Reviewing comics that interest me has been quite the rewarding experience. Coming into this I certainly was a comics fan but admittedly my reading material was Big Two, Marvel and DC, based. I rarely strayed beyond the comfort of what was known in my little universe. Through this, I’ve been able to dive into a number of amazing stories that I honestly would not have given two thoughts to before. Even when it came to stories I may not have liked, I have learned lessons I am putting towards my own writing. A writer is going to follow two rules. Read every day and write every day. When it comes to reading, straying out of your comfort zone may not yield the best results but you can still see what makes a piece work and what doesn’t.
One series that started my obsession with comics was Ultimate Spider-Man. The series was written by Brian Bendis and penciled by Mark Bagly. The point of the series was simple. Marvel realized that for some of their core characters, the history was a bit on the convoluted side in regards to all the twists and turns. That was fine for people who have been around since the sixties but a little tough for new readers to dive into without getting lost. Marvel had two ways to go with this. Either do a universe reset type of story that DC recently did, and failed with, in the New 52 or do what they did with the Ultimate line of comics and take characters like Spider-Man and essentially start over. It has the same premise but goes on from there. Long story short, this comic is a reboot. It is a beautiful example, a step by step guide really, to how to successfully reboot a franchise. It very much loves the source material but does an amazing job of not only modernizing the story but going off in directions that Stan Lee and Steve Ditko probably did not even conceive of.
So to finish off the year right and roll into the new year with a full head of steam, I am taking a different course. Instead of cherry picking through various comics with no real purpose, I’m going to start with a series from issue one all the way to its finale. That way I can examine a series from start to finish and make comments along the way about character development and the effort it takes the writer and artist to keep each issue entertaining all the while making you come back for more. While I will take little breaks here and there for other comics that pique my interest, I want my main focus now to be the Ultimate Spider-Man line. So, here we go.
I love the piece of business at the start with Norman Osborne. What a hell of a way to show the readers what a bastard he is! Instead of having two separate characters talk about him and deeds he’s done, we are shown through his actions that he is just a despicable human being. He doesn’t twirl a mustache or monologue about plans to take over the world. He’s a Wall Street corporate douche bag who’s looking out for number one, plain and simple. We’ve seen people like this on the news. We may work with people like this as our bosses. But this is the type of person most people loathe on the spot. The best part about the story was that we were not told to loathe him, we were given reason to.
When we finally meet up with Peter, we see through the actions of his classmates that he is not the most popular kid in school. While I wouldn’t call him the lowest level nerd around, I mean you have to be in somewhat decent status to get a girl like Mary Jane Watson interested in you, the jocks treat him like dirt. For the most part it’s realistic but the little bits of slang thrown into the story were annoying. The thing with slang is that you never know what will stick for the long term and what will become dated the next month. This is just nitpicking on my part to be sure but I have issue with slang tossed in for characters that is simply used to indicate their age. If you have to go that route, you’re doing it wrong. Just let them be assholes and say what you would say if you were an asshole yourself. Trying to guess what kids would say will just go down a very dark path that doesn’t often come out to where you want it to. Again, this is just a nitpick more than anything.
After Peter gets bit by the spider at Osborn Industries I was a little shocked at how quickly Norman sent someone to kill Peter and his family. Thinking of this as a reader reading this for the first time (I have read it before. I’m putting myself in their shoes.), seeing this just made me think why was it happening? You would think a businessman as unethical as Norman would be sending a fleet of lawyers to throw money at the situation in order to cover it up first, not sending a Jason Statham wannabe to whack a 15 year old boy. With a corporation the size you would expect of Osborn Industries, even if Peter died from the spider venom and Ben and May Parker sue Norman, he’d have his lawyers run cartwheels around the Parker’s lawyer for so long they’d be thankful for a settlement just to pay the legal bills. Sending a guy to take them out just seemed a little excessive at this stage especially with the fact that it is established that his son Harry is friends with Peter. You would think Norman would go out of his way to be the concerned parent who pops in on his son’s friend Peter in a ruse just to keep an eye on him. That’s ultimately where we end up after Peter, with his spider sense, leaps over the hit man’s car, causing him to crash into a tree so the whole hit man angle was pretty pointless at this stage.
This was one hell of a start to one hell of a run in comics history. Like when Gene Roddenberry created Star Trek: The Next Generation, plenty of people, myself included, saw no real point in this series being made and scoffed at it without giving it a chance. Boy did I end up eating my words. With beautiful artwork from Mark Bagly, especially when it came to scenes of Peter being depressed such as when he’s alone at the mall food court after the bullies threw food at him, and the amazing story from Brian Bendis, this was a great way to use the elements of Spider-Man that worked in the past all the while throwing in some new story elements to make something completely new. The original Spider-Man will always be there. This is a Spider-Man for a whole new generation. To quote The Who, Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.