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Ultimate Spider-Man #1-#3

A comic review article by: Andrew Luke

Plot: Fifteen year old Peter Parker wakes up in the 21st Century to find somebody in his shower. It's Uncle Ben. And he has a ponytail.


3 Bullets. Surprised? Make that 'very nearly four'. This project has doubt written all over it. Additional Spidey book? Written in part by Marvel's new CEO? A revamping of the origin story, promising to cover 'the missing years'? And Aunt May using the internet. What is going on here? Very nearly four.

A lot of risk and a lot of gamble has gone into this book. The highly competent creative team give it a big sky anchor, but this is essentially Amazing Fantasy #15with mobile phones, trendy Uncle Ben with a ponytail and eventually, I guess, WWF. 

So how does it stand up to the competition? A few years ago, Kurt Busiek, armed with hyper-Gruenwald sense, gave us the definitive re-write (Untold Tales of Spider-Man); plots weaving respectfully within the chronology set up by the Lee/Ditko era, telling thrilling yarns, as if Stan and Steve had got him and Bagley to produce those, then forgotten about them.

What about comparisons with the Lee/Ditko years, I hear you ask. In a way, this compliments them, perhaps better than the Busiek/Oliffe run. There are still villains looking kinda threatening. Except, they don't really do anything. They just hang around, in sinister lighting: nice one Steve Buccellato! And they talk...to other people. Totally inexcusable. How the hell is this book going to win a Wizard award if the villains don't talk to themselves? 

There are similarities between the Busiek/Oliffe run and the Bendis/Bagley stories. For instance, both illustrators excel at drawing cafeterias full of pre-pubescent brats getting on like the annoying little assholes most of them are. "Hey Luke! Bookworm Luke! Why are you such a sad pathetic wimp?" "You guys are such idiots" "Yeah, leave him alone". Except no-one ever stuck up for me. 

Parker's glasses are round, and in both series they give him a trendy aspect like Jeff Goldblum in Jurassic Park. Is it just me, did Parker never have zits? He had boils but never zits. 

In an attempt to make Ultimate Spider-Man as first-time-reader friendly as possible, Bendis and Jemas totally disregard any reference to established continuity. Mary Jane appears, fifteen years old, way, way before Pete and she actually met. Gone also is the science lab spider, replaced by the multi-national conglomerate school trip spider. Gone is the Osborn family rippled haircut, although the shape is still there. Also, Uncle Ben has a ponytail?

Bendis delves deep into the paranoid-schizo-objectivism-whatever world that Steve Ditko created. This is most obvious in the depiction of Peter Parker and the embarrassments of bullying he must endure. Lee and Ditko always hinted that Parker was treated like scum, yet depicted it in the most avoidable and abstract way. Bendis, on the other hand, shows everything. So Pete runs home in tears, humiliated in front of his few friends. In true bully victim style, he almost ends up telling Ben and May to get stuffed. 

By far, Ben Parker is the coolest character in the book: genuine, charming, honest, warm and caring. Uncle Ben was initially Petey's role model, an integral and essential part of his being. And to my knowledge, no other writer has ever depicted him in such a likeable way. Could be part of Bendis' plan to help us identify with the central character so that when Ben gets knocked off, like we suspect he will, will we feel more closely for Peter?

Bagley, Thibert and Buccalletto do a great job with the art, totally unpretentious, accomplished and warm, with the first two issues resembling a try-out for the movie. There's a new 'tingling spidey sense' sequence, a 'Previously in Spider-Man', and a great line in gags and homeliness.

What we've got here is something similar to 'The Image Factor'. The reconstruction of the fables by the talent roster working in superhero renaissance, applied and coupled to one of the most important icons in that genre. Bendis & co have been lucky in their being handed this task, which they have made unique as intended. 

This book really deserves to succeed, both in its own right and as part of Jemas' plan to bring new readers in. Business and creativity have never mixed so superbly.

Nearly four bullets. Oh, just this once...

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