Hey, there. Do you wanna know how the Zodiac Key storyline finishes up in Ultimate Spider-Man? Yeah? Well I got that story for you right here. Wait, you say you don’t really care about that arc? All you care about is the Death of Spider-Man story that you’ve been hearing so much about? Well, sorry. You have to wait another issue before we get to that juicy story. In the meantime, here’s the conclusion to our prelude story. It was noted on the title page, in tiny fine print, that the events of this comic take place before the Ultimate Comics: Avengers vs New Ultimates #1 issue (reviewed by Nathaniel Collins here), which ties into the Death of Spider-Man, so make sure to check that out when you’re done here. Enjoy.
Ultimate Comics: Spider-Man #154
Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Artists: Sara Pichelli, David Lafuente, & Elena Casagrande
Colorists: Justin Ponsor
Letterer: VC’s Cory Petit
Cover Art: SteveMcNiven & Dean White
Plot: Mary Jane passes by the Parker house as Gwen Stacy is leaving. The two girls share an awkward conversation about Gwen’s return and her recently-ended relationship with Peter. Gwen tells Mary Jane that Peter is off “being you-know-who” and training with Iron Man. A beam of energy shoots forth into the sky and Mary Jane wonders if it has to do with Peter. The girls share another uncomfortable moment when they realize they are clinging together.
In the city, Spider-Man and Iron Man arrive to confront Mysterio, who is now in control of the Zodiac Key. Iron Man drains all the energy in his suit by deflecting a blast from the weapon and tells Spider-Man to run. Black Cat attacks Mysterio and Spidey swings in to deliver a kick of his own. Mysterio recovers, still holding on to the key, and shoots Iron Man with a blast that destroys his armor.
Spider-Man swipes the Zodiac Key from Mysterio by using a webline. Black Cat begs him to put it down, warning the hero that the slightest thought could bring about great destruction. Spidey opts to hang on to the ankh to keep it away from Mysterio and a fight breaks out between the three of them. When Spider-Man knocks both opponents away, the Zodiac Key begins to glow. Black Cat cries that she warned him, and a black hole opens in the sky. Buildings, bikes and bad guys begin to get pulled into the anomaly.
The destruction ceases when Spider-Man pleads for it to stop. He drops the key to the ground and Black Cat consoles him. Mysterio approaches the duo with his gun raised and another fight breaks out as the three wrestle for control of the Zodiac Key. Mysterio wins the scuffle and bends down to pick up the artifact but is jumped from behind by Tony Stark. The tech-savvy hero reaches down past the blue smoke of a head, into the collar of the bad guy’s shirt and rips out a mechanical device. Stark reveals that Mysterio was a robot being controlled by some “pretty fantastic virtual reality.”
Iron Man thanks Spider-Man for the heroic effort he put in, flirts briefly with Black Cat, and then flies off with the Zodiac Key secured for research. Before Spider-Man leaves the scene, he assists the survivors of the wreckage and asks Black Cat if she plans on helping. Later that night, Peter is sitting outside of Mary Jane’s window with his Spider-Man costume on sans mask. He tells her how bad his night was and then accepts her hand when she invites him into her room.
Hot to the Torch: It appears we have reached the conclusion of the Zodiac Key storyline, and that is a big plus for me. After initially approaching this story with some optimism, I was disappointed with how it all shook out. In my opinion, the best turn in this arc was the reveal that Mysterio was a robot. That should improve the lukewarm feeling I was harboring towards this Ultimate version of the classic spider-baddie. The idea that the real Mysterio could be some master of virtual reality and deception – not just some thug with blue smoke for a head – has some potential. Hopefully the defeat of one of his bots (yes, I’m assuming he has more than one at this point) is just the ground work for another story down the line featuring the master of illusions.
Like the other Ultimate issues recently, the artwork was split between a trio of artists. It doesn’t seem to be a big deal though, since you can’t really tell that the styles are all that different. The art in this book is pretty consistent and I’m not sure if it’s because of Ponsor’s consistent coloring again, or just because these artists work well together. Either way it didn’t detract from the story.
I initially thought Gwen’s outfit looked silly, with the World of Warcraft-sized boots and belt, but my younger sister informed me that the moon boots are, in fact, a popular style. So kudos goes to whichever artist successfully captured the contemporary look. I do know that Lafuente handled the art for the last pages between Peter and MJ because he signed his final panel with a “goodbye.” I thought Lafuente had a good look for the Ultimate Spider-Man line, but it will be interesting to see original Ultimate Spider-Man artist, Mark Bagley, come back to the title in upcoming issues.
The Ice Cold: It doesn’t make for a good review when the majority of the reviewer’s notes are questions about the issue. That’s especially bad when it’s the last chapter of a story arc. In my opinion, this story went downhill starting with the previous issue. The fact that the Zodiac Key is of alien design is mind-boggling enough, but it’s only made worse when people use its mysterious power to different effects. How is Mysterio able to master this device and shoot energy beams from it? We are told that the slightest thought which might occur to the holder of the key could have disastrous results. But Spidey hangs on to it while fighting and nothing happens to his antagonists.
This story just seems like lazy writing to me. There is not a real explanation for the Zodiac Key or how it works. To say it’s just some mystical, alien device that causes bad things to happen seems like a cop out. It does just enough damage to take down all of Iron Man’s energy, but why didn’t it overwhelm him once his suit was drained of power? Another blast from the ankh destroys Iron Man’s armor, but his gauntlets and boots, conveniently enough, remained intact. And, despite the fact that he said the first hit had drained all his energy, he still had enough juice to fly away at the end with the Zodiac Key secured in a force field he projected from his gloves.
This issue features the greatest amount of action in this story arc. It was also the only time Spidey was involved with it, if you don’t count the brief appearance he made during a flashback scene in issue 152. Unfortunately, the fighting comes off choppy and awkward. The sequential display of the fights jumped around a bit too much, making it hard to follow at times. It always ended with Felicia getting webbed in the face. That also makes me wonder why Spider-Man continued to fight Black Cat when it seemed as though they both wanted the same thing – to keep the key away from Mysterio.
What was Black Cat trying to accomplish? Wasn’t she the one who handed the device over to Mysterio to begin with? And now she’s trying to stop him from keeping it. In the end, Black Cat even tells Spider-Man and Iron Man that she was trying to keep it out of Mysterio’s hands. Maybe she was just showing her true colors and looking out for herself, not wanting to admit her part in the fiasco.
Perhaps Bendis is getting stretched too thin, because Spidey borrows the same “pain in the tuchis” line that he just used in the New Avengers story. Spider-Man’s Stay Puft Marshmallow Man joke was a highlight of the writing, but his reference to Facebook, when Tony inquired about Black Cat’s relationship status, was a little dull. At least Tony refrained from calling Spidey a “chipmunk” this time around.
The Ultimate: Spider-Man must have some bad stuff going on in his head if the key opened a swirling blackhole in the sky. The destruction it caused isn’t the highlight, but I wondered if Spider-Man’s adhesive powers were the only thing that kept him grounded while everything else was sucked into the air. The more likely explanation is that the wielder of the Zodiac Key is immune to its effects, but I like my theory better. Tony, who was sprawled out unconscious on the ground, however, wasn’t holding the Key and somehow managed to withstand the effects, unlike Mysterio and Black Cat, seen clinging to anything cemented in the ground.
Rating: Meh, action, art and character development. Poor, story and writing. 2.5/5 Ultimate Spidey Friends
“Remember that one time during the fight when it looked like you might actually win? No? Me neither.” – Marvel vs. Capcom 3
“Did I mention I beat up Firelord once? No, seriously. Firelord.” – Ultimate Alliance 2