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Ultimate Spider-Man Collection (Hardcover Volumes #1-3) (Review/Retrospective)

In 2000, Marvel did something genuinely bold with one of its pop culture icons. Of course, the early part of the last decade saw a breath of fresh air at the House of Ideas, with iconic and influential (and occasionally iconoclastic) runs on books like New X-Men, Fantastic Four, Amazing Spider-Man, X-Statix, Punisher and other titles like Daredevil or Alias. However, the formation of the Ultimate line of comics was perhaps the most significant creative gamble taken at the time. The idea was simple, and the timing perfect. With Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man around the corner, and Bryan Singer’s X-Men proving that superheroes were the stuff of summer blockbusters, it seemed like a perfect opportunity to launch a line of books that would be easily accessible to new readers, free from decades of tangled continuity and plot developments.

And, appropriately enough, the character chosen to spearhead this new line was arguably Marvel’s most iconic character, Spider-Man.

spidey

Looking back, it’s strange to think that the book has been around so long. While he’s currently writing Ultimate Comics: Spider-Man, starring Miles Morales, author Brian Michael Bendis wrote this new version of Peter Parker for over a decade. That’s a phenomenal run, especially in this day and age. In the years since he first started writing Ultimate Spider-Man, Bendis has seen a lot of change at Marvel. He has had runs on characters as diverse as Daredevil, Spider-Woman and Moon Knight, as well as driving New Avengers and Avengers. He’s enjoyed runs on both Ultimate Fantastic Four and Ultimate X-Men. And yet, despite all the changes around him, and around the book, Bendis has remained the writer of Ultimate Spider-Man in one form or another.

That would be an impressive achievement on any book, but is especially so on a book like this. Bendis has crafted every aspect of this title. He’s exorcised pretty much complete control over this version of Peter Parker. He doesn’t have to worry about too many editorial mandates, tying into events or a half-dozen other writers synchronising their plotting with him. Ultimate Spider-Man is pretty much free to be whatever its author wants or needs it to be, which is a very rare occurrence in modern comics, especially with a marquee name like Spider-Man.

Talk about tearing things up…

Okay, so over a decade of publication, Ultimate Spider-Man has picked up its share of continuity and backlog. Arguably it can be as tough to get into the later volumes of the book as it is to get into any Marvel Universe title. On the other hand, the book has a very clear and easy-to-follow structure. You don’t need to read tie-ins or crossovers to follow it. You simply pick up the first volume of the hardcover collection, omnibus or even trade paperback and then you read from there. It’s phenomenally accessible. I should know. Ultimate Spider-Man was really the book that got me into mainstream comics, along with The Ultimates and Green Lantern.

I really think that modern comic books can be very difficult to jump into. For one thing, the hardcover collections are always indexed in a confusing manner, and “jumping on” points are quite difficult to find. There’s also a mess of continuity that means some random story from thirty years ago might suddenly become the most important thing on the planet. Sure, there are other reasons that comic books have become a niche market – competition from other media, increased cost, removal from newsagents – but I think that there is a fundamental problem with how a lot of these stories are written and how they’re rendered accessible to people who just might be curious after seeing a film. That’s people like me, by the way.

He’s going to enjoy Goblin you up, young Parker…

After all, these characters are cultural icons. Pretty much everybody knows Spider-Man’s origin, just as they know the story of how Superman came to Earth. The Hulk is instantly recognisable across the planet, and people know Batman and the Joker. I think there’s an argument to be made that superheroes are an American pop culture mythology, carved out in such a way as to appeal to the specifically American experience. Sure, this sounds like pretentious nonsense, but I think it’s a valid argument.

Superman is, after all, the ultimateimmigrant; he’s a foreigner who comes to America and discovers that he can become something truly special here. Batman is the victim of urban crime who becomes an avenging gargoyle to ward off the spectres that haunt the collective psyche. Iron Man is the industrialist playboy, the inventor and innovator, the living embodiment of a resourcefulness that can build anything. The Hulk is a cautionary tale about darkness and anger, about the duality of the American experience – couched in the language of the atomic age. Captain America… well, it should be obvious what he stands for.

What a tangled web we weave…

Spider-Man is something special. He’s “the little guy” you often hear mentioned. He’s not the strongest there is, nor the fastest, nor the smartest. He’s a little nerd who gets bullied and has to worry about his sick aunt and about paying rent. And yet, despite all of that, he somehow comes face to face with the very worst in life, and he endures. He’s the most human of those iconic superheroes, and that makes him special. He has the same problems that real people have, and yet he’s able to tap into this inner strength that absolute nobody (himself included) suspects can be found beneath his rather gangly exterior. Spider-Man is arguably more than a mere superhero, he’s an archetype. I think it would be fair to describe him as a modern myth.

And myths, after all, are so often repurposed and reimagined by the people telling them. They change from generation to generation. Sometimes the alterations are cosmetic, sometimes they are fundamental. The version of Snow Whitethat we tell our children has no real resemblance to the original story as it was told centuries ago. It doesn’t even have the same moral. As such, it feels natural that the superheroes should be ripe for restructuring and reimagining. The world was a very different place when Stan Lee and Steve Ditko first created poor Peter Parker, and so updating the story for the modern world feels strangely appropriate.

Shockingly good…

I have no shame in admitting that Ultimate Spider-Man by Bendis and Bagley (and later artists including Stuart Immonen) is my version of Spider-Man. I don’t mean to denigrate Stan Lee and Steve Ditko’s original Amazing Spider-Man, which made all of this possible. I have a huge amount of respect for that run, and I find it to be the easiest Silver Age run to enjoy. However, if I were to recommend a Spider-Man comic to a new reader, or to somebody wanting to read comics after seeing The Amazing Spider-Man, it would be Ultimate Spider-Man that I’d recommend starting with.

There are lots of reasons for that. I think the most obvious it that it’s a lot easier to read than Lee and Ditko’s original work. Bendis has a knack for writing teenage characters, and he’s generally careful not to overwrite his captions or dialogue. Bendis has been described as the “David Mamet of comics”and his dialogue has a naturalistic rhythm to it that makes it an absolute joy to read. I love Lee’s enthusiasm and energy, and Ditko and Lee plotted some very clever and well-structured arcs, but I think Bendis seems to have a tighter grasp of the story he’s telling out of the gate.

The death of Spider-Man?

Rather than haphazardly discovering a canon featuring the iconic villains, Bendis has clearly constructed this clever story structure around Peter so that each plot development seems to flow naturally – from Peter’s accidental bite to Norman Osborn’s experiments to the Venom symbiote. Sure, there’s occasional continuity hiccup – Eddie Brock appears early on, briefly, in a very different role to where we eventually find him. However, it’s no greater a problem than any of the muddled continuity of those early Lee and Ditko stories – was Peter struggling to pay rent or a mortgage?

Those sorts of problems are tiny in the rand scheme of things, and represent the type of continuity nitpicking that I think has made modern comics overly insular. In crafting Ultimate Spider-Man, Bendis has the advantage of building on years of history so he can gracefully reveal various plot developments rather than simply spinning off in random directions and tangents. During one early issue of Ultimate Marvel Team-Up, Bruce Banner tells Peter that it’s all connected and there’s a much greater sense of structure in Bendis’ shared universe.

Well… relationships are built on trust…

There’s been a lot made of Bendis’ “decompression” – the idea being that Bendis is taking far too long to tell his stories, spreading them out over multiple issues. I actually like that about Bendis’ Ultimate Spider-Man. The plot points have room to breathe. Lee and Ditko outlined Spider-Man’s origins in Amazing Fantasy #15, but it feels more like an economic collection of plot beats than a fully-formed story. Uncle Ben is very clearly just a plot device to turn Peter into a superhero, and we don’t know anything substantial about him, save the fact that he is important to Peter.

(By the way, those complaining about Bendis’ decompression obviously didn’t enjoy any of the movies. Both Marc Webb and Sam Raimi spent far more time with Peter beforethe transformation than Bendis did. Hell, Peter gets bitten by the spider in his very first scene here, and Bendis develops the character from there. In contrast, it’s about twenty minutes into the latest film before Peter gets bitten… even though we know it’s coming.)

This is not going to help his public image…

Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins notably didn’t feature the Caped Crusader in his icon costume for at least an hour. Instead, it developed Bruce Wayne and his world. Bendis does something similar here. This version of Uncle Ben has more personality than his mainstream counterpart. In his afterword, Bill Jemas relates how his son begged the editor not to kill Uncle Ben. I think that makes the journey a lot more interesting – that we know and care about Ben as more than just the guy who is important to Peter. In fact, Ben remains a presence throughout the book, with both Aunt May and even a (posthumous) Richard Parker quoting Ben’s philosophy. It seems he was quite the hippy philosopher.

Time have changed, of course, and Bendis updated Ultimate Spider-Man to reflect those changes. It’s more than the superficial things. It doesn’t matter that the character now use computers or mobile telephones, or that Peter Parker is the web designer (hehe) of the Daily Bugle rather than a staff photographer. There have been broader social shifts, and Bendis adjusts the story and the characters to reflect those, while remaining true to the roots of the character.

Don’t worry, he’s mostly armless…

Consider, for example, the emphasis on corporate morality. It’s the kind of thing that really wasn’t being dealt with those original Spider-Man comics. Sure, Norman Osborn ran Oscorp, but he was evil because he was a psychopath, rather than because of any misgivings Lee or Ditko might have had about big businesses. Even those early Iron Man comics were relatively light on that sort of social commentary. Here, however, it seems that the real bad guys are massive and anonymous corporations, more concerned with profit and gain than with the consequences of their actions.

Bendis even points the finger, none-too-subtly, at Marvel itself, as Richard Parker and Eddie Brock Sr. are taken advantage of by Trask Industries. “Our dads were just ‘work for hire’ employees of the company,” Brock explains. “Do you know what that means? It means that everything they were creating was technically owned by the company.”It sounds quite similar to the issues that many comic book creators have had working with companies like Marvel, including Steve Ditko, one of the creators of Spider-Man himself.

Knocking down the Kingpin…

Sure, the iconic Spider-Man villains appear, but they’re generally more of a by-product than part of the problem. While Norman Osborn does turn himself into a giant hulking monstrosity, he’s arguably more of a threat as the CEO of Oscorp. Doctor Octopus was created by a lab accident, but could have been saved had the people studying him been more concerned about his health, rather than remaining scientifically curious about his condition.

Octavius demands of one of his hosts, “That is what you are saying, yes? You could have gotten these arms off me but you decided not to.” Even Electro was created by Justin Hammer’s company, as was the Sandman. And, based on Hammer’s recollection of his father, the company has a long history of illegal activity. “He built all this from a bucket of moonshine, y’know,” Hammer fondly recalls.“That and bookmaking.”

It floored me…

Uncle Ben and Aunt May are even reimagined in this light, as former hippies, strongly anti-establishment. Uncle Ben is even buried with the words of Bob Dylan’s A Hard Rain’s A Gonna Fall etched into his tombstone. “Never met a man with money who hadn’t stepped on somebody to get it,” Aunt May quotes him at one point. In a video log left to Peter, his brother Richard also quotes him, “Never trust anyone wearing a tie.”

The problems with the new world, according to Bendis, are arguably more systemic. The problem isn’t that there’s a supervillain on the rampage, or that the Scorpion’s broken out of jail again, it’s that nobody has the guts to stand up to Wilson Fisk, the corporate mogul and the “kingpin of crime” in New York City. “Everyone knows he’s a crime boss but he gets to walk around and nobody ever does anything about it,”Parker observes of Fisk.

He’s not making any Spidey sense!

It’s indifference, apathy and more basic human problems that confront Peter, even in the guise of super-powered human batteries or multi-armed freaks. It’s small moments, like publisher J. Jonah Jameson smoking with impunity, ignoring the “no smoking please – it’s the law” sign on the wall. At one point, after his name has been sullied by an impersonator, the New York Police Department comes down hard on Spider-Man. However, listening to talk radio, it’s suggested that this has nothing to do with Peter himself – he’s incidental in a bigger bureaucratic problem. “We hear that they have been waiting for a moment just like this to prove their point,” we’re told of the police department’s firm anti-vigilante stance. It just so happens that Peter arrived at the wrong time.

Bendis writes a Spider-Man story that takes place in a world build on the notion of cynicism – the idea that people have been brought up to expect instant gratification and blame the world when it isn’t available to them. Kraven the Hunter is reimagined as a blowhard reality television star (“oy! me mates in America!”) who is nothing but smoke and mirrors. And yet he is worshipped for his vacuous celebrity.

Peter’s got a righteous Fury…

There’s a nice scene where the principle addresses his students about the release forms they must get their parents to sign to appear in the show. “If you do not do this, your head will appear all tiled out and you won’t get on TV. So make sure to take a release form from your home room teacher and bring it home tonight.” He makes it sound like not appearing on a sleazy reality television show would be the absolute worst thing that could happen.

Bendis suggests that this what drives a large part of the evolution of this sort of superhero and supervillain culture. Without getting too firmly anchored in shared continuity, he does reference the emergence of the Ultimate X-Men as part of the trend. “My Uncle is, like, missing and stuff,” Liz explains. “Did he live in Washington?” M.J. asks. Bendis seems to paint this as a sign of things to come. “What if it was like in Ghostbusters when it was like — a sign,” Kong observes. “Like some bad news was coming… What if that’s why all these super people keep popping up?”

Rampagin’ Rhino!

Bendis’ Gwen Stacy is even more direct as she observes, “It’s the Meteor… How do you think the dinosaurs felt that moment just before the meteor hit?” Bendis does an excellent job creating the impression of a world rapidly adapting to the arrival of a new race of beings – drawing the sorts of trends that Stan Lee never quite managed to do. It’s elements like Nick Fury’s near ubiquitous presence, his fascination with Peter and references to legislation like “the Superhuman Test Ban Treaty.” There’s a sense of a massive cultural shift, and Ultimate Spider-Man sees Bendis root this shift in very human nature.

Peter is surrounded by people who, in the words of Curt Connors and his father, are “trying to be more than they really are.” The idea being that they want to be elevated above their fellow man and would exploit the power for personal or professional gain – although often for things as petty as making money. For his part, Peter seems barely able to grasp this selfishness. When he discovers the guy dressing up as him was only doing it to make a quick buck, he is frothing at the mouth. “I see people like you on TV,” he yells. “Idiots running around the city grabbing whatever they can!!”

He sure knows how to light up a room…

Repeatedly over the course of the book, he seems unable to fathom what people would do for that sort of power or fame. When Norman Osborn invites him to the penthouse, he seems to assume that Osborn will act with basic human decency. “Whatever this is — I’m not ready for it. I’m not prepared. But think — come on — there’s too many people here for anything bad to happen. Harry’s here.” Naturally, that doesn’t stop Norman from transforming.

Peter is shocked when Nick Fury tells him that Osborn was trying to do something like this, and the transformation wasn’t an accident. “Wait,” Peter clarifies, “he did that to himself because he wanted to–?” When Venom shows up at school, Peter assumes that the Venom suit came back by itself, running on “biological memory.” He doesn’t even consider the possibility that Eddie Brock betrayed him. When he finds out Eddie is inside, he pleads, “Eddie… please tell me you didn’t do this to yourself on purpose.”

Bridging his old life with his new one…

Of course, this works both directions – characters are as unable to understand Peter’s altruism as he is incapable of fathoming their selfishness. “Who are you working for?” the Kingpin demands, unable to believe the kid is doing good for the sake of doing good. Doc Ock can’t believe he’s not somebody with an agenda or “one of Justin Hammer’s homemade soldiers.” Hammer himself wonders why Peter is involved with the situation and asks, “How much to take care of it?” Norman, to be fair, does understand Peter’s altruism, but dismisses it. “It’s embarrassing. It’s childish. It’s — it’s just ill-conceived.”

A lot of people would argue that Marvel’s Ultimate Universe is an overly cynical reimaging of Marvel’s iconic characters. It’s certainly true that Mark Millar’s Ultimates was a brutal deconstruction of idealised superheroes, but I’d also argue it was something of a reconstruction as well. However, Ultimate Spider-Manworks so well because it very adeptly positions Peter Parker within his grand scheme of things as the brightest and most heroic of characters.

Getting all fired up…

Peter’s genuine decency stands out, even against the actions of other supposed heroes like Nick Fury. There’s a moment where Fury’s agents are ready to take down Norman Osborn. The problem is that Harry is in the line of fire. The pilot reports, “Sir, the Osborn kid’s in the way. Your call.” We don’t hear Fury’s response, but the helicopter opens fire shortly thereafter, so we can assume that Fury was okay with collateral damage. Peter, on the other hand, risks his life to protect people below from debris, struggling to catch falling debris even as Osborn refuses to halt his attack. “Osborn,” Peter begs, “the people below… Just let me…”

Fury even has the gall to advise him, “Peter, optimism is a revolutionary act.” That seems more than a bit hypocritical coming from perhaps the most cynical character in mainstream comics. And yet, despite everything thrown at him, Peter remains resolutely optimistic, with a nigh unshakeable faith in mankind. After Justin Hammer has a heart attack, despite smearing Peter in the press, Spider-Man’s only comment is sincere and heartfelt. “It’s sad when someone dies for no good reason like that.”

Proving his mettle…

Bendis has this idea he returns to repeatedly over the course of Ultimate Spider-Man, the notion that Peter is exceptional because he’s incorruptible. He can take all these things thrown at him and shrug them off, coming through them stronger. Reading back over it now, there’s a wry bit of irony as Mary Jane warns him, “But, Peter — you’re going to die doing this. You’re going to die in that stupid costume!” He could easily use his powers for personal gain, but he’s strong enough not to. Repeatedly over the course of the issues collected here, we see examples of people who aren’t strong enough to overcome the violent transition to their new way of life.

Justin Hammer is, for example, told that there’s nothing physically wrong with the Sandman. “It’s all in the head,” the scientists assure their employer. “He has the ability to control his mass and density — but the transition was too great a shock on him. He’s having a great deal of trouble adjusting.”Otto Octavius goes on a rampage because he can’t come to terms with his altered state. In contrast, Peter takes it rather well.

Peter’s a bit down in the dumpster…

It’s also worth noting that Bendis writes his teenage cast rather well, certainly better than Mark Millar over in Ultimate X-Men. One of the advantages of a reimagining like this is that it allows Bendis to introduce characters like Gwen Stacy and Mary Jane almost immediately. Stan Lee and his collaborators went through a lot of difficulty constructing a romantic dynamic that worked. (Mary Jane, for example, did not appear – save for a cameo with her face hidden – during Ditko’s thirty-eight issue run.) As such, it feels a lot more fluid for Bendis to begin already knowing what works and what doesn’t, to a certain extent.

His characters feel three-dimensional and well-drawn. His version of Peter Parker is probably my favourite iteration of the character, but I especially like Bendis’ depictions of Gwen Stacy and Mary Jane. In particular, Bendis seems to take Peter to task for never really being too sensitive about the issues his friends are going through. While Gwen Stacy mourns her father, Peter tries to convince her that Spider-Man wasn’t responsible.

A Kraven coward?

Peter seems completely oblivious to Mary Jane’s concerns (repeatedly having to ask “are you mad at me?”), although he seems to depend on her to come at his beck and call. She stitches his costume, and comes to a dangerous neighbourhood in the middle of the night to collect him. In response, Peter is completely oblivious to all the stuff very obviously going on in her life. He doesn’t know, for example, about her cheating father. “Peter, you never ask!” she yells at him. “You never ask about me.”

I do like the fact that Bendis allows Peter to tell MJ about his secret identity relatively early on in the series. In fact, Bendis seems to argue that such trust is necessary if Peter and MJ are ever going to work as a couple – he can’t continually lie to her about something that is such an essential part of who he is. “You deserve better than that,” Peter explains. It’s interesting that both Brian Bendis and J. Michael Straczynski take Peter to task for keeping secrets from the people he cares about – Straczynski rather brilliantly argued during his Amazing Spider-Manrun that it was selfish, and Bendis simply makes a compelling case that it is dishonest.

He’s created a monster…

All the stories here are superb, but special mention must be made of Bendis’ Venom arc, if only because the writer manages to tell a rather wonderful and defining story using a character he doesn’t seem to care for. According to his afterword, Bendis’ response to being asked to do Venom was simply “Venom sucks.” Bill Jemas didn’t even make a creative case for writing a Venom story, couching it pretty clearly in terms of branding and franchise-building:

It would be great to get Venom started in the Ultimates because he is a hugely popular character that really has no place in what JMS is doing with Amazing. Kids really dig those Peter/Eddie and Spidey/Venom rivalries, and I could see Venom rolling around in your land. I’d also like to turn our licensees loose on Venom for toys and costumes and all that stuff.

I can’t help but think of that whenever I hear about Sony planning a Venom movie. Which has its own problems. Or about how Venom was forced into Spider-Man IIIagainst Sam Raimi’s express wishes. (It seems like not a lot of people like Venom.)

A very jarring reimagining…

Don’t get me wrong. I think that Venom works fine in certain contexts. I think that Rick Remender’s Venom is a surprising awesome series and perhaps the best execution the character could ever hope for, but the character has one very significant limitation: he’s basically a very superficial counterpart to Spider-Man. The contrast isn’t even subtle, by the standards of superhero comics, and the character really doesn’t have any compelling reason to exist in mainstream continuity beyond being a darker and psychotic version of Spider-Man who sometimes has a stalker-ish crush on Peter.

It’s to Bendis’ credit, then, that he radically reimagines the concept and makes his Venom arc something a bit more personal. In many ways, it feels like a direct counterpoint to Marc Webb’s The Amazing Spider-Man. Webb’s reboot gave us a version of Peter preoccupied with the loss of his parents, while Bendis actually makes the case that that is explicitly not what Peter Parker is about. I’ve always subscribed to the idea that the loss of his parents at such a young age helped Peter to deal with Ben’s death in a more productive way than, say, Batman. Sure, Peter honours his uncle’s memory, but he’s not morbidly driven by it.

Naughty tentacles…

Bendis uses the Venom suit to explore Peter’s relationship with his father. In a way, it’s a very clever take on the character. After all, Venom is Spider-Man with massive daddy issues. Flashback sequences establish that while Peter’s parents were decent folks, they didn’t seem to make too much time for young Peter (and his facts about penguins). Is Peter’s desire to please and his rive to be the smartest driven by a subconscious desire to be worthy of their attention? I don’t know, but it’s a clever idea.

However, if Peter is subconsciously driven by his father, Eddie Brock is consciously driven. He seems to resent the work involved in following his father’s legacy into biological science – advising Peter not to do it to impress his deceased father. When Brock reveals the symbiote, contained in an Erlenmeyer flask, he explicitly to it as their “inheritance.” Indeed, Venom is one of the very few times that we see this version of Peter Parker tempted down a relatively dark path, and it’s no coincidence that this darkness is driven by a fixation on his deceased parents. Peter gets into trouble while trying to “take back what belongs to [him].”

It’ll swallow Peter whole, if he’ll let it…

That is, ultimately, what distinguishes Bendis’ Peter Parker from his version of Eddie Brock. Peter can let go and get past that darkness, even in his own past. Put quite simply, Eddie Brock can’t. “Peter,” Brock pleads as Peter threatens to destroy the suit. “This is all I have left of my father.” Not that it’s a problem isolated to Eddie Brock. Even Richard Parker haunted by the death of his own father. “When I was a kid, I watched my bull of a father whither away in front of my eyes and I had no idea why.” It’s what drove Richard to become a cancer researcher, what drove him to join the private sector and ultimately what drove him to depression shortly before his death.

It’s clever, and it’s well constructed, and I think that Venom is perhaps the first real classic of an extended run that has a pretty high average standard. Of course, there would be other truly great stories to follow, such as The Ultimate Clone Saga and Ultimate marvel Knights, but Venom demonstrates just what Bendis is capable of in this sort of framework. It is the perfect note for a nice hardcover collection of the start of Bendis’ run to end with.

The hunter has become… well, you get the idea…

I should also note that Bendis actually gets through quite a lot in these early issues, in many ways offering something of a “greatest hits” collection of Spidey iconography. He pulls his cast together quickly and economically, assembles an efficient bunch of villains, and even gets to reference countless classic bits of Spider-Man lore, including the Green Goblin throwing Spider-Man’s girlfriend from the bridge. People talk about decompression, but Bendis covers a lot.

Bendis would be accompanied for the vast majority of his run by Mark Begley. In fact, the pair would have the longest consecutive run on a Marvel title for a writer and artist, breaking the record set by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby all those years ago on The Fantastic Four. I do quite like Bagley’s art, even if it does appear a bit gangly and stretched in places. Then again, that sort of anatomy is perfectly suited to a Spider-Manbook, and it’s been something of a fixture since Steve Ditko defines the character’s world. It’s certainly a large part, I think, of what made Todd McFarlane’s work so iconic and influential.

I thought Peter’s spider-sense was supposed to stop trouble from creeping up on him?

Bagley has a wonderful sense of pacing – perfectly creating a dramatic rhythm to his stories. He’s an artist capable of going large or going small, depending on what the situation calls for. His vaguely cartoonish style allows his characters to be tremendously expressive, both physically and emotionally, and it’s hard to imagine what the book would have looked like in the hands of another artist. Plus, while Bendis was a relative newcomer, Bagley had a long-term association with Spider-Man that anchored this brave new world in the character’s long and distinguished history.

Ultimate Spider-Man is truly something very special, and the perfect place to jump into Spider-Man. It’s fun, it’s clever, and it’s beautifully constructed. Who could ask for more?

We have reviews up for all of Brian Michael Bendis’ run on Ultimate Spider-Man, in case you’re interested in checking it out, the rest can be found here:

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6 Responses

  1. I never really got into Ultimate Spider-Man but your review as my wondering if it might be worth another look. Was this the first series you followed on a regular basis?

    • It was actually. Read a whole bunch of them on holidays and fell in love. I think it’s an excellent gateway drug, particularly for those terrified by the sheer volume of Spider-Man material.

  2. “It can be as tough to get into the later volumes as any mainstream book”

    I’m sorry to have to call you out Darren but what idiot thinks they can pick up volume 7 or so and expect to understand everything from scratch?

    • Fair point. But then these books aren’t always kept in print up to specific volumes. Volume 7 might be the only volume on a shelf. I think that for a line that was designed to welcome new readers to comics, it is fair to point out that it reaches a point where it encounters the same problems it was designed to avoid.

      • Yet you also say congratulate Ultimate Spider-Man to no end for changing and growing and having an ending. Which is praise it deserves. But it can’t change unless it builds up continuity. It would be stuck in a status quo until the end.

      • That’s a fair point.

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