Within a year of becoming Brooklyn’s Spider-Man, Miles Morales has queued a list of his five most frequently answered questions such as: is he old enough to be fighting crime? Does he have a fear of falling? Is he related to *that* other Spider-Man from Queens? But the most important curated question is the last one on his list: “What does a superhero do when they’re not saving the world?”
“Miles Morales: Shock Waves” written by Justin Reynolds (“Early Departures”) and illustrated by Pablo Leon aims to answer that question.
The graphic novel introduces a familiar concept to lovers of the Spider-Man (men?) canon that fans know and love; Miles Morales and his friend/mentor Peter Parker suffer from premature amalgamation. You know. It’s that thing where a superhero agrees to carry out a mundane task on the way home for a dinner they promised they’d be on time for only to be thwarted by saving their respective cities from Big Threat™?
The Reynolds’ penned Spider-Man comic is a many threaded web. The catalyst centers around a disastrous earthquake in Puerto Rico that sends proverbial “shock waves” through Miles’ family and the surrounding community. The toll of the devastation and budding recovery efforts inspires the Davis-Morales family to take immediate action via a community art fundraiser.
Concurrently, the arrival of a new student named Kyle, opens the plot up to a larger interconnected mystery, when her father who works for a large wealthy conglomerate sponsoring the fundraiser (and illegally creating Inhumans) goes missing.
Reynold’s six-chapter novel does a great job posing the difficult dynamics of a teenaged Afro-Latinx superhero imbued with great power but humbled by his normal kid responsibility. But, lacks in its execution because of how it undercuts what could be a better teaching moment for social activism.
“People will grow tired and bored,” says Rio Morales about the politics of a fast-moving news cycle. “That earthquake will be old news and it will be years before Puerto Rico recovers.”
What it lacks in stronger storytelling it makes up for with heart. Paired with Leon’s unique and vibrant pop-art style ala “Into the Spider-Verse” it’s hard to not fall in love with Miles’ intimate moments with his family, Peter, his friends, and the locals of Brooklyn.
One of my favorite aspects of this comic is the opening as Miles finds that he easily connects with the citizens of Brooklyn through a series of quick-witted quips and common teenage awkwardness (“Yo, Spider-Man, say something for the ‘Gram, bro!” / “I’m not your gram, bro!”), but struggles to figure out a way to prioritize his friends and family. This conflict within Miles both allows distinction for this character and for a later heartfelt interaction with Peter who, despite being seasoned, still struggles with radioactive work/life balance.
“Superheroes make mistakes too.” Peter tells Miles, “We get distracted like anyone else. But when we find ourselves drifting, the important thing is to get back on track. Sometimes it might mean apologizing to someone we’ve let down. Sometimes it means something as simple as not being late to dinner.”
(See, it’s always dinner.)
Overall, “Miles Morales: Shock Waves” is light-hearted fair that attempts to explain corporate greed and social activism (I mean it is a Scholastic novel for kids and teens), there is still plenty to love and much entertainment to be gained.