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The Best Comic I’m Reading At The Moment: Ultimate Comics Spider-Man

By / Posted on 01 November 2010

The Ultimate Spider-Man FamilyPeter Parker is living in a halfway home for teenage superheroes. He works the register at a mall food court burger joint. The police cheer him on as Spider-Man when six months ago they considered him one of the most wanted criminals in the city, a development that makes him uncomfortable. He’s had more girlfriends than any nerd in pop culture history outside of maybe Val Kilmer’s character in Real Genius. Everyone knows what high school Spider-Man goes to, yet he somehow still manages to keep his identity somewhat secret. Inexplicably, even with all the costume crimefighting, Ultimate Comics Spider-Man fills all the gaps that watching Glee leaves in feeling just like a teenager all over again.

Let’s back up a moment and explain how we got here…

At the dawn of the new millennium, Marvel Comics was just entering the whole “hollywood summer blockbuster” game and decided their comics had become way too complicated and bogged down decades of continuity for new readers who enjoyed the movies. Their solution was the Ultimate universe, which relaunched Marvel continuity in modern times from scratch. Spider-Man, the Fantastic Four and most of the X-Men were teenagers coping with their powers for the first time, and for a while these were acclaimed as the best books Marvel was putting out. Nearly ten years later, though, even those books had become weighed down with their own complicated storylines and the relaunch needed to be relaunched. A 2009 storyline called Ultimatum had X-Men villain Magneto summon massive tidal waves to level the eastern seaboard, crushing large chunks of New York City and killing most of its heroes in the process.

Aunt May and the boys

Johnny, Peter and Bobby are all surprised when Aunt May tells them to go out and be superheroes.

At the start of Ultimate Comics Spider-Man, Manhattan is reopening after six months of rebuilding (clearly a work of fiction, as the real Manhattan hasn’t even started building a new World Trade Center eight years after that terrorist attack). News reports on Spidey’s heroic rescue efforts during the Ultimatum attack have recast him in the public’s eyes as a true hero. Anti-mutant sentiment has escalated, causing Kitty Pryde to be harassed even more during school hours, and it doesn’t help that the destruction has led to overcrowding at the few schools still standing. Former X-Man Bobby Drake – the Iceman – has been kicked out by his parents. Peter’s Aunt May, coming to terms with her nephew’s superheroics and feeling the need to contribute in whatever way she can, opens her home and her kitchen to Bobby, along with Johnny Storm – the Fantastic Four’s newly-orphaned Human Torch.

Oh yeah, and Peter is dating his non-superpowered roommate Gwen Stacy, but it’s not the real Gwen Stacy because she was killed by a mindless clone of Peter Parker trying to reabsorb his memories. This Gwen Stacy is a clone of that failed Peter Parker clone with all of Gwen’s memories intact after all the evil clone bits are absorbed by Venom, who pretty much hasn’t been heard from since. Sooo… it’s basically like Gwen Stacy never died and they don’t really talk about it. Comic books…

My favorite parts of the previous Ultimate Spider-Man were the domestic issues with Peter and the rest of the supporting cast. The final few storylines that were far more superhero-centric tended to try my patience, so I’m really enjoying how this new book has so far focused far more on the cast’s private life interactions with timely asides for costumed action.

Girls fighting over puny Parker

The old Betty/Veronica situation. If Archie was ever as likable as Peter Parker, I might've enjoyed those books too.

Bendis’s scripts are as tight and character-perfect as ever with the teen drama, which always surprises me as he is most well-known for his gritty crime-driven comics, and as much as I really enjoyed Bagley and Immomen’s art in the previous series, I much prefer David Lafuente’s work here. In costume, Spider-Man actually looks like a kid with his big head, tiny chest and lanky arms. Bobby has baby fat to counter Johnny’s movie-star good looks, Mary Jane’s new glasses make her look like a cute A/V nerd and Gwen’s angled features and heavy makeup plays up her punky counter-culture vibe without resorting to studded leather.

While Ultimate Spider-Man was often little more than a clever update of classic Spidey stories, Ultimate Comics Spider-Man is affording Bendis the opportunity to tell stories that never could have been possible in the proper Spider-Man books. Does the editor of the school newspaper know that reporter Mary-Jane is Spidey’s best friend? How does Kitty Pryde feel about her ex-boyfriend Bobby living with ex-boyfriend Peter? What happens when the Human Torch plays truth or dare with Gwen (youknowit’sgoingtohappen!)? How long until the cops turn on Spidey and what happens Spidey’s former flame and wanted criminal Black Cat comes back to town? All this (purely conjecture) and more in coming issues of Ultimate Comics Spider-Man!

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Derrick Sanskrit has produced critically-acclaimed work as an artist and writer for Nerve, Babble, Pitchfork, The Onion and the Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art, among others. He founded The Pop Aesthetic during the coldest months of his life in 2010.

There is One Comment about this post

  1. Dave says,

    You forgot to go into how Ultimatum was THE WORST. I really can’t believe I bought even one issue. And that it was so riddled with delays that it never seemed like it was gonna end. And that The Blob ate Wasp. Oh man, what horrible execution of a horrible idea.


    on 08 January 2011 / 3:02 AM