Comic Picks By The Glick

Ultimate Comics Spider-Man: Death of Spider-Man Fallout

May 29, 2012

Now that the title character has passed on, it’s time for those closest to him to begin the healing process.  Coincidentally, as he was close to pretty much everyone in the Ultimate Universe it also gives us a chance to check in on what they’re doing and see a showcase for the soft relaunch for the imprint.  This miniseries is essentially a long-form version of those teaser books that Marvel puts out from time to time to spotlight new stories and status quos in the wake of a major crossover, or to hype upcoming storylines as was the case with their recent “Point One” one-shot.  If the book is going to be judged on how excited it gets me for the new Ultimate titles, then it pretty much fails despite being a (mostly) competent display of craft from all parties involved.

Things get off to a strong start with a full issue from Bendis and artist Mark Bagley.  For all intents and purposes, this is “Ultimate Comics Spider-Man #161.”  We get to see how Gwen, Aunt May, Mary Jane, J. Jonah Jameson, Nick Fury and more are handling Peter’s death.  The answer is:  not very well on all fronts.  The issue does serve as a fitting tribute to the character as we get a sense of the wider impact his career had on the community at large.  From there, however, the focus spirals out ever wider to show what everyone else in the Ultimate Universe is up to.  More importantly, we now get to see what new writers Jonathan “Ultimates” Hickman and Nick “Ultimate X-Men” Spencer have in mind for their takes on these characters.

It doesn’t start off badly as Hickman, with Bryan Hitch, gives us Thor’s perspective on Peter’s place in the afterlife which, regardless of whether or not you believe in Valhalla, gives us the feeling that everything’s all right.  Hickman’s take on the cast of “The Ultimates” does feel more promising as he sets up an interesting tension with Fury having to police the world with budget cuts rendering his forces too thin and characters he’s barely able to control.  The problem is that it feels more dutiful than anything else.  There’s no real excitement or “shock of the new” to his take on these characters.  This is in contrast to his short with Reed Richards, which is the best part of these “setup” stories.  As Richards has essentially been re-worked into a villain in the Ultimate Universe I’m fascinated by the idea that Hickman is having the character set up his own version of the Future Foundation here.  Best of all is the fact that Richards doesn’t see himself as a villain, but for anyone who read “Ultimate Doomsday” the fact that he now wants to “solve everything” has a much darker and compelling ring to it.

Then you have Spencer’s take on the “Ultimate X-Men” which comes off as somewhat disjointed.  Rogue’s story doesn’t really have a point to it besides reminding us that the character exists.  Quicksilver is reintroduced in a story that wants to set him up as a master schemer/potential mutant slavemaster but gives us precious little reason to believe that he’s capable of making good on his plans.  The bits with Kitty, Bobby and Johnny Storm are good, though I don’t see much story potential for them living in the sewers.  There is an interesting story idea in the Val Cooper segment which has the fact that the U.S. Government created mutants from “Ultimate Origins” about to become public knowledge, but I fail to see how any of this is to combine for an interesting story beyond the fact that mutants are even more hated and feared than before.

Oh, and as for the first appearance of Mr. Miles Morales... it’s too soon to make any judgments about his character.  Beyond the color of his skin, he comes off as functionally identical to Peter in the course of the short from Bendis and artist Sara Pichelli where he takes on the Australian thug known as the Kangaroo.  I’d make jokes, but Bendis actually got me to take him seriously in his first appearance many years ago.  I’m more than willing to give the writer the benefit of the doubt that he’ll distinguish the character from his predecessor, but he achieves only the barest minimum of that here.

Anyway, the downside of “waiting for the trade” here is that Hickman and Spencer have been replaced on their respective titles.  The former co-wrote a few issues with Sam Humphries before the new guy took over full-time, and the latter is out as of issue #13 with Brian Wood taking his place.  They’ve got the “Divided We Fall” crossover coming up to give some attention to their runs, but it also makes pretty much everything here feel like a non-starter.  That we’re seeing setup for runs that will never be fulfilled to completion by the writers that started them.  Which is a shame because I was looking forward to the “Ultimate Future Foundation.”

So the *ahem* ultimate verdict is that this isn’t a bad collection, but one that feels pretty unnecessary at this point in time.  As a result, it also serves as an unfortunate example of the “Ultimate” imprint’s slow slide into irrelevance in the company’s publishing agenda.

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