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Ultimate Spider-Man Review

-by Andrew Goletz

Rating: 9 out of 10

Brian Michael Bendis and Spider-Man. A match made in heaven. Sure GHM found out the scoop during an interview with BMB a few nights before the story broke, but we were sworn to secrecy and actually ran the interview late. Oh well. It was worth the wait. Joined by artist Mark Bagley (who had a memorable run on Amazing Spider-Man years back, followed by Thunderbolts) Brian (Powers, Hellspawn, Sam and Twitch) was given the responsibility of making Spider-Man relevant again.

Ultimate Spider-Man is Marvelís way of reinventing the character without resorting to revamping the core books and alienating readers. The book stands alone outside the Marvel Universe and serves as a way to let new readers discover the book and the character without 35 years of continuity and baggage.

Spider-Man needed the overhaul. The core books had gotten weighed down by tired plot lines and resurrections of characters that didnít need resurrecting. Marvel tried a minor update a couple years ago with ĎChapter Oneí, but that was met with even more skepticism. Again, fans complained that the creative teams were changing things that didnít need to be changed and leaving the things that did need to be.

In comes Brian Michael Bendis. Bendis made a name for himself with the wildly popular Jinx and Torso, followed by a much talked about spin-off of Spawn, Sam and Twitch. The attention of these books lead to Brian doing a storyline in Marvel Knightís Daredevil series (which has yet to come out) and that put him on the short list to take the reigns of this new Spider-Man title.

With only a few issues out, Brian has shown a tremendous respect and understanding of the character. Heís updated the character and situations to fit into the new millennium without resorting to needless changes just because he would be able to. Peter Parker is still a young man with issues that plague every young man and Brian gives us clear insight into his daily life and the lives of those around him. Uncle Ben isnít relegated to guest panel status before his final fate, heís one of the main characters. Several issues into the run and Uncle Ben is more of a father figure and friend to Peter than was ever portrayed before. And Aunt May has moved from tired old caricature of a pushy aunt to that of an eccentric but wise older woman.

Mary Jane is no longer the pretty face with no substance. Sheís an intelligent young woman in her own right and long time friend and neighbor of Peterís. Flash Thompson isnít just a jock with a chip on his shoulder. Heís a real jerk, surrounded by a cast of equally big jerks who serve to torment Peter and anyone else whoís different. Most of the readers have dealt with a Flash Thompson in their lives at one time or another and Brian reminds us all too vividly of how Peterís life in school and out of costume can be more traumatic than what will happen when he wears the webs.

One of the biggest differences in the Ultimate Spider-Manís universe is the Osborn clan. Norman is given more to do here. Heís a very rich business man who craves power as much as he does money. He is ashamed of his son Harry, and Harry knows this. The life of the Osborns is a flip side of the Parker homestead.

Where as Peter has the love and support of his family to give him reassurance after his trauma in school, Harry loses his Ďmaskí of self esteem once he goes home and if faced with a family that really wants nothing to do with him.

The stage has been set, so it seems, for the origins of several villains including the Green Goblin and Doctor Octopus to tie into the origin of Spider-Man and it makes sense. Why not tie several coincidences into the same amazing event? I think it helps new readers not grow too skeptical of the typical comic book motif too fast, too soon.

While Peter Parker hasnít donned the webs yet, he has already become Spider-Man. He realizes that he has these amazing powers and as any kid would, heís both frightened to death and excited as hell to have them. He no longer has to fear people like Flash Thompson because he could crush them if need be. Subtle touches like Peter having fits in school or lashing out in anger at the bullies are wonderful. It shows that the transition from tortured, lonely geek to confident, jokey hero didnít happen overnight. Before Peter Parker could become Spider-Man, he had to first accept responsibility for the powers or gift heís been given.

There have been a few minor, missteps. A homage to the famous scene in Ferris Buellerís Day off seems a little forced, for example, but for the most part the book is a bulls-eye. Bagley is great for this book. Heís managed to make Peter and his supporting cast younger but at the same time show resemblances to their current incarnations. Iíve always been a fan of his Spider-Man renderings and their fluidity, but except for the covers, Iíve been unable to get a chance to see it again.

Some people have complained that the title is dragging because Peter hasnít appeared in costume and that Spider-Man isnít in the book yet. They donít understand the character. Peter Parker became Spider-Man the moment he was bitten by the arachnid and given those powers. But he wonít become a hero until that fateful night when his life changes forever and he learns his greatest lesson. I, for one, canít wait to see how Bendis and Bagley handle that. Theyíve already accomplished a great feat making the character readable for the first time in years and Iím awaiting the next chapters in their story with much anticipation.

Ultimate Spider-Man is available monthly from Marvel Comics.

Copyright©2000 Andrew Goletz