Miles Morales: Spider-Man #16
Two stories for the price of one! First up, Miles is on babysitting detail while his parents enjoy some quality adult time...
It doesn't take long, though, before Miles has to improvise some baby safety in order to rescue someone trapped in the sewers...
...which leads to a confrontation with one seriously ticked-off sewer-dweller!
Meanwhile, Miles' uncle Aaron, the Prowler, is summoned by the mysterious Ultimatum...
...who has a stunning revelation that will completely shatter both Aaron and Miles' worlds!
Writer Saladin Ahmed goes old-school by splitting Miles Morales: Spider-Man #16 into two separate stories, a format not often seen anymore in modern comics. With most everything being written for the trade these days and decompressed to accommodate four- to six-issue arcs for collected consumption in the bookshelf market, it’s rare to see an issue that fully commits to this older format of storytelling. Predominately in the Silver Age (and mostly at DC, who refused to modernize and abandon the format entirely until the early ’80s), comics were generally produced in what we would call a one-and-done format today, in more of an anthology format that usually accommodated two or three stories per issue. In fact, full-issue stories were such a rarity that DC had a special term for them: “Book-length stories.” Marvel, with its revolutionary soap-operatic storytelling that emphasized the human elements of their characters, made it their business to keep readers coming back for more by stretching subplots out for issues at a time, ensuring reader curiosity to establish increased returns. The strategy worked, and by the early ’70s, Marvel began dominating DC in the sales game, a trend that continues to this day.
All that is to say: it’s fun to find this refreshingly old-school read on the shelves in 2020. Anthology comics still exist, but as I stated above, are a rarity among the tights-and-flights set. Saladin Ahmed shows no fear diving right into the format, deliberately burying the true meat of the story behind the fun slice-of-life tale that kicks things off and proves why Miles Morales is such a beloved character. Charged with babysitting his baby sister Billie, it doesn’t take long for Miles to stumble onto trouble. Forced to balance his heroic responsibilities with his obligation to his sister, he cleverly webs her to his chest so she stays close to him, and selflessly dives into the sewer to help a trapped man. Of course, this wouldn’t be a superhero comic without some kind of action beat, so naturally there’s a sewer gator that menaces everyone. Our hero prevails, of course, and returns Billie home safely. It might seem a touch irresponsible to expose a baby to potential sewer dangers, but it’s all in good fun and more to the point, emphasizes Miles’ heart above all else. Penciller Cory Smith may go a bit overboard with the alligator’s proportions, but hey, who’s to say that old urban legend about sewer gators ISN’T true?
The issue’s real meat and potatoes, though, is the second story, starring Aaron Morales a.k.a. the Prowler. In what at first appears to be a fairly straightforward and even disposable story in which he commits a robbery and makes his get away, the screws are swiftly turned as mystery man Ultimatum reveals he knows the truth about Aaron (and Miles, too!): that they come from a different world, and although they’ve forgotten, he hasn’t. And you can bet he’s going to use that knowledge in a major way in issues to come.
Miles Morales has been plagued with unanswered continuity problems since arriving in the 616 universe post-Secret Wars. Previous writer (and character creator) Brian Michael Bendis treated him as though he’d been in the 616 all along, and before anything could be done to shed some light on that situation, beat feet for DC. That’s a pretty huge bag to leave Saladin Ahmed holding, and one that he’s chosen to address via the deliberately triggeringly-named Ultimatum character. For those unfamiliar, in 2008, Marvel tried their first major cleanup of their Ultimate Universe continuity to ensure it stayed new-reader friendly via the Ultimatum miniseries. Needless to say, reviews of this “let’s kill everyone as callously as possible” miniseries were not kind, and history has not improved its standing. Invoking the memory of that ill-fated miniseries is one hell of a dog whistle, as if Ahmed is deliberately going out of his way to draw a parallel between the cataclysmic events then and what’s in store for Miles in the near-future. It’s a bold move, to say the least. Contrasting this story and all it portends with the sunny optimism of the Miles lead-in tale is a deft move on the part of the writer.
The art throughout by Cory Smith, inked by Victor Olazaba, and colored by David Curiel is smooth and clean. Smith is one of those artists whose work may be easy to overlook, because it isn’t overly flashy. But it’s rock-solid, conveying motion and dynamism – critical for any Spider-Man story – in crisp, clear images. There are even touches of Mark Bagley in the way he draws close-ups of faces (Ultimatum in particular) that hearkens back to the halcyon days of old when that artist drew a record-breaking 111 issues of Ultimate Spider-Man in a row, setting the standard for all Spidey artists to follow. Happily, Smith and company are up to the task of following that legacy.
Contrasting light and impending dark by splitting Miles Morales: Spider-Man #16 into two distinct tales, writer Saladin Ahmed crafts what at first seems almost like a throwaway issue until a bomb is dropped late in the issue. Don't miss this one!
Miles Morales: Spider-Man #16: Adventures in Babysitting
Writing - 8/108/10
Storyline - 8/108/10
Art - 8.5/108.5/10
Color - 8/108/10
Cover Art - 7/107/10
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