From Modern Mythcraft to Magical Surrealism

Comic Reviews: Ultimate Comics Spider-Man

Ultimate Comics: Spider-Man

Writer: Brian Michael Bendis

Artist: David Lafuente

About nine years ago Marvel Comics decided that characters who lug around 40 years of continuity may in fact be a daunting prospect for new readers. However, they did not want to disgruntle the existing fan base by wiping away the same characters’ cherished past. The answer to this conundrum came in the form of Ultimate Marvel, a new set of comics that relaunched key Marvel characters in a brand new universe.

Many predicted this endeavor would fall flat on its masked face, and that the Ultimate brand to do little more than dilute Marvel’s core product. But Marvel pulled it off, putting the Ultimate universe in the hands of rising stars Brian Michael Bendis and Mark Millar and securing blockbuster artists such as Mark Bagley, the Kubert brothers and Bryan Hitch to draw. Marvel launched Ultimate versions of Spider-Man, the Avengers (rebranded as the Ultimates), X-Men and Fantastic Four .

The new Ultimate Universe caused a real stir; Millar’s work on X-Men and especially Ultimates read like blistering action movies , and Bendis’s Ultimate Spider-man was a brilliantly modernized and movingly intimate retelling of the Spider-Man myth that has continued to garner praise to this day (as you will see in a bit).

Over time though, with the notable exception of Ultimate Spider-Man, the quality of the Ultimate line began to fade, and with it, interest in the majority of the line. While Bendis remained a presence on Spider-Man, the other titles passed into new writers’ hands and as time went by, increasingly failed to distinguish themselves from their mainstream Marvel counterparts. Sadly Marvel decided to address this with an unspeakably bad Ultimate-universe-wide event called Ultimatum where lots of characters died in a spectacularly un-engaging fashion, spouting terrible dialogue in their last moments.

Which brings us more or less up to date – basically the Ultimate line was akin to a good meal that dragged on a bit and then served a poo for desert.

In the wake of Ultimatum, Marvel is re-launching the line as Ultimate Comics. First off the presses are Ultimate Comics Spiderman and Ultimate Comics Avengers. It is the former of these I shall be looking at today.

I was/am a huge fan of the previous Ultimate Spider-Man series, thinking it actually surpassed its mainstream Marvel incarnation. Ultimate Spider-Man was accessible, engaging, touching and witty. It benefited hugely from having the same writer and only two fantastic artists over its 133-issue run. It had a lead with amazing powers who had as much trouble being Peter Parker as he did being Spider-Man and dealt with it all in a way that marks him out as one of the good guys, but not so good he didn’t stuff it all up from time to time. And it came out on time. Every. Bloody. Month. So basically, it was the archetype of a good superhero comic.

All this being the case, I was fairly nervous that this lovely little series was going to get ruined in Marvel’s reboot. Luckily Peter Parker not only survived the Ultimatum event but the book managed to re-launch in a manner that took advantage of being re-launched without losing its original charm, very much helped by the retention of writer Brian Michael Bendis.

Our story continues six months later, not an unusual device in comics after a big event these days. In that time, one big thing has changed and lots of things haven’t. Within the course of this issue we also get introduced to Peter’s new job, two new protagonists, witness to what seems like a pretty major fatality and experience a significant shift in the public perception of Spidey. It feels like Bendis service as usual with a few new twists.

One of these new twists is the addition of Spanish artist David Lafuente. Lafuente is a relative newcomer to Marvel but fully justifies his presence here, stepping into the shoes of previous artist Stuart Immonen with aplomb. Lafuente’s style differentiates itself dynamically from Immonen and that of Mark Bagley (who churned out a whopping 111 issues) before him but distinctive as it is, the art somehow retains the essence of the previous series – clean lines, well portrayed emotion, dynamic action and never too busy. As long as Lafuente can keep on track with the publishing schedule as the previous incumbents did then he appears to be an excellent choice.

Finally it’s also worth noting that, as any good #1 should be, this is a fine jumping-on point for new readers. Between a recap page and some nicely handled exposition it’s pretty easy to get a handle on what is going on. That’s not to say you won’t benefit from and maybe even enjoy it a teeny bit more if you have been here from day one, but for a series that has 133 issues in the bag this is about as accessible as it gets. Ironically this means that Ultimatum, though it felt like being beaten to death with a shovel by someone you considered to be a beloved friend, has kind of worked, certainly as far as Ultimate Spider-man is concerned.

So, if you liked the previous series, get this. If you have never been near this but quite fancy trying a bit of Spidey, get this. If you don’t know what a comic is, get this. And you didn’t like the previous series, get back to your Nickleback albums you plum.

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Paul Duggan was paid an obscene amount of money by Brian Michael Bendis to write this review.