I’ve made it fairy clear around here that I typically don’t enjoy superhero comics.
That’s not to say there haven’t been exceptions to this, but even those are few and far between. Watchmen, Batman Year One, The Killing Joke, All-Star Superman… the number of superhero trades I own is fairly small… and I’ve never actually followed a superhero book as it is released.
But I’m thinking about picking up Ultimate Spider-Man (now called Ultimate Comics: Spider-Man) because… well, I really like Brian Michael Bendis’ take on the character. As of issue 160, this is by far my favorite superhero comic, ongoing or otherwise.
It all began for me about a year ago, when I started really thinking about the new Amazing Spider-Man movie that was coming out…
I told myself, “Self… you should really get around to reading some Spiderman. Or Spider-Man. Whatever it is.”
I responded thusly: “Yes, Other Self, I rather would like to… but where to begin?”
Fortunately, my brain immediately remembered that Marvel had started a new imprint specifically to bring in new readers about a decade ago. Why not try that?Why not indeed! So it was with much trepidation, I picked up the first volume of Ultimate Spider-Man, entitled (what else?) Power and Responsibility. Even for someone who has specifically avoided pretty much every other version of Spider-Man from the last fifty years (with the exception of the Sam Raimi films), I knew it was going to be different (hell, that’s the entire point of the Ultimate universe), but I had high hopes. And damn was it good! Bendis has spent the last twelve years telling the story of Peter Parker and he’s done a damn fine job of it. To me, his dialogue is second only to Brian K Vaughan as far as how true and honest it feels. Bendis really seems to get how teenagers talk and interact. In addition to the dialogue… the pacing on the story and the character development is fantastic. Every six issues (approximately) introduces a new villain, or gives time for either a cross-over, or major story arc (typically centered around a villain… or two). Bendis paces the series smoothly. Just enough action and drama to keep reading, without drawing it out over a long period of time so the audience gets sick of it. There’s some down points… Ultimate Deadpool is pretty lame. The whole Ultimatum story-arc (written not by Bendis, but by part-time comic-writer and only-recently-full-time shitty-writer Jeph Loeb) is atrocious… but Bendis must have pulled some serious strings to get Spider-man almost entirely clear of that abomination… Seriously, if your character spends most of five issues buried under rubble and is still the best character in a whole arc… you know something’s royally fucked up… Now despite my admitted ignorance to most of Spider-Man’s continuity… Somehow I still have a pretty decent knowledge of villains and main story-lines from the original Marvel Universe (I blame Atop The Fourth Wall and a couple of comic obsessed co-workers) and that worked to my advantage while reading the series. And despite this knowledge, I ended up getting completely blindsided by situations that I thought I knew about. For instance, there’s a character named Ben Reilly who exists both in the regular Marvel universe and the Ultimate one, but there’s no connection. In traditional Marvel continuity (designated Marvel 616), Ben Reilly is the Scarlet Spider and a clone of Peter Parker (twenty year old spoiler alert). In the Ultimate universe (designated Marvel 1610), he’s just a lab assistant to Curt Connors (whom you may also know as The Lizard). So I was expecting something that never happened and was pleasantly surprised by the outcome of the story. The other thing I came to enjoy was the consistent team of Bendis and illustrator Mark Bagely. They worked together as a team for 110 straight issues, or just over nine years of the comic. In addition to being pretty darn insane, it also never happens in superhero books. Hell, even in long-running series like Sandman there will always be artist changes. The pairing really helped keep me reading even when there was an occasional down issue. Now… In case you’ve managed to avoid all the hullabaloo last year… At the end of issue 160, the Peter Parker of the Ultimate universe is killed. So… Yeah, there’s that. Series over, right? Well… comic book characters never die. At least not completely, not forever. For instance: Batman died in January 2009, comics time, and was brought back to life in February 2010. Superman erm… well, died (at least, close enough, I guess) in January 1993, only to come back in September of that year. And don’t forget Wonder Woman, Jason Todd, Bart Allen, Sinestro, Lex Luthor, Jimmy Olsen, two different Green Lanterns (Hal Jordan and Guy Gardener), and dozens more… and that’s just from the DC Universe! In the Marvel universe, death is just as easily traversed and overcome. Captain America was dead for just over two years (which in Marvel time is like… probably about half that), Bucky Barnes was dead for over forty. Doctor Octopus, Green Goblin\Norman Osborn, Harry Osborn, Jean Grey, Johnny Storm, and so many others… at least Gwen Stacy had the common courtesy to stay dead. Oh shit… spoiler alert there, if the next Spider-man film has the Green Goblin and a bridge, well… bring your tissues. Anyhow… comic deaths simply do not matter. At all. There’s always a hero, villain, or some ridiculous deus ex machina to bring a character back. So far, it’s a bit too early to tell which way Ultimate Peter Parker is going to go. Currently, Ultimate Comics: Spider-man follows the story of Miles Morales, a mixed-race (black and Latino) teenager, also in New York City. I have tons of faith in Brian Michael Bendis to make it work. Not so much faith in Marvel editorial… but I’m willing to give it a shot. And you should too! If you watched Amazing Spider-man, realized how much better it was than the Raimi films (and it was, no opinion necessary), but didn’t really know where to start reading a character like Spider-man… Go with Ultimate Spider-man. One writer, 160 issues, rarely a dull moment. _________________________________________________________________________
Don’t Forget to Follow Books and Bits On Facebook (yes, it will open in a new window… for your convenience!)