Marvel comics at the turn of the century were nigh impenetrable. With four decades worth of backstory, it was difficult to garner new readers. In a bid to have their cake and eat it too, Marvel launched a new Spider-Man series set in a different world, starting from scratch and continuity free. Written by Brian Michael Bendis with art by Mark Bagley, the book told longer form stories, building on previous threads. Ultimate Spider-Man (USM) featured not only some of the best Spider-Man, but best superhero stories, even outselling mainline Amazing Spider-Man for a time. The book is still going strong today with over 200 issues. Only, things have changed since the first issue.
Bendis, the only writer for the series, had a simple tact when penning tales. He took famous Spider-Man Stories, updating a few elements, introducing Marvel mainstays to the Ultimate Universe. Hence the verb, Ultimizing. Bendis started with Spider-Man’s origin, something familiar to anyone who’s seen the movies. Norman Osborn, in a gambit to develop a new super soldier serum, he created a compound called Oz. Oz was in spiders, Peter goes on field trip, gets bitten, Spider-Man. You know this. The difference here is this makes a little more sense than a radioactive spider.
The main antagonist throughout the series was Osborn as the Green Goblin. This version was a bit more literal. Osborn injected himself with the Oz, turning into a giant, green, fire spewing monster. Ever concerned with his creation and legacy, he’s had it out for Peter since page one. Other villains make appearances as well, Doc Ock, Sandman, Electro, Kingpin, and more. A version of the Sinister Six was put together by Osborn to take on Spider-Man.
As the series progressed, Bendis continued updating and correcting older stories, adding a grounded feeling. The web shooters and web were designed by Peter’s dad, rather than by him, the costume was his wrestling outfit, etc. A great addition was Venom. Fans have been conflicted about the character since his creation. Here, he’s handled better. The suit was designed Eddie Brock’s father and Peter’s to cure cancer. The same updating was done for Carnage as well, making him actually good.
Approaching issue #100, the series lost its way, focusing too much on superheroics, not Peter. Peter’s supporting cast were just as important as he was. While the Ultimate versions of the Avengers (The Ultimates), X-Men, and Fantastic Four made appearances, it was the relationships he formed with them that made it interesting. Aside from dating MJ and Gwen, Peter dated Kitty Pryde for a time, and became friends with Johnny Storm (the Human Torch) and Bobby Drake (Ice-Man). Bendis became too concerned with adding new Ultimate characters, with Peter not making an appearance out of costume for multiple issues.
Thankfully, this changed with the new Clone Saga. This is easily the best story line in the series, adding Spider-Woman (Jessica Drew), who is a female clone of Peter. Shortly after, with issue #111, Bagley left the book. Bendis and Bagley set a record at Marvel for longest continual run by two people, beating out Jack Kirby and Stan Lee’s Fantastic Four. USM kept turning out amazing issues. Then, Ultimatum happened, resetting the Ultimate Universe. Normally, I’d stop there, as I did with the first part of Marvel’s Ultimate Universe, but Peter’s road isn’t much farther.
Many thought Peter died during Ultimatum (giving use a great silent issue), but he didn’t, the book continued, renumbered and renamed (Ultimate Comics: Spider-Man) because why not. One interesting bit to come out of this was J. Jonah Jameson’s change of heart. Up till now, he played the typical Spider-Man detractor we’ve come to expect. During Ultimatum, seeing how Spider-Man risked his life to save people, he had a change of heart. Afterwards, he came to Aunt May, knowing who Spider-Man was, and told her how he will do everything he can to support him.
Things were going well, Spidey was being trained by the Ultimates on superheroics, and the series went back to original numbering because why not. Then, the last story arc was announced, “The Death of Spider-Man.” This wasn’t metaphorical, either. Osborn breaks out of S.H.I.E.L.D. custody, freeing many other Spidey villains. MJ calls Peter, having seen this news, telling him to get home and protect his family. A maskless Peter makes it home, with these villains on his lawn. He battles them, and with some help, manages to subdue them all, save Osborn. Peter fought with everything he had to save his friends and family. Though he stopped Osborn, he died in May’s arms, happy that he saved her since he couldn’t save Uncle Ben.
While the Ultimate U. has had its ups and downs, death has been something that’s stuck here. Peter’s dead, and has stayed that way. As such, this is one of the few complete bio’s I’ve written. How could the series have continued without him? Easy, with a new Spider-Man, Miles Morales. There was an Xbox, PS2, and Gamecube game somewhere in there too, and it was really good.
I look forward to every issue of Ultimate Spider-Man, owning all the trades in hardcover. Now, it’s my kids favorite book to read to them. If you want to check out a superhero comic, you can’t go wrong with this. Despite dips in quality, it’s still better than the rest.
What was your favorite USM arc? Did Peter’s death tear your eyes (don’t lie)? Comment below!
One of the Fallout issues totally made me cry.