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Ultimate Spider-Man – The Death of Spider-Man Omnibus (Review/Retrospective)

This April, to celebrate the release of The Amazing Spider-Man 2, we are taking a look at some classic and modern comics featuring Spider-Man (and friends). Check back daily for the latest review.

It’s amazing how much can change in a decade or so. When it launched, Marvel’s Ultimate Universe was an incredibly fresh playground for some of the top creators working in comic books. It was an opportunity to relaunch iconic characters without the baggage of continuity – to allow creators to tell stories unburdened by decades of history and back story. It was something fresh and exciting, classic characters boiled down their purest essence.

This approach worked, particularly when juxtaposed against a wider Marvel Universe populated with characters that had drifted away from their roots a bit. Modern storytelling conventions, popular writers and artists, and easy of access all made the Ultimate Universe a very exciting place to be. The early years of the Ultimate Universe offer some of the best gateways into comic books for anybody looking to branch into the medium.

At your service...

At your service…

However, things change. Over time, the Ultimate universe lost a bit of its sheen. This was partially due to the way that the comics built up their own tangled continuity over the years that followed – it was soon as difficult to jump into an Ultimate comic book as it was to jump into the mainstream Marvel universe. At the same time, storytelling in the mainstream Marvel universe adjusted to incorporate the aspects that had made the Ultimate Universe so popular.

So the Ultimate Universe wound down a bit, with the decline assisted by some very questionable creative choices. Allowing Jeph Loeb to kill off most of the cast in Ultimatum was a bit of a miscalculation, and it seemed like titles like Ultimate Fantastic Four and Ultimate X-Men became a bit messy and less focused than they had been. There was a sense of redundancy to the entire Ultimate line. Relaunches followed, with a number of attempts to re-brand and re-energise the Ultimate line.

A bridge to nowhere...

A bridge to nowhere…

With all of this going on, a bold decision was made. The Ultimate Universe was introduced as a place populated with very boiled-down and iconic takes on the famous characters, as if offering readers a glimpse at the very essence of these heroes. However, as times began to change, the editors became a bit more willing to experiment – to try new things. Having served its purpose as an accessible alternative to the mainstream Marvel Universe, it became the place where Marvel could try new things, things impossible in the mainstream universe.

And so the comic attempted a variety of new approaches. Mutants were no longer quirks of evolution, but the result of government experiments gone horribly wrong. The X-Men became a bunch of teenage runaways. Reed Richards became a large-scale supervillain. However, perhaps the most audacious approach taken to the Ultimate Universe was the decision to kill off Peter Parker, with the original Ultimate Spider-Man creative team of Brian Michael Bendis and Mark Bagley conspiring to close the book on this version of Spider-Man.

Everything blows up in his face...

Everything blows up in his face…

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Ultimate Comics: Hawkeye (Review)

To celebrate the release of Thor: The Dark World towards the end of next month, we’ll be looking at some Thor and Avenger-related comics throughout September. Check back weekly for the latest reviews and retrospectives.

Ultimate Comics: Hawkeye is pretty much a companion piece to Jonathan Hickman’s Ultimate Comics: Ultimates run. Unlike other miniseries like Ultimate Comics: Thor or Ultimate Comics: Captain America, Hawkeye isn’t designed to be read on its own. It is clearly intended as a story to be read in parallel with Hickman’s on-going Ultimates narrative, unfolding at the same time alongside that particular story. As such, it’s a weird miniseries to read on its own terms, doing a rather excellent job of fleshing out the global scale of Hickman’s Ultimates work, but never really working on its own terms.

Broken arrow...

Broken arrow…

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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.

Spider-Men…

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J. Michael Straczynski’s (and John Romita Jr.’s) Run on the Amazing Spider-Man – The Best of Spider-Man, Vol. 3-4 (Review/Retrospective)

I honestly believe that had J. Michael Straczynski’s Amazing Spider-Man run ended with his collaborator John Romita Jr., his time on Marvel’s iconic web-crawler would have gone down as one of the great runs. Sure, it is flawed – sometimes significantly so. However, if you divorce it from Sins Past and the mess of crisis crossover tie-in issues and awkward continuity reboots that followed, Straczynski’s early run was bold, exciting and entertaining enough to get away with doing something relatively new to Peter Parker. Given that the run includes the five hundredth issue headlined by the hero, that’s quite an accomplishment in-and-of itself. It’s not perfect, and I don’t think it’s as strong as many of the runs happening simultaneously at Marvel, but it is an intriguing direction for the pop culture icon.

How many iconic villains do you spy dere?

Note: The fourth hardcover also includes the start of Mike Deodato’s run. I am going to cover those issues separately. This review or retrospective is going to be concerned with the second half of the collaboration between John Romita and J. Michael Straczynski, culminating in The Amazing Spider-Man #508.

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Ultimate Marvel Team-Up (Review/Retrospective)

Ultimate Marvel Team-Up occupies a strange place in Marvel canon. Written by Brian Michael Bendis and illustrated by a rake of top-tier talent, it was essentially a series designed to showcase these impressive artists while adding a bit of depth and breadth to the then-fledgeling Ultimate Marvel Universe. Essentially a continuity that had been launched from scratch, with the goal of attracting new fans put off by decades of back story in the regular shared universe, Brian Michael Bendis had pioneered the line with his superb Ultimate Spider-Man, a book that he is still writing today (albeit in a slightly different form). Due to its nature, Ultimate Marvel Team-Up is a somewhat disjointed effort, where quality varies almost from issue-to-issue, but it’s still worth a look for anybody with any interest in Bendis’ Ultimate Spider-Man work.

Who says there aren’t crocodiles in the sewer?

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Ultimate Comics: Doomsday (Hardcover) (Review)

Celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Fantastic Four, I’m taking a look at some of the stories featuring the characters over the past half-century.

Ultimate Comics: Doomsday is a bit of a weird beast. After the events of Ultimatum, Mark Millar’s Ultimates was relaunched both as Ultimate Comics: Avengers and the clunkily-titled (and written) Ultimate Comics: New Ultimates, while Ultimate Spider-Man became Ultimate Comics: Spider-Man and Ultimate X-Men spun off into Ultimate Comics: X. That meant that the only on-going series that hadn’t fed into a relaunched series was Ultimate Fantastic Four. Perhaps it’s understandable, since the series was arguably the weakest of Marvel’s Ultimate reimaginings of popular heroes, suffering from adapting Marvel’s most innocent scientific heroes in a grim and hyper-modern context. Ultimate Comics: Doomsday collects three miniseries (Ultimate Comics: Enemy, Ultimate Comics: Mystery and Ultimate Comics: Doom), which tell a gigantic crossover crisis set in the shared universe that the “ultimate” characters inhabit, but it’s really just a vehicle to allow Brian Michael Bendis to play with the left-over bits and pieces from Ultimate Fantastic Four.

This little Spider...

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Mike Carey’s Run on Ultimate Fantastic Four – Vol. 4-6 (Hardcover) (Review/Retrospective)

Celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Fantastic Four, I’m taking a look at some of the stories featuring the characters over the past half-century.

Ultimate Fantastic Four was never really the crown jewel of the Ultimate line. It wasn’t ever as consistent as Brian Michael Bendis’ 100+ issues on Ultimate Spider-Man, nor as zeitgeist-y as Ultimate X-Men (which had the success of the X-Men trilogy to back it up at least). Instead, like Fox’s Fantastic Four movies, Ultimate Fantastic Four was just… well, just kinda there, really. To be fair, I dug Mark Millar’s twelve-issue run on the title. Hell, I even enjoyed elements of the opening arc by Millar and Bendis, and the year-long run by Warren Ellis that followed. However, Mike Carey’s run is somewhat disappointing. This was the run which essentially saw the series through to the big Ultimatum event, and perhaps it justified the decision to clean the slate when it came to Marvel’s Ultimate line. Because, whatever Carey’s run was, it certainly wasn’t consistently fantastic.

That surfer dude looks spaced...

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