Spider-Man #19 is a comic book in which nothing happens.
A lack of story progression or superhero action is the hallmark go-to complaint for Brian Michael Bendis’ comic book writing. It’s both a staple of his work and the #1 criticism from his detractors. It’s likely that you clicked on this very review wondering to yourself, “has the story moved on yet or is this another one of his talky issues?”
But to dismiss this issue outright because we get no action or forward momentum is a mistake that ignores Bendis’ knack for dialogue and emotion. It’s frustrating to get yet another quiet issue in a series that’s felt like nothing but. Taken on its own though, Spider-Man #19 is one of the stronger outings in an admittedly weak volume.
This issue begins with an adorable dream sequence that reminds you why Ganke is one of your favorite characters in comics before launching into a charming two-page text conversation between the character and his new love interest, Danika.
The Ganke/Danika relationship has taken some getting used to, but it’s been really impactful in giving the supporting character a chance to star in his own right. It’s always felt like Ganke’s been the heart and soul of Miles’ adventures. Now he’s getting a chance to show what he can accomplish on his own. It’s charming.
Of course, that charm comes as much from Oscar Bazaldua’s cartooning as it does from Bendis’ words. Bazaldua is not nearly the dynamic or multi-talented artist that Sara Pichelli had been on the title, but he has breathed a different and exciting new life into the book in his first four issues. That comes from the artist’s simple but expressive character work. In a book that’s so heavily focused on conversation, the artist’s ability to express emotion is key.
That skill is best highlighted in the book’s next major scene – the first conversation between Rio and Jefferson since all of the family’s secrets were revealed. The sly smiles, loving eyes, and dejected faces say more about the couple’s current rocky status than their words could. This strain in Miles’ parents’ marriage has been the most compelling aspect of this current iteration of the series and this conversation is a key piece in finding out if there can ever be trust there again.
The last of the book’s major scenes deals with Ganke forcing Miles to once again consider whether or not he’s meant to be Spider-Man. Miles has struggled with the question so much in such a short amount of time that it feels like there’s nothing new that could be brought to the table with this question. But Bendis has an incredibly well-thought out and interesting new take that shockingly makes this retreaded idea fresh.
Ganke points out that Miles became Spider-Man because Miles was bitten by a radioactive spider in the same manner and given the same powers as the first Spider-Man. He was simply following a trail that had already been blazed. But what if Miles had been bitten first instead of Peter? What if Miles didn’t have a legacy to live up to, but instead had been the one to set his own course?
In many ways, this feels like Bendis once again poking at critics and readers in the meta way that he so often likes to do. The question has been asked before if Miles can ever really be *the* Spider-Man to readers when Peter Parker has such a long and storied history.
Ganke’s question to Miles seems to call into question not whether Miles should retire from being a superhero but rather if he should retire from being a Spider-Man. It’s hard to believe that the book called Spider-Man may wind up starring Miles in a different identity, but it’s a question that’s presented in a fascinating way in this issue and leads you to wonder if Bendis has something up his sleeve. If not necessarily a new identity, it at least offers the hope that Miles may find his own Spider-Man path going forward (something the series desperately needs at this point).
These three character-focused and wonderfully executed conversation scenes aren’t enough to make up for more Hammerhead wheel-spinning and the hints of a pair of uninteresting new mysteries (Fabio is gone, Jefferson is approached by a mystery man), but in a down series whose peaks have been defined by great conversations, it’s enough to get a passing grade and promise a brighter future.
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With Spider-Man #19, the series continues to struggle to progress in meaningful ways but reaches one of its (admittedly low) highs by delivering on wonderful characterization in a handful of a great scenes.