Thursday, June 23, 2011

Ultimate Spider-Man #160

Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Artist: Mark Bagley
Company: Marvel Comics

Reading this book makes me think of the saying, "On any given Sunday."  Yes, that's a sports reference and yes it's also a reference to a sub-par Oliver Stone movie, so I can imagine people are scratching their heads as to what it is that I'm referring to.  We'll get there.  Where Brian Bendis is concerned, I really have a few problems with his writing style, which is apparent if you've read my reviews of his Avengers book lately.  His tics are so apparent and teeth gnashing that it's sometimes hard to make it through an issue without feeling the need to scream or throw my hands up in the air and scream, "Why, God?  Why?"  Still, On Any Given Sunday, any writer can bring their A Game and kick some ass.  J.T. Krul did
that recently with his Deadman and the Flying Graysons and James Robinson reminded people just how good he can make a character focus story with The Outsider as well.  Bendis CAN be a great writer.  To say that he isn't one is crazy.  He proved that with his runs on Daredevil and Alias and Powers.  He also proved that with his run on Ultimate Spider-Man, and more importantly, he reminded me just how good of a writer he can be with these past five issues of said title.

Just as a warning to people who may have not read this issue yet, there will be spoilers discussed from this point on. If you don't want to know the particulars of the issue, snag a copy and then come back.

So yes, let's get this out of the way first:  The Spider-Man of the Ultimate Universe dies in this issue.  Bendis has been building up to it for months now and this is the culmination of the Death of Spider-Man arc. The shock value of the death, considering it's in the title and something that we've heard about for months, isn't great, nor is the poly-bagged format that instantly reminds people of the Death of Superman craziness.  Still, the death isn't the main attraction here, it's the way that it's handle and the level of craftsmanship of the overall story that is being told.  To put it bluntly, it's a damn fine story and this ending, where I typically find character's deaths annoying, felt organic and real.  In the past few issues, which encompass an entire night, we've seen Parker step it up and save Captain America, be shot by The Punisher, and had the Sinister Six show up on his doorstep.  Through all of this he never has given up and continuously fought for what was right and to protect his friends and the people around him.  I like seeing heroes doing heroic things, as cheesy as that sounds, and the emotional punching bag session that Parker goes through here as he's put to the very limit of what his body can handle is certainly heroic.

One of the main things that shocked me was how the emotions of the characters were handled.  Usually with Bendis, I expect those types of things to be there, but they tend to be heavy handed.  Here, seeing Mary Jane talk with her Mother about seeing Peter (obvious worry in her eyes) as explosions rumble in the distance worked.  As did Parker's frustrations at Goblin as they battle and the look of horror on the faces of Johnny Storm, May Parker & Gwen Stacy.  Like I said, it feels real and organic.  You're not being told to feel a certain way by mundane or annoying captions, you're seeing the emotions literally bleed out of the characters.

As for the action, that can be another stickler for Bendis.  I think he is a good concept guy for action but sometimes the way it's handled on the page can make it feel lackluster.  The fight with Goblin is not lackluster.  It feels big and dynamic and there are cool angles and ideas being thrown around just as quickly as the punches.  The idea of Goblin being able to absorb the Human Torch's power was slightly weird, but it elevated Goblin to that ultimate threat.  We also see Peter use his environment extremely well.  Everything from mailboxes to trucks to the houses around him are used in service of the battle, which is always fun.

Drawing this memorable issue is series artist Mark Bagley.  Bagley is talented.  He knows these characters, has been drawing them for years, and he knows how to translate Bendis' breakdowns onto the page.  The angles are very Marvel, as are the big splash pages.  Bagley's pencils have always had an ease to them.  They move very fluidly and you're never confused by where they are going.  With this issue specifically, I was very happy to see him be able to translate the emotion that is in the story to the character's faces.  While action is a name-stay with Ultimate Spider-Man, one that Bagley obviously gets, with a book that tugs on the heartstrings a bit as this one does, that you could see the terror and the struggle was fantastic.  These two creators working together, with the help from people like Andy Lanning who has been doing a fantastic job inking Bagley pencils to Justin Ponsor's colors to Cory Petit's lettering, know how to make a book worth reading.

So yes, On Any Given Sunday, any creator can surprise you.  With the Death of Ultimate Spider-Man, Bendis gives a send off issue that encapsulates everything that his run to date has had:  Humor, action, drama and lastly, heart.  And Spider-Man died a hero.  I can accept that.  All in all, a damn fine issue.

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