How Saladin Ahmed Redefined A Character
When Brian Michael Bendis and Sarah Pichelli introduced the world to Miles Morales in the pages of Ultimate Fallout #4 in 2011, he had a lot of room to grow….mainly because Peter Parker had only recently died saving everyone he cared about. While this all happened, Miles had only recently been bitten by a genetically altered spider that gave him not only similar abilities to his predecessor but also camouflage and bioelectric “venom blasts.” Miles would later become the Spider-Man of Earth-1610 and never really grew for almost a decade after.
With the hype that has grown around the character over the last couple of years, with a new film and video game being the obvious standouts, Miles has become a cultural icon for many readers from many backgrounds. He has even helped push Peter into a role he would have never guessed he would be in, a mentor. However, his journey to this point in his life had its share of ups and downs. Following the multiverse shattering event of Johnathan Hickman’s Secret Wars, Miles found himself with a new lease on life. By giving the captive Molecule Man a cheeseburger while on Dr. Doom’s Battleworld, the grateful villain decided that the new reality being born from the Secret Wars would place Miles in the 616 universe properly and even bring back his father (now an ex-SHIELD agent), deceased mother, and Uncle Aaron; now operating as the youngest Spider-Man in New York City, this means that he can finally grow in a brand new universe….right?
With Bendis and Pichelli returning for an All-New All-Different Miles Morales series, this was the time to try different things with Miles Morales; however, as the series progressed, many readers (myself included) had noticed that the story was beginning to fall a little flat. That meant that aside from some amazing artwork, the story really didn’t have anything to say. Aside from a new Sinister Six and the return of Uncle Aaron as a new villain (a black and gold Iron Spider), the series didn’t want to try anything too new or too daring. That being said, one thing that the series did that was a great call and even bleeding into other media has been the idea that Miles’ parents know his identity and actively support it. Aside from this, the volume felt very by the numbers and really felt like a mad dash to get to the last issue, compounded only by the fact that Bendis was already on his way to DC to spearhead the Superman franchise. But with Bendis leaving his baby, there were still big shoes to fill for a character who, in the comics world at least, risked falling to the sidelines with other interesting Marvel heroes (anyone else wonder what happened to Blindspot?)
Enter the creative team of writer Saladin Ahmed and artists Javier Garron, two people tasked with bringing Miles back to the Marvel Universe’s forefront by taking him in a long-overdue direction. With issue#1 of Miles Morales: Spider-Man, it’s obvious that this Miles would be something truly all-new and all-different. On a personal note, as someone who, much like Miles, is also half Puerto Rican, I was overjoyed to see him speaking Spanish not only to his mother but as a part of his day to day. It was a simple addition to the character that speaks volumes to the heritage the character has and, for some reason, was never really explored before. But the changes don’t stop there! For the longest time, Miles has always been on the younger side of his teenage years and has, artistically, never looked much older. The first issue of this new series makes sure that we see a Miles that has grown and learned in his years of Spider-Manning. With Garron’s unique touch, Miles is already taller and sporting a new haircut (sure, it seems insignificant, but after almost a decade of the same, a little goes a LONG way).
My personal favorite change (spoilers ahead) came in issue #7 of Miles Morales: Spider-Man “A Day in the Lives” where we see Miles chatting with his uncle and later on see him making it to a dinner with his folks where they announce he is going to be a brother! Something like this goes without saying just how monumental a change like this is for a character like Spider-Man. Following the birth of his sister, Ahmed makes sure that we see Miles spend time with his sister both in and out of the suit and that she is just as much of an active role in the family as his parents, and that all ends up fleshing Miles out even more as he now has even more responsibility on his plate.
Something that has also plagued Miles has been a severe lack of original villains. For many issues, Miles tends to take on legacy characters from Peter’s rogues gallery that serve their purpose as antagonists but fail to really resonate. Ahmed’s new series has decided that it would be easier to lean into the idea of legacy and, rather than create a new batch of villains, make sure the enemies he DOES face are fleshed out enough to stand on their own two legs, legacy or not. The first few issues see Miles taking on the Rhino (a villain who always seems to “run into” him..haha…okay, no more puns) and a child trafficking ring. From the early issues, however, it is evident that there are bigger things at work. Ahmed then reintroduces uncle Aaron’s identity as The Prowler, a character who is less of a villain and more of a means to keep Miles safe, which becomes a priority after Miles is captured by a faceless organization where they run a battery of torturous tests on him. (more spoilers ahead!!!!!)
It turns out that these tests were greenlit by a man named Ultimatum, someone from the Ultimate universe, a world previously thought destroyed, who wears Giant-Man’s suit, Captain America’s Shield, and Iron Man’s boots and gauntlets. But why attack him? Why hurt Miles? The answer comes way back in Spider-Men II, where Peter and Miles have another team-up to stop the Miles of Earth-616. That series ends with him being sent back to the Ultimate Universe to be with the love of his life, but it seems like things didn’t pan out as Ultimatum is none other than 616 Miles, and he wants nothing more than to send everyone from Earth-1610, back where they came from.
With Miles remembering his past and a world where he has made a new and better life, Miles decides he would rather stay, and he and Uncle Aaron take on Ultimatum and the Ultimate Green Goblin (you read that right), who has amassed an army of goblin monsters. The heroes are joined by Captain America, a new character named Starling (Vulture’s grand-daughter), and more, and in classic Spidey fashion, Ahmed’s first major arc wraps up with issue #21, and not without a sacrifice.
Phew! We made it! Many other things happened in these first 20 issues that Ahmed worked on, but some things are best to be read. While Ahmed is newer to the world of comics, he has made his mark and, to me, has helped Miles out in ways that will stick with the character for a long time. The newest Miles run and its creative team has helped establish that while some may have it hard, like Peter, it IS possible to lead the life you want and maintain the life you have. All it takes is love, support, remembering where you came from, and ultimately…going your own way.