Spider-Men: Worlds Collide is a fascinating artifact. It’s a collection of Sara Pichelli, Brian Michael Bendis, and Justin Ponsor’s two Spider-Men miniseries, which star the mainline Marvel comics’ Peter Parker and Ultimate Marvel’s Miles Morales, and are built on the relationship between the two. Spider-Men and Spider-Men II are, for good and ill, deeply reflective of the eras in which they were released. 2012’s Spider-Men is set in the Ultimate Marvel universe, which (barring Miles’ own Ultimate Spider-Man) had gone from Marvel’s highlight to an increasingly obscure corner of comics.
2017’s Spider-Men II was released before Into the Spider-Verse and the PlayStation games Marvel’s Spider-Man and Spider-Man: Miles Morales cemented Miles as Spider-Man to a wider audience—and a significant chunk of its story is devoted to a dreadful but mercifully abandoned plan to have Miles (by then sharing the mainline Marvel universe with Peter Parker) leave the Spider-Man name to Peter.
Whatever else there is to say about Spider-Men and Spider-Men II, they’re terrific documents of where Marvel comics were in 2012 and 2017. As comics themselves? They’re a mixed bag. Thanks to illustrator (and Miles Morales co-creator) Sara Pichelli, both books are gorgeous and vibrant—and packaging them together provides an excellent opportunity to track the evolution of Miles’ physicality and style. Writer Brian Michael Bendis’ scripts and stories are less consistently successful.
Spider-Men as a whole is quite good, if overly cute in places. Spider-Men II is a mess, in large part due to the “Miles leaves Spider-Man behind” elements that undercut what could be an intriguing conflict between Miles and his alternate self.
Sara Pichelli is the reason to pick up Spider-Men: Worlds Collide. She’s a terrific artist, and her Spider-Men are marvelous, especially Miles. As a young teenager in Spider-Men, Miles is anxious and bouncy, particularly when meeting the full-grown and very much alive mainline Peter. As an older teen and a more established Spider-Man in Spider-Man II, Miles has become more confident and graceful, even amidst the teenage nerves that come with talking to his crush.
Thanks to Pichelli’s masterful pencils, Miles’ growth feels genuine—setting aside his superheroism, the seeds of her older Miles are recognizable in her younger Miles. And the same can be said for the similarities between Miles Morales the heroic teenager and Miles Morales the ruthless former crime lord.
Consider the two pages below:
The two Mileses are vastly different people who’ve lived vastly different lives, but they still share some of the same body language and expressions—particularly when in similar situations. It’s standout work in a collection full of excellent work from Pichelli. She’s one of western comics’ great illustrators.
Likewise, while Mark Bagley only pops in for a few pages during Spider-Men II‘s denouement, those few pages are a treat. Bagley has continually honed and refined his style over the years. At this point, his depiction of the Ultimate Marvel universe is iconic, so to bring him back for its (in-narrative) return to existence? That’s a good call. That’s a damn good call.
Thanks to Pichelli, Bagley, John Dell, colorist Justin Ponsor, and letterers Cory Petit and Chris Eliopoulos, Spider-Men: Worlds Collide is a consistently striking comic. The action is strong throughout. The character acting is superb. For the most part, writer Brian Michael Bendis matches their from moment to moment, but as mentioned above, Spider-Man II is a mess.
The adult Miles Morales is a striking character with an intriguing backstory—he’s a former crime lord who has a deep and genuine friendship with Wilson “The Kingpin” Fisk from the days when they worked together. He’s a creative, thoughtful man who wanted to build a life outside of violence and succeeded with Fisk’s help. Spider-Men II sees the adult Miles return to the underworld in the hopes of finding a way to another world where his beloved wife still lives. He’s creative enough to make it happen, thoughtful enough to lay his plans carefully (he quite pointedly does not bring Fisk into them for fear of his best friend talking him out of it), and absolutely, relentlessly driven.
Pitting the Spider-Men head to head against the adult Miles might have made for a terrific comic, and his solo sections of Spider-Men II are quite strong. But there’s just such a disconnect between those sections and the Spider-Men sections of the book. While they’re ostensibly opposed to each other, the encounters are so glancing that the connections between their stories are downright gossamer. And Miles and Peter’s story in Spider-Men II is saddled with the utterly crummy “Miles leaves the Spider-Man name to Peter because Spider-Man is about Peter’s pain” conceit.
When Spider-Men II itself acknowledges (through Miles’ pal Ganke) that Miles Morales is Spider-Man as much as Peter Parker is Spider-Man, it lays bare how hollow the notion of Miles setting aside the name would be. No matter what the in-universe text says, locking the name to Peter Parker and Peter Parker alone would be setting Miles up for a slide into obscurity.
When Miles closes Spider-Men II by saying that being his own man would be even better than being Spider-Man, for all that Pichelli’s art and Bendis’ dialogue try to make it sing it’s just sour and airless and ends the Worlds Collide collection on a bum note.
It’s frustrating because the first Spider-Men is a lot of fun and the parts of Spider-Men II that do work, work quite well. For the curious, I’d suggest checking the first series out on its own. Spider-Men II is worth looking into if you’re a Pichelli fan and have yet to read her work here, or if you’re a fan of Bendis’ crime comics and his work with villains. Otherwise? It’s skippable.
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