Retro Reviews: Ultimate Spider-Man Vol. 1

Ultimate Spider-Man Vol. 1
Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Artist: Mark Bagley
Inker: Art Thibert
Colorist: Steve Buccellato
Letterer: Richard Starkings
Cover Artist: Joe Quesada
Editor: Ralph Macchio
Publisher: Marvel Comics

A welcome return home to Spider-Man’s roots, and a modern revisit and retelling origin story of one of Marvel’s finest.

If an individual were to hear that today, they would probably think of Marvel Studios’ “Spider-Man: Homecoming.” However, this was the first 21st century revision of comics’ famous web crawler.

Publisher Bill Jemas wanted to revamp the Marvel universe in 2000 because its 40-year history and heavy continuity was intimidating and created hesitation for new readers to start reading comics. But instead of wiping the slate clean, his answer was a new comic line to retell their heroes origins in a modern context that would be accessible to new readers without affecting what had come before. First up, was Marvel’s premier superhero in Ultimate Spider-Man.

Written by Brian Michael Bendis with artwork by Mark Bagley, its first volume, “Power and Responsibility,” expanded Peter Parker’s original 11-page origin story into a seven-issue-long story arc: But at 17 years old, does the story still hold up?

The series starts out as you’d expect, Peter Parker is a high school nerd who is picked on by bullies. However, his life is transformed while on a field trip to a science lab, he is bitten by a spider that gives him superpowers, including super strength, wall crawling abilities, and a sixth sense that he calls his “spider sense,” which warns him whenever there’s immediate danger.

Bendis does a great job staying true to what drew fans to Spider-Man while also providing unique tweaks to keep reader intrigue. Some key differences without any major spoilers include Peter is 15 instead of 16, he lives down the street from Mary Jane Watson and friends with her, and he is bitten by a genetically altered spider rather than a radioactive spider.

Though there are some elements that couldn’t be ignored when this comic was created, which does date this series. Components like all the characters wearing baggy jeans and “Blink-182” t-shirts scream late 1990s and early 2000s.

Despite those minor annoyances, this comic is elevated by Bendis’ strong writing. His is always at his best whenever telling character driven stories. In Ultimate Spider-Man, the dialogue feels genuine, the characters feel real, and because Peter’s uncle Ben isn’t killed until the end of issue 4, his character is allowed to grow and readers become much more invested in him, which makes it even more tragic when his inevitable death comes.

And even though readers know this death is coming, Bendis is able to create tension and drama by adjusting familiar beats. Ben is still killed by a thief with a gun who Peter neglected to stop earlier. But instead, the gunman shoots Ben during a home invasion, which is told in a flashback from his wife May’s point-of-view.

It’s also worth noting that because this story is seven issues long, the fully developed Spider-Man costume does not appear until the sixth issue. This allows Bendis to build and establish this new universe and readers really get the sense of who these characters are. But this was also because of the time it was written. Spider-Man first premiered in “Amazing Fantasy #15” in August 1962 and was co-created by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko, and at that time, 11-page stories to introduced a character was the norm.

The stellar writing is also complimented with spectacular art. Bagley is a fan favorite when it comes to Spider-Man comics and he doesn’t disappoint in this story. He is able to convey heavy emotion in facial expressions and his action scenes are full of energy. Even with the dated attire, this comic is still a visual treat.

Verdict: Marvel Comics Ultimate Spider-Man lived the dream for Marvel’s Ultimate Universe. It started the publishing line, and when it ended in 2015 after the event “Secret Wars,” it was one of the few things that was merged into the regular Marvel Universe: It’s easy to see why. Bendis lays the groundwork for a series in its first story arc, “Power and Responsibility.” He never left the book, which allowed him to create a long, drawn out story where every character introduced in this first volume develops and progresses. Bagley’s artwork is superb, and he would stay on this book for more than half a decade, eventually leaving after issue #110. If you’re a Spider-Man movie fan and want to start reading some web slinging comics, check this one out.

Written by Eric Bradach

Photo Courtesy Marvel Comics

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