web stats

CSBG Archive

Committed: Death Sells… But Who’s Buying Ultimate Spider-Man

050113_death1Unfortunately, we seem to have come to the point where the logical extension of making violence an all-ages-friendly subject, means that death in comic books is no longer shocking, it is boring.

In our current social climate, the one high impact event that it is acceptable to use as children’s entertainment, is violence. The most extreme outcome of violence is death, therefore when it came to creating some high-impact events in Ultimate Spider-Man; first his uncle was killed off, then his father was put in a coma, and now his mother has been killed off. In less than 22 issues poor Miles Morales is finding out that the price of being a young superhero published by a mainstream company is death all around him.

Think about it, if you are one of the big two publishers, producing a bit of a marketing vehicle of a monthly book like Ultimate Spider-Man, the last thing you want to do is piss people off. However, you do want to surprise people and create a marketable event every month. How can you do this? Can you depict a young superhero exploring his budding sexuality, or questioning his sanity, or learning about the relationship between poverty and crime, or combatting racism? No, of course not, because sex, mental health, and politics are taboo subjects, and when approached in an all-ages comic book they would take a deft hand to make simultaneously media-attractive, socially acceptable, and relatable for an all-ages audience. While writing about issues like these (which could plausibly arise in Miles Morales’ world) could be compelling and also attract media attention, they could also raise an outcry which violence doesn’t, and no mainstream publisher is interested in dealing with that.

050113_death3

Why did Miles Morales’ mum have to die? The new Spider-Man is a young, bright, smart, sweet boy who became a superhero by accident and for nearly 2 years we’ve watched him blunder though it. I thought that just maybe just once we could have a kid with two, healthy, loving, solvent parents ,who would fight crime simply because he felt it was right, without the need for a hackneyed guilt/revenge scenario. This was a kid too young to have much sense of self-protection, but tons of empathy, a taste for adventure, and a good heart. He wasn’t born from tragedy but from a happy accident, his origin story didn’t have to stem from the depth of some horrific death in the family. But then it did…

When Miles held his mum in his arms and the life just ran out of her, I started crying, not just because it was a sad scene at the end of a whole lot of sad scenes, but because I was mourning for the whole damn genre. Someone came up with some good stories a long time ago and writers keep returning to that well, churning out the same stuff, never daring to try something different. I thought just once that we would see something entirely new, but I was wrong. Once again we have a practically orphaned child, torn apart by pain, forced to watch loved ones attacked by evil.

When I want to listen to the Rolling Stones, I do. I don’t listen to the Strokes. They’re cute and I quite like them, but too much of the time they’re like a Rolling Stones New, so it feels better and richer to just listen to the original source material and lose myself in Let it Bleed. I used to apply the same logic to Ultimates comic books, I made fun of friends who read them because I didn’t see why I’d need a modern retelling of a story that was already done well the first time. But for a little while, Ultimate Spider-Man showed me I was wrong, he was a different kind of Spider-Man with a different kind of supporting cast. I got drawn in, I got attached. Today I was reminded that all big publishers play it safe and focus on violence to sell books. When push comes to shove they don’t want to try something new, they just want to write the same damn stories again and again.

050113_death2The artist on this has been Sara Pichelli, and she is one of the greatest new voices in visual storytelling to emerge, so I’m grateful to Ultimate Spider-Man for bringing her to my attention. If not for her, perhaps I wouldn’t have become so attached to Miles and his family, or believed that this little kid could and would throw himself around the city to take the kind of risks he does.

In terms of the character’s writing though, I am disappointed. Painting with a broad brush is all well and good, but reverting to hackneyed, violent-centric story lines and depressing clichés when a book is seeking attention is cowardly and lazy. In the real world children are already being subjected to news of violent deaths in the playgrounds of America far too often, using violent death as a recurrent theme in all-ages comic books is no longer healthy or acceptable. If the envelope needs to be pushed, try pushing buttons outside of violence. At their core, all-ages comic books are adventure stories, fantasies of power and escapism for children who do not have much power or many escapes from their everyday lives, let’s stop using violent death as a touchstone in these books.

46 Comments

Oh, that’s a shame. I’ve been enjoying Miles Morales as a character a lot, but I don’t buy any of the Ultimate titles, so I don’t wind up reading them till they (reliably) hit my local library. I’m sorry to hear it’s taken such a bloody turn. I guess even the most lighthearted Ultimate title can’t avoid the overall bloodthirstiness that pervades that particular line of comics.

Charles J. Baserap

May 1, 2013 at 10:30 am

I’ve really liked this book, but felt it jumped the shark here by taking the one thing that really made Miles unique in the role–a loving, if occasional frictional, family–and gave him an Uncle Ben just because. Her death was so telegraphed as to have lost all meaning and there was really no need he *HAD* to have one of his parents die to become a more focused or whatever hero. That was hackneyed at best.

GreAt article. I also want to add that years doen the road, after reading comics for over 25 years, its not the mega arc “death of a charecter” storylines I remember, its the ones that added humanity to the charectors. Mega violence is a quick sell gimmick, but not good storytelling. Charectoer development is whatwill stick with people years down the road.

This article is pretty unfair. Yes, there’s violence in super hero comics. Kind of comes with the territory. But it’s hardly the only sort of conflict or struggle, especially when talking about Ultimate Spider-Man. Peter Parker and Mary Jane had a long-term relationship that included an issue devoted to the possibility of being physically intimate. Do you really want Miles, who is a middle schooler, having that same discussion with his maybe-girlfriend?
And Miles being a “practically orphaned child”? There’s a few single parents who might take a lot of offense to that statement. You said yourself his dad’s in a coma. That’s hardly a death sentence, and most likely will not be since the conflict Miles will feel between being a son to a man who hates masks and being Spider-Man (the exact type of personal conflict you wish books had more of) is ripe with story-potential.
Having read interviews with Bendis I understand his reasoning for killing Mrs. Morales. But there’s a lot more to Ultimate Spider-Man than violence, as pretty much the entirety of the series can attest.

“I thought that just maybe just once we could have a kid with two, healthy, loving, solvent parents ,who would fight crime simply because he felt it was right, without the need for a hackneyed guilt/revenge scenario. ”

Jaime Reyes in pre-New 52 continuity. Honestly, probably the greatest supporting cast for a teenage super hero.

But Rio Morales had to die. Miles hadn’t had his Uncle Ben moment. Spider-Man needs an Uncle Ben. That’s fundamental to what Spider-Man is, regardless of whether it’s Peter Parker, or Miles Morales.

I liked the twist on Miles’ orgin compared to Peter’s, instead of his uncle dying from a bad guy, his uncle was the bad guy.
Instead of it being I want to fight crime because I don’t want what happened to my uncle to happen to someone else It’s I don’t want to be like my uncle so I will use my powers for good. That’s what made Miles different from Peter.
Now with Miles’ mother dying its just like Uncle Ben dying but to a weaker extent. It’s predictable now. He’s going to quit being Spiderman then something will come along and make him realize that he needs to be Spiderman and he’ll go back. His mother’s death is not really going to amount to anything but a short storyline. Which is sad.

seriously dude.. spoiler alert please. This issue only came out last week….

and some of us are only reading the trades…

Les Fontenelle

May 1, 2013 at 12:01 pm

Of course there’s violence in superhero comics, FFS. Superheroes are all ABOUT violence – they “fix” problems by punching them until they stop moving, then the cops show up and the protagonist heroically swings away into the sunset with their consciences clean. There are many superheroes who are actual murderers (but their victims always “had it coming” so it’s OK), Daredevil’s traditional method of “looking for information” is to violently beat up “lowlifes” in “dive bars” until one of them gasps something useful between bloody teeth. Hell, even that “ethical paragon” Captain America recruited an executioner into his team specifically to do “dirty jobs” (the actual reasoning provided to recruit Wolverine) and occasionally has his subordinate Avengers torture civilians (no wait, that’s “enhanced interrogation” so it’s also OK). Violence is ALL OVER superhero comics, it’s their bread and butter and their solution to all problems. Violence is how they “fight evil”.

And frankly, violence SHOULD have a high cost; if you’re concerned with younger readers, it’s actually much worse to water down the effects of violence. Ideally superheroes/villains should have missing teeth and broken bones all the time from all the punching and general brutality that they indulge in, and pretending that violence has no cost is a terrible disservice to younger readers.

Also consider this: if the heroes themselves are effectively immortal because death is a meaningless joke in superhero comics, then the next best thing IS to have their civilian acquaintances and relatives die as results of said violence. That mythical “all-ages” audience (that is rarely seen in actual comics shops BTW) does need to know that acts on violence aren’t like Roadrunner cartoons, where being hit on the face or crushed by a truck are just funny inconveniences. If realistically-drawn characters practice violence, that violence shouldn’t be watered down like a cartoon – a punch doesn’t send its victim flying away, there’s actual damage (as I learned when I was a child and punched another boy in the face for the first time; it was completely different from the superhero comics I read, the other kid bled and one of his tooth was broken, not at all like the satisfyingly clean blows that I saw on Marvel Team-Up).

And since the hero himself is unkillable, and killing unnamed characters means nothing for the readers, what else is left for a writer who needs to show the consequences of violence? The supporting cast, that’s what. This article asks “Why did Miles Morales’ mum have to die?” And the answer is: because there was nothing else that would have underlined the cost of violence as clearly to the main character. The purpose of this story was to teach young Miles a hard lesson about the violent life that he had embraced without ever really understanding its implications. If he’s going to be fighting psychos as a hobby, he DOES need to learn that the violence doesn’t end where he’d like it to. And let’s keep this in perspective, Miles Morales’ mother was never more than a plot device (initially utilized to show how good Miles’ family was, and now utilized to teach a valuable lesson to someone who desperately needed to learn it).

Finally, let me throw this out there: As violent deaths go, this wasn’t any more disturbing than “The Death of Gwen Stacy”, which is widely considered a classic superhero comic to this day. Was “The Death of Gwen Stacy” not “all-ages” enough for you? If so, you really should avoid superhero comics altogether. Because even celebrated “all-ages” series like Waid’s Daredevil still use violence as a convenient and clean solution to most problems. It’s in the genre’s DNA, for better or worse. I’m personally way more disturbed by books like Frank Cho’s Shanna the She-Devil, where nipples were carefully censored but graphic disembowelings were approved – seriously, talk about twisted priorities!

This is why you shouldn’t fantasize about being a superhero. Once you start to fly, your entire family is pretty much guaranteed to die. I’ve seen it happen to many times, really. Reading this just caused me to roll my eyes. Like you say: comic book deaths are just boring now.

I am reminded of this, but in a good way:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WINDtlPXmmE

Sonia, if you want the other buttons pushed and the button labeled “violence” to start gathering dust, then don’t just write about this–let’s face it, 90% of those who may read this probably won’t act upon it–GET ORGANIZED. Send this very thing to both of the Big Two, gather like-minded fans together and do something to protest all this. Activism comes in many forms, but it’s the blending of those forms that makes them all very effective. If it can work for some of the greatest civil leaders in history, it can work for a comic book fandom that needs to seriously STOP being so divided, so that they can work to make the comic book medium a better place.

Les Fontenelle

May 1, 2013 at 12:22 pm

So we’re going to demand less violence from superhero comics? Sounds great! Will Batman give stern lectures to purse-snatchers instead of breaking their bones? Will Wolverine offer hot marshmallows on his claws to all the ninjas, instead of ripping their guts out? Will the Hulk forsake his violent ways and hand out motivational pamphlets to mad scientists? I can hardly wait, that’s the kind of message kids need, because violence only leads to more violence.

…Unless what you want is CLEAN violence with no negative consequences, so nobody likable ever gets hurt? If that’s the goal, you’ll be doing a far greater disservice to “younger readers” than the death of Miles’ mum ever could.

If you don’t want to see characters die, you probably shouldn’t read a Bendis book. Just off the top of my head he’s killed…

Hawkeye (616)
Vision (616)
Jack of Hearts (616)
Carnage (616)
Owl (616)
Beast (Ultimate)
Kingpin (Ultimate)
PETER FRIGGIN’ PARKER (Ultimate)

There’s probably more, but I stopped reading him a while ago. Fortunately, death isn’t always permanent in the funny books.

Not only is death not always permanent in the comics, these days it almost (?) never is. Come to think of it, who’s the one character who always stays dead? Yep, Uncle Ben.

@Les
I meant calling for more CONTROLLED violence, or mandating that uber-violence be canned so that a healthy middle-ground type can reign. Uber-violence should have died out after the 1990′s. The idea is that we want the story to be better told and to actually have both HEART and IMPACT. That means regulating what counts as those former two or what counts as ‘gimmicky’ violence.

I get that he’s a Spider-Man, but is it a requirement that be should end up an emotional wreck just because be climbs walls?

Death shouldn’t be so cheap and easy. The point here is that it’s practically the first button writers push to give characters “depth”. Why not be a little more creative and come up with something else to build characterization?

Sigh. To all those who talk about how deal is realistic and blah blah blah, yes, it’s true. People do die in real life, often in unfair and random scenarios. Thanks. Glad to know that. But does a story designed around a young teen hero, designed to appeal to a younger audience, have to show how awful it must be to have powers and adventures? Is that what the kids are coming to comics for, to be hollowed out by despair and shown that their role models are utterly ineffective? It really reflects a weird level of self-hatred in the genre that anything where the protagonists win is considered “unrealistic.”

Besides this, death is always the closing of a door. Yes, in theory that door could be re-opened in comics, but when it comes to supporting cast types, more often, it never is. We are shut off from all the possibilities that character could have offered in exchange for a one time emotional impact. Is it worth it? Sometimes it could be, but on the whole it isn’t.

I don’t know, I’m not 100% against story death, even family member death, but honestly, why do we want our heroes to be less effective? Isn’t a hero supposed to succeed where most of us would fail? Isn’t it inherent in the name?

@cool arrow
I remember when that phrase used to be Bucky, Jason Todd, and Uncle Ben.

But Bucky and Jason Todd both came back years ago.

Les Fontenelle

May 1, 2013 at 3:20 pm

The thing is, we still don’t know how much heart or impact the death of Miles’ mum will have. At this point calling it a “gimmick” is just a knee-jerk reaction. The death of Wendy and Marvin (killed by the WonderDog because someone thought that was funny) was a gimmick. The death of Gwen Stacy wasn’t. Death isn’t a gimmick just because we liked the character who died. All literature is packed with death, because death is part of life.

And “uber-violence” is what happens when an uber-powered character does something violent, which in superhero comics is practically all the time. If the genre demands that good guys will be as violent as bad guys, then the only way that’s left to show that violence is bad is by showing some of its negative consequences. And sadly, people getting maimed and killed is a very common consequence of violence (and if we’re talking about making material appropriate for “younger readers”, it’s downright irresponsible to glamorize violence and pretend it’s harmless). As it stands, the casual violence of superheroes/villains has almost no consequences. The Punisher shoots down whoever he decides “deserves it” and he’s somehow never wrong, no matter how many bullets he shoots in public places no civilians will be mowed down. The Hulk throws tanks over the horizon but no soldiers who were within those tanks ever die. Heroes who can bend steel with their hands are shown punching human henchmen and none of those henchmen will suffer any lasting injuries. An actual “a-list” hero slashes his enemies like salami on a monthly basis but somehow there’s never much (or any) blood. Is it really healthier to suggest for “younger readers” that people who lose a brutal fight only sleep for a little while, and that slashing people open with knives doesn’t make a mess?

Death, even the reversible deaths of superhero comics, is one of the few remaining signs in this genre that violence MAY perhaps have some less-than-desirable consequences after all. Sonia mentioned in this article that sex, mental health, and politics are all forbidden topics in superhero comics (which is only kinda true, as politics are an inescapable subtext to everything)… why neuter the genre even more than it already is? Why not just switch to Archie Comics then, where the worst thing that could happen is being stood up on a date? If some spandex is indispensible I’d also recommend Chris Giarusso’s G-Man, a cartoon world of harmless goofy action. But books with realistically-drawn characters who live in realistically-drawn buildings and have realistically-drawn emotions can’t pretend they’re playing the same game as G-Man.

Don’t get me wrong, of course using death as a gimmick is bad, and it’s also often wasteful. It’s even worse to use resurrection as a gimmick, because it cheapens a very real experience that we all share at some point. But death SHOULD be part of superhero comics, because a genre that features violence as a universal solution to all problems (and that often claims to be “all-ages”) needs to acknowledge that violence does have negative consequences. Ideally there would be more middle-ground, with some victims of violence being maimed for life for example – instead of this bizarre dichotomy of extremes where either everything’s fine or someone died.

Which makes me wonder, would it have been better if Miles’ mum was “just” maimed and became a vegetable instead? She wouldn’t be dead so it would be better than another ghastly death, right? Of course not, it would be an even worse downer. And that’s after all the REAL complaint that inspired this article: not that this death is a “gimmick”, which is very arguable to say the least (hell, it wasn’t even promoted as one would expect a “gimmick” to be), but that it was a downer. But drama is impossible if the writer is scared of creating “downer” moments. If the choice is between having occasional “downers” and banning deaths like sex/mental health/politics were banned, give me the occasional downers. The superhero genre is neutered enough as it is.

Andrew Collins

May 1, 2013 at 3:31 pm

But Rio Morales had to die. Miles hadn’t had his Uncle Ben moment. Spider-Man needs an Uncle Ben. That’s fundamental to what Spider-Man is, regardless of whether it’s Peter Parker, or Miles Morales.

Then what’s the point of even having a Miles Morales? If they wanted to “Peter Parker” Spider-Man, they already HAD a Peter Parker! And a good one, who I liked a lot more than his 616 counterpart. With Miles, they had a chance to do something DIFFERENT with the character, and give the reader a different dynamic. There’s more to being Spider-Man than “dead parent figure” and it sucks hat Bendis has apparently decided to boil it down to being little more than that…

@Les
See, characters like the Punisher, the Hulk, and of course Wolverine (along with Batman and the like) should be EXCEPTIONS, not the rule. Also, maybe Rio Morales could’ve just DUCKED in time on instinct? And I’m simply saying, death should not be used in excess like it is right now–it should be a LAST RESORT. (Same with a vegetative state….) How about option three, hero is left injured and humbled, and we see their recovery in action? (A ‘Rocky’ moment, if you will?) Would that be a better substitute than yet another gratuitous death in comics?

Les Fontenelle

May 1, 2013 at 3:59 pm

How can any of us tell for sure that this death is gratuitous, Acer? It’s a new experience for the series’ main character, one which I assume will have an impact on him and possibly affect his future characterization. It would certainly be gratuitous if it were just one more death among many, like Batman’s dead-Robin factory, because then you’re just treading water and there’s nothing new to be learned by the hero. But right now we don’t know how this will affect the USM character. In all fiction, personal loss is a very common ingredient of the hero’s journey. Ben Kenobi’s death wasn’t gratuitous, and neither was Gwen Stacy’s. Perhaps this will turn out to be a gratuitous death after all, but at this point there’s not a lot of actual evidence to support that claim. And perhaps this will be a defining moment in the main character’s growth, the very opposite of “gratuitous” regardless of how nice the previous status-quo might’ve been.

As someone who has written a few of my own comics and planned more, it never occurred to me to “go dark” and kill off supporting characters. I figured my heroes would grow older and wiser after a hundred issues, but wouldn’t be scarred by tragedy.

I guess I missed the boat. No wonder the first two issues didn’t sell well.

Wow, hot button topic. Remind me to come back later and talk more, but for the moment, I think the key word here in the article is ‘boring.’

It was, it really was. The Ultimate line has in general been a way to avoid one of my pet peeves in long running comics- the lifespan of the character is largely infinite, but if you continually generate drama by killing off supporting characters, eventually, your character is looking back at a level of slaughter in their personal acquaintances that is simply ridiculous. I got tired a long time ago of ‘Oh woe is me, my decision to be Super-Hero X has cost me so much, am I responsible for the deaths of all these characters!?’ No, not really. Bad writing is responsible for the death of everybody you ever knew. Heck, your poor Aunt Sally’s death was a complete coincidence and she would have had that train hit her even if you were never born.

I think comics often use death because it is easier. In real life, relationships dissolve over time for all kinds of simply circumstantial reasons. In comics, you just get it over with and take the cheap angst generated by having main enemy # 5 kill girlfriend # 7.

Well,in Ultimate, usually the characters have only been around for a couple of years, there isn’t much of a problem with time lines, and when even main characters can and do die, death generally does have more meaning. But Mile’s mom’s death just felt unnecessary, tacked on. It wasn’t even the logical extension of the events of the issue, it was just bad luck. Sonia was right, I think. We’ve seen how this story goes. And yes, you can have good stories about budding sexuality without having a teenager have sex or even just decide not to have sex, if that’s not too much of a revelation for any of you.

But hey, this is Bendis’s story, he’s telling it his way, and it will stand or die on its own merits. I think Sonia addressed it as appropriate way as you can to an ongoing story, simply giving her reaction.

” Sigh. To all those who talk about how deal is realistic and blah blah blah, yes, it’s true. People do die in real life, often in unfair and random scenarios. Thanks. Glad to know that. But does a story designed around a young teen hero, designed to appeal to a younger audience, have to show how awful it must be to have powers and adventures? Is that what the kids are coming to comics for, to be hollowed out by despair and shown that their role models are utterly ineffective? It really reflects a weird level of self-hatred in the genre that anything where the protagonists win is considered “unrealistic.” ”

Note that so many popular young adult series put their heroes through the wringer, kill their loved ones, and take place in a world far less than ideal. Note also that those heroes are far more impressive BECAUSE they deal with death and despair– Katniss Everdeen of the Hunger Games is the first to come to mind.

And really, Sonia…you cried over the loss of the genre’s innocence? In previous columns you talk about all the great stories that got you into comics and got you through hard times– many of which also killed off plenty of characters and made them suffer.

According to what my wife says about the Hunger Games, Katniss develops PTSD from the events in her life. Realistically, that would probably happen to Miles as well. I look forward to the issues in which he sees the therapist for his trauma. That’ll lock in the young readers!

Anyway, the point is made in the context of the genre in general. Against the background of a sea of dead relatives, this death is kinda fits in to a cliche. This is a terrible cliche, people.

Off-topic but it really irks me when people draw the correlation between poverty and violent crime. Since American statistics are always cited, specifically the FBI annual reports, you can also draw the correlation between being black and being violent or being southern/mid-western and being violent, but drawing those relations with those disenfranchised groups is deemed too offensive for gun rights advocates looking for a defense for their position and American liberals just looking for a simple, gift-wrapped explanation for everyday brutality, so they blame another disenfranchised group, which is neither an ethnicity nor bound by geography, so it won’t ever be offensive to demonize them. It is beyond disgusting.

On-topic, Superhero comics are inherently violent soap-opera, and Ultimate Spider-man has been the epitome of that. It is the perfect superhero comic, and it never pretended to be more than that. Joe Casey, in the afterword of his new comic, wrote that he was executing this genre so much better than the big two, and by virtue of dealing with sexuality of a Bat-erstaz, he can’t be denied that.

” According to what my wife says about the Hunger Games, Katniss develops PTSD from the events in her life. Realistically, that would probably happen to Miles as well. I look forward to the issues in which he sees the therapist for his trauma. That’ll lock in the young readers! ”

Katniss has issues from the very beginning, because she’s forced to raise her younger sister due to her father’s death, her mother’s crippling depression, and the extreme poverty of their District. When she volunteers for the Hunger Games, it keeps getting worse and worse for her. By the beginning of the third book she’s absolutely ravaged by PTSD, and is clearly fighting against the Capital with the expectation/hope for a heroic sacrifice. To say nothing of Peeta…

And young readers are eating it up with a spoon.

But do they deal with the PTSD? Does the book just end with her sitting there staring at the wall? These are continuing series. They’d have to deal with that.

I thought superhero books were largely supposed to be fantasies. Who fantasizes about everyone they know dying? It’s gotten to the point where you’d have to be a complete asshole to put on the mask. You’re basically telling your friends and relatives that some random stranger getting mugged is more important than them. What sort of relationships would you have? Why the hell would people fantasize about this?

Of course, I might actually be interested in seeing superhero group therapy. I talked myself in to it.

A Horde of Evil Hipsters

May 2, 2013 at 1:08 am

This is an interesting point to raise, and the comments have been surprisingly civil (at least so far). For what it’s worth, I think “P.Boz” brought up the most important point here: “Why the hell would people fantasize about this?”

My answer is “they shouldn’t”. Masked vigilantes who use violence as a tool to get rid of undesirables are _not_ people anyone should desire to be. When I read Daredevil or Batman or whoever, I’m not reading about a character who’s admirable: I’m reading about men who are very, very broken. Flawed characters are interesting, that’s the appeal here.

Superman, of course, is a very different beast. He’s something like a more pro-active Messiah, and doesn’t conceptually have all that much to do with the masks & fists crowd.

Omar Karindu

May 2, 2013 at 5:45 am

As I’ve said before, tragedy can work when coupled with forms of narrative closure. Part of why you can give Katniss all that death and despair is that there’s an arc to The Hunger Games; yes, there’s death and despair and consequences, but in the end, the dictatorship falls.

Superhero serials, on the other hand, don’t usually end. The Peter Parker of the Ultimate line is an exception, I suppose, but that ending seems increasingly unsatisfying in retrospect. Norman Osborn won, essentialy, and the redeeming factor was supposed to be Miles Morales being inspired to use his abilities for good and carry on for Peter. When Miles’s life, too, turns into unrelenting misery, it sort of weakens the whole bit for me.

The other argument — that superheroes are a bad example because they’re violent vigilantes — seems to ignore the many, many other examples of perfectly successful media in which everyone fantasizes along while the Rebel Alliance or Indiana Jones or the Expendables fight their way to a happy ending. Where are the arguments that those are bad role models, or the movies where they wind up losing everything and becoming broken shells?

Nowhere, honestly, because the myth of redemption through violence is deeply embedded in our culture. Movies like those I’ve mentioned are popular because of its unrealistic and even retrograde politics. Pretending that superheroes are a uniquely awful iteration of the larger cultural complex seems rather like tunnel vision.

I really do enjoy the works that step back and examine superheroes or action characters in terms of the problems with that myth — Metal Gear Solid, Spec Ops: The Line, Watchmen, Ruby’s World, the graphic novel version of V for Vendetta, and others — but again, those are all stories with a single guiding hand, a careful plan, and, most often, convey some sense of their eventual finitude or narrative closure in mind. The endless serial isn’t designed to do that, and at best you either give up those or you understand that they do other, admittedly less self-reflective stuff. When the serial *always* has to be published next month, and the violence never ends, all you do is rob the consequences of that violence of their weight over time through sheer repetition.

@Omar Karindu

Ultimate Peter Parker was always supposed to lose. I heard a rumour somewhere that he was supposed to perish during Ultimatum, with that brilliant silent issue, but for some reason it did not happen. Ultimate Spider-man has always been about the teenage superhero who never could.

Omar Karindu

May 2, 2013 at 6:00 am

OK, but why was he supposed to lose? Is the idea that the world is irredeemably bad and corrupt , so that there is no redemptive figure who can change one bit of it? I can see the point there as a tragic ending, if a rather limiting one for the readers, but repeating the same idea with Miles Morales that all doesn’t much interest me. Surely you move on to tell a story proposing a solution at some point.

“Then what’s the point of even having a Miles Morales? If they wanted to “Peter Parker” Spider-Man, they already HAD a Peter Parker! And a good one, who I liked a lot more than his 616 counterpart. With Miles, they had a chance to do something DIFFERENT with the character, and give the reader a different dynamic. There’s more to being Spider-Man than “dead parent figure” and it sucks hat Bendis has apparently decided to boil it down to being little more than that…”

Thanks, Andrew. Pretty much sums up my feelings exactly. If we’re going to follow the Peter Parker script, then why bother with a new character?

Yeah I am not saying it justifies anything by retelling the same old stories with a more ethnic character.

Ultimate Comics Spider-Man Vol. 2 is rated T+

It is not meant for all ages nor it is presented as such. The rating is right there on the cover.

Omar, I’m glad you’re here. You talk good.

I want to see if there’s a consensus here: did anyone who read this issue say to themselves, “DC and Marvel, I GIVE UP!”?

Les Fontenelle

May 2, 2013 at 11:05 am

I didn’t. I also didn’t give up on Star Wars when Obi-Wan was killed, or on Spider-Man when Gwen’s neck snapped.

For almost two years now we have been following Miles Morales journey as he takes on the mantel of Spider-Man of the Ultimate Universe after Peter Parker’s death – and with this issue shit just got real.

Oh, it’s been real before this and Miles has already dealt with evil uncles and pissed off Avengers, but there has still been this aura of innocence surrounding his world. It’s been a blast watching Miles adapt to his new powers and the amazing things he can do now. It’s like “Super Hero Puberty”, something that Bendis excels at. To me, the character of Miles Morales is Bendis’ best work at the moment – Better then his X-Men stuff – better then his cosmic stuff – Ultimate Spider-Man is far superior then anything else he is currently writing.

But like I said, with this issue Miles world just got darker.

I feel for this kid – I don’t think I would want the “Great Responsibly” that comes with being Spider-Man at 13 years old. Sure crawling on the ceiling would be pretty fucking cool, but having a super villain like Venom gunning for you and your family? Hell no. Miles had a pretty normal life before he got bit by that spider – albeit there were secrets his family carried that he knew nothing about, but still, he was your average pre-teen with a dorky best friend that never aspired to be anything like the super-hero he is becoming.

And how are most Super-Hero’s born? Though adversity and loss.

You look at most Super-Hero origin stories, what was the turning point for the character to finally accept what they were and put aside their old life? It was the loss of a loved one. Uncle Ben, Pa Kent, Thomas and Martha Wayne, the list goes on and on. Add to that list Miles’ mother Rio.

She is killed by a stray bullet in this issue. Bullets meant to take out Venom. She got caught in the cross-fire of Spider-Man’s battles and paid the ultimate price. In the end she is held in her sons arms and she finally finds out his secret – that he is Spider-Man.

Miles didn’t ask for this. The events in his life have changed everything he knew or thought he knew. Nothing will ever be the same now. There is no going back and he knows this but that will not stop him from trying. It will not stop Miles from wanting to be Spider-Man no more, and in the last page of this issue gone is the Super-Hero. There is just a little kid that misses his Mom.

The age of innocence is over.

I think it is interesting there are so many people saying you shouldn’t be upset over this death because you weren’t upset over Gwen Stacy’s death, or that you obviously should have been this upset over Gwen’s death etc. etc.

It is interesting because that is the crux of your argument. When Gwen died it was different. It was exciting. It was new.

And, it was repeated over and over and over and over until now it seems it is a necessary part of the genre. And, maybe it is. But, your argument is that it shouldn’t be. You should be upset over Rio’s death because it was expected and trite and really added nothing new to either the character or the genre. It was the exact opposite of Gwen’s death simply because it was so obviously trying to be the same.

Maybe someday writers of comic books (and movies and tv shows and entertainment in general) will learn that you can’t get the same impact out of copying something that was new when it was first done, that you have to do your own first done thing.

But, maybe not.

Since we are discussing discarding Stan Lee cliches, I would like too also retire the Norman Osborn; Mysterious masked villain turns out to be someone familiar. Grant Morrison used it in New X-men AND Batman Inc., Chris Nolan did a version in Batman Begins and I have been told Shane Black did the same for Iron Man 3.

Metal Gear Solid is actually a great example of a long-running series with a lot of tragedy that also has a lot of forward momentum. It’s built into what the premise has become, about the repetition of memes (Snakes, solo sneaking missions, Metal Gears, super-terrorists, etc.), with each game repeating the pattern– the original setting the stage, the second showing it from a different perspective, the third showing how the pattern was created, and the fourth showing the damage the tired old pattern did to the world. Even Rising, the new game developed by Platinum Games, builds off of this by showing that the world isn’t necessarily better since Snake deposed the Patriots, but his successor Raiden has misinterpreted Snake’s ethos for his own gain (with many suffering in the process).

Similarly, you could argue that the new Ultimate Spider-Man follows the pattern inherited from the old one– a world fucked up by the hubris of adults, with a clueless but idealistic child having to clean up their mess. Peter Parker tried to save lives threatened by the messes of Osborn/Hammer/Roxxon/Fury/etc., and eventually died in the process, but his own meme– Spider-Man– lives on in Miles. And while Miles has inherited Peter’s task, he may yet be the one to break the cycles, or at least lessen its damage. Right now (and I say this having not read the entirety of the new Ultimate Spider-Man) Miles is learning first-hand the costs of being Spider-Man, after initially taking the job as a fanboy of his predecessor. He learned in the hardest way he could, but the experience made him wiser, and that wisdom will allow him to do his job better and influence more people.

A heroic struggle, even if ultimately vain, is an admirable thing. Even if the hero doesn’t survive, they still leave a lot behind, those who they saved, those who they stopped, those who admired their deeds and tried to do good themselves. This just as true of long-running franchises as it is of finite series; look at Batman, who consistently loses loved ones and makes mistakes, even in the present. Some might argue that he’s made the same mistakes too many times, but that’s a critique of individual stories, not of the overall theme. As Grant Morrison put it (paraphrased) at the end of Batman RIP:

” I thought he’d gone mad. But then I saw how he’d devoted himself to the greater good. How he came back stronger from each successive tragedy. And what else could I do but clean his wounds and tidy his costume?”

Oh my God, a Bendis book with unnecessary deaths and self-aware re-treading of classical comic book scenes? Noooooo. How could this be? I’m shocked, I’m surprised! I never thought I’d see it happen.

What is next? A Bendis book with repetitive dialogue and go-nowhere plots? What’s this world coming too?

BEST Marvel book out now.

[...] fact that the story line of the comic itself does not refer to race. In a May 2013 blog post on comicbookresources.com, Harris contends that violence is the greatest element used by Marvel to bring more attention [...]

Leave a Comment

 

Categories

Review Copies

Comics Should Be Good accepts review copies. Anything sent to us will (for better or for worse) end up reviewed on the blog. See where to send the review copies.

Browse the Archives