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Ultimate Spider-Man – Vol. 12 (Hardcover) (Review)

You know, Jeph Loeb actually managed to make quite the impression on Marvel’s Ultimate line of comics. While his Ultimatum was intended to serve as a “shot in the arm” to a comic book line with waning sales and interest, it’s telling that Marvel organised another event almost directly afterwards, with The Death of Spider-Man serving to reorganise that fictional universe once again. This collection, the twelfth in the Ultimate Spider-Man line, sees author Brian Michael Bendis guiding the book between Ultimatum and The Death of Spider-Man. (Indeed, the next book in the set is the Death of Spider-Man omnibus collection.)

As such, it’s not too surprising that these fourteen issues feel a bit disjointed and uneven, as Bendis deals with the aftermath of one radical status quo change while gearing up for another. That said, I still think that Ultimate Spider-Man represents the single most consistent run on the title, and Bendis still manages to keep things interesting, even if this collection doesn’t quite compile the author’s strongest run of issues.


Part of what I really admire about Bendis’ Ultimate Spider-Man is the way that the status quo seems to be entirely flexible. There are only a handful of books publishing in the Ultimate line, and so Bendis isn’t too rigidly tied to a shared continuity. He can shake things up without impacting dozens of other titles and creative teams. Here, for example, he coopts the character of Johnny Storm from the defunct Ultimate Fantastic Four and Bobby Drake from the cancelled Ultimate X-Men, drawing them into his large and expansive supporting cast. He’s able to transition the Daily Bugle entirely from printed media to an on-line journal, and he can even allow J. Jonah Jameson to deduce Peter Parker’s secret identity.

There’s a conscious sense of movement. Occasionally Bendis will seem to change his mind mid-flow and clumsily reverse course, opting for an easy resolution to a particular story thread, but there is a sort of dynamism to this title that simply isn’t possible with the mainstream version of Peter Parker. Hell, the fact that the next volume in the set is called The Death of Spider-Man is probably conclusive proof of that.

Everything’s more fun with robots!

Indeed, Bendis goes out of his way to tease us with the threat of a reversion to the classic status quo after Ultimatum. We discover, for example, that the Kingpin has returned to New York City after being banished a little while earlier. One of his henchmen even muses on the fact that it’s a rather strange reversion, wondering, “How does the Kingpin get to come back to America?” Of course, Bendis promptly reintroduces the character in the closing pages of the first issue only to kill him off rather abruptly, subverting our expectations. Mysterio taunts the residents of New York, but he could just be talking to the reader, “You’ve been through quite enough already. You certainly don’t have to put up with that fat @#$%& yet again.” Things change.

It is actually strangely odd to see Spider-Man actually getting along with law enforcement. “Oh man,” one cop gushes, “what an honour to meet you!” In the wake of Ultimatum, Peter is a public hero, and it’s quite nice to see Bendis following up on that thread. “The cops are still being nice to me,” Peter complains to Gwen. “Everyone on the street is still being nice to me. It’s freaking me out.” (One especially nice moment features a photo of the friendly neighbourhood Spider-Man posing with cops near piles of gold bullion.) It seems that the last arc collected here, Chameleons, will revert this particular development, but it was nice while it lasted.

My style sense is tingling…

Similarly, there’s something fascinating about seeing a version of peter who is entirely honest with his Aunt May about what it is that he does. This creates an interesting domestic dynamic, something rather unlike most Spider-Man stories. “Oh, good, laundry,” Peter notes at one point, “could you wash my costume?” Without batting an eye, May responds, “Put it on the pile.” It’s certainly a nice change, and makes for a relatively unique comic.

That said, Bendis does go a little overboard with the teen angst. While allowing Aunt May to take in a bunch of other dispossessed superheroes makes for a unique Parker household, there’s just a little too much teenage soap opera silliness going on here. I know that’s been a lot of Bendis’ schtick with the series, and most of it works remarkably well, but subplots involving the girls cutting Peter’s hair seem just a little bittoo sit-com-esque, for lack of a more adequate description.

Well, the Shroud’s certainly got the bottle for this line of work…

I suspect that part of the problem is that Bendis seems to be, for lack of a better word, treading water. The first arc, The New World According to Peter Parker, seems to exist purely to set up the post-Ultimatum state of affairs. This includes introducing Mysterio as a villain, changing the household dynamics and setting up Kitty Pryde’s character arc. All of this is grand, but none of it really pays off in this volume. Mysterio evades capture at the end, Kitty branches off to do her own thing.

However, Bendis’ character work is worth the price of admission. Indeed, a short two-issue storyline in the middle of the collection, Crossroads, actually plays a lot to the strengths of Bendis’ writing style, as Spider-Man discovers another kid who is developing strange powers. Sure, there’s a fight thrown in for good measure, but the core of this two-issue storyline is a conversation between the characters about what it all means, and how to make sense of it all. It doesn’t seem to have any grand significance in the scheme of things, but it’s a well-written and insightful little story that illustrates just how good Bendis can be, even when he’s writing smaller “unimportant” stuff.

International man of Mysterio…

In fact, I find it fascinating that Bendis seems to deal with the fallout of Ultimatum remarkably well. The events are barely name-checked during Mark Millar’s Ultimate Comics: Avengers, and Jeph Loeb’s Ultimate Comics: X never seemed to actually ship, so it seemed like Bendis and Ultimate Comics: Spider-Man were left to do the world-building. We get an idea of what the world might be like in the wake of a devastating mutant attack, and the prejudice that is enforced by the government. “This class is for humans only,” a federal agent warns Kitty at one point.

Mark Millar’s Ultimate X-Men opened with a similar scene, but it never felt properly grounded. Instead, Bendis does an excellent job crafting a climate of fear that does suggest that this is a very different world than our own. I’ve always sort of liked that about the Ultimate line: the idea that it doesn’t have to mirror our own reality quite as closely as the mainstream Marvel universe and, as such, writers have more freedom to explore the implications of superheroes and their impact on day-to-day living. While Ultimatum was a terrible comic, at least some interesting threads seem to have come for it.

Spider-Man and his amazing friends…

By the way, I am hoping to see these lovely oversized Ultimate Marvel collections continue to collect the line after the whole Death of Spider-Man event. I am, for instance, very keen to see not only Bendis’ Ultimate Comics: Spider-Man starring Miles Morales collected, but also Nick Spencer’s Ultimate Comics: X-Men and especially Jonathan Hickman’s Ultimate Comics: Ultimates. That last one is getting phenomenal reviews, and I’m dying to get my grubby mits all over it.

There are tonnes of good ideas at play here. I like the idea of Mysterio as what might be described as a “viral” criminal, podcasting and broadcasting to the world like a stream of consciousness. One panel reveals that one of his rants goes on for over twenty minutes, outside the two minutes or so that were captured on panel, so it’s fun to imagine what he had to talk about.

Peter is an expert at beating himself up…

Bendis also returns to his theory about supervillains and what makes them work – especially as compared to Peter Parker’s almost boundless superheroism. Bendis’ villains tend to rationalise, to claim that they are the victims, that society has been cruel to them. Mysterio suggests that he’s simply doing what everyone else wishes that they could do. “You lazy cowards,” he goads those listening. “I’m taking mine.” When one of the Chameleons is challenged by Peter, who wants to know what she wants, she responds, “What we want? We want what everybody wants. We want everything we can get our hands on.”

These villains rationalise that they are the norm, and that they’re just more ambitious – they’re willing actually act on the impulses that normal people have, but suppress. That, as Nick Fury noted during the Ultimate Clone Saga, is what makes Peter unique. He takes all the crap that the world throws at him and just keeps going. He never cracks, never breaks, never gives up. Indeed, Johnny Storm is only finally convinced that he’s dealing with an imposter Peter Parker when the imposter suggests, “I’m sick of just being Spider-Man and not getting anything for it!!

He’s so excited, he’s practically glowing…

Bendis is joined by David LaFuente for the issues collected here (with Takeshi Miyazawa providing the artwork for Crossroads). I’d be lying if I said that I enjoyed LaFuente’s contributions as much as I had loved Mark Bagley or Stuart Immonen’s work on the earlier issues. However, there’s a nice dynamic and cartoony quality to LaFuente’s work that makes it pleasant enough to read. There’s a fluid style to his work that makes it especially suited to a book like this based around movement.

This isn’t the strongest volume of Bendis’ Ultimate Spider-Man work. Instead, it feels transitional. That’s only natural, and it’s not the first set of issues to feel like a bridge between two bigger points in the character’s life. Still, it’s an entertaining read, and Bendis writes my own personal favourite version of Spider-Man. I’ll certainly be here for The Death of Spider-Man.

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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