Ultimate Comics: Spider-Man #14 Review


Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Art: David Lafuente
Colors: Justin Ponsor
Letterer: VC’s Cory Petit

Exhausted from his crime spree as Spider-Man, Chameleon, hauling a wheel barrow of gold bars past a recently killed armored car driver, , reluctantly takes a few more mutant growth hormone pills, swearing he’ll kick the habit once he and his sister are out of the city. Iceman and Human Torch encounter him, demanding he takes off the mask. Chameleon quickly realizes they’re Johnny and Bobby from the house and removes the mask, still resembling Peter. While Johnny’s duped, Bobby isn’t. Chameleon then cops to it and swears to take them to their friend…then pulls out an AK-47 and opens fire. Bobby and Johnny easily melt and freeze the bullets, but then Chameleon unleashes an electric bolt from his hand, courtesy of those pills, and makes a getaway.
Back at the warehouse, Chameleon-girl – again wearing Peter’s face – continues to interrogate Peter while Jonah bleeds out on the floor. Her rationale, thanks to research on the web, is that he’s privy to intimate knowledge of such teams as the X-Men, the Ultimates, and even SHIELD. He tries to play dumb, but she informs him her brother has been living in his house, so it would be easy for him to hurt them in retaliation for his refusal…and do so as Peter Parker. Peter screams in outrage, but she belts him with the butt of her gun. A crash disrupts the interrogation. Chameleon bursts in, telling her to kill him now that the secret’s out. Peter’s rage manages to counteract the drugs and he breaks free. He gains the upper hand on Chameleon for a moment, but is then blasted by another bolt. But before the sibs can escape, the entire warehouse is frozen around them. Chameleon-girl – or “Camellia” as her brother calls her – is sucked through the floor, and is replaced by a blaze of fire. An enraged Torch bursts through the floor, threatening to burn Chameleon to death…but instead burns a significant amount of oxygen from the area to render him unconscious. Bobby comes up with an iced-over Camellia. Coming to his senses, Peter tells Johnny to get Jonah – still alive – to the hospital, while Bobby ices Chameleon as well. He and Peter try to figure out what to do with them: the police aren’t an option, and neither is killing them. Peter then decides on dropping them off at S.H.I.E.L.D..
At the Triskellion, Director Carol Danvers interrogates Chameleon from outside his cell. Chameleon demands repeatedly to see his sister, even threatening to kill her. She says he should have thought of that before picking on their “boy” Spider-Man.
At the Parker home, Peter and the others finally arrive. While May rushes to embrace her nephew, Gwen is cold and distrustful towards him. He walks up the stairs alone, the burden of what Chameleon did in his absence and what his sister put him through weighting heavily on his mind.
At the same time, in the hospital, a bandaged J. Jonah Jameson comes to, saying only “Parker.”

LIKES:

  • The tables FINALLY turning
  • JONAH’S ALIVE – AND KNOWS PETER’S IDENTITY!!
  • Unresolved issues at the end of the issue
  • Spider-Friends GO FOR IT!

DISLIKES:

  • “Camellia” – that’s the best name you can come up with, Brian?
  • No Peter vs. Chameleon
  • What about the status of Spidey with the cops?
  • Repeat cliffhanger

ADDITIONAL NOTES:

In the words of the immortal Stan Lee, “This is it True Believers!” After two issues of Chameleon ripping down Spidey’s status quo, FINALLY someone takes action.
The characterization of a few characters finds their strength in a majority of the current volume of this series. I seem to remember a few issues ago when Sue gave Johnny her blessing to stay with the Parkers. She said to Peter that he idolizes him. That can account for a lot of the anger Torch directs at Chameleon. His aunt has taken him in without a second thought, hence giving him a new family. This is evident in how obedient he was in the final page of last issue. His “brother” is being slandered on live TV, and simultaneously his hero being tarnished. Of course it’s made more complicated when he unmasks, and Bendis alludes to the fact that the last thing Johnny, for all his bravado, is a detective. Then it becomes a matter of his “brother” betraying his ethics and shaming his family. And of course he finally channels that aggression in the right scenario – after being attacked three times. Again, who said he was bright? However, he does show he has a mastery of his abilities beyond setting himself on fire and projecting flame. Burning the air out of the surrounding area was very creative.  As to the villain himself, we get some insight into Chameleon’s personality. For the majority of the time, he’s handled the obstacles of assimilating into Peter’s life with minimal irritation. Now, the iceman – no pun intended, Bobby – is starting to melt. We learn that these mutant growth hormones have an addictive component, and Bendis plays up the characteristic of an addiction perfectly in his thoughts. From resolution, to reluctance, to finally caving in. The influx of Storm-like lightning powers. Here I thought it was in his gloves. It is obvious that this is the first time he and his sister have tried their game on an established superhero, given how frantic Chameleon became as it was apparent the jig was up. Then there is an element that we didn’t expect to see from this cold-hearted b*@#(*#: a sense of family. He showed genuine concern when his sister was sucked under the icy floor, and again when S.H.I.E.L.D. was holding him captive. Perhaps the fact that we did not see the sister again is Bendis playing to the there’s-only-one-Chameleon crowd. Too bad, actually; just when you think she’s a groupie, Bendis makes her as dangerous and as sadistic as her brother. Still having problems seeing Peter’s face on that lady’s body. As to Peter, Brian continues to play upon the essence of the hero: his underlying sense of guilt. The fear of hurting his family through his actions as Spider-Man has always been in the back of his mind, but here we see a different variation on that fear. In his mind he sees a malevolent version of himself, the person he could have become had he been corrupted by the power, a possibility made flesh by way of the Chameleon. At this point, his rage and determination are completely universal. I think anyone would feel that amount of panic and distress. In the aftermath, Lafuente captures the emotional drain the experience has had on him as he walks up the stairs, and it’s increased by Gwen’s reaction, which is also very realistic. May welcoming Peter home with open arms? Sure, she’s the closest thing he has to a mother and she loves him regardless of what happens. But Gwen? The Chameleon emotionally abused her and publically humiliated her by kissing Mary Jane in public. This is similar to how she associated her father’s death with Spider-Man’s mask, although it was someone else wearing it at the time. This is the face of the boy who betrayed her, and she’s having difficulty making that distinction. You get that Gwen lives in a very black-and-white world when it’s all said and done.
Okay, while characterization was very high for the major players, there are, of course, some drawbacks. Who wanted to see Peter vs. Chameleon mano-a-mano? So disappointing; one punch to the jaw does not equal a fight. That alone could have been handled differently. I think fans were looking forward to Peter pummeling Chameleon upon getting free. Still, that would have felt like a repeat of the last doppelganger Spidey took to wood shop waaaay back in Vol. 1. While, in that rationale, I can see why Brian cast Johnny and Bobby as more than just his sidekicks in this story, which was pretty cool, I feel Iceman was poorly underused. Yeah he was good cop to Johnny’s bad cop, but he came off too much as a devoted kid brother to Peter. If I haven’t said it before, I don’t like the way Lafuente designed him; his head looks too wide and sometimes looks like a bald, beardless Silent Bob. As for Chameleon-girl, out of all the names he could have chosen, the best Brian could come up with was CAMELLIA?! Come on, man! Chameleon’s Russian, and this chick DRESSED like a Russian dominatrix; you could have used a regular name. Then there is the matter of the cliffhanger, a repetition that Bendis couldn’t avoid. Jonah knows who Peter is? Great. Is he alive – showing Bendis is not THAT much of a rebel – awesome. But him saying “Parker” in his sleep? Aside from the panel looking like a closeup from Citizen Kane (“rosebud…”), this is reminiscent of Otto Octavius’ mental leap in his cell, just as bandaged as Jonah and as dazed after his first defeat at Spidey’s hands. Is this a hint that Brian is running out of ideas? Are we starting to see a cycle in his writing?
Overall, albeit repetitiveness and underuse of some of the key characters, this was a pretty decent end to this story. Long lasting effects are obviously the return of the “Threat or Menace” headlines for Spidey and the brooding loner, I believe. I’m anxious to see where Brian takes this. Nuff said.

RATING: 3.5 out of 5 Webs

COVER: 4 out of 5 Webs
This is an incredible cover. While you never see Chameleon hit hard enough to crack Bobby’s face, this montage works in the sense that the reader is fooled into believing that it IS Spider-Man. There is no hint of it being a doppelganger at all. Old rule of thumb for writing comics: treat it as if it’s the reader’s FIRST issue. This grabs the reader’s eye; the image of a Peter Parker gone berzerk instantly sends up a “what is happening here?” in the viewer’s mind. And the ominious figure of Spider-Man in the foreground gives you a sense of intimidation that is more Batman than Spidey. The composition is really good for followers of the plotline because for them it’s the payoff. And again it serves the dual purpose of attracting the new reader’s eye to the story, and perhaps encourage them to pick up back issues to figure out how we got to this point. Great job, Dave!

Liked it? Take a second to support the Crawlspace on Patreon!