Ultimate Spider-Man Annual #3A comic review article by: Dan Hill
Plot: Super villains, clones, and all round mayhem are part and parcel of Peter Parker and Mary Janes' lives. Amidst all this they must make an important choice: Is their relationship ready for the next level?
Comments: I'll admit first impressions weren't good. This has nothing to do with the writer (big fan!) or the title, but the art. Opening that first page I was struck by just how different Lafuentes' art was to Immonens'. But then this is an annual and that's kind of the point. I still have fond memories of the first one, so I continued. Lo and behold, the art grew on me. Before reading this I had heard of Lafuente but never actually seen any examples of his work. His style has a heavy Manga influence and I think it was this that was so jarring to me.
A few pages in, though, I was sold. Here we find Spidey in hot pursuit of a speeding car. The scene crackles with energy and Lafuente draws an awesome Spidey. The Manga influences also help Lafuente get a really good handle on the characters expressions. The scene between MJ and Peter in the cafeteria is a great example. The expressions only serve to highlight a scene that is essentially an emotional see-saw. What really sold me on the art though was the gorgeous half page panel towards the end of the story (more on that later).
As I mentioned at the start of the review I'm a huge Bendis fan. I don't devour every piece of work he puts out month after month but to me his knack for dialogue is unmatched in the comics field (except maybe Ennis, in my humble opinion, of course). Bendis, like his idol Mamet, has the ability to create excellent, nuanced and natural sounding dialogue. To be fair to Bendis he writes dialogue this good month in, month out. But here everything has an added impact due to the subject matter at hand.
Whilst this issue deals with the debut of Ultimate Mysterio it's merely window dressing to the issues wider plot. It's that age old question that most teenagers (and adults) come to eventually: Do we take our relationship to the next level?
To start with the topic is the elephant in the room. MJ acts strange with Peter in an attempt to avoid talking about it. Peter does the same in his own strange way. He goes out and hopes for an encounter to take his mind off the whole thing. Fate delivers and he's plunged directly into a high speed chase across New York. Meanwhile back at Midtown High MJ suspects Jessica Jones is close to discovering Spider-Man's identity.
After attempting to help the police capture Mysterio (who is seemingly less tangible than his 616 counterpart) the issue is brought to a close in a scene between MJ and Peter in her bedroom. The whole scene here is a great team effort. Bendis hits it out of the park with his sweet (and believable) dialogue. Lafuente delivers some beautiful visuals (including a great three panel silent page) and Rauchs' colors and shadows bring the whole thing together.
The scene, and the issue as a whole, is not preachy or political. There is no message. It's just the reader looking in on the lives of two teenagers who love each other wrestling with a choice so many of us can relate to. We do get a coda reiterating the threat of Mysterio but it almost seems like an after thought. The real heart of the issue (and the book) is Peter and MJ's story.
Final word: A prime example of what this book does best. Kinetic action and set pieces crossed with great dialogue and great characters.