Like I said at the start, you can’t really divide this story into a tidy three-act structure. It has a beginning and an ending, but between those points it’s built less like a movie and more like an open-run comic book where you chain stories together. That makes a lot of sense, not just because this is a comic book story, but because mapping three-act movie structures to games has always been difficult due to the radically different pacing and runtime of these two mediums.
In terms of structure, it’s a bit like a soap opera. You have your A plot, and then you introduce a B plot, then A sort of wraps up and transforms into a C plot, and so on. You’ve always got at least one plot open because the story can’t end.
Even though I can’t really divide this story into tidy acts, I will say that I think we’re done with the introduction. The writer now has their major pieces on the board. The Kingpin is in jail, leaving behind a power vacuum. The Demons have stepped into that power vacuum and are grabbing Kingpin’s property and armaments. The story has hinted at something called “Devil’s Breath” without telling us what it is or what it does. Peter and MJ are both involved, but they’re not working together yet.
Now it’s time to up the stakes.
Mayor Norman Osborn is currently running for re-election. He’s decided to use his campaign rally as a chance to pin a medal on Officer Jefferson Davis for the heroic way he saved Spider-Man in the previous issue / mission. It’s not exactly a classy move to use the heroics of a police officer to draw people to your campaign rally, but that’s the kinda guy Mayor Osborn is.
Peter and MJ are going to attend the rally together, but as Spider-Man swings to the courthouse we shift perspectives and find ourselves following Jefferson Davis, along with his wife and son Miles. Miles has actually appeared in a few previous cutscenes as a background civilian, and it wasn’t until now that we see how he’s related to the story.
Still, if you haven’t been following the comics for the last ten years or you only know Spider-Man through the movies then you’ll probably be wondering who this guy is.
Miles Morales was created in 2011. He’s the Spider-Man of the Ultimates line. Usually. Sort of. Okay, it’s complicated.
The Ultimates Universe
I feel like I need to explain this before we can proceed, but I’m pretty far out of my area of knowledge. I read what was available Wikipedia and fact-checked this as best I could, but I never personally read any Ultimate comics and for the most part I’m channeling the impressions I’ve absorbed through popular culture. Take all of this with a grain of salt.
Back in 2000, Marvel created a new comic universe that was separate from the now-cluttered continuity they’d been adding to for the previous four decades. They called this new universe Marvel Ultimate. This new world gave heroes like Spider-Man and the X-Men a fresh start. It was a chance to retell their classic stories, clean out the cruft, and create a universe where new readers could jump in without needing to familiarize themselves with the long complex history of the characters.
That was the intent, anyway. What really happened is that they began staging “crossovers” where people from the Ultimates universe could use dimension-hopping technology to meet the legacy Marvel heroes. That led to dimension-jumping becoming part of the setting, with a revolving door leading to countless other realities. Now all kinds of different universes are crossing over and writers can bring back any deceased character at any time by simply importing their double from one of the other universes. It also gives them a mechanism to introduce wildly different versions of established characters.
I’m not saying this is a bad idea. It’s an opportunity to tell lots of different kinds of stories that weren’t possible before. But it also makes Marvel Ultimates comics even more impenetrable than the mainline titles. I read the Wikipedia page for Miles, and in just 7 years he seems to have acquired a story that’s just as convoluted and strange as Peter Parker’s 50-year run. If Marvel’s intention was to create a streamlined universe that’s approachable to newcomers, they failed spectacularly.
Last year’s movie Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse took this idea and ran with it, setting up a story where multiple Spider-Mans and Spider-Womans from different universes could all meet up and have a shared adventure.
In 2009, Marvel comics did one of their big universe-shattering events, this time called “Ultimatum”. It was supposedly going to bring the Ultimates universe to a close. (It didn’t take. The Ultimates books are still around.) The event was grim, violent, and not particularly well received. In that series, they killed off the Ultimate’s version of Peter Parker. I thought the whole point of this universe was to give them space to retell classic Spider-Man stories with a modern twist, but whatever. Peter Parker was still alive in the “main” Marvel universe, but in the Ultimates universe he was dead.
Meet the New Spider-Man, Same as the Old Spider-Man
In 2011, they came up with Miles Morales to become the new Spider-Man of the Ultimates universe. That’s fine. Maybe that gives them room to tell some different kinds of stories. Or it would, except they made Miles incredibly similar to Peter. He’s a high school science nerd from a poor family who gets bitten by a science-spider and gains super strength, the ability to climb walls, and the ability to sense danger. He also loses his father figure at some point and fights a lot of the classic Spider-Man foes.
This really shows off the conflicted nature of the comic book business, which is torn between the need to create radical events to generate buzz and the need to preserve a safe and profitable status quo.
Let’s create a fresh universe and tell the Peter Parker legend over again!
Okay, but let’s also kill him off!
Let’s introduce a NEW Spider-Man with new stories!
Okay, but let’s give him the same background and origin as the original and have him fight the same bad guys!
This. This is exactly how you end up with tons of goofy-ass continuity cruft. Every writer has their own vision for the book and only minimal regard for what came before. They end up doing and undoing things over the decades, constantly working at cross-purposes because they always need to shake things up while also keeping things the same. Like I said at the start of the series, that’s how the business has to work.
I haven’t read any Miles Morales stories, but people seem to be attached to the character and that’s probably a good sign.
The Osborn Rally
I realize that was a lot of comics-industry background. You don’t really need to know all of that to play this game, but it might help explain why we’re suddenly controlling this non-superhero we’ve never met before. For those who follow the comics, the writer is making it clear that Miles Morales is a part of this universe. Since we’re playing the game from his POV, this may even be a hint that this guy will become another Spider-Man somewhere down the line.
At the rally, Peter and MJ talk about recent events. Peter thinks he’s solved the gang war problem and the city is about to go back to normal.
Mayor Osborn gives a little speech, and then Officer Jefferson DavisRemember that this guy is Miles’ father, despite the different last name. steps forward to accept his medal for saving Spider-Man. Osborn leaves during Davis’ acceptance speech, which is an… interesting choice, from a public relations standpoint. On the way out he gets a threatening phone call from someone who sounds suspiciously like that nice Martin Li fellow we met earlier. Back at the stage, one of Osborn’s men suddenly begins glowing. He’s evidently one of Mr. Negative’s mind-controlled sleeper agents. He steps up to the podium and opens his coat to reveal a bomb vest. Boom.
From here we take control of Miles. He makes his way towards the stage, hoping to find his dad. As he approaches, Demon guys show up and begin slaughtering the survivors.
This Doesn’t Work for Me
I realize that tastes may vary, but this is not the kind of thing I like to see in my Spider-Man stories. The violence isn’t graphic in terms of gore (the game is entirely bloodless) but it’s incredibly gritty and graphic in terms of depicting a form of real-world violence being perpetrated against sympathetic innocents.
It’s one thing if Rhino punts a car off the Brooklyn Bridge, but it’s another matter entirely if an armed man walks up to a person on their knees and executes them, cutting off their pleas for mercy. Yes, both events technically depict the death of a single person and if we judge things solely by body count then the two events are equivalent. But in terms of emotional response the difference is night and day.
Yes, maybe there was someone in that car that went off the bridge. But maybe not. Maybe the driver got out and fled before Rhino punted it. Maybe they miraculously survived the fall thanks to comic book physics. Even if someone did die, we don’t know who they were and we don’t know anything about them. Their death is abstract and impersonal. Furthermore, it’s clear Rhino wasn’t trying to murder someone. The maybe-dead civilian is simply collateral damage.
For contrast, we know that this Demon mook took an assault rifle and unloaded it on a man in his late 30s, and furthermore we know that he really, really wasn’t ready to go. The guy falls right in front of us and we can see that his death is certain and deliberate. This guy wasn’t killed because he accidentally got in the way of supervillain activity, his death is the supervillain activity.
I feel like this type of graphic and ultra-personal murder is inappropriate for a Spider-Man story because it kills the fantasy of a hero bringing justice to a cruel world. If Dr. Crazo uses crazo gas to turn bank tellers into rat-people as part of a convoluted bank heist, then that’s a very cartoonish form of violence. Captain Justice can punch his lights out and send him back to jail until the next caper and the audience probably won’t even think to ask what became of the rat-people. If anyone thinks about it later, it’s easy enough to assume they magically transformed back into people once the gas “wore off”.
If terrorists stage a brutal attack specifically designed to slaughter civilians, then that’s a very real thing that happens to people. Even if Spider-Man wins, I don’t feel like webbing them up with a note for the police is an appropriate response to this crime in terms of power fantasy. This is also why I never cared for 90s edgelord Carnage and his ilk. Watching this guy kill dozens of innocent people for giggles is not cathartic, even when he gets punched in the face later.
This is no longer a job for Spider-Man the web-swinging jokester. Having Spider-Man stop these guys is like having the Adam West Batman face off against Heath Ledger’s Joker. This isn’t a fun adventure anymore. This is a job for the Punisher, or one of the darker takes on Batman. I don’t want these guys to end up in prison. I want them to end up dead, or in wheelchairs.
Shamus, that’s horrible!
Yeah, it is. This is why I don’t like to mix real-world horror with my lighthearted power fantasy. I’m here because I want to participate in a fantasy where you can prevent stuff like this. If I can’t prevent it, then I’d just as soon you gave my character a gun and let me indulge the notion that I can make things better by blowing away the bad guys.
Not everyone will suffer from this sort of tonal objection. In fact, I gather that most people were fine with this. But for me it ruins the escapist fantasy I’m looking for. I don’t care what Spidey does at this point, this particular subplotIs it a subplot? Like I said, we can’t map this to a traditional movie structure. You could argue this isn’t a sub plot, but one in a series of main plots. can’t give me what I’m looking for in a Spider-Man story.
Spoiler: It gets a lot worse from here.
 Remember that this guy is Miles’ father, despite the different last name.
 Is it a subplot? Like I said, we can’t map this to a traditional movie structure. You could argue this isn’t a sub plot, but one in a series of main plots.
The Best of 2016
My picks for what was important, awesome, or worth talking about in 2016.
Batman: Arkham City
A look back at one of my favorite games. The gameplay was stellar, but the underlying story was clumsy and oddly constructed.
Internet News is All Wrong
Why is internet news so bad, why do people prefer celebrity fluff, and how could it be made better?
A programming project where I set out to make a gigantic and complex world from simple data.
Spec Ops: The Line
A videogame that judges its audience, criticizes its genre, and hates its premise. How did this thing get made?