Sunday, 11 December 2011

Death of Spider-Man

Death of Spider-Man- By Brian Michael Bendis

Death sells; this is something comic publishers learned quite some time ago and by God they’ll milk it for as long as they still have characters left to kill. The death of Ultimate Spider-Man has been particularly controversial for a number of reasons, first and foremost because as a general rule resurrection doesn’t happen in the Ultimate universe so Peter Parker is more likely than not gone forever. Secondly Marvel had the gall to replace him with someone who isn’t white, and every closeted racist knows that any new character who isn’t a white male is just the writer trying to be PC.

But we aren’t here to talk about the new Ultimate Spider-Man Miles Morales (whose first few issues are out now); we’re here to talk about Peter Parker.

The death of Peter Parker is arguably more important to the Ultimate universe than all of the deaths in the much maligned event Ultimatum put together. Peter was the star of the first ever Ultimate comic way back in the distant past of 1999, Ultimate Spider-Man #1, and his death is what makes the Ultimate Comics relaunch so significant.   

Fittingly the original USM creative team of writer Brian Michael Bendis and Mark Bagley reunite to finish what they started over a decade ago and Death of Spider-Man is as good a send off to the series as they could have possibly managed. A problem many people have with ongoing comics is that their very format stops them from having any real kind of resolution, Batman will never get over the death of his parents, mutants will never be accepted, Wonder Woman will never... uh... whatever it is Wonder Woman wants to happen. Ultimate Peter Parker however gets that resolution, I won’t spoil how but needless to say if Peter’s final moment in the world of the living doesn’t make you tear up then there’s something legitimately wrong with you.

But I’m jumping the gun here, there’s a lot more to Death of Spider-Man than the death of Spider-Man, as odd as that might sound. The gist of the plot is simple enough; Peter is now being trained by the Ultimates due to their concerns over whether he’s too young to be a responsible hero. However before Peter’s training is complete the events of the story Ultimate Avengers vs. New Ultimates kick off and half of the superheroes of the Ultimate universe decide to have a big throw-down in the middle of New York because where the hell else are superheroes supposed to fight. In the chaos Peter is wounded, again I won’t say how but needless to say it’s not pretty. Unfortunately for Peter at the same time a group of his greatest enemies, the Sinister Six, escape from the SHIELD containment centre the Triskelion. Under the leadership of Peter’s arch-nemesis Norman Osborn, aka the Green Goblin, the villains decide to settle their score with Spider-Man once and for all.

Bendis has done an excellent job with these characters since day one and he doesn’t let up here. There are some absolutely fantastic character moments in this story from small, casual interactions early on that perfectly represent why these characters have become so beloved to major developments that show how much they’ve changed over time.  My favourite character moment belongs to Doctor Octopus and it showcases how well crafted and three dimensional the character is under Bendis’ pen, continuing the character’s growth since Ultimate Doom. Every character gets a chance to shine although the absence of Kitty Pryde, formerly of the Ultimate X-Men and a major Ultimate Spider-Man supporting character for quite some time, is very noticeable and I can’t help but wish she had been included in this story somehow.

As well as the excellent character work this book also includes some top-notch action, with Spider-Man and his housemates Iceman and the Human Torch slugging it out with the Sinister Six. There’s plenty of variety to the brawling and the book really gives the feeling of a final battle. This isn’t just another fight between Spidey and his foes, this is the final showdown and it’s an absolute delight to witness.

Mark Bagley is an artist who’s taken a lot of flak over the years for his art, the most common criticism being that he draws everyone with the same basic face, something I criticised John Romita Jr. for way back in my first review, and that’s a perfectly valid criticism. However Bagley does seem to have taken this to heart and his faces work has improved to the point where it’s no longer a major issue. Same- faces aside Bagley does an excellent job in this comic, the characters are expressive and the action is fluid and I’ve always liked how Bagley draws more monstrous characters, in particular Ultimate Green Goblin. It’s through Bagley’s pencil work more than Bendis’ writing that Osborn shines through as the force to be reckoned with he is and the sheer physical presence of Bagley’s Goblin again emphasises how much shit has well and truly hit the fan for Spidey.

When it comes down to it this is a well written and drawn book with great character moments and action sequences and that makes it the perfect ending to the story of Ultimate Peter Parker. The final few pages of this comic are some of the most touching and poignant I’ve seen in a modern superhero book and dammit Peter Parker goes out like a champ.

Ultimate Spider-Man has consistently been one of Marvel’s best comics since it launched and the finale is no exception. Goodbye Peter, you’ve earned your perfect score.


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