Ultimate Spider-Man 160: My god, it’s full of holes
I have to admit that I have been a fan of Ultimate Spider-Man for at least five years, maybe longer. For some reason, people complain about the writing of Brian Bendis. People used to complain about the decompressed storylines requiring three issues to tell one story – rather than one issue per story or the blended storylines that have become the Marvel vogue since the launch of the Ultimate line of comics. I love Ultimate Spider-Man. I even stuck with the story after the change of status quo in Ultimatum. It was interesting and seemingly going somewhere.
Then came the “Death of Spider-Man” storyline, which was tied into the ever interesting but hyper-compressed Ultimate Comics Avengers vs. New Ultimates books. This does not retroactively eliminate my love for this specific Spider-Man title, but the legacy of the book is lost. Not because killing Spider-Man is horrid. It isn’t at all when it is done poignantly. When you kill the heart of the Ultimate Marvel Universe, you better make sure to bring your A-game. Unfortunately, they did not.
The beginning of the end was signaled by the miraculous resurrection of the Green Goblin, Norman Osborn. In the last appearance of the Green Goblin, Norman had pummeled his son Harry to death in a fit of rage. Realizing the horrible reality of what he had done, he let Nick Fury shoot him through the head in his human form. That got waved away in this story, and they even said that there was no trace of Oz – the chemical that made him the monster – in his system. He still proceeded to turn into the Green Goblin and escape SHIELD custody. My thinking is that bringing things back to this Spidey’s first villain was an attempt at the basic writing trope of bringing the end to the beginning to see how far the journey has taken people.
Meanwhile, Spider-Man was out training with Captain America. SHIELD had asked him to train under the Ultimates become a better, more responsible hero. Captain American received a distress signal and ran off, specifically telling Spider-Man not to follow. Spider-Man did follow and took a bullet meant for Captain America’s kneecaps. (Yes, Cap was gonna get ‘capped.) Spidey took it in the gut. In the best moment of the entire series, the Punisher demanded that he be taken away and punished for hurting an innocent. There is something amazing about the Punisher screaming, “Punish me!”
The immediate events to follow the shot are different depending on which book you read. In Ultimate Comics Spider-Man, the bridge collapses and Spidey saves a bunch of people. In the other book everything remains fine except Spidey runs off. This is an indication of how much they really put into this storyline.
That is a weird statement considering how many issues it took to tell the story of Spider-Man’s death. Five. In my intro I indicated that I was fine with the decompressed storytelling, but five issues to tell the story of what happened within the span of maybe an hour is a bit much – especially considering how little happens from one issue to the next. This was obviously done to reach issue 160 as opposed to 157, not to mention five months of sales. Like I’ve mentioned before, I’m fine with marketing ploys so long as they aren’t obvious to the point of insult to the customers. This crossed the line.
The finale involved a brawl between Spider-Man and his most dangerous foes, right in front of Aunt May’s house. All Peter Parker wants to do is protect his family and friends, and the villains want to destroy him. Despite the blood loss, Spider-Man puts up a really good fight. He incapacitates all but the Green Goblin. This takes several issues. If this were a song, television show, or movie, it would be called overproduced. In pro-wrestling they used to call this kind of writing over-booked. I like that comic books are so much more to the point. This is just bad writing obviously intended to stretch things out as long as possible.
The fight comes to its near end when Mary Jane hits the Green Goblin with a truck. The dialogue says it’s a van, but a red cab followed by a gray trailer screams OPTIMUS PRIME to me. And he’s no van. Then Peter Parker does the worst things possible.
He tries to murder the Green Goblin. In one page they completely ruined Peter Parker. I don’t care that it was rage and he had had it with the guy who wanted to ruin his life. It doesn’t matter. The Ultimate Universe Peter Parker shares one major trait with the mainstream continuity Parker – the belief that murder crosses the line and makes a hero no better than his villain. I guess it’s a good thing that he shortly died after that, as no real Peter Parker could live with having done something so atrocious.
This is how Ultimate Spider-Man‘s legacy ends. Not with a bang but the sound of excretion.
Is this a subtle suggestion to the readers that everything we knew before should be ignored? Is this telling us that true heroes eradicate their problems? (Otherwise, Ultimate Reed Richards was right.) Since Osborn may not even be dead, is it saying that superheroics are ultimately meaningless? I remember Bendis saying that the end would be meaningful. It really wasn’t unless it meant to say that there is no meaning in it. I really hope that’s not it because 160 issues to say, “This was all pointless,” in an over dramatic way would be like giving the fans the finger while swimming through a Scrooge McDuck pool of money.
Then there’s supposed to be a new Ultimate Spider-Man comic following this. The least we can hope for is something that makes sense. If a new character really does take over, it better be a character who can immediately fill his shoes – but also someone who had some connection to him. Or you could easily resurrect Peter Parker for his hemorrhaging just like Osborn was resurrected from his gunshot through the brain. But if you’re going to try to sell readers on any of this, you better bring your A-game.
Wait. Did I just use the same trope that I accused Marvel of mishandling?