Music: Thrice - Silver Wings
I took a trip to New Hampshire last week, and due to primarily living in the southwest most of my life, I've never seen colors like this... its a crazy world we live in.
Music: Thrice - Silver Wings
EDITORS NOTE: Sorry this took me an extra week, it was my original intent to just talk about Ultimate Comic's DEATH OF SPIDER-MAN, but in my usual way, I started rambling about other things. In this case, my memories surrounding the title over the entire 160 issue run. Brace yourself for some recollections!
Last week, in the pages of one of my perennially favorite books, I witnessed the titular character meet his ULTIMATE END (excuse the pun, I had to).
Ultimate Spider-Man holds a special place in my heart. As most passions are wont to do, my love of comics and some of the super-powered characters that inhabit them was kindled at a young age. The earliest memories I have with comics was discovering my uncle's stash, hidden away in my Grandpa's attic. That treasure trove included such gems as Daredevil, Moon Knight, and Fantastic Four, all the way to Werewolf by Night and Man-Thing (I also remember reading my Dad's old issues of Sgt. Fury and His Howling Commandos, as I sat on my bed and imagined parachuting down into occupied territory, machine gun blazing in hand, chomping on a cigar and shouting "wah-hoo" as I rained merciless fury down on Hitler's forces).
Needless to say, I was a Marvel fanboy from an early age.
When it came to Spider-Man though, I didn't have a ton of early memories. I can remember a few scattered issues from the 90's, as well as the occasional team up with Daredevil, but I was never really privy to the old Lee/Ditko issues or any other of the seminal runs of character when I was young. I do remember the 90's TV show, which I absolutely loved (the themes songs for that show and the X-Men cartoon from the same era will be forever imprinted in my brain, but I digress). To that point though, it was always more of an issue with the fact that I couldn't get any Spider-Man comics (or comics in general, due to the fact that my tiny town didn't even have a spinner rack), than it was that I didn't enjoy the character. I do remember reading an old issue of Wizard that covered the trials and tribulations of a Spider-Man movie getting made (remember when James Cameron was going to direct it?). The feature also had a multiple page text piece covering Spidey's history and continuity (think World History: Spidey Edition). So in a way, I knew everything about Spider-Man, but without getting to read the classic stories first-hand that spawned the character.
Eventually however, I graduated high school, left that town, and discovered the joys of living in a city with several comic shops. That was in the early 2000's, and since I was a poor college student at the time, I could only spring for a couple of books every week (even though the Marvel Zombie in me would of liked to have been able to read every single book that Marvel released every Wednesday). However, I was happy to discover Marvel's Ultimate line in that time, which was perfect for a almost-broke student, as I only had to buy 3-4 books to stay current on the entire universe. I loved those books back then, and felt like they completely succeeded in telling fresh, accessible stories, with familiar characters, but with the caveat that you really didn't know what was going to happen, because ANYTHING could happen. Eventually, I backtracked and bought all the trades of the back issues I missed, including Ult. FF, X-Men, and the Ultimates. Since Ult. Spidey was the longest running of those titles, there were quite a few trades to get, but I was lucky enough to find a great EBAY deal for everything up to around issue 80, so I just went from there.
Considering it was such an enclosed universe, with practically no crossovers or big events to deal with, Ultimate Spider-Man became a book that I could go to enjoy every month for fantastic, character-defining stories, with great consistent art from Mark Bagley. In fact, my love of that book actually increased as it went on. As great as those first 100 issues were, I thought it got better and better after the events of "The Clone Saga" which took place around issue 100. I loved that Bendis dusted off the "Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends" concept, and had characters like Johnny Storm and Bobby Drake moving in to Aunt May's house, as well as having other great supporting cast members like Liz Allen and Gwen Stacy. It brought a ton of vitality to the book, and I enjoyed practically every second of it. The momentum of the book wasn't even derailed by terrible ULTIMATUM event (in fact, I thought the Ult. Spidey book took far and away the best advantage of the plot points that the main ULTIMATUM book shoved down our throats).
I really enjoyed the relaunch post-Ultimatum as well. The art was a little bit different from what came before with Lafuente on pencils, but it kept to the spirit of the book pretty well in my opinion, and I absolutely loved the plot, as it was really just expanding on the previously mentioned "Amazing Friends" concepts. In fact, I thought Bendis got a second wind (or third, or fourth at this point of the title), and took his character work to a new level. I really just loved Peter Parker in those issues, and felt like if Peter didn't even put on the mask for an arc, i wouldn't mind, just give me more drama with teenage Human Torch and Iceman living with Spider-Man in his aunt's house. Yea, more of that would be good. A perfect example illustrating this was issue #155, masterfully illustrated my Chris Samnee, in which there is practically no action, but fantastic drama between Jonah, Kitty Pride, MJ, and oh by the way, Peter turns 16. Almost brought a tear to my eye (ok, maybe it did).
Then they had to go and kill him.
I'm not going to go into the how's and why's, but needless to say, Peter's greatest nemesis over the course of this title returns to plague the wall-crawler one last time, along with the rest of the Sinister Six (well, almost all of them, you'll have to read the story to find out the details). I guess I'm not really spoiling things, as its in the title, but Peter does really die. I wasn't sure they would actually do it for a while, as I thought maybe it would be a case of "Spider-Man" dying, which would just mean Peter hangs up the mask due to his life just getting too dangerous for a 16 year old to handle. But that would perhaps do for the regular Marvel version of the character, and this is the Ultimate universe, where supposedly anything can happen. Here it does, and now, the biggest icon of this line, introduced over 10 years ago, is finally put to rest.
In terms of the story, these 6 issues feel like a satisfying endcap to this series. It ends how it started creatively, with Brian Bendis scripting and Mark Bagley returning from his DC stint to pencil the book that he was born to draw. As prolific as Bagley's career has been, I've always felt that this book perfectly harnessed his strengths of drawing clean, youthful looking energetic characters, which is a perfect match for a book about mostly a bunch of teenagers. And of course its fitting that Bagley help end Peter's story, as the man made his mark on the series by drawing over 110 consecutive issues. Peter Parker's final story by the duo is permeated by a fitting sense of closure, as most of the characters that been mainstays over the course of the book appear to factor into the outcome, and the climactic finale, set in Peter's neighborhood in Queen's, is explosively huge, and at the same time, dramatically intimate. That last line that Peter says to Aunt May about saving her in the end, even if he couldn't originally save Uncle Ben, brought some emotions up. For the longtime fan, it was a perfect way to see Peter meet his end.
I'm not going to dance around the issue of the necessity of the death however.
I did not want to to see Peter die.
I did not feel that Peter needed to die in the context of where he was a character, and where he was in this universe.
I felt like there were more stories to tell about Peter in the Ultimate Universe (after all, the kid only just turned 16!). The cast of characters that Bendis had assembled was so strong as an ensemble, I absolutely did not want to see the end of a book that was essentially Spider Man and his Amazing Friends. The title was at the top of its game, which on one hand I suppose IS the best time to end a book, but wow, I did not want to see it go. And yes, I know technically that Ultimate Spider-Man is continuing, but no matter how good that book is, it won't be Peter's book anymore. And I know some people will just say, "well if you want to read Peter Parker Spider-Man, read Amazing." However, I disagree with one point - Peter in the Ultimate Universe is NOT the same Peter in the regular Marvel Universe. Its a different character, bottom line. They may have similarities and some of the same cast, but its in name only, the characters in the Ultimate Universe are undeniably different in character and tone, and thats due to the work that the creators that built this universe have done to make a book like Ultimate Spider-Man its own thing. And as far as Miles Morales goes, I'm willing to give the character and the new book a chance, I'm sure Bendis will be able to work his magic with Miles, and that the journey will be fun.
I did read the first 5 issues of the Miles-centric book, and its a fairly strong origin story with some good character work and lovely art, but simply put, its going to be hard to leave Peter behind. Peter Parker as Ultimate Spider-Man roughly coincides with me being able to read comics every month for the first time in my life, so basically that character was my Spider-Man when it came to the pages of comics. I wish Mr. Morales all the best, but he's got some big shoes to fill.
Oh, and for those interested, I also read Mark Millar's Ultimate Avengers vs. New Ultimates miniseries (wow, thats a mouthful) and sadly, although this was probably the best of the four Ultimate Avengers mini's written by Millar, its nowhere near the heights that he took the Ultimates when he was on that title with Brian Hitch. I mention it because its kinda tied in with the Death Of Spidey, as both stories take place at the same time and one event happens that ties the books together. However, you can just read Spidey and be fine, which is probably the best bet - UA vs. NU is a far cry from Millar's best work in this universe, which is sad, because years ago, his work on both the Ultimates and Ultimate Fantastic Four was some of the stuff I was enjoying the most while in college.
Oh well, all good things must come to an end right? In Ultimate Spidey's case, lets hope Bendis is able to extend that end with Miles Morales for as long as possible…
Until then, rest in peace Mr. Parker, its been great ride that I'll be revisiting plenty in the years to come.
Aaron Brewer is an aspiring filmmaker, musician and writer living in Los Angeles. There are many irons in the fire, and hopefully one day he'll be able to complete all the ideas he has floating around in his brain stew.