Disclaimer: This column is an opinion formed by an author who does not have an omniscient knowledge of comics. It also contains a fair number of spoilers for the titular comic.
Spider-Men is a five issue crossover event from 2012 between the world of the traditional Marvel universe and Marvel’s Ultimate universe. As the title suggests, the series focuses on the two universes’ Spider-Men: Peter Parker and Miles Morales respectively. In this story, Peter is the Spider-Man most fans (and even non-fans) know and love, set in the continuity established by the One More Day reboot wherein Parker is an adult, his secret identity is still mostly secret, and he is no longer married to Mary Jane. Morales, on the other hand, is the teenage Spider-Man of the Ultimate universe, the Marvel universe launched in 2000 designed to retell and adapt the stories and characters of the more traditional Marvel continuity. The Ultimate universe often features younger, updated versions of existing characters and attempts to update continuities that made sense when they were created in the 1960s and 1970s but are deemed not as plausible for a modern audience. The Ultimate universe generally exists outside of regular Marvel continuity. This series marks the first instance of a meeting between the Ultimate and traditional Marvel worlds.
The comic opens with Peter Parker as Spider-Man fighting crime as per usual in New York City. He runs into Mysterio and defeats him with ease. However, as he is examining Mysterio’s latest high-tech gadgets, Mysterio shoots Spider-Man and forces him into the equipment, which the reader later discovers was generating a rift into the Ultimate universe. Parker wakes up to find he is apparently still in New York City, but somehow the fact that Peter Parker is Spider-Man is common knowledge. As he tries to figure out what is happening, he runs into another Spider-Man, who readers of the Ultimate comics will recognize as Miles Morales. Back in Parker’s world, Mysterio wakes up and realizes what has happened. He activates a Mysterio avatar and sends it into the rift, determined to make sure Spider-Man is “never seen or heard from again.” Meanwhile, the two Spider-Men fight, with Miles eventually beating Peter and handing him over to S.H.I.E.L.D. Peter explains to Nick Fury his theory that he is from an alternate dimension and Fury accepts this idea. Fury instructs Miles to explain to Peter what happened to their world’s original Spider-Man, but before he can say much, they are attacked by Mysterio’s avatar.
Mysterio hits both Spider-Men with chemicals that give both heroes realistic and substantial illusions of various villains from their respective past. They beat Mysterio, but he simply decides to disconnect from his avatar and leave Parker trapped in this unfamiliar universe. The avatar explodes and Miles wakes up to find the Ultimates (this universe’s version of the Avengers) on the scene to investigate and Peter long gone. Parker does some research on his own and realizes that his counterpart in this universe died in combat. He finds where Aunt May and Gwen Stacy live in this world and shows up on their doorstep, much to their shock. May and Gwen initially attack him, thinking that he is mocking the Peter Parker they knew, but Miles soon shows up and tells them who he really is. Peter, Gwen, Miles, and eventually May get to telling stories about Ultimate Peter Parker and discussing the differences between the two universes. Peter and May have a heart-to-heart about Uncle Ben and why Peter does what he does and Aunt May embraces him, impossibly glad to have another chance to see the nephew to whom she never got to say goodbye. After an emotional goodbye, Peter leaves with Nick Fury and Miles to try and help Tony Stark (Iron Man) unravel the mysteries of the dimensional rift.
With their combined efforts, the heroes manage to locate Mysterio’s rift and attack him when he sends in his avatar for “just a peek” to see how Spider-Man is suffering in the new universe. Mysterio puts up a serious fight and after the Spider-Men and Mysterio battle it out between accidental dimensional jumps, they finally take him down and Nick Fury offers to keep him imprisoned in the Ultimate universe so that he cannot go around telling people Peter’s secret identity. Peter gives Miles his blessing to keep being Spider-Man before turning around heading home before the unstable portal collapses. Miles swings off, ecstatic to have received the blessing of even an alternate version of his biggest hero and Peter decides to look up Miles Morales in his world and the comic ends on him finding a shocking answer that is not shown to the reader.
This series is fairly entertaining, but it is also a bit of a gimmick and it shows. It is supposed to be a crossover event about the Spider-Men, but the story overall really winds up being a fish out of water story about Peter Parker in the Ultimate universe that happens to involve Miles Morales as a side character. The series seems mostly targeted at fans of the traditional Marvel continuity and largely aimed at introducing them to and getting them interested in the Ultimate universe. Of course, this does make some sense, since the Amazing Spider-Man universe has been around since the 1960s, while the Ultimate universe only started in 2000, so more people would obviously know the traditional Peter Parker better than Miles Morales. Nonetheless, the whole series does feel less like a meeting of the two worlds and more like an excuse for Peter Parker to explore the Ultimate universe. Even Joe Quesada, Marvel’s former Editor-in-Chief and the man largely responsible for the One More Day storyline and the subsequent Spider-Man reboot it created, said in 2005 that if the Ultimate universe ever crossed over with the mainstream Marvel universe, it would be a sign that Marvel “had officially run out of ideas.” Nonetheless, the story relies on the simple but relatively entertaining premise of most crossovers: one or both parties are, in some way, thrust into an unfamiliar world and forced to help with a problem in the new environment while trying to figure out how to get back home, with the additional clichéd but touching element of Miles getting to meet and get approval from an alternate version of his now-dead hero.
The art is generally pretty solid, though it typically favors the typical styles of the Ultimate universe over the standard style for Amazing Spider-Man. It carries the generally the dynamic but distinctly comic book flavor readers have come to expect from Spider-Man art, with a bit of an extra focus on the exaggerated effects for which the Ultimate universe is known. The characters are interesting and fun for readers who are already familiar with them, but a bit shallow for new readers, as non-main characters get very little time to develop. The dialogue is packed full of all the wit and quips readers have come to expect from both Spider-Man and pretty much any character in the Ultimate universe and is good for a fair bit of laughs. Overall, the story is good, but trite and it rarely feels as though the characters are in any real danger and everything returns to the status quo at the end of the series. It does use some cheap gimmicks, including the “shocking news” about Miles Morales in the traditional Marvel world which still has not been officially explained to Marvel readers as of the time of this writing. Much of the comic is clichéd, but it also has a few touching moments and makes for a fairly decent glimpse into the Ultimate universe, if not a particularly great introduction to it. This is probably not the Spider-Man comic for any new fans to start on, but for those who love the character in either or both universes, are curious about the Ultimate universe, or just want a slightly different look on who Spider-Man can be, this series deserves a read.