In the final pages of last month’s issue of Spider-Man, Miles Morales finally asked himself the questions that have been plaguing some of his readership for the last several years. What separates Miles as a Spider-Man from Peter’s Spider-Man? Does Miles need the Spider-Man identity? And who is Miles Morales?
These are questions I was worried would be left unexplored, tossed aside with this new issue after last month’s bit of lip service. Or worse, quickly wrapped up in the middle of another cliche fight with Black Cat and Hammerhead.
Instead, what Spider-Man #20 does is rather weird: Miles reveals an out of the blue love for Japan, runs away to Tokyo, and starts a journey of self-discovery. It’s baffling, but allows for some of the most bold and interesting storytelling we’ve seen in Bendis’ Miles titles yet.
The issue opens with a set of double-page spreads of a Spider-character landing on a roof in Tokyo. We don’t know about Miles’ newfound lifelong love of Tokyo yet in these pages, so our mind races due to the randomness of him being in Japan and the things that he’s doing.
The sequence is very light on dialogue and allows Nico Leon to tell the story with his art. At first we aren’t sure who the Spider is (a clone, the guy from future solicits, a bad guy?) until the mask is taken off to reveal Miles. Then when he reveals a suitcase with a tuxedo and gun, we’re left with even more questions (is he working for SHIELD like his dad, is this the Chameleon, is this the Other Miles Morales?) before he breaks the gun and heads in to a fancy club.
Brian Bendis has a long history with in medias res openings like this, and a somewhat frustrating history at that. This device is one of a handful of the things most annoying me about Spider-Men II at the moment, for instance. But that’s because its use in Spider-Men II is boring; flashing to an uninteresting future development. In Spider-Man #20 though, it’s such a weird and unexpected sequence that you have to know what’s going on.
That success can largely be attributed to Leon’s art and Justin Ponsor’s colors which both shine in that sequence and throughout the book. Leon has never been my favorite of the rotating artists on Spider-Man, but his character modeling here mirrors the greatness David Marquez and Sara Pichelli set as an example on these books. Plus, his background design (coupled with Ponsor’s vibrant colors) makes the scenery changes come to life.
Even more importantly, the book doesn’t lose steam when we flashback to see how Miles got here. Instead, we get more of the powerful relationship between Ganke and Miles that has been propelling this series to new heights over the last several issues. Ganke/Miles has been at all-time high recently, and Ganke encouraging Miles to go on this journey while Ganke covers for him is really sweet. Their text conversations that follow along with the rest of the book, once Miles has touched down in Tokyo is also a nice added touch.
All of this, and I haven’t even touched on the action or the guest stars of the issue yet. Miles fights a group of Goblin Nation members and runs into Yukio and Tomoe (a Bendis creation with “technopathy” from his current Invincible Iron Man run). Did I mention the fight is sans-costume as Miles is trying something different in terms of his superheroing in Tokyo? These are some of Bendis’ most enjoyable action scenes in a while, as it actually feels like there’s some weight behind this fight. He’s not obscuring the fight with excessive jokes. We just get Miles actually, seriously trying to prove himself.
As much as I enjoyed the issue, I don’t feel like we’ve actually learned anything new about Miles yet (other than the Tokyo thing), but that’s okay as he’s still at the start of his journey. But the success of this arc overall is going to depend on if Miles Morales ultimately learns something new about Miles Morales, or if he just skitters back off to America with a new adventure under his belt. But this is the most positive I’ve felt about the character’s stories in a couple years.
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Spider-Man #20 isn't substantially different from the rest of the series, but shows how drastically a change of scenery and a little narrative momentum can improve the formula. This is the most promising the series has felt since before Secret Wars.