For some reason Marvel would have you believe that this is the last volume of “Ultimate Spider-Man.” It says as much on the back of the book, and there’s a credits page at the end acknowledging all of the people who have worked on the series since its inception. I can only assume that Marvel thinks it’ll get more sales out of doing it this way, but now that “Ultimate Comics Spider-Man” is up to issue six I don’t think that anyone is going to believe that. That said, if this really were the last volume of USM then it would be a mostly successful wrap-up to a series that has been, for me, “the only Spider-Man comic you need to read.” I say “mostly” because for all that it does right, Marvel essentially kneecaps it in the end by not reprinting the series’ actual ending.
Things start off on a high note with “USM Annual #3” which marks the debut of “Ultimate Comics Spider-Man” (don’t know why they felt the need to add “Comics” to the title, but there you go…) penciller David LaFuente. LaFuente has an appealingly cartoony style that has more than a little manga influence to it, mostly in the eyes and the excited facial expressions, and a real knack for knowing how to showcase action and movement, as seen when Spider-Man has to stop a speeding getaway car. His style is much different than that of previous pencillers Mark Bagley and Stuart Immonen, but I really like what I see of it here and I’m looking forward to seeing him on the new series (once it arrives in softcover, sigh…).
As for the story, it takes an idea that could be “fingernails-on-the-blackboard-painful” and then proceeds to treat it with enough intelligence that it winds up being pretty interesting and offers additional insight into the minds of these characters. Said idea is whether or not Peter and MJ should “go all the way.” This leads to some friction between the two as Peter tries to figure out why MJ would start avoiding him after she brought the idea up. Ultimate Mysterio is also introduced and it’s a refreshing change to see the police working with Spider-Man to stop a super villain. Too bad that writer Brian Michael Bendis backpedals on that when Aunt May is arrested in the next story, but the Mysterio case also provides the impetus for the two leads to start talking to each other again. All in all, it’s easily one of the better stories that series writer Brian Michael Bendis has done on the series and further proof that no one knows the character (no matter his age) better than him.
That knowledge is put to great use in the title story, “Ultimatum.” Now this storyline was a tie-in to the “Ultimatum” mini-series that was going on at the time that was promising to shake the Ultimate universe to its very core! The core premise essentially involved the return of Magneto to wreak havoc on the world for the deaths of Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch, which he does by reversing the Earth’s magnetic poles. I’d go into more detail, but I haven’t read the series which by all reports was said to be utterly abominable.
Things start out on a fun note with Johnny Storm begging Peter’s help to get him out of a date with an airheaded starlet, and then he winds up running into both the Vulture and Spider-Woman. Peter’s female clone is instantly classified as “girlfriend material” by Johnny. Then as Peter, MJ, Gwen, Kitty Pryde and Kong head out for a night on the town, Aunt May is arrested and a giant tidal wave hits New York. With millions dead from the tsunami and almost as many still at risk, Peter swings off into the city to save as many as he can.
It’s in this crisis that Bendis cuts to the core of Spider-Man as a character. Yes, he’s got those fancy spider-related super powers, but he’s really just a kid who is forever compelled to do the right thing because when he didn’t, the person who mattered the most to him was killed. That compulsion to do the right thing often leads him to places and events where he’s not fully equipped to deal with what’s happening, and that’s the case here. Bendis wrings lots of great drama from showing Peter’s desperate efforts to save as many people as he can from the flood, and his silent anguish when he realizes that he’s too late to save them all.
While Bendis’ understanding of Spider-Man is the core of the story, its best moment stems from him showing us an event that he’d probably never be allowed to get away with in the regular Marvel universe. That event being J. Jonah Jameson’s admission that he was wrong about the wall-crawler. Despondent after escaping from the chaos with the rest of the Daily Bugle crew he talks about how as he saw the world ending and Spider-Man jumping into the fray to save whoever he could about the chaos. Dare I say that it’s a powerful scene as Bendis’ words and Immonen’s images capture the anguish of a man who believes he is right in just about everything finally admitting that he was wrong about something and then taking the steps to address that. Yes, I realize that JJJ could return to being the iconic spider-hating newsman that everybody knows him for (and sadly, it wouldn’t surprise me if they did…) but it’s a scene like this that really justifies the existence of the Ultimate universe and I hope Bendis follows through on what he does with JJJ’s character in this scene.
Into this mix, Bendis also throws the Hulk and the demon that Peter tangled with in his adventure at Dr. Strange’s place way back in vol. 12. Said demon isn’t that interesting by itself, but it does bring back all of Spider-Man’s greatest foes to knock him around for a bit, which makes for some good visuals from Immonen. While it’s interesting to see Peter try to reason with the Hulk, with mostly successful results, and there are some great scenes showing MJ’s reaction to all of this, the last two issues are pretty much one big superhero fight fest. Granted, it’s a superhero fight fest drawn by Stuart Immonen who, as he has done with this entire storyline, brings an effortless sense of energy and excitement to the proceedings. He’s a great superhero artist and his work here shows what he’s capable of when turned loose on both widescreen carnage and human drama.
Still, even Immonen’s work can’t save the end which fails entirely at giving a sense of closure to the proceedings. Bendis’ decision to go with a “silent” final issue doesn’t entirely ruin things, but there’s just too much going on to allow the characters to not have any say in things. The real kicker is that we’re left with a “Spider-Man is dead,” ending which no one would’ve found believable even if they hadn’t started the new series a few months later. I can only assume that Bendis was trying to add a poetic, “he died using his powers to save people” to Spider-Man’s life, but it just doesn’t work.
BUT IT GETS BETTER! Because this really isn’t the actual end of USM!
After the last issue, Marvel published a two-part mini-series called “Ultimatum: Spider-Man – Requiem” written by Bendis with art from both current artist Immonen and original artist Mark Bagley. These issues were meant to provide a capstone to USM and show the final fate of Peter Parker – and how he escaped death in “Ultimatum.” This sounds like the ending we should’ve received in this volume, so why the hell aren’t they reprinted here?
That’d be because “Requiem” issues were also published for “Ultimate Fantastic Four” and “Ultimate X-Men,” and since their final volumes had already been published, the only way Marvel would be able to reprint them is if they were all collected together in one volume. Which they were, and since I have no interest in reading capstone issues of series I’ve stopped reading, I’m left with the option of tracking down these issues from other sources. So expect a review of these once I decide to root through “Things From Another World’s” nick and dent section and add them to my order.
So what could’ve been a truly spectacular wrap up to this volume of Ultimate Spider-Man’s adventures winds up being only a pretty good one. Even though I’m frustrated by the lack of the series’ actual ending, there’s enough good stuff here to make me recommend this to everyone who has been following the series so far. It also looks to be in good hands artistically with new artist David LaFuente, and I’ll still be getting my Immonen fix since he’s moved over to be the new artist on Bendis’ “New Avengers.” Huh, now that I think about things, it might be time to start re-reading everything for a future podcast…