Wednesday, December 30, 2009

I really dig Ultimate Comics Spider-Man

I'll try and keep this short because it's essentially me splooging over a comic my company publishes--and honestly, who wants to read that?

(If that is you, please visit

For years I considered myself what you could call a peripheral fan of Ultimate Spider-Man. I never bought the book when I was in college, though I did check out the early digital comics circa 2001 or so and liked what I saw. When I was at Wizard, I availed myself of the new single issues that came in, but never really bothered to catch myself up in trades; I had at least scanned most of the major storylines and besides, the whole book was about being accesible and seemed to do a pretty nice job therein.

Ultimate Spider-Man was like that old reliable friend who wasn't flashy or demanding of you're time, they're just always there so you know you can get back to them whenever. I guess I took you for granted, Ultimate Spider-Man--sorry about that. I will say that I always respected both that Brian Michael Bendis was able to sustain what seemed to be an interesting and evolving series without having to take a single break in over 100 issues and even more that Mark Bagley (and later Stuart Immonen) was able to produce incredibly high quality work on a more than monthly basis in an era of delays and fill-ins galore.

Anyhow, somewhere around when the Ultimate version of the Clone Saga kicked off, I took more of an interest in USM primarily because much-respected friend and colleague Sean T. Collins pushed it as something important and because we were reading it for Wizard's Thursday Morning Quarterback (RIP) every month. Now that was one heck of a fast-paced thrillride with more cliffhangers than the Sylvester Stallone film Cliffhanger and guest stars and new villains coming out of the proverbial woodwork. Good times.

However, after the Clone Saga wrapped, I resumed my normal half-hearted interest and respect from afar of Ultimate Spider-Man right up through my hiring and first year and a half at Marvel.

Then, something happened.

Specifically, Ultimatum happened, and Ultimate Spider-Man re-launched as Ultimate Comics Spider-Man. I must say I am amazed, immensely pleased and perhaps a little surprised that after a decade at this, Brian Bendis is still finding ways to keep himself invested in this book by never letting up with the status quo rockin' and that as a result of his latest shake-up I am hooked on this title like a fat kid on Twinkies (Too harsh? Not topical? U-Decide!)

This is a comic about super heroes, high school, romance, etc., but at its heart it is about this: teenage versions of Spider-Man, the Human Torch, Iceman and Gwen Stacy living in a house together where Mary Jane and Kitty Pryde stop by all the time and they all eat dinner together!

That is awesome!

Honestly, it's such a beauty of a concept I can't believe it's never been done before--or at least executed so well in recent memory. I mean, I know the "teenage heroes living together" bit has been done and done well before in books like Teen Titans, New Warriors, Legion of Super-Heroes (basically all my favorites) before, but there's something about this particular grouping, the way they play off each other as friends, rivals and lovers, and the way Bendis just gets their shared language somehow that just elevates it so sky high. It's like everything I loved about Legion, about that escapist fantasy of teenagers having super powers and getting to live in a house with no grown-ups (yes, Aunt May lives with them here, but she's cool), except the characters are much hipper and more down-to-earth.

I just dig like crazy that they are this incestuous little Partridge Family who all go to school together and then fight crime afterwards. It rocks.

And the art! Bagley was rad and reliable (still is) and Immonen had (and has) his own inherent cool, but David Lafuente's stuff is just so...different, in the best possible way. There's so much energy on the page that it feels like he just stuffs all the artsy goodness into a bucket then heaves it at the page rather than applying it gently and over time. I love that. And I love that he makes the kids not only look like kids, but like different kids (Bobby is a bit shorter and pudgier, Johnny is taller and thin, MJ is nerdy hot while Gwen is goth hot, etc.). And the fight scenes! And the costumes! They're so raw and rough, but so pretty on the page.

Dig the new villains too. Glad Bendis broke the Goblin habit (even if it involved killing them both) and is going a completely different direction with Mysterio.

But the super hero stuff is almost secondary to the great teen dramedy. I mean, there's a scene in the issue coming next week (my job has its privileges, friends) where over dinner Gwen stands up to loudly declare "Peter is my boyfriend, so I am off limits!" just before Aunt May scolds Johnny to not have any "hanky panky" in her house because she "reads the gossip columns." And this all comes off a narration balloon from Peter taking up the top third of two pages where he's thinking about how Gwen is a great girlfriend, but he doesn't love that she kinda decided they were in a relationship because he needs a "girlfriend breather" and wants to go see if the Black Cat would still make out with him (if she's alive, which he's not sure about).

Phew. So yeah, great book that Ultimate Comics Spider-Man.

And I didn't even mention there is a female clone of Peter who Johnny has a crush on but doesn't know she's a female clone of Peter! Ahh!


Kello said...

The way you used to feel about Ultimate Spider-Man is the way I currently feel about the book.

Having that said, I thought this article was great and I miss "Thursday Morning Quarterback"

demoncat said...

never got into the ultimate universe . even though i like the idea of the characters starting over with out the contunty like marvel is starting again. too bad you and the other cool kids can not revive thursday morning Qurterback

HoneyMuckah said...

I dropped it. Couldn't stand LaFuente's art.

MixedGreensLanterns said...

Honey, you kidding? Lafuente is awesome!

BlackLanternBlackPanther said...

no, he is gross and anime looking.

Trinity said...

I don't mind the art but here is my one problem, Ultimate Spiderman set the standard in that it held its writer and artist for more than 6 issues. This was kind of duo I grew up reading on Spiderman. Now, LaFuente is going to do a stint and someone else comes in for a while to let him catch up. It annoys me that the price jumps to 3.99 and instead of a more consistent book, which you would think the increase would pay for, you get unknown(up and coming) artists on a book. I can understand paying 3.99 for Bagley and Bendis, but when artists haven't proven themselves it causes me to get annoyed for a price hike.

stevie9980 said...

Couldn't agree more, Ben. I did an "on=again off-again" thing too. But man, this book is so good, and it is the Spider-Man I want to read. Great column expressing what is great about this book.