Stillanerd Reviews: Spider-Man #3

Miles Morales experiences another Spider-Man staple: getting himself grounded by his grandma! And like everyone else in Miles family, we can’t stand her .

When I was taking Creative Writing during college, I once submitted a story about three juvenile delinquents hanging out a local mall. One of the boys, the leader of this crew, was rude and crude thirteen year-old who acted like he didn’t give a damn about anything but loved to brag about himself, the kind of kid who thinks smoking cigarettes, using colorful profanity, and harassing girls with bad pick-up lines is “grown-up” and “cool.” After grading my story, the instructor noted in her comments how I did an excellent job in portraying these characters and the boys’ leader in particular. “He’s a type, of course,” she wrote. “But a fully realized, flesh-out type.” Funny thing is, I never intended for this character to be a type. I bring this up because with Brian Michael Bendis and Sara Pichelli’s Spider-Man #3, we have such an example of a vivid, fully-realized, distinctive character type who dominates the entire issue, just as she starts to dominate the lives of Miles and his parents. I’m talking, of course, about Miles’ grandmother, Gloria Morales.

As established in the beginning of the series, Miles’ crime-fighting excursions as Spider-Man have caused his grades to slip. So his mother took the drastic approach of calling in her mom to “scare [Miles] straight,” as seen at the end of the last issue. So when Spider-Man #3 begins, it doesn’t take long to see that calling in Miles’ grandmother for help may not have been the best of ideas. She’s loud, overbearing, condensing, and domineering, who believes its her way or the highway and will not tolerate any one questioning her authority. She presumes without any evidence that the reason behind Miles’ poor academic performance is due to drugs, thus confiscating his cellphone, and grounding him to his room. She even bares his friend, Lara Baumgartner, a.k.a. Bombshell, from seeing Miles because she suspects her of being a drug dealer. Needless to say, Miles believes his grandmother is being totally unfair, as, of course, she no idea that he’s really a superhero.

…by [Bendis] portraying Gloria the way he does, by showing how the other characters cannot stand her, the readers cannot stand her as well.

It would be one thing if the comic limited itself to Miles’ point-of-view, or if Bendis strictly portrayed Gloria Morales as a comedic foil in the same way J. Jonah Jameson is for Peter Parker. Except we see how the other characters react to Gloria’s presence, in particular Miles’ dad. It’s obvious there is no love lost between Jefferson and his mother-in-law, who she still sees as a criminal even though he’s been reformed for years. Not to mention she doesn’t hesitate to bring up the memory of Miles’ uncle Aaron by warning her grandson he could end up dead like him, which infuriates Jefferson to no end. It’s also clear that Rio is incapable of standing up to her mother even as she disapproves of her mother’s behavior. By the time Gloria enters Miles’ room to reassure him that she loves him, that she’s being hard on him because he she loves him, and reminds him to “let Jesus be your guide,” it already feels too-little, too late. Because by portraying Gloria Morales the way he does, by showing how the other characters cannot stand her, the readers cannot stand her as well. In short, Bendis did too good a job in creating Gloria Morales as a stereotype of the rigid and bossy matriarch who cannot help throw her weight around.

So overwhelming is Gloria Morales’s presence that one almost forgets the additional scenes and subplots also taking place in this comic. There’s a lighthearted and amusing cameo appearance by Kamala Khan, the new Ms. Marvel, and the re-introduction of one of Bendis’ original characters from his run on Uncanny X-Men as a new supporting character. However, it’s the continuation of the Black Cat setting her sights on Miles which also takes up a good part of this issue, as we see her recruiting long-time Spider-Man b-list villain, Hammerhead, to help her take down the new Spider-Man. Why is deciding to target Miles all of the sudden, you might ask? “I didn’t like it when it was just one,” she says. Yep, it’s all because she still angry at Peter Parker over something Doc Ock really did, and if she can’t kill her ex-lover, she might as well kill someone else calling themselves Spider-Man instead. Never mind this if this makes even less sense than the reasoning behind her current villainous status; all that trouble the Spider-Man offices did in turning Felicia Hardy into the “Queenpin of Crime” can’t go to waste, right?

Sara Pichelli knows…much of the story on panel must also be nonverbal, that’s it’s the art which really shows what characters are thinking and felling…

Being this is one of Bendis’ more “talkier” issues in which there’s not a lot in the action department (Miles doesn’t even get into costume once), Spider-Man #3 is a comic which demands an artist having enough skill to visually convey with emotions from the dialogue. Fortunately, Sara Pichelli is just such an artist. Like the great comic book illustrators of the past, she knows that because comics are a predominately visual medium, much of the story on panel must also be nonverbal, that it’s the art which really shows what characters are thinking and feeling with the dialogue and captions merely complimenting what’s on panel without having to explain it. And Pichelli excels at this, in being able to depicting realistic facial expressions and body postures, and just ever so slightly exaggerates them for maximum effect. You don’t just see Miles frustration over being grounded to his room, you feel it along with him. You’re just as annoyed and angry towards Gloria Morales because Pichelli, through her art, makes you experience their emotions. Even when the more fantastical elements like Kamala’s shape-shifting, size-altering powers come into display, you’re not taken aback by them because everything on the page feels so real and plausible.

So, if Bendis and Pichelli’s goal with Spider-Man #3 was for the reader to experience what Miles, Jefferson, and Rio were feeling towards Gloria throughout the story, then on that level this comic is a rousing success. Yet this is also one of those rare instances in which it works so well, one’s dislike of a character has the adverse effect of bringing down the entire issue, even when it tries to course correct itself later. That’s the trouble with having types in stories; either you respond to them well or you don’t.  Maybe next time, Bendis can round Gloria Morales a little bit more.

Stillanerd’s Nerdy Nitpicks (spoilers ahead)

  • Okay, both Secret Wars and Ultimate End established that Miles and his supporting cast’s history have been incorporated into the Marvel Universe. So how exactly does Uncle Aaron’s death fit into all this? Remember, Aaron Davis, in Ultimate Comics: Spider-Man, was that world’s version of The Prowler. Except The Prowler already exists in the Marvel Universe, has an entirely different secret identity, and is also a superhero instead of a super crook. Which also means the circumstances behind Aaron’s death must be different. What are those differences exactly? And why do I get the feeling it will never be explained what those differences are.
  • “What would a homeless kid do with a door?!” You’d be surprised, Miles. After all, one could lean the door up against a wall at a 45 degree angle, throw a plastic tarp over the top, and you’ve got yourself a nifty makeshift tent. Not that I’d recommend it, of course.
  • Perhaps it’s just me, but I kind of agree with Grandma Morales’ view when it comes to letting teenagers have their own cellphones, though not for her erroneous reasoning that it’s a sign they’re involved with drugs. Teenagers, after all, tend to talk and text a lot, and depending on one’s cellular plan, you can really rack up those minutes and pay a pretty penny. Which means a kid having their own cellphone, like having their own credit card, can get pretty expensive month after month. Although it’s understandable in Miles’ case since he does go to a charter school that has room and board during the week.
  • Okay, I know Lara not knowing what LSD is was Bendis’ way of showing how ridiculous Grandma Morales was being in “profiling” her as a “drug dealer,” but…seriously? Lara doesn’t know what LSD is? Then again, that was a drug of choice during the 60s, so maybe she wouldn’t.
  • Is it just me, or is it kind of weird Kamala–a girl who has shape-shifting abilities, including the ability to alter her appearance and facial features–needs to disguise herself with a hoodie?
  • Wait a minute? Hammerhead’s real name is “Joseph?” When the heck this happen? Oh, I guess Amazing Spider-Man Vol. 1 #618 revealed this, apparently. And Hammerhead’s Ultimate Universe counterpart was also named Joseph. And the Noir version’s full name from the Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions video game was “Joseph Lorenzini.” Still, it’s kind of weird how, for a guy who had amnesia to the point he thought he just like James Cagney from The Public Enemy (1931), Angels With Dirty Faces (1938), The Roaring Twenties (1939), and White Heat (1949) that everyone knows what his real name is.
  • And Hammerhead also has a sister? Oh, that’s right. She showed up that one time in the miniseries, Spider-Man Lifeline.
  • Actually, with regards between the differences between mutants and inhumans, weren’t inhumans also born with an “extra something in their blood or DNA,” too? The only difference is a mutant’s power becomes triggered with the onset of puberty while an inhuman’s power becomes triggered from exposure to the Terrigen Mists. Either way, Judge gave the teacher an incomplete answer.