is a treat to get a taste of Samnee’s early work. 

Sorry what were we talking about? Oh yeah the Prowler! Issue #6 is primarily focused on Aaron Davis’s trip to Mexico to meet with a crime lord, Scorpion (reimagined for the Ultimate Universe). The B-Story in these issues is Miles feeling out his new role as Spider-Man and chatting w/ his mom and Ganke. Aaron’s story mostly feels like set up (because it is) and really is an excuse for Bendis to once again flex his crime writing. Aaron is written kind of like an idiot which is fun now but tonally weird later. Scorpion is an interesting reinvention. It’s really sort of the classic Ultimate remix of needing a new character and taking the name of any old villain. There’s something to say about making this white villain into a violent Mexican drug lord. It’s not great per sé but I might not be the best to speak on it. There can be an argument that there’s a variety of latinx representation in this comic with Rio and Miles (which is fair) but it is very interesting that Scorpion is the one with markers and explicit indications of his ethnicity and Miles and Rio dont.

Speaking of Miles and Rio. After Miles stops a crime and is spotted by Betty Brant, he heads home for the weekend from school and chats with his mom. We get established that Rio works in a hospital before leading into a talk about Uncle Aaron and Jeff’s criminal history. This conversation begins the long road of problems I have with Bendis’s take on the Prowler. Miles tells his mom that he worries that whatever is in people, like his father and uncle, that makes them break the law is in him too. Y’know…genetically. 

Bendis writes that the internal dilemma of this Afro Latinx Spider-Man is whether or not the “crime gene” from the Black side of his family will make him a bad guy. And we let him get away with it? I’m not even sure where to start with this. Conceptually, I’ve always been interested in the idea that Miles’ “Uncle Ben” is a criminal. It makes things more complicated, and also would give Miles a unique perspective on how crime operates. Or you would think! Rio’s answer to this question should be something about saying that the idea that there’s something in him that makes him “bad” is ridiculous. Crime and the Black community is a complicated subject that honestly Brian Michael Bendis had no business exploring here. The root cause of people being drawn to crime, specifically theft, is poverty under capitalism. People not having enough and having to survive in a society that puts up so many barriers for people without money to survive and yes communities of color are more adversely affected by poverty. Bendis could have explored this but instead he settles on some inherent evil ideology which is incredibly despicable. The argument that Black and brown people are more predisposed to crime is the same argument that sees us more heavily policed, treated with fear and suspicion, and reinforces white supremacy full stop. To see this reduction of morality in the roots of such an aspirational character is absolutely disheartening and it’s a miracle that Aaron Davis as a concept in Miles’ life has been salvaged in adaptations.

Sigh. Moving forward. 

Meanwhile Aaron sees a headline in a Mexican prison of Miles’ Spider-Man. And in Brooklyn Ganke comes over and lends Miles a dvd of the Ultimate Spider-Man tie-in issues to Spider-Man 2 (In 2002 Peter and Doc Ock fought at the set of a fictional Spider-Man movie to tie in to the movie) which leads into the next issue. Rio nearly catches Miles training which is good secret i.d. content.  There’s a nice dinner convo w/ Jeff, Rio, and Miles where Rio and Miles kind of end up double teaming Jeff on the topic “superheroes are cool actually.” Good relationship beat. 

The rest of Miles’ portion is really good classic Ultimate Spider-Man with Miles hopping around, getting used to his powers with his internal monologue. It’s fun and it really endears us to Miles in the same way it did to Peter back when the Ultimate line launched. And again that Samnee artwork makes this sequence a treat to look at. The only complaint is that it’s not that different from Peter’s early Ultimate days. I’m still trying to figure out what makes Miles’ voice unique.–Anyway Miles responds to a boom which is Omega Red?? 

Scene switches to The Tinkerer getting visited by the Prowler w/ a gun. Samnee kind of draws the mask like Deadpool which throws me off a little bit. This scene is exposition on the Oscorp Spider leading Aaron can figure out Miles is Spider-Man. Aaron shoots the Tinkerer in the head to tie up the loose end. It’s a turn which kind of killed my hopes that Bendis was gonna tell a nuanced story about how Aaron’s not a “bad” guy. Aaron Davis in this is pretty much evil. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Miles fights Omega Red and accidentally repeats some of Pete’s old jokes which is fun. He wins the fight and the next day as he tells Ganke all about it Aaron appears in the park.

An issue break and Pichelli comes back for #8 before handing off to Marquez to work on Spider-Men, I assume. After a brief prologue of Aunt May and Gwen Stacey learning about Miles in the news while abroad, we drop back in w/ Aaron and Miles. He reveals he knows Miles’ secret and learns that Jeff doesn’t, before trying to figure out a plan before getting told to leave by the school admin. Dude’s a creep. Also a note! Bendis really goes for it trying to write African American Vernacular English (AAVE) and man does he really miss some times, especially w/ Aaron’s dialogue. Non-Black people’s attempts at AAVE are much more common and easily spotted now just based on people trying to attempt it on the basis of cultural appropriation and man could some of Aaron’s dialogue end up on AAVE struggle tweets. I’m of two minds on it because I respect attempts at trying to make Black people sound like Black people because otherwise the attempted diversity is only skin deep. But on the other hand, when it misses it’s another reminder that this is a white writer and non-Black editors trying to imagine what Black people sound like. 

Meanwhile a cop named Captain Quaid learns about the new Spider-Man from Kangaroo. Also meanwhile, Scorpion comes to Brooklyn looking for Prowler and rips through some mob dudes and claims it as his territory now. As all that is happening, Miles sneaks out of Brooklyn Visions to do spider-stuff and comes to grips with his uncle’s attempt at blackmailing him and ponders breaking the news to his parents himself. While out on the town, he runs into returning gag villain, The Ringer. Despite getting trapped in the Ringer’s rings, Miles manages to defeat him and just in time to be intercepted by Captain Quaid which leads into the next issue and new artist David Marquez. In a flagrant disrespect of page space, there are nearly three full splash page pages of Quaid telling Spidey he used to work with Peter and tells Miles to get out of there before tasing a running Ringer. I’ve said it before, but it is weird just how long it goes unestablished that Miles’ dad is a cop. We get Captain Quaid, a Black cop, kinda filling in the role of Miles’ reluctant police contact and it reads strangely that this character is in that role instead of his dad. I’m still waiting for that element of Jeff’s character to be established and I half wonder if Jeff (who I am aware is a former SHIELD agent) and Quaid weren’t combined for adaptations and it stuck. Until then I will keep watch until I find out when Bendis establishes that Miles’ dad whomst he named after the President of the Confederacy becomes a cop. Oh Bendis.

Prowler returns to Tinkerer’s hideout and is confronted by Scorpion and his boys in a fight. Miles has snuck back into Brooklyn Visions to receive a text from Aaron on a meeting location into issue 10. They meet on a rooftop in costume and Aaron begins his spiel with the ultimate goal of getting Miles to be his pawn. Aaron decides to test Miles’ ability by getting him into a fight where Miles nearly knocks him off a building. Aaron goes in for the pitch of them working together first with the excuse of him being able to point Miles to the real bad guys but when that doesn’t work Aaron goes straight to blackmail by threatening to tell Jefferson, and making sure to emphasize how  anti mutant he is and how he’d call the cops on Miles. 

There’s also an emphasis on Miles being thirteen in this conversation and I want to pause to emphasize Miles’ age and how this arc is even weirder because of it. It has always been strange to me that Miles was a middle schooler when he became Spider-Man. Sure Peter was 15 but just through the saturation of young adult fiction and stories set in high school there’s a sense that teenagers have slightly more agency in fiction. Also the difference between 13 and 15 feels like a developmental gulf. I can employ a lot of suspension of disbelief but Miles’ comparative youth to Peter really feels strange here because Aaron Davis is essentially manipulating his middle school nephew into being his muscle which makes him come off as especially gross. Manipulation at any age is terrible but threatening a literal child with his parents disowning him feels irredeemably bad. Even outside of Aaron Davis, dropping Miles into this specific plot feels odd. Aaron Davis has killed multiple people on page, so has Scorpion. This plot is bloody and brutal and dropping a literal 13 year old in the middle just feels so bizarre. Again, I know it’s weird that Peter was only two years older and it didn’t feel as off but hey we live in a society. Maybe it’s because 30 year old Andrew Garfield can play a highschooler and we can be fine but there’s no way you can pull the same thing off with a middle schooler unless you are Pen15 on Hulu. 

So Aaron says that he can give Miles a test run with taking on Scorpion before he heads out. Miles thinks about going to the Ultimates in a little hero worship moment that feels very much like it would inspire the MCU take on Peter Parker. Miles ices out Ganke and his parents until he gets a text from Aaron about moving on Scorpion. There’s a quick flashback of Aaron letting a smaller Miles watch kung fu movies instead of homework before present day. Issue 11 is mostly one big fight with Aaron and Miles taking on Scorpion before Aaron leaves Miles holding the bag. When Miles gets back to school, Aaron’s been trying to contact him, Miles tells him “no” and Aaron threatens telling Miles’ dad his secret. 

In the final issue of this arc, Miles decides he’s going to come clean to his parents but Aaron intercepts him and says that if anyone else did him like this he would have killed them on sight. Aaron says this to his 13 year old nephew. Miles agrees to meet him later to get him to leave, and Aaron threatens him again. Miles doesn’t end up telling his parents the truth and meets Aaron later. Miles tells Aaron to leave town out, and Aaron proceeds to attack Miles with some stolen Shocker gloves. The rest of the issue is mostly a fight crescendoing to Aaron’s gauntlet malfunctioning and exploding, In his dying breaths he tells Miles “You are just like me.” wHaT aN UnCle BeN mOmeNt! 

What the hell? Like I said before, I was interested in the concept of Miles’ “Uncle Ben” being the Prowler. It’s an interesting conflict between a hero and a villain. It’s also an interesting dynamic of two brothers taking different paths. This could have been an interesting look at how growing up Black and poor can make it seem like there aren’t any paths out and that a life of crime is the only option. There’s even a precedent with Hobie Brown, the Prowler of the 616. He’s a morally grey character who’s whole premise was being a non-lethal cat burglar stealing out of necessity who works with Spider-Man more than he fights against him. Miles dealing with his uncle stealing to make a life for himself could have made him a more sympathetic crimefighter but all of that potential is thrown away for this reductive crap. 

The concept of “evil” being genetic is problematic in itself but it’s not impossible to see why it’s an alluring story hook. However it is astonishing how Bendis took no time to think beyond that shiny story beat to see just how Black people in this country are viewed as immoral, evil, or inherently criminal and think of literally any of the other stories that could be told with Miles and Aaron. What makes it worse is that there’s a tangible pull away from any of those nuanced story ideas as soon as Miles brings up the idea that he inherited “crime genes” because just as soon as it comes up Aaron crosses the line into murdering people. It feels like Bendis just gots so excited by that “internal struggle” that he couldn’t help himself to reinforce the idea that Black men are inherently criminal and the only way for them not to be is to fight crime as a cop or a superhero (cop with a mask). Frustrating is too light of a word to describe it. 

It’s easy for friends and family to end up in a bad situation and navigating that with someone you love is hard to figure out. I’ve experienced that myself and that could have been such a fresh formative relationship to see Miles go through. And it does get there eventually. Into the Spider-Verse and Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales both salvage the Prowler and even Saladin Ahmed’s run on Miles pulls at that “Uncle trying to do right” relationship that this story should have been from the beginning. 

It’ll be awhile until we get there but man I hope these issues don’t sit right with Bendis now. 

Who am I kidding? They made him rich. 🙃

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