Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Ultimate Spider-Man #160 Review

As I've been reading the lead up to Ultimate Spider-Man #160, I've tried to avoid spoilers as much as possible. I've also tried -- and this has been much harder -- to ignore the cynical voice in my head. You know, the one that says "it doesn't matter how this issue ends, everything will be back to normal in a year anyway" or "even if they kill Spider-Man, they're gonna bring him back."

The cynical voice does have a point. Comic book deaths are rarely what they seem to be, particularly in a series in which we saw Gwen Stacy killed, then magically resurrected as a remainder of the Carnage symbiote (yes, this is a thing that happened.). And major events like this are usually created to drive sales, which works until the point it stops, at which point another major event (which in this case would be "RETURN OF SPIDER-MAN" in 2012) is created.

But like I said, I've been trying to ignore all that, and just enjoy these issues for what they are, which are incredibly well-written, well-drawn stories that bring the tale of "Ultimate Spider-Man" to a natural conclusion.

Despite the "Ultimate" tag, this version of Spider-Man has always seemed a little more down to earth than the one in Amazing. After 11 years of the book's existence, this Peter Parker is still a teenager, still has everyday teenage problems, and still frequently makes mistakes. He's not this avenging, fantastic world-changing superhero. He's just a kid who got some powers, and tries to do the right thing with them, frequently to the chagrin of the more professional superheros of the Ultimate universe. And, realistically (though that word doesn't often apply to the world of comics), a situation like that is going to end up in death more often than not. So on some level, a level that ignores the cynical business implications in the real world, it makes sense to kill Spider-Man.

Still, as I was reading USM #160, there was a part of me that couldn't believe they would do it. This is a testament to Brian Michael Bendis's writing, because each page of this book is incredibly engaging and powerful, despite a lack of dialogue and an increased focus on action. Every page in the book is an "edge of your seat" moment, as you wonder, "will this be it for Spider-Man."

And then, eventually, that moment comes. The word gets tossed around so much these days that it's really lost all meaning, but the battle between Parker and Osborn in this issue is in fact "epic" and Bagley's art brings it to life. Then, if the aftermath of Parker's final moments, he does an outstanding job bringing life to the emotion everyone's feeling. I particularly loved the panel of a teary-eyed MJ in the upper right of page 23, not to mention the Peter-MJ kiss before that on page 18.

I think the only thing that bothered me about the issue, aside from its existence at all, was the way they chose to end it with the final page. Rather than going with the powerful image of MJ holding Peter's lifeless body with tears running down her face as May collapsed into Gwen's arms in the background (the panel at the bottom of the SECOND-to-last page), the last page features the presumed dead body of the Green Goblin, with a final smirk appearing on his face. It's an extra kick in the ass on top of what's already been a real downer of an issue.

Putting aside all the hype (multiple polybagged variants) and cynicsm, this issue is flat-out good, and really this entire series has been. Only time will tell how this issue is ultimately judged (no pun intended), but my immediate reaction is that if it was Peter Parker's time, then this was an amazing way for him to go out (pun fully intended).

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