Greg Hunter

Comics Review: Ultimate Comics Spider-Man #1-2

In Comics on September 6, 2009 at 9:17 PM

spidey

Brian Michael Bendis is a comics writer known for his “decompressed” style of storytelling, where plots tend to unfold over several issues and action gradually builds.  Bendis has been at the helm of some of Marvel’s most high-profile titles over the last decade, including New Avengers, Ultimate Spider-Man and Daredevil, and is one of the people most associated with the now-commonplace trend of “writing for trade”—plotting and scripting individual issues of a series with a later, collected volume in mind. The benefit of this trend is the potential for stories of greater scope and depth, which Bendis realized with this Daredevil work; the downside is that issues are often unsatisfying as stories in and of themselves.

I’ve casually (but consistently) followed each of the titles mentioned above in collected form, and they’re some of the most entertaining mainstream superhero books available.  Bendis’ books are consistently among Marvel’s best-sellers, but he his share of detractors online.  I’d been peripherally aware of this, never really understanding why, until I decided to start reading Bendis’ new Ultimate Comics Spider-Man as it came out from month to month.  And the truth is, following Bendis’ work on a monthly basis can be, well, pretty aggravating.

Ultimate Comics Spider-Man is a (probably unnecessary) rebranding of the earlier Ultimate Spider-Man, a series that gave Bendis the change to retell the Spider-Man story from the beginning, foregrounding the daily problems of a high school superhuman and reinventing Spidey’s villains and supporting cast.  USM was breezy but exciting, written with attention to character and a sense of humor.  Most of the time, it was also much better than Marvel’s “regular” Spider-Man comics.  So far UCSM has shown some of these qualities too, but either Bendis has taken his decompressed approach to writing even further than usual with the series, or I’m finally experiencing the plight of the monthly Bendis reader—after the initial issues, it seems like not a goddamn thing has really happened. We know there’s an “Ultimate” version of Mysterio creeping around, but we don’t know what he wants, how he came to be, or why he matters. We know Peter Parker has a different girlfriend, but his supporting cast hasn’t changed much. The most radical development might be that at the start of UCSM, the NYPD seems to like having Spider-Man in the area, but this isn’t exactly fertile ground for bold new Spidey stories.

Marvel’s “Ultimate” line was originally conceived to capitalize on the popularity of the Spider-Man and X-Men films.  These titles were (theoretically) perfect books for prospective comics readers—accessible to teens but not watered-down, and unencumbered by decades of history.  Presumably, this is still what Bendis and his editors want UCSM to be.  And tonally, it’s a success—issue one finds Peter Parker working at a fast food joint, wishing he were out on patrol, still an identifiable, morally firm loser.  David LaFuente’s energetic art, a kind of “Spanish manga,” also seems geared toward fans of a different kind of comic. Even so, there’s not much here to make new readers want to stay on—what we get is context, and then more context. 

Longtime Marvel readers might say that two issues aren’t enough to judge as series like this by, that Bendis’ track record suggests UCSM will pick up, but this is precisely the problem—by the time it does, only longtime readers will still be around.  The first story arc might have a satisfying conclusion; it might already be a squandered opportunity. Wait for the trade.

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