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Spider-Men (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.

Spider-Men feels very light. It is the first official crossover between the mainstream Marvel Universe and the Ultimate Universe, something that readers had been promised would never happen. However, despite the fact that this is a big event that has been more than a decade in the making – something rumoured since the earliest days of Ultimate Spider-Man – Spider-Men feels decidedly low-key.

It’s pretty much a collection of vignettes rather than a compelling story in its own right, allowing Bendis to run through a checklist of material to smooth the transition between ultimate!Peter Parker and his successor, Miles Morales.

"Well, this is awkward..."

“Well, this is awkward…”

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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 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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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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Dan Slott’s Run on The Amazing Spider-Man – Spider-Island (Review/Retrospective)

Dan Sott’s Amazing Spider-Man run has been pretty well received by fans. Credited with giving the title a sense of fun after the continuity-tangling mess of One More Day, Slott has managed to inject some fun back into the franchise. Or so I’ve heard. Despite being a fan of Slott’s Mighty Avengers, I remain somewhat disappointed that there’s been no effort made to collect his Amazing Spider-Man run into either an omnibus or an oversized hardcover collection. Still, I recently had the pleasure of devouring Slott’s Spider-Island plotline in a nice oversized hardcover, and I have to admit that I was more than a little impressed with Slott’s epic “event” comic book.

New York, New York, it's a hell of a town!

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Absolute Identity Crisis (Review/Retrospective)

This January, I’m going to take a look at some of DC’s biggest “events.” This week I’ll be taking a look at Brad Meltzer’s impact on the DC universe.

Identity Crisis is the first in the trilogy of stories that built off the original Crisis on Infinite Earths to offer a fairly significant reevaluation of the modern DC universe, examining where the characters and the fictional landscape was as compared to where it had been decades before. I’ve argued that Marvel went through a similar period of introspection from House of M through to Siege, but DC seemed to engage with the concept on a more direct level. Written by best-selling novelist Brad Meltzer, Identity Crisis is an attempt to explore the rather fundamental changes that occurred in superhero comics during the nineties, often as a direct response to The Dark Knight Returns or Watchmen, giving us a more cynical depiction of the concepts and characters that we take for granted. It’s controversial – as any similar reimagining would be – and, to be frank, it’s a bit of a mixed bag.

However, it’s always fascinating, even if it is grimly so.

Time to hang it up?

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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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