Brian Michael Bendis’ Spider-Men II began with the same confounding question the original Spider-Men ended with: Who was the Miles Morales of Earth-616, Marvel’s prime universe? Rather than answering that question in its final issue, Spider-Men II #5 closes out suddenly, with even more mysteries and a shocking surprise.
Miles Morales’ very existence within Marvel’s main continuity is one of the weirder, more fascinating consequences of 2015's Secret Wars. That event destroyed (and later consolidated) Earth-616 and Earth-1610, the universe in which all of Marvel’s “Ultimate” comics took place.
Over the course of the event, the two universes literally collided with one another, resulting in their mutual destruction and the creation of a new Battleworld in which Doctor Doom was a god king, a corps of Thors served as police, and the Avengers were all women. Secret Wars was wild—you should read it—and like all major comic book events, Secret Wars needed to end with a return to (something like) the status quo. Eventually, a new amalgam universe built from pieces of Earths 616 and 1610 was formed and introduced as Marvel’s primary continuity.
For the most part, Marvel’s Prime Earth mirrored its 616 predecessor save for a few key changes, like Miles’ presence. Back in his own universe, Miles took up the Spider-Man mantle after Peter Parker died and he found purpose in his hero work after the death of his mother, Rio Morales. Post-Secret Wars, though, Miles was plunged into a new world where both Peter Parker and his mother were both very alive and barely anyone seems to recall 1610 ever having existed.
These are the sorts of existential quibbles that’ve been chewing away at Miles for ages at this point and, at least in theory, Spider-Men II was meant to address some of them. Instead of actually doing that, though, the series just sort of... stops with issue #5. Over the past few issues, Peter and Miles have been working together as they investigate why the Taskmaster’s been messing around with interdimensional tech capable of ripping holes through time and space. Unbeknownst to either of the heroes, Taskmaster’s been working for Prime Earth’s (and potentially Earth-616’s) Miles Morales, a career mobster with deep connections to Wilson Fisk, the Kingpin.
While the Spiders have struggled to figure out just what Taskmaster’s doing and who he’s working for, they’ve also been trying to track down who their new universe’s Miles Morales is—though he doesn’t exist in any of the world’s databases. In this week’s finale, all of Spider-Men II’s players finally come face to face with one another but, somehow, they all manage to leave each other in the dark about what the hell is going on.
While Miles and Peter are having a heart-to-heart about what it means to be/have been a teenaged Spider-Man, the older Prime Earth Miles and Taskmaster move into position to execution their final plan. Taskmaster attacks the two heroes while Prime Miles prepares a teleportation pad meant to transport him to another universe—one where his beloved Barbara Rodriguez is still alive.
While it’s been teasing the nature of Prime Miles’ identity, Spider-Men II has also spent a fair amount of time fleshing out the mobster’s backstory in bits and pieces. He got into the villain business with Wilson Fisk, the two opened up a luxury restaurant together, and eventually, Miles decided that he was ready to leave his life of crime behind for Barbara. And then of course, because he’s a part of the larger web that connects all of Marvel’s spider-people, Prime Earth’s Miles’ Barbara died, which solidified a desire within him to travel to another universe where she might still be alive.
While all of this has been happening, Spider-Men II’s also been depicting how the younger Miles (who’s still a high schooler) has just been getting to know a girl named Barbara who he has a huge crush on. There are a couple of ways to interpret all of this. The older Prime Miles, who doesn’t exactly look like the younger Miles, could be from another universe altogether and not have realized that he’s stepped into a universe where he and Barbara already exist and are much younger. Alternatively, the younger Barbara could be from Earth-1610 like Miles and simply not know that she’d been transported into a universe in which she’d already died.
Either way, Spider-Men II doesn’t at all bother to answer, or even ponder, any of these possibilities. Instead, the comic plows right through its own story and gives the elder Miles what he wants. He steps through a portal into another dimension, immediately tracks down that world’s version of Barbara where she works in a restaurant, and the two hit it off. The comic doesn’t slow down to revel in Miles and Barbara’s reunion or really give the moment any real significant weight because Bendis drops one last major bombshell.
Miles and Barbara’s weird moment is interrupted by what appears to be that universe’s Spider-Man (in Peter Parker’s classic suit) and a new team of Ultimates, Earth-1610's answer to the Avengers. A version of Riri Williams is also a member of this incarnation of the team, but from the looks of it all, whatever universe Miles travels into appears to be a new version of 1610.
Looking back on it, it seems silly to think that Spider-Men II was ever going to really answer the questions it suggested it might, but perhaps that was never the actual point.
Bendis is leaving Marvel for DC very soon, and regardless of how one might feel about his work, it’s impossible to deny the massive impact he’s had on Marvel as a brand. Marvel wouldn’t be the massive cultural juggernaut were it not for Bendis and the Ultimate universe that he helped create for the company back in 2000, the same universe that much of the MCU is based on. For many, characters like Miles have come to represent Marvel’s future and Spider-Men II’s finale is, in its way, a reminder of where the publisher’s been and who helped them along the way.