Hello. Looks like we’re caught up on our main story after skipping around for a bit (I still owe you a review of 150, but that doesn’t really deal with the current story arc so we can go back to that one at another time). If all the jumping around has confused you, you can get caught up using the reviews of the latest issues here and here. Good, now that you’re all brought up to speed, here’s your latest dose of Ultimate Spider-Man, with a little bit of Fight Club and Futurama mixed in for good measure.
Ultimate Comics: Spider-Man #153
Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Artists: Sara Pichelli, David Lafuente, Lan Medina & Ed Tadeo
Colorists: Justin Ponsor
Letterer: VC’s Cory Petit
Cover Art: Ed McGuinness & Morry Hollowell
Plot: Years ago, in Cairo, Kingpin visited a contact named Yasif. Yasif turned over a wrapped item in exchange for enough money to make him the “King of Cairo.” Kingpin unveiled the ankh and is told by Yasif that the artifact “honors the request of its holder,” but those requests come with a price. Kingpin held the Zodiac Key and closed his eyes. When he opened his eyes he was horrified to see all men and structures around him destroyed as though in a nuclear explosion. He dropped to his knees and recovered the ankh he had dropped and flees, exclaiming “no one can ever have this.”
The artifact has now been recovered by the Black Cat, who returns to her luxurious apartment, outfitted with a zebra print rug, neon jukebox and flat screen TV. She is surprised when Mysterio appears in her apartment. He reveals he knows her real identity, Felicia Hardy. Mysterio tells her he knows her history and asks why she wants the Zodiac Key. Felicia responds by telling Mysterio to go away. To her surprise, Mysterio disappears.
He reappears on Felicia’s balcony and warns her that she must be careful with the power of the Zodiac Key. He tells her about the heavy price of using the artifact and asks her to trust him with the ankh. Mysterio promises her a better life when he rearranges things. Felicia ponders his offer.
Meanwhile, Spider-Man meets Iron Man atop Stark International Headquarters in New York. Iron Man begins the training by asking Spidey to hit him as hard as he can, in the manner of Fight Club. When Spider-Man questions the reasoning behind slugging it out with the armored hero, he is surprised to learn that Iron Man has no idea how to train him. Tony Stark removes his helmet and reveals that his girlfriend, Carol Danvers, assigned him to the task.
Tony then takes Spider-Man on a tour of his headquarters, where he displays his impressive arsenal of Iron Man suits. When discussing the reason behind the training program, Tony tells Spidey that Captain America had originally wanted to send him to jail. Spider-Man asks Tony why the other superheroes hate him. A frustrated and disheartened Spidey tells Tony that he tries really hard and tries to take responsibility for his actions. Tony is impressed by Spider-Man’s “with great power comes great responsibility” motto.
The heroes are interrupted by Iron Man’s virtual butler, Jarvis, who displays a holographic depiction of New York City. Jarvis points out an uncatalogued energy source coming from the Soho district and Tony instructs Spider-Man that they should wait to investigate until they know more about the situation. When the energy source erupts in a burst of light, the two race to action. At the scene of the flash of light, Black Cat and Mysterio are standing in the middle of a razed cityscape. Felicia claims she was only trying to get rid of Mysterio and hands the artifact over to the villain, who uses it to send a beam of energy into the night sky as the heroes arrive.
Hot to the Torch: The coloring by Justin Ponsor continues to stand out. The artists of the Ultimate series have been through some sort of revolving door in the last few issues, so it’s nice to have the classic look of Ponsor’s colors on a continual basis. His use of solid colors in the background of the panels helped define emotion throughout the book. The two panels where Iron Man tells Spider-Man that Captain America wanted to send him to jail, the background shifted from dark blue to black. The change between the two panels helped show Spidey’s emotional state at the news. Iron Man’s red and gold armor really stood out against the solid blue. I’m not a big fan of Iron Man, but the contrast looked so crisp and artsy in those scenes that I would consider buying some of those panels in the form of a poster.
The character development of this story focused more on Spider-Man’s life as opposed to the Parker family. Spider-Man is shown to be really upset to learn that the other heroes don’t consider him ready to be in his situation, and even think of him as a “spaz.” I laughed at Spidey’s frustration with Iron Man when Tony suggested that Spidey use the great power and great responsibility line as some sort of motto to live by. A little Easter egg for Futurama fans can be found among Tony’s Iron Man suits. One in the background is drawn to look like the booze-drinking, cigar-smoking, foul-mouthed robot, Bender.
The Spidey antagonists get some more depth this go-round as well. The Kingpin is shown to have some compassion in the beginning of the issue. He sheds a tear when he wipes out the village where he recovered the Zodiac Key, and he shows some responsibility for his action by taking the artifact and claiming that no one should ever possess it. Mysterio begins to display more showmanship when he boasts that he can rearrange things and make his and Felicia’s lives better. I’m not sure if it’s the way its written or the way he is drawn, but he appears smug. It’s that same attitude of arrogance and pride that can be found in the Mysterio from the Amazing comics, and I like it.
The Ice Cold: But Ultimate Mysterio isn’t off the hook yet. I am still not sure of what his powers or abilities might be. When Felicia wishes him away while holding the Zodiac Key, he disappears only to reappear again on two separate occasions. How is he able to withstand her desire for him to disappear while holding the Key? Was he just using illusions and tricks to fool Felicia into thinking it was working? I am also disappointed to see Felicia’s character give in and turn the Zodiac Key over to the bad guy, especially after seeing its destructive potential.
And while we’re talking about the Zodiac Key, I’m not thrilled with the explanation that it was given to the ancient pharaohs of Egypt by aliens. I was on board with this story about recovering some ancient artifact until they revealed it was of alien design. There are a couple of reasons why Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull failed, and one of the biggest reasons was the introduction of the aliens at the end of that movie. To me, aliens don’t seem to fit well in Spider-Man stories, with the exception of the symbiote suit.
Bendis’ writing doesn’t seem to hit the mark this time around. He again has Mysterio ask Black Cat if she knows him, when he had Mysterio make a big deal about the fact that she said she knew him two issues ago. His writing of Tony Stark is especially bad. I don’t read Iron Man, but it seems like maybe Bendis doesn’t either when he has Tony say things like “pooping where you eat” and then telling Spider-Man to “shush, chipmunk.”
The Ultimate: We get to see Peter in the Spider-Man costume for more than one panel in this issue. Huzzah! That would probably be the Ultimate highlight. The action was even more limited in this issue so we only see a lot of Spider-Man walking and talking. I really liked seeing his reaction to the other hero’s viewpoints. Nobody wants to let Captain America down. Now that Mysterio has the artifact, and Spidey and Iron Man are on the scene, I fully expect to see some more Ultimate moments in the future. This issue’s cover also featured a “Death of Spider-Man: Prelude” banner so things definitely should be picking up for our Ultimate wall-crawling hero.
Rating: Good, art. Meh, story and character development. Poor, writing and action. 3/5 Ultimate Spidey and Friends