Miles Morales: Spider-Man

Written by: Jason Reynolds
Published by: Marvel Press

Synopsis: Miles Morales is just your average teenager. Dinner every Sunday with his parents, chilling out playing old-school video games with his best friend, Ganke, crushing on brainy, beautiful poet Alicia. He’s even got a scholarship spot at the prestigious Brooklyn Visions Academy. Oh yeah, and he’s Spider Man.

But lately, Miles’ Spidey-sense has been on the fritz. When a misunderstanding leads to his suspension from school, Miles begins to question his abilities. After all, his dad and uncle were Brooklyn jack-boys with criminal records. Maybe kids like Miles aren’t meant to be superheroes. Maybe Miles should take his dad’s advice and focus on saving himself.

As Miles tries to get his school life back on track, he can’t shake the vivid nightmares that continue to haunt him. Nor can he avoid the relentless buzz of his Spidey-sense every day in history class, amidst his teacher’s lectures on the historical “benefits” of slavery and the importance of the modern-day prison system. But after his scholarship is threatened, Miles uncovers a chilling plot, one that puts his friends, his neighbourhood, and himself at risk.

It’s time for Miles to suit up.

Miles Morales: Spider-Man is the latest instalment of Marvel’s Young Adult range of novels, offering a prose-driven narrative of the world’s greatest superheroes. Written by Jason Reynolds, author of the critically acclaimed “When I was the Greatest”, this novel takes a more grounded view of super-heroics, looking at Miles’ school and home life as an Afro-Latino teenager growing up in Brooklyn, New York.

Reynolds, an author known for his strong characterisations, drenches his narrative in authenticity and provides an uncompromising view of inner-city life. The passages describing Miles neighbourhood are wonderfully evocative and the words swirl off the page, conjuring up living, breathing worlds in the mind’s eye. Despite never visiting Brooklyn, I felt like I could taste the gas fumes in the air, hear the subway rumble overhead and see the brownstones that line the road. Reynolds populates this world with a multitude of minor supporting characters, and each one feels vibrant and real, even though they are only glimpsed in small doses. One particular strength is his dialogue, which flows beautifully and feels utterly authentic.

Having leapt from the Ultimate Universe into the main Marvel Universe during the events of Secret Wars, Miles Morales is a character with some hefty continuity baggage. In the comics, it’s unclear exactly what Miles remembers from his previous universe and this novel wisely doesn’t even begin to address this  complicated topic. Chronologically, it seems like this series takes place in the main Marvel Universe as Miles’ dad is aware of his son’s dual identity, and his mother is alive and well. However, there is no mention of any other superheroes, making this even more accessible to a non-comic reading audience. Most of the existing continuity referenced in the story stems from Miles’ initial story-arc in the comics, dealing with his origin and the aftermath of his uncle’s death. I totally understand the decision to simplify the novel’s continuity to appeal to a wider YA demographic, but as a fan of the comics, I was a little disappointed that there wasn’t stronger links to the source material.

As mentioned earlier, most of the story revolves around Miles’ civilian life – his time at boarding school and his weekends at home with his parents. Superheroics are seldom featured, and there’s no garishly-dressed super-villains to break up the monotony of pubescence – Reynolds focuses firmly on realism here, telling the story of Miles Morales first, and Spider-Man second. With the prose format, he is able to get deeper in Miles’ psyche than the comics can, exploring the character’s guilt surrounding the death of his uncle and the added tension that his dual identity causes. I also loved the focus on whether he has “bad genes” in his DNA, and whether he is destined to grow up to be like his uncle and father. This is a theme that is also being explored in the current comic series, following the Civil War II storyline in which Miles saw a possible future where he murdered Captain America.

Reynolds has a strong grasp on the relationships between his characters, particularly Miles and Ganke – a double-act that I’ve enjoyed in the comics and one that was so popular that it was appropriated for Peter Parker in Spider-Man: Homecoming. In some ways, Miles Morales: Spider-Man feels like what Spider-Man Homecoming would have been if Miles had been cast as the lead role. Both stories use school-life as the backdrop for their adventure, but subjects like racism and urban poverty are woven into Miles’ tale to provide an authentic voice for the character that resonates well. There’s also a love story at the heart of both stories, as Miles attempts to overcome his shyness and relay his feelings to the cute poet activist who sits in his class.

As an unconventional Spider-Man story, it won’t be surprising to discover that there is an unconventional villain behind-the-scenes, lending a supernatural tone to events. It’s left vague as to the identity of the villain, but I have my suspicions as to who it was, given some of the descriptions and the method in which they tormented Miles. Feel free to discuss theories in the comments section below!

Miles Morales: Spider-Man is an extremely well-written novel, and an ideal YA title for fans of Spider-Man: Homecoming and superheroes, in general. There’s some very compelling adult themes explored in the story, and depending on the reader, it can either resonate well or introduce them to a whole different side of life. Jason Reynolds does a terrific job at dragging Miles out of the comic panel and onto the novel page, fleshing out both his characterisation and his surroundings with ease. While it lacked some punch in the action sequences, I was utterly enthralled by the depth of description on display during the quieter scenes. Given the unenviable job of engaging new readers whilst rewarding long-time fans, Reynolds does his best to achieve the right balance and for the most part, he succeeds admirably. As an introduction into Miles Morales’ world, this novel left me wanting more, and I would love to see a sequel focus on his relationship with his mentor, Peter Parker, or working alongside other teen heroes in The Champions.

Score – ★★★ ½

Miles Morales: Spider-Man is now available in hardcover format from Amazon UK, Amazon US and all good bookstores.

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