Ultimate Comics Spider-Man, Vol. 1: The World According to Peter Parker
written by Brian Michael Bendis
illustrated by David Lafuente
Six months after the Ultimatum Wave ripped through New York and killed millions, life is starting to return to normal. The city has been rebuilt, Spider-Man is a hero revered by the police and the public, and for Peter Parker and his friends, school is back in session. A darkness lingers, though, as Parker suffers from nightmares of the heroes murdered during Ultimatum, and a new villain, Mysterio, begins terrorizing New York with destructive illusions.
In 2000, Marvel launched the Ultimate lineup, reintroducing its most popular characters for a new generation of readers. Spider-Man, along with the X-Men and the Avengers (now The Ultimates in these new series), were once again freshly minted superheroes, stripped of decades of messy, overwrought history. There were no Age of Apocalypse, Messiah Complex, Clone Saga, or Brand New Day stories, each rooted in their own labyrinth of back-stories. It was a clean, authentic do-over, with no connection to any series that came before it.
After nearly a decade of stories, limited series, crossovers, and tie-ins, the Ultimate lineup began to develop its own mythology. Original ideas were few and far between, with much of the series composed of Ultimate versions of stories that had run their course years ago in the normal Marvel universe. Rather than breaking free and telling original stories, they were simply retelling old ones updated with a couple modern beats.
The exception was always Ultimate Spider-Man, thanks to writer Brian Michael Bendis. He wrote all 133 issues of the original run, and returns with the relaunched Ultimate Comics Spider-Man. While he borrowed heavily from the original Spider-Man comics, introducing classic and fan-favorite villains like Green Goblin, Dr. Octopus, and Venom, he always made it feel fresh and new by constantly having an expert grasp on his characters and their stories. Familiar characters were given new life. Venom was back, but he wasn't an alien symbiote from the Secret Wars; in fact, he had quite a personal connection to Peter Parker. Aunt May was no longer a doting matronly type, but a hip and fashionable modern woman who clued in on Peter's alter ego. Spidey's internal monologues were humorous, self-deprecating, sarcastic, and witty, filtered through a teenager's skewed worldview. And while Bendis borrowed from the original works, he was never beholden to them because the rule of the day was to have fun.
The sensibilities Bendis brought to Ultimate Spider-Man fully carry over into the new run. Seeing Parker adjust to his new life—working at a fast-food joint after the collapse of The Daily Bugle, living with his girlfriend, Gwen Stacy, and being adored by the police, who happily pose with him at crime scenes—is entertaining. It can get a bit over the top, but Bendis is aware of this and so are his characters. Peter and his friends acknowledge the insanity around them at roughly the same time the reader begins to think things are getting too outrageous. It's a nice bit of self-reference that makes the craziness a bit more grounded and enjoyable.
David Lafuente's art initially appears too cartoony, a bit too anime-inspired. It's not difficult to adjust to, and, overall, it actually manages to work well with the story that's being told. While not as strong as the work of Mark Bagley, who penciled the majority of the previous series run, his action scenes are clean, panels flow well, and the large cast of characters are neatly distinguishable. Lafuente has a quirky habit of making Spider-Man's head oddly circular, though, and it's a strange stylistic choice considering Parker's decidedly un-circular structure.
Throughout its nearly decade-long run, Ultimate Spider-Man was consistently enjoyable. Bendis had a firm grasp on his characters and the stories he wanted to tell, wrote fun, easy-reading dialogue, and made the series fresh at a time when Marvel's various in-continuity Spider-Man series were feeling stale and overwrought. Relaunched and rebranded, Ultimate Comics Spider-Man picks up the pieces from the end of the previous series, but it doesn't dwell on the distasteful events of Ultimatum. It pushes forward as a fun new series that brings in a new villain, introduces a new hero, and bring some familiar faces along for the ride.-- Michael Hicks