Sometimes, being a good superhero means having to figure out your own stuff first. Miles Morales: Shock Waves puts Miles in the type of pickle familiar to Spider-Man fans: He has to juggle school, family, friends, and superheroing, and it’s beginning to seem like too much for any teen to handle. Then, of course, a friend’s dad goes missing under suspicious circumstances, and Miles now also has a mystery to solve.
Shock Waves centers the conflict between Miles’ sense of superhero responsibility and his need to say something through his art—to be something other than just Spider-Man. Parallel to his superhero struggles are the aftermath of a hurricane in his mother’s home country and an ongoing bout of artist’s block. Justin A. Reynolds does a good job of making Miles Morales likable and relatable; like any other high schooler (but with a whole lot more responsibility), the quips are quippy, and the kids talk like real kids.
The art and the colors from Pablo Leon are sleek and engaging. It’s a great-looking comic, drawing inspiration from Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse without relying on its style. Leon has a great eye for color and line, and he imbues his action scenes with plenty of energy and charm. Ariana Maher’s letters are clearly laid out and quite beautiful alongside Leon’s art.
Though the short graphic novel looks sleek and reads easily, Shock Waves feels light, more like a Scooby-Doo mystery than a deep dive into the character of Miles. Sure, the stakes are high (and even touch on the personal), but there’s no sense of emotional depth to anchor them. Shock Waves lacks the grey complexity that serves as a backbone of the best children’s literature. This lack of complexity is best illustrated when a tragedy in Miles’ life is explained away as part of a villainous plot, flattening any nuance that kids could have gotten from addressing the fact that bad things can happen without a villain behind them.
Still, this story will entertain younger Spider-Man fans, and might even inspire them. The lessons being taught in Shock Waves are pleasant enough, and Miles is a great hero to whom kids can look up. Plus, there are a few easter eggs that Marvel fans will be delighted to catch in the background, along with a couple of fun cameos. Adults, however, probably won’t be as moved by this short graphic novel. And even kids who do enjoy the book may not take as much away from it as they might have, had it had been a little more daring. The narrative of Shock Waves might be a memorable experience for its titular hero, but readers will likely find it doesn’t stick in their memory for long after finishing it.