In celebration of everyone’s favorite web-head, July is Spectacular Spider-Month at AiPT! We have a series of amazing articles in store for the month. Movies, television, gaming, and of course comics will all be covered with great responsibility as we honor one of comics’ greatest heroes.
Over the course of the previous seven issues of his new eponymous book, Miles Morales has arguably had it easy. Writer Saladin Ahmed and artist Javier Garron have crafted a story with stakes, sure, but they’ve been marginal. Miles returned home from Spider-Geddon relatively unscathed, bounced back from a dark but not damaging story about indentured children with help of Captain America (a good friend to have!), remains close to his expanding family, and more.
It was all bound to come crashing down eventually.
With a stunning, singularly horrific eighth issue, these creators have turned Spider-Man into a har sci-fi/horror story, and I couldn’t be more thankful.
What’s it about? Marvel’s preview reads:
Miles Morales has been TAKEN! Grabbed from the streets by an unknown assailant, bound, tested and observed, like a bug under glass. Who is responsible?! And how far will they push Miles to protect his friends and family? Don’t miss this horrifying new chapter in Miles’ life as his rogues’ gallery continues to grow!
Now, I’ll admit that I’m both immediately interested in, and prone to like, any story that expands Miles’ rogues gallery (or Gwen’s, for that matter) but the manner in which its done here is so behooving of these creator’s strengths that it’s immediately elevated above the usual cool villain concept into something more.
The Assessor, this new alien or autonomous threat introduced here, is that something more. With a sterile, dispassionate focus on process and authority — forcing Miles through trial after trial — that acts as a stark counter to the book’s usual familiar, character-driven, and youthful themes, Ahmed’s plot deftly introduces a villain that is everything Miles isn’t.
Ego, camaraderie, compassion and the other major facets of Miles’ character bounce right off of this iRobot-esque foe in a way that very intentionally drains the usual high heroism and colorfulness out of the series quickly and pivots to hard sci-fi and horror in its place. What does a teenager with the ability to do anything they want or need to fear the most? Structure. Cold, hard, systematic authoritarianism that operates in a purely transactional way that they aren’t familiar with and intentionally alienates them the same way those power structures do in real life. A focus on body and ability rather than the character Miles is so carefully developing in his family life, his friendships, etc. It’s inspired and feels very different than the majority of Peter’s villains in an earned way.
When Miles fearfully and dejectedly says that he wants to go home, you feel the inherent desperation and wrongness in his situation deeply. The fact that he has to stay, because all of those wins over the previous issues are utilized against him so easily, makes it all the worse and retroactively recontextualizes everything that happened over those seven issues deftly. It’s the kind of smart, sci-fi driven writing that initially drew me to Ahemd’s work across novels and Black Bolt, and it works here recontextualized for Spider-Man’s world very well.
Javier Garron and colorist David Curiel bring that narrative dichotomy to life with stunning effectiveness. Note how the panels where no lights are on are very carefully crafted to submerge Miles, and the story, in literal darkness as compared to the harsh, strict borders of those with the lights on — a perfect mimicry of the Assessor itself. Or where they transition to vertical in similarity to that of Miles desperately climbing and clinging to a ramp. Or the discreet blocks of a two-page splash depicting each way Miles’ body and mind are being tested – and somewhat explicitly. The small moments of light or Miles’ spider sense breaking the rules further the poignancy of the dichotomy between the character and villain here and deepen the sense of urgency as Miles becomes more pained, frustrated, and stalwart as the story continues.
It feels hard, dispassionate, and processed in a way that meets Ahmed’s plot and dialogue perfectly and indicates an intentionality that, again, speaks to the sheer creative talent and strengths of this creative team.
And that’s the ultimate takeaway here — in subverting every expectation of the readers that have been with the series from the beginning might have this creative team — across perfectly paired narrative and visual tricks — demonstrate a careful, focused energy that re-orients the trajectory of this story, if not Miles’ entire life, for the better. I have no idea where it goes from here, but I’m more excited to find out than ever.
Thank you for joining AiPT! during Spectacular Spider-Month! Be sure to check back in every day for more Spider-Man content including interviews, features, opinions, and more!