Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Pencils: Stuart Immonen
Inks: Wade Von Grawbadger
Colorist: Justin Ponsor
Letterer: VC’s Cory Petit
PLOT: Kenny, Gwen, MJ, and Kitty make it to the roof of a nearby building and overlook the cataclysmic purple explosion in Soho caused by the destruction of the Sanctum Sanctorum. Mary Jane hits Kitty for presumably coaxing Peter into action as Spider-Man, which may have gotten him killed for all she knows. During the cat fight (no pun intended) Kitty screams out she loves Peter as much as MJ when the redhead tells her she’d never understand how much SHE loves him. Both calming down, MJ asks her to find him. Kitty phases back down the building.
TWO MONTHS AGO: In the Sanctorum, Doctor Strange shows Spidey around, assuring Wong that he can be trusted. Among the mystical artifacts he had inherited from his father, most valuable and the point of the Sanctum’s protection is the Orb of Acmantata, a doorway to the Dark Dimension. Wong points out the seal of the Ancient One (the weird skylight) protects it from outside forces, among other spells put in place. Stephen says it would take an act of God to break into the Sanctum.
PRESENT DAY. The Sanctum now destroyed, ungodly creatures from other worlds are unleashed just as Spider-Man and the Hulk (now attacking the building) arrive. Nightmare has taken hold of Doctor Strange’s apparently-dead body. He unleashes their worst imaginings and fears. On the Hulk, he sets loose all 300 lives he killed the last time he was in
Elsewhere, Spider-Woman is drawn to the battle across town. Just as Peter finally collapses in pain and in fear, Nightmare is grabbed by a fighting-mad Hulk and ripped apart. Peter looks in awe as the gray-skinned goliath chases the reformed demon back into the ruined sanctorum and into the Orb. The Hulk continues to smash his fists on the Orb until it finally cracks and causes as massive explosion, creating a mushroom cloud for all of
· Ultimate Hulk’s background delved into
· MJ vs. Kitty Pryde – the catfight everyone saw coming!
· Homage to Amazing Fantasy #15
· Spidey out of his element
· Art lacking motion
· Ignored subplots
I apologize for the lateness of this review. Due to my artwork taking priority I couldn’t find time to do this. Rest assured, though, that’s over and I intend this to be catchup week for me before the next project takes hold. Now, on to business. For me, what made this issue for me was nostalgia, teen angst, and characterization.
Let’s talk about the supporting cast. Again Kenny provided the voice of the everyman. Bendis continues to put him in with the rest of the group in order to establish his role in it. His evolution from bit-player/bully to Peter Parker to staunch supporter of the web-head once his secret was out has been a good read. I know I’ve said it so many times over the course of my reviews, but it just dawned on me that he’s become the Xander of the Scooby gang. His remarks about the ease at which Peter traverses the city compared to his effort getting up one building was hilarious. But the big draw for this subplot was the catfight (no pun intended) between Kitty and Mary Jane. The large panel of MJ clocking an X-Man was definitely a defining moment about her character; her guy’s in trouble, and the person responsible for it is supposedly feigning innocence and, powers or not, the redhead unloads on her. Definitely a far cry from the carefree party girl that Lee and Romita introduced in regular continuity. And the stinkeye she gives Kitty when she says she hopes Peter’s okay before the big windup says it all; you could put a thought balloon in there that says “You did this.” Or “That’s MY line, b*#$!”The way Bendis has set this up is brilliant because it’s a love triangle that has been on a collision course since Kitty started school at Midtown. And again it’s the fallout of another of Peter’s bad decisions. He broke up with one girl because he felt he couldn’t protect her, and started dating another because she could take care of herself, but then realized he loved the first one more and broke up with the second. Kitty was used and discarded, and she has every right to defend herself against Mary Jane, but she takes the high road and stresses the truth, including the uncomfortable kind in regards to her feelings. This altercation works because any girl can identify with either side of the fight. So kudos to both Stuart and Brian.
Now on to the BIG guest star. For the past few issues, Bendis has featured Hulk as fans have always known him; a mentally-difficient, childlike, misunderstood monster and have barely touched on the rich history his Ultimate version has garnered by way of the Millar-Hitch collaboration. What those two did on the initial run of Ultimates run was add a layer of realism to the aftermath of the Hulk’s rampages. As Joe Quesada notes, The Hulk’s MO is he comes to town and takes the town with him. But for decades, buildings have toppled, tanks have been smashed, and soldiers have been thrown every which way…but no one’s been intentionally killed. Ultimate Hulk is a lot different aside from his skin color. He’s a cannibalistic, murderous monster that was unleashed DELIBERATELY by Bruce out of disgruntledness over being demoted in the Super Soldier Project. Three hundred deaths are on his head, and those are what Nightmare has unleashed in the Hulk’s mind. And yet this is the one redeeming factor in this version’s existence: guilt. This is his conscience attacking him, and the Hulk can’t stand having all of these lives staring him in the face. By doing this, Bendis is trying to gain some sympathy for Banner’s alter-ego, as he’s done throughout his entire stay in the Ultimatum storyline. The idea of rage becoming strength is taken further as rage becoming INNER strength, as the Hulk proves himself a formidable foe for Nightmare, mystical or not.
And finally we come to our boy at his best…when he’s at his lowest point. As everyone can attest, what makes a good Spider-Man story is when he’s pitted against a foe that’s essentially his bipolar opposite, not to mention out of his league, and is forced to rely on his wits to prevail. He’s the Rocky Balboa of the Marvel U because he’s the underdog in the fight most of the time. This metaphor works best when you put him in unknown territory for him. At his core, Parker is a science geek and webmaster, and the majority of his villains have strengths and weaknesses based in physical science and/or technology. But when he’s facing a foe like Nightmare, whose strengths reside outside the physical realm, we’re talking a whole different ball game. It’s an entirely different set of rules. Peter might as well be trying to read Braille as he battles basically his own demons conjured up from his unconscious mind. And the sight of his only salvation, Doctor Strange, seemingly dead and corrupted by pure evil, only compounds the problem. Though a fledgling sorcerer, Strange was in charge of keeping interdimensional forces at bay, and with him gone, this raises the stakes to those of biblical proportions. Against insurmountable odds with enemies at every turn, this is a true test of Peter’s metal.
Let’s now look at the homage to Amazing Fantasy #15 via the first two panels of Lee’s original 1962 story. This sequence shows a generational gap by applying not only the original dialogue, but Steve Ditko’s simple layouts, as opposed to updated script and angle. This serves to distinguish Bendis’ teenage Peter from Stan’s, as well as to distinguish this universe from classic Marvel Universe. It’s a Quantum Leap moment for Parker; he doesn’t know what’s going on, or why he’s saying what he’s saying because to a 21st century kid, this is cornball humor. And an aunt May who’s not feisty and serves him wheatcakes? Who makes wheatcakes?? And finally the way he’s dressed; he’s wearing a shirt, vest, and tie to a public school? Quesada noted in 2001 that Ultimate Peter is not a nerdy kid but rather a brooding kid. This accentuates that characterization of Peter. I only wish they’d gone to the high school scene with Thompson next and have Pete comment on Flash’s curly hair or something before things got all zombified again. Still it was a nice nod to the book that started it all.
Still, there were some minor imperfections in this book. Stuart’s come into his own on this book, and he’s carried what Bendis and Bagley started on his back. Where the art fails slightly is the lack of animated motion, and I think that’s the fault of Justin Ponsor. He has the option of creating some blurs with some of the characters’ movements to show speed and emphasize impact. Sometimes staying inside the lines doesn’t cut it; you have to go the extra mile to get the most out of the page. Justin just tell yourself it’s cool to bend the rules a little every now and again. In terms of writing, the subplots of Aunt May and Spider-Woman were completely ignored in this issue. May’s under suspicion of having connections to a known vigilante, and Spider-Woman made it worse by the save and calling her Aunt May. As for the flashback to Dr. Strange, I’m undecided. Yes that minor blurb explained the grave consequences of the Sanctum being breached, but I don’t know if it should have been mentioned last issue.
Anyways, other than that, it was a really strong issue. Stay tuned for the wrap up.
RATING: 4.5 out of 5 Webs
COVER: 3 out of 5 Webs
Okay okay some of you guys might shoot me for that rating since it’s a bona fide catfight but please ask yourselves one question: Where’s the relevance? The Kitty-MJ fight lasts only two pages. This cover leads the reader to believe it’s a 20 page brawl. I’m sure this is how MJ sees Kitty in her mind, but I think Stuart should have focused on the Sanctum or even Nightmare for this cover. Good on art, bad on connection to the interiors.