Finally, Mark Bagley has come back to Ultimate Spider-Man! And just in time for the Death of Spider-Man arc to kick off. My apologies to those who have been feverishly waiting for my opinion on the beginning of this much-hyped story, but I had some issues with my internet provider this weekend. I won’t name names, but they’re the reigning champions of the Consumerist’s Worst Company in America bracket. So anyways, here at last is the beginning of the Death of Spider-Man. If you smell what the Bagley is cookin… er, drawing.
Ultimate Comics: Spider-Man #156
Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Penciler: Mark Bagley
Inker: Andy Lanning
Colorist: Justin Ponsor
Letterer: VC’s Cory Petit
Cover Art: Mark Bagley & Justin Ponsor
Plot: Norman Osborn is revealed to be alive, and in the custody of the world peace-keeping agency, S.H.I.E.L.D. Carol Danvers, the head of the organization, interrogates him and threatens him with a gun when he turns hostile. Norman backs down to Carol and later is visited by a psychiatrist while Danvers watches and speaks to him from a surveillance room. The director of S.H.I.E.L.D. authorizes an order to kill Osborn when he proves uncooperative. Enraged, Norman begins to transform into his monstrous alter-ego, despite any indication that the transformation would still be possible.
The Green Goblin, now in control, wrecks a fiery havoc on the S.H.I.E.L.D. holding facility. He toasts the security guards and the doctor unfortunate enough to be present, and then sets free several other captives: Electro, Kraven, Sandman, Dr. Octopus and the Vulture. The six escape to the outside, where Electro unleashes a powerful electrical surge. The surge wipes out the circuits of the S.H.I.E.L.D. headquarters. The sinister set of villains hijacks a helicopter and flies away.
Upon arrival in the city, they abandon the copter and take refuge in a random apartment building. They turn on the television and witness coverage of the battle taking place between the Avengers and New Ultimates. Osborn takes this as a sign from God and claims that He wants the six of them to take advantage of this distraction in the superhero community to kill their common enemy, Peter Parker.
Peter is having lunch with his girlfriend, Mary Jane. The two express their happiness about being together again. They are interrupted by Peter’s cell phone. Steve Rogers, a.k.a. Captain America, is outside, waiting to pick Peter up for his superhero training. Peter apologizes to MJ, who tells him it’s no big deal, and the two depart with a kiss.
Captain America takes Peter, now in Spidey-attire, to a local cemetery. The Captain gives Spider-Man a speech on life and death, and condescendingly tells him he does not fight like he knows the difference. Captain compares Spider-Man to a soldier because he wears a uniform and fights for good, but admonishes his tactics, claiming he fights like a fool.
Spider-Man is insulted, but Captain America continues his lecture on why the young hero needs training. Captain is interrupted by a call from Carol Danvers. She orders Captain America to ditch Spidey and pursue Nick Fury’s black ops team which has gone rogue in the city. Captain America rides off without Spider-Man, after telling him there will be other chances for him to fight.
Spider-Man follows the war hero anyway, and arrives on the scene of a huge firefight on a bridge. Explosions surround the bridge. Mary Jane panics and calls the adventurer on his cell phone. She tells him that Osborn is alive and has escaped with Spidey’s other foes. MJ tells Peter that they’re going to come for him and that he needs to go protect his family.
Hot to the Torch: The return of Mark Bagley has to be the first thing mentioned here. His art, combined with the skills of Lanning and Ponsor, make this the most beautiful book I’ve reviewed yet. The art is immaculate, from character representations and backgrounds, to action scenes and special powers. There’s so much detail and definition, yet it has a very simple, classic look. It’s visually appealing and flows easily from one panel to the next. The work in this issue is a great example of why the comic book medium should be valued as a true art form. I am really looking forward to reading more with this creative team.
This story has a lot of promise as well. While not a lot happened in this issue, it served as a great introduction to the Death of Spider-Man arc. Mary Jane and Peter recap some of the events from the past few issues, and that effect is continued in Captain American and Spider-Man’s conversation. Anybody who is picking up the Ultimate story for the first time should not be lost and have no problem getting caught up to speed. The only confusion could potentially come from the storyline which involves the Avengers and New Ultimates, so if you are not following along with that story you may have some questions.
I love Sinister Six stories so this should be promising. Spider-Man is always pushed to his limits when having to deal with a group of his most fearsome baddies and those situations always offer great opportunities to showcase Peter’s determination to win no matter the cost. If this is indeed the Death of Spider-Man, it would not be surprising that it would come at the hands of this gathering of foes. But in true Spidey fashion, I’m sure we will see him somehow prevail against the odds.
I was not a fan of the Ultimate version of Green Goblin at first. I didn’t like the idea of him being a hulking, green monster with the ability to throw fire balls. However, if I separate him from the Norman of the Amazing universe, I have no problem admitting that this Goblin is a scary, intimidating and very effective bad guy. The other members of this sinister syndicate do not have much of a role yet with the exception of Electro, who had a nice display of power and usefulness in being able to fly the helicopter.
The Ice Cold: The only real problems I had with this story would be the representations of Carol Danvers and Captain America. Both seem overly aggressive and condescending. Norman Osborn has proven to be a thorn in the side of many people, but Carol is quick to threaten his life in the beginning, and then she apparently has no problem ordering him to be disposed of later. I was just warming up to her character in the New Avengers comics, so seeing her portrayed as a bitchy-no-nonsense head of a international security agency kind of ruins it for me.
Captain America comes off really poorly. I know he takes the responsibilities of a soldier seriously, but he seems to forget that he was once no different than Spider-Man, and had been denied the opportunity to fight for what he believed in. Why would he be so opposed to letting another person try to do the right thing? He should be supportive of training him if he doesn’t think he’s ready, and not be so eager to bench this soldier with so much potential.
Cap’s lecture on life and death seems really tasteless as well when you know the personal history of Spider-Man. I was surprised that Spidey did not get more offended when Captain America told the young hero he didn’t care about whether people lived or died. Spider-Man’s whole career is dedicated to that one death that will always haunt him, which means he probably has more guilt hanging over his head than the Captain ever will.
The Ultimate: The Ultimate moment has to go to Norman’s escape from his holding cell and the freeing of the other villains as well. The grotesque monster amid the flaming explosions was definitely a scary sight to see. This issue was definitely a win for the bad guys. These villains look poised to offer some serious trouble for Spidey. With Bagley lending his talents to what will undoubtedly be epic fight scenes, we’re sure to get more Ultimate moments than we can shake a Dr. Octopus tentacle at.
Rating: Great, art. Good, story. Meh, action, character development and writing. 4/5 Ultimate Spidey Friends