Ultimate Spider-Man: Death of Spider-Man
Written by Brian Michael Bendis, Art Mark Bagley
Way back in the early 2000’s the then Marvel President Bill Jemas envisioned something grand, a rebooting of the Marvel Line of Characters but placed in a separate timeline; divorced from the main Marvel timeline. Jemas argued that there should a younger continuity, something to draw in new readers (what with the recent releases of the first X-Men and Spider-Man movies) and to not bog them down with all of the complex continuity that permeates the old. And so the Ultimate Line of Marvel Comics was birthed.
People who breathed comics claimed that it wasn’t going to work. Old wouldn’t like this new reimagining of their beloved characters and new readers are never a guarantee, just the ideal. Then came Ultimate Spider-Man #1 and the critics were silenced, the fans voted with their money, eventually making Ultimate Spider-Man (USM) the number one selling Spider-Man book, even outselling the flagship Amazing Spider-Man in the main continuity. A lot of the credit is thanks to the writing of Brian Michael Bendis, a noted master of dialogue and who soon became one of the flagship writers of Marvel, shepherding the various Avengers franchises and multiply Marvel events.
Bendis has been writing USM since day one (and continues to this day), and has written every single issue of the over160 issue series. (This is something rarely heard from in comics.) For a good chunk of that time he was joined by artist Mark Bagley. Bendis, the writer, is known for dragging stories out (the first appearance of Spider-Man in Amazing Fantasy was 15 pages long, in Bendis’ retelling he made it into 7 issues,) with many of his issues filled with people standing around talking to each other. But when the man sits down and writes an action piece he blows me away (see the Marvel event Siege.) Mark Bagley, as an artist has this weird thing were he sucks drawing anyone else other then Spider-Man. Put this man on Superman or Batman and I start walking the other way, but Bagley and Spider-Man go together like peanut butter and jelly.
All of this brings us to Bendis’ capstone; “Death of Spider-Man.” Norman Osborn aka Green Goblin, thought dead by everyone who doesn’t work for SHIELD escapes from SHIELD with Doctor Octopus, Electro, Vulture, Sandman, and Kraven. But as luck would have it (for them at least) the Ultimates are at war is Nick Fury’s rogue Avengers squad (looooooong story.) When Doc Ock refuses to help Osborn kill Peter Parker (alter-ego of Spider-Man) Osborn as Green Goblin and mashes Ock’s face into mush, on live TV. Mary Jane warns Parker via phone call that the Green Goblin is back and probably is going to be hunting him. Returning to his house Peter sends Aunt May and Gwen Stacy away, leaves a note for Johnny “Human Torch” Storm and Iceman (both of whom are staying at the Parker House, another long story) to get out of dodge. With his family and friends taken care of Spider-Man goes to help with the war between the Avengers and the Ultimates and, during the fighting, takes a bullet for CaptainAmerica. Awakening with everyone gone he limps home to find the Sinister Five in his front yard and an unconscious Human Torch and Iceman.
Alone, he fights the five villains. A returned Aunt May shots Electro with a pistol, whose resulting explosion knocks out all of them except the Green Goblin. It time for the final rodeo, but Peter is losing badly, until Mary Jane rams a truck into the Goblin. Using the broken truck (and some super spider-strength) Parker smashes ole Greenie a few times until it explodes. The Green Goblin is finally down, but so is Peter Parker. Cradled in Aunt May arms he tells her that he may not have been able to save Uncle Ben but he was able save her and with that Spider-Man dies.
That ending packs a solid emotional punch, while the rest of it, on the other hand is kind of meh honestly. For a man renowned for his dialogue, they were many clunky lines. Also, Bendis packs in a lot of moments where you just know the hero is going to die soon (it’s kind of like someone saying in a movie that they are going to retire soon, you just know he is going down first.) CaptainAmericagiving Peter a speech about how he doesn’t fight like he knows he might die or how many times we have characters say how much they love each other. While all great scenes they just stand out as obvious pieces of foreshadowing. The action could have been better plotted, the removal of most of the villains hinged on Aunt May killing (I guess, the comic doesn’t confirm or deny this) Electro. Basically the only villain Spider-Man actually defeats is Green Goblin, and there is some question whether the last panel shows that Green Goblin is dead or in fact alive.
If that is the case then, besides killing Peter Parker, what did this accomplish? Yes, Marvel and Bendis are relaunching Ultimate Spider-Man with a new man in the suit, so I guess some of the old villains will be back to fight the new guy, but-what was the point of this? Shock? Tears? Money? Bendis claims that he just wanted to move the Ultimate universe further from the main universe. I guess I can buy that, somewhat. Buy why couldn’t Parker actually beat any of his villains, that would have been cool to see instead of just seeing Electro explode and suddenly no villains.
Death of Spider-Man, while its ending was the emotional gut punch it needed to be was simply disappointing. It could have been a ton better. Mark Bagley’s art though has never been better. Hopefully your new Spider-Man works Bendis, if not then at least bring Peter back to life tastefully. But just know, you killed him to well those last few pages.