|Clearly Fury's been deeply touched by both Peter's death and Miles' appearance. How wistful he looks, even as he fails to be able to mention either Peter or Miles as anything other than examples of a type.|
That weeping, contemptible Nick Fury who's paraded before us at the conclusion of Ultimate Fallout? That poor broken man so haunted by his failure to take care of Peter Parker that he's shattered by shame and driven to tearfully, pathetically apologise to Mary Jane Watson? You'd imagine that he'd be something of a transformed man by the experience. After all, to end a series with such a scene surely suggests that something important has occurred, that lessons have been learnt and change begun, if not completed. For if that isn't so, then the ending of Ultimate Fallout is nothing other than a manipulative, melodramatically sentimental exercise.
So what do we find within the pages of the new Ultimate Spider-Man title, as the 13 year old Miles Morales nobly attempts to live up to Peter Parker's heroic legacy? Do we discover a Nick Fury who in any way recognises his previous failings, who's conscious of his obligations as both a private individual and a servant of the state, and who's determined to behave in a way which, to a lesser or greater degree, reflects the hard truths which Parker's sacrifice revealed to him? Well, of course we don't. It may look at first as if this is a Fury who's more humane and even rather wistfully vulnerable, but his behaviour remains inexplicably callous and unimaginably irresponsible.
Or; all that crying really was just sickly show for the rubes and no tell at all.
|Great play is made of the fact that the new Spider-Man is a 13 year old boy. Given that, we might expect that he'd be treated accordingly rather than as a troublesome if simple-minded adult who deserves all he gets.|
For those unfamiliar with the events of Who Is Miles Morales?, the young would-be Spider-Man is assaulted, webbed-up and harangued by the Ultimate Univere's Spider-Woman, who's both a clone of Peter Parker and an Agent Of SHIELD. Having shaken up the boy so thoroughly that he desperately attempts to escape and, falling, knocks himself unconscious, Spider-Woman carts his comatose body off to The Triskellion, where he's placed in a cell, subject to blood-tests and investigated using all the decency-sidestepping intelligence-gathering options open to Nick Fury's apparent state-within-a-state. This of course makes for a sequence of fan-thrilling moments; Hawkeye, Fury, Iron Man and Spider-Woman discussing Morales' identity and fate while he awakens alone in a darkened cell; the splendor of The Triskellion lit up against the night sky and so far from the constraints of everyday society; the showdown between SHIELD's leader and the clearly anxious Morales. But, of course, Fury and his colleagues display no more respect for the human and legal rights of Morales than was shown to Mary Jane Watson at the end of Ultimate Fallout. Because of that, the reader's left wondering just what sort of people let an innocent 13 year boy awaken in a soulless cell without any kind of sympathetic face to greet him. After all, Miles has by that time been confirmed as anything but a menace, and he'd obviously have no idea at all where it was that he'd been taken while out cold. Yet whatever it is that Fury has learnt from Peter Parker's death, it's yet to affect how he behaves beyond that sickly moment of whimpering on the shoulder of Mary Jane Watson.
When Morales later asks to be able to make a phone-call, Fury tells him that he's "not under arrest. We're just talking.". It's a line which unambiguously reveals how America's senior spy-chief and the controller of its Ultimates hasn't reformed his ideas about how to treat folks who neither know their rights nor feel confident in expressing them. (But then, contempt for the state beyond SHIELD is rampant within the ranks of Fury's people. Spider-Woman declares with no little disdain that Miles is a "dork" for thinking that the police might protect him from her decision to punch him out, truss him out and shout at him.) So, although the reader is clearly meant to be absorbed by the badassery of it all, Miles has actually been assaulted, kidnapped, imprisoned, subject to invasive medical procedures and numerous other violations of his privacy, and then denied even the comfort of company and advise. Yet somehow the conventions of the super-book mean that the reader's not even supposed to notice that that's happened, let alone care.
|Sara Pichelli's splendidly characterful art leaves the reader in no doubt how young and vulnerable Miles Morales is.|
As with Mary-Jane, Fury makes no attempt to contact Miles' legal guardians or provide either independent counsel or support of any kind. Regardless of how the Republic's laws are different in the alt-Earth of the Ultimate Universe, we might expect some hint in Bendids' script that this behaviour is both utterly wrong and a mockery of the apparent meaning of the tearful closure of Ultimate Fallout. Yet instead, the reprehensible is played out as an aspect of the cool, and the repugnant denizens of The Triskellion are presented instead as role models for Miles, as super-powered hardnuts with access to a host of advanced technology matched to what amounts to the absolute freedom from responsibility that's a hallmark of the fascist-in-democrat's clothing. It's not just that Bendis' work makes little sense. It's also that it ends up making heroes out of bullying tyrants.
But that's not the end of the problem, although you'd never think there was a problem at all from the various reviews and discussions of the issue which I've encountered on the net. As with the sequence at the end of Ultimate Fallout, the idea that characters have rights which shouldn't be trampled upon in order to build up the glamour of a secret police state and its secret policeman in all their hip thuggery doesn't appear to often register. Yet the situation as described actually becomes yet more despicable, for Fury then deigns to release Miles back into society under some astonishingly uncaring conditions. Does he, as we might expect, inform the Morales' family? Does he insist that Miles avoids wearing the costume and acting out his good intentions, given that he's a untrained boy stepping into a lethal occupation which actually resulted in the terrible death of his predecessor just a few weeks before? Does he liaise with Miles' school and the local cops in his district in order to secure the lad's well being? Does he even arrange for training and supervision through SHIELD so that the boy might eventually have the means not just to make an informed choice about his fate, but the capacity to stay alive too? Indeed, given that Fury's snooping has revealed that Miles' uncle is not only a notorious criminal but an absolutely murderous super-villain, is every step being taken to ensure the boy's safety and security? Bodyguards, surveillance, panic rooms, wire taps and personal alarms?
|Fury tells Miles about his Uncle being a super-villain, and yet strangely doesn't do a single thing to help protect the lad from his murderous relative. Well, how much help does a super-lad need?|
The answer to these questions is, of course, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, and no. In fact, the supposedly heart-torn Fury not only avoids fulfilling any measure of care for Miles Morales whatsoever, but he actively encourages the boy on his superheroic career instead. In doing so, he does nothing but legitimise the second Ultimate Spider-Man's adolescent dreams without doing anything to ensure that they don't end in disaster. For on the day after Miles is released from Fury's detention, the lad's tracked down on the street by Spider-Woman, who, in her civilian identity, and before the unbelieving eyes of Miles' best friend Ganke, hands over to him a sparkling new spider-suit. "You've got one chance." she tells him, in what's clearly supposed to be a rites of passage moment, in which the reader is intended to feel that Miles has somehow earned the respect of his super-elders and thereby his spurs. Yet, what could be more ridiculous? Fury's already helped create the conditions which did for Parker, and yet now he's enabling a 13 year old neophyte super-boy with both his blessing and a new all-body set of crime-fighting togs? And, to cap the absurdity of all this off, the handing on of the torch is shown occurring in the streets, before the eyes of another youthful boy barely into his teens? At what point beyond that of golly-gee-wow-awesome does any of this make sense?
This is obviously water-cooler moment twaddle. As is common with so much of his work over the past few years, Bendis appears to be structuring his story around a sequence of fan-thrilling beats which deliver a wad of sentimentality and thigh-tingling Rumpish excitement which, upon closer inspection, makes no sense at all. Played with a touch more care and smarts, this sequence of events might have been used to clearly establish what a disordered and entirely heartless individual Fury is. Instead, he's presented as the noble gatekeeper, as the compassionate if endlessly hipsterish authority figure, as the enabling knight of the realm granting the valiant lad his right to fight in the front row. It's Fury whose word passes as law with everyone in sight, Fury who nobly tries to protect Miles when Electro breaks free of his bonds, and Fury who eventually saves the day, and Miles too, with his admirably lethal sharpshooting. We're obviously meant to be ecstatic that Miles has been given Fury and SHIELD's permission to throw himself at any passing super-villain, and yet, what does this say about these enablers, and about ourselves, that we're supposed to swallow this shortchanging and smile accordingly?
|You're officially Spider-Man now, Miles, so bugger off and get yourself maimed or even killed, just as Peter Parker did just a few days ago!!!!|
It is of course possible that Bendis is, as part of some exceptionally long-playing arc, working towards an eventual expose of how reprehensible Fury's behaviour, and that of his cohorts, is. Yet if that's so, why the pitifully tearful conclusion to Ultimate Fallout, and why the heroic representations of the Ultimates in terms of the beats of Who Is Miles Morales? Either Bendis is playing such a subtle and long game that the real meaning of each individual issue, and indeed each run of issues, is actually entirely impossible to grasp at all, or he's simply lobbing out the money-shots. Particularly in the context of the writer's much-discussed version of comics realism, these implausibilities and dubious representations stand out as a poorly-thought through business.
|How quickly those super-people forget.|
But whatever explanation we have for this ridiculous train of events, the fact is that this Nick Fury is revealed by the end of Who Is Miles Morales? to be even more of a monster than Ultimate Fallout's climax inadvertently showed him to be. He's the Nazi's Nazi, the number one state-sponsered bastard in all of comicdom. He doesn't just let children barely into puberty throw themselves out at the very worst of super-villains, he enables and thereby encourages it. A fascinating character, of course, and yet, the way in which Bendis and his collaboraters frame these stories leaves more than a suggestion that Fury's supposed to be the coolest super-badass that there's ever been.
|Or perhaps Fury's only reformed where Peter Parker's concerned. Perhaps he only wishes he'd helped the first Spider-Man, while barely caring at all for anyone following in his footsteps. Never mind, isn't it lovely how he's crying there?|
If it's irony, it's really badly done, relying as it would upon years and years of issues and close reading in order to deliver its message. If it's all being played straight, then it's dubious in how it transmits an adoration of unrestrained and irresponsible power, and incompetent in how it presents a narrative with so many unbelievably obvious plot-holes. There's nothing intrinsically wrong with stories staring barely-teens fighting crime, just as there's no sensible objection to portraying lawless monsters holding a huge degree of power without responsibility within the structure of the state. What counts is how it's done, and what principles the work represents.Certainly the reader deserves to receive a story that isn't woodwormed with plot holes that could have been eliminated with an hours extra work and a single more draft of the script.
Coming soon; a gosh-I-enjoyed review of "Ultimate Comics Spider-Man: Scorpion", which for my money is the best super-book work Brian Michael Bendis has done for a very long time. It's just out in TPB on this side of the Atlantic, and well worth a look.