Category: From the Mind of Tim Jousma

Ultimate Spider-Man #18

   If in Star Wars, if instead of getting his ass handed to him just like what occurred in The Empire Strikes back he swiftly defeated Vader with no effort at all we would have a situation where all that tension, all the buildup for how evil the bad guy was would be all for naught. When you’re building up a villain you have to make them a villain worth defeating so it is wise to have a confrontation with that villain where you initially fail.   Peter fails miserably this issue. Since he survives the ordeal that is not necessarily a bad thing because in failure we can learn a lot. He’s learned some valuable lessons so far but the fact remains that in his particular profession there is still much for someone in his position to learn. Situations aren’t always so black and white as folks may make you believe.

   One big lesson Peter needs to learn and learn fast is to not dive into the deep end of the pool if he doesn’t know what is waiting for him. Even 18 issues in we find him making decisions that are just foolhardy and quite ignorant. If you have no clue the strength of the person you want to face off against, what sense does it make for you to just drop in and start making fun of the guy. Peter learned quickly that Doctor Octopus physically outmatched him in most every way, most importantly with the ability to break his webbing. It’s little things like this that show you just how out of his element Peter is in. Another person would have done what they could to prepare for any and all circumstances that come their way. He should have stress tested the webbing apart from seeing if it could hold his weight. This is a lesson learned on his part for the future and something that he will not soon forget.

   It is interesting seeing the progression of Spider-Man in the Ultimate universe compared to how he evolved in the original Marvel Universe. Up till this point in Earth-616, Peter Parker was pretty much the ass kicking person we all know today. There wasn’t too much of a learning curve for him. One day, he was Spider-Man. That didn’t mean he breezed through every encounter with bad guys like nothing happened. Some challenged him along the way and tested him to his very limits. But there wasn’t much of a learning curve he had to endure.

   The Ultimate Universe has been quite different. While the parent in me is cringing at some of the foolhardy things Peter is doing to honor his Uncle, I appreciate that Peter is learning from his mistakes, even if those mistakes bring him one step closer to death. So far he has not made the same mistake twice.

   We also spend some time this issue exploring what could potentially happen to Peter if others found about him being Spider-Man. Another good element of the Ultimate Universe so far has been the fact that we’ve been exploring the results of actions the heroes and villains meet during their rumblings with each other. As a reader, logic does creep in your head when you’re reading stories like this. You do ask yourself how are people not noticing that a fifteen year old boy appears to be getting beat on a regular basis? He’s a nerd in school so shouldn’t Aunt May be a little more concerned that he has more bumps and bruises than a kid that age should? Wouldn’t teachers or school officials start getting suspicious and consider calling the authorities? You would think that a kid who lives with his Aunt and Uncle and having the Uncle brutally murdered like Uncle Ben was in front of Aunt May would be someone who would be a prime candidate for an elder to lose it and start whaling on Peter for no good reason. Having Peter fight the people he does without bumps or bruises that he has to explain is unrealistic. I am glad Brian Bendis is addressing this by having the closing panel of the issue have Aunt May coming down into the basement where Peter had just been with Mary Jane, who was bandaging him up after his fight with Doc Ock. That panel introduces a level of reality that was missing from the original stories up to this point, 18 issues in. Yes, there is some level of disbelief in these stories and you do have to check your brain at the door because this is not a documentary. But once elements that occur during a normal life happen in ways that we know cannot possibly happen, the reader is left on the outside looking in to a bad story.

Bottom Line:

   We are one more issue into this story detailing Peter’s first real encounter with Doctor Octopus. So far things are coming along quite nice. Are there things to nit pick about? Of course. I do think there are some elements of the story so far that are not up to where they need to be especially when it is coming to the motivation for Doctor Octopus. Why is he doing what he is doing? What made him single out the energy station? What is his end game? What is he working toward? Answering that he is just nuts is the wrong answer. Regardless of his mental state, in a story like this there has to be some motivation for people doing what they are doing. If your villain is doing things just cause, there is not coherence to the story. While it could be argued that I should have a little patience and wait for everything to play out, I argue that there could be a lot more explanation for what Doctor Octopus is doing. We are lacking that and that is making me as the reader a little confused as to why he is doing what he’s doing.

   The art was pretty solid this issue. I really enjoyed the level of scope that Mark Bagly was able to create in this story. When they had exterior scenes, you felt you were outside in a real environment. Internal scenes felt like they were occurring in real buildings that were either big or small. While the artwork can’t always be classic, when the little things like this are done well it goes a long way towards making your reading time enjoyable. This is a lot like the Star Wars Prequels in a way. The story so far has not been the best but there is always something going on that will keep your interest.

Ultimate Spider-Man #16

   When you’re exploring the mind of a madman as a writer, you walk a fine line of making the madness something folks can relate to in some way which makes the character that much more frightening to the reader or you make his ramblings so incoherent that you don’t know what the hell is going on so you end up losing interest in the story. The problem I am seeing with Doctor Octopus in the story two date is a little two fold. One, we don’t have much to base his character on. We had a brief introduction to him when Peter toured the Osborn facility and he stole some of Peter’s blood. From there we see him involved in the explosion at the labs which he spends time in a government hospital for and now he is cuckoo bananas. We as readers are not going to like every character we see but we have to have some sort of reaction to them. For Doctor Octopus, I am not having that reaction. Any sort of feelings I have for the character are more related to his status as a villain in the original Spider-Man universe (Marvel Universe 616 for you nerds out there).   Doc Ock is currently having issues remembering his past which brings him to the home of some other rich industrialist. It is implied that Otto had been giving the person who owned that room industrial secrets from Osborn Labs. That is fine and all but it doesn’t do much to explain what is really going on because again, we’ve not spent too much time with this character to really know what motivates him.

   Think of Star Wars: The Phantom Menace. The big badass of the film was Darth Maul. A part from having a cool look and being a part of a great fight scene, what do we know about him? No, we don’t need to know his whole life story but what motivates him? Why is he a Sith? What brought him to be aligned with Darth Sidious? We don’t know this information. We’re expected to not like the guy because he’s wearing black and he has horns. That is not the way to give us a bad guy in a story. We have to know what motivates him. Even if that motivation is based on incorrect information of if the guy just loves being evil, knowing the motivation for why they are bad is key to making us as the audience have the reaction the writer wants us to have in the story. In the case of a movie there can be some cheats of course which comics can replicate in a sense two since they both involve visual and written arts together. But making a guy look bad is not the way to set him up for you audience to accept him as bad. They just may think he’s an idiot.

   We get our first official introduction to SHIELD in this issue. Turns out the room that Doc Ock trashed was owned by one Justin Hammer. Folks that are fans of the Marvel Cinematic Universe will recognize that name of course since Justin Hammer, played by the great Sam Rockwell, played a younger version of the character in that movie. This character will end up having the same type of values as the movie version but since we are just meeting him here we don’t know that. He’s just a very important business man that has enough clout that he can discuss top secret information with SHIELD agents.

   It is interesting that our first introduction to SHIELD is clouded. The casual Marvel fan will probably have nothing but good things to say about the organization what with the characters they see on a regular basis like Nick Fury, Agent Coulson, Agent May, and others but here we’re not quite sure where SHIELD stands. If they’re talking to someone who has been involved in corporate espionage they themselves may not be an organization that we should trust. I like that they kept the agents appearance so ambiguous.

   We do get a little follow up with Gwen Stacy this issue. Her motivation for pulling the knife on Kong is that no one was helping Peter after Kong kicked him. She wanted to help him out, especially since she stated she thought he was cute. That is nice and all but as I stated in my previous review, her actions are quite ridiculous for what the situation asked for. I mean, she saw that Peter and Kong earlier had been having a conversation about mutants that didn’t result in Kong kicking Peter’s ass so her reaction was quite stupid if you ask me. Not that it is bad that she defended someone but you would think there were any number of ways that she could have responded that didn’t involve recreating the fight scene from West Side Story.

Bottom Line:

   It is my job to critique. Just because I look for things that may not have gone right in a story doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy the work. This story was pretty damn good considering some of the areas that I felt Bendis failed with. My biggest issue overall has to do with the sheer lack of information we have about Doctor Octopus. He’s killed a few people so sure he’s a bad guy but as of now we don’t have any motivation apart from insanity that is driving him to do what he is doing. The original Doctor Octopus was very much insane as well after enduring a nuclear accident but you did get the impression that, no matter how wrong his motivation was, that he had something he was working towards. He had a goal. He had motivation. So far, Doc Ock in the Ultimate universe does not have that motivation.

   The art work this issue was nothing to write home about but it wasn’t bad. I would call it average. It didn’t do anything amazing that really stood out but it kept the story chugging along without too much distraction.

Ultimate Spider-Man #15

What we learned in this issue is that you don’t fuck with Gwen Stacy. Kong had been having a conversation with Flash Thompson and Liz Allen about his revelation that Peter is Spider-Man. In an effort to prove that he was right, Kong decides to take advantage of a situation even I would want to take advantage of when Peter is putting books into his locker. Kong heads over and kicks him right in the ass. Peter realized this was happening and let him do it to keep up the illusion. From there, Miss Stacy gets in Kong’s face and pulls a knife on him.

Talk about over reaction. I get that Gwen is coming in as the stereotypical troubled student with a heart of gold but I simply didn’t buy her pulling a knife to defend someone they have never met. Ever. I will make it clear that I am not dismissing the possibility of this ever happening mind you but I just don’t buy it as presented in the story. Gwen is a hot teenage girl. You would think she’d have more power with a wave of her hair than she would ever need pulling a knife on some guy who would probably cut off a limb just to spend time with her.

I am also amazed that Kong is the only one in the school so far that has put two and two together. If Kong is able to think of everything that has happened since Peter got bit by the spider, there has to be someone else in the school who has to have thought the same thing as well. I am not buying that only one student at the school wouldn’t discover the truth.

The main focus of the story has to do with Doctor Octopus going nuts after his escape. While we don’t really see him, we see the end results of his actions after brutally murdering the resident of his old apartment. They don’t even go into why he went back to the place apart from giving him a reason to murder the young lady. He’s crazy, sure, but there should have been some reason why he arrived at his old apartment other than no reason at all.

Bottom Line:

I don’t have much to say about this issue. I just didn’t care for it. It’s not a failure in the sense that it’s a total loss because it does set up future issues quite well but this is the first issue in the Ultimate Spider-Man run that didn’t feel complete. Characters ended up doing stuff just for the sake of doing it and I just have to shake my head at the missed opportunities. You need to read this issue in order to understand what happens in future issues in the story so it’s not something you can really miss but it really is a disappointment.

Ultimate Spider-Man #13

   The next stop in Ultimate Spider-Man leads us to the type ofrevelation you would not have expected from the original stories. Peter Parker does the unthinkable and reveals his secret identity to Mary Jane Watson.

   What in the blue hell is he thinking? I understand the logic behind it of course. When you have something as amazing as spider powers hit, as a guy of course you’re going to tell every girl you can think of. There has to be some girl out there that would really dig a guy with powers. But the reason in the original comics that Peter kept his identity secret as long as he did was to make sure that no one he knew and care about would get hurt. Yes, by the time he married Mary Jane in the originals, she ended up knowing. They treated that part of the relationship like I am sure a cop and a spouse would what with Mary Jane being nervous every time he leaves.

   The problem here is the fact that they are still teenagers. Peter shouldn’t be telling anyone. Hell, he shouldn’t be as careless as he is because one wrong move and he could be seriously hurt with no way to explain how a middle class teenage punk was off fighting against big time criminals. (Sorry. That’s the dad in me again.) The moment he brings in Mary Jane into the mix with revealing his identity he opens her up to danger the moment people figure out who he is. Even taking into account the fact that many many issues into the future Peter Parker does die at the hands of the Green Goblin, you would think that any criminal finally learning the identity of the kid who foiled so many of their plans would love to exact their revenge on the family of the little guy. North Korea has a policy of not only jailing and killing dissidents to their little empire, they will jail and murder family members as well as a form of punishment. You would think that there has to be some criminal mastermind that would do somewhat of the same thing as well. I know I would because I am a vengeful bastard.

   But let’s talk about the positives here. The trust he has that Mary Jane will one, not freak out, and two, not tell everyone she knows what he told her speaks volumes of the type of relationship they have. It also does a lot to show Mary Jane as a character. I absolutely loved her reaction when Peter told her the news. She went from complete disbelief to fear to elation that he was damn near a rock start for having powers that would make him so cool. And the attraction the two have speaks for itself when she asks him to take her out swinging around. She later admits that she thought he was going to ask for a kiss which he was oblivious to.

   I really get the impression that Peter, while certainly attracted to her, thought that she may be out of his league so he didn’t really want to try. Not every guy, or gal for that matter, has the ability to read how someone thinks about them in that special way. I know I failed at that when I was single. I fail at that now and I’ve been married almost thirteen years now so him being a little oblivious is very much a real thing that can happen. How they get from just studying to almost kissing feels really natural in the story as well. It doesn’t feel like Anakin and Padme’s relationship in the Star Wars Prequel Trilogy which was horribly written and felt forced. The best compliment you can offer any scene, whether it be in a movie, book, comic book, audio play, etc., is that it felt that it could happen in real life. No matter the genre or the characters involved, when you feel a scene could happen for real or you think about how something similar happened to you at some point in your life, while you may be dealing with a story with four armed creatures on the planet Remulac, you will still find yourself relating to the story because the writer created a scene you can relate to.

   The art work is great. This issue takes place entirely in Peter’s bedroom but Marc Bagly finds a way of making everything interesting. From Mary Jane’s facial reactions to the pauses she would give when she was waiting for Peter to respond, if you took the words out of the comic and just had the art you would still have a pretty good idea of what it happening in the story which is great. For a visual medium, that ability to have the pictures do the talking for you can made a bad story tolerable and a good story great. With Brian Bendis and Mark Bagly together, it makes a great story amazing.

Bottom Line:

   I really loved this issue. My concerns with Peter being Spider-Man at all, much less involving anyone else in on what he does withstanding, the fact that they took a whole comic that is set in a teenage kids bedroom and made a full complete story about it speaks well to the talent of all involved in the creation of this story. For what it does in furthering the relationship between Peter Parker and Mary Jane Watson, this is a can’t miss issue in my book. My concerns have nothing to do with the story. Yeah, I am not comfortable with Peter choosing to do what he does but that concern is more about my comfort than it does about the choices the character makes. Everyone makes choices that others would question or not feel comfortable about. Everyone. My discomfort with his choices does not make his choices necessarily bad plus it makes me more concerned for the character when he gets into tough situations. I’ve said before that if I were reading this when I was single and in my twenties I would probably have a much different reaction to the story. I would probably wish I were Peter and could swing around town fighting crime while getting hot chicks. As a parent, I worry about a young kid making choices he should not be making.

Ultimate Spider-Man #12

   What strikes me about this issue of Ultimate Spider-Man is how utterly stupid Kingpin is. I mean, the relative ease it takes for Spider-Man to steal the DVD’s that store the videos Kingpin made in his office makes me wonder how truly effective Wilson Fisk is. When you’ve spent the first half of your story trying to make your villain appear to be such a bad ass and it ends up that a fifteen year old with an Internet account and some web fluid is able to take him down with relative ease, you don’t have a villain that is truly dangerous. You have a villain who is a villain simply because the author says he is.   I can’t tell you how disappointed I have been with the Learning Curve story. There has been so much potential to make Kingpin such a bad ass that was wasted simply to move the story along. As a writer, it made me think about how easy it is to write yourself into a corner. I remember when I was writing my first novel (which is now available on Amazon Here) I encountered a scene where I wrote myself into a corner. I ended up writing pretty much all the active characters that I was using at the time into scenarios that they could not escape from. They had nothing really to do because I wrote them into scenarios where they had nothing to do. I sat on the story for a couple weeks before I realized what I did and ended up rewriting the scene all together.

   Here, Brian Bendis gave us the impression that Wilson Fisk was such a badass. He’s the head of all real crime in New York. He’s supposed to be Don Corleone who also has the ability to squeeze your head off like it were a grape. Yet when we have Peter discovering quite quickly that he has a video system set up in his offices that records absolutely everything that happens there as well as stealing the recordings in question and releasing them to the media within a couple days time, you have to ask how Wilson Fisk can be so dangerous for so long if a fifteen year old can bring his empire down so quickly. What does that also say about other criminals who meet up with Kingpin that they never noticed or acted upon the information that Peter discovered.

   What I would have liked to see was the issue with Kingpin be revealed over time. Peter resolved this way too quickly. Now yeah, this is a comic and Wilson Fisk will be back in order to try and get some revenge. That’s what make comics such fun. But to set up a villain who is supposed to be king bad ass in such a horrible, lazy way is disappointing. If there was time for Peter to make the discoveries he did as well as learning from his mistakes with other villains before he takes down Kingpin than you’d have no complaint from me. The fact that in five short issues Peter goes from naïve novice to making all the right moves to defeat a criminal mastermind makes you wonder if the criminal in question is really such a mastermind.

   One good thing that happens this issue is the humor. Spider-Man is known for mouthing off to the people he fights. The big showdown between Spider-Man and Kingpin was great. The fact that Peter took the time to write down insults on index cards just to read them off to Kingpin was funny and fit his character to date. It didn’t seem forced.

Bottom Line:

   There will never be an artist you encounter where you like absolutely everything they do. I love Brian Bendis’s work. As far as comic book writers go, there is second to none out there today. The fact is that with the sheer amount of work he has to produce on a monthly basis, not every story will be a winner. This issue was not a winner. It has some great moments to be sure but the execution for this whole Learning Curve story was bad. Not that it was a bad idea for a story. The seed for the story is fine. It could have been played out so much better. I think they could have stretched this out but hey, what do I know?

   I did love the art for this issue. Very reminiscent of the Silver Age work of Steve Ditko with a modern flair to it. One drawback of how comics used to be drawn was the fact that with four colors to work with, they could only do so much. (For folks that may not know, ink costs money. Comic book companies back in the day used to limit the artists to four colors to work with. They could mix them up as much as they liked to produce the color they need but they only had four to work with. With computers, that is becoming less of an issue today especially for bigger companies like DC and Marvel.)

   The love that Kingpin is drawn with should be acknowledged. With any other artist, it is possible that Wilson Fisk could be drawn as just a big fat guy. While he certainly has considerable girth in this issue, you can’t help but experience the fear that Peter must feel seeing the guy. Mark Bagly successfully conveyed the strength of Kingpin through his facial expressions and body language. Bagly to this point has been great with showing the most subtle of emotions in a realistic way.

Ultimate Spider-Man #10

Peter Parker sure learns a lot in this issue. When you’re handed the ass whipping he gets you’d either tuck your tail between your legs and run or learn what the hell whipped you so bad and figure out another way to beat it. Peter thankfully chose the latter option.

Kingpin is damned dangerous in this issue but I do question how someone who can be as rash as he is has been able to stay on top for as long as he has. The setting where the action takes place is an office in the high rise penthouse he lives in which is currently having a party for charity that he is hosting. He’s trying to do the Michael Corleone role in trying to be master of two worlds, the world of crime and the world of legitimacy. While I could see him being pissed that Peter broke into his office, the lengths he goes to get rid of him are just too extreme for a character that is trying to romance the regular world. Especially with the security system he has in place, why wouldn’t he just call the cops, get Peter arrested, and sell the video of their encounter to the Daily Bugle or something in an effort to make people sympathetic towards him?

Instead he has Electro shock the hell out of him before he tosses him out the window to plunge to his apparent death. All on a taping system he had installed in his own residence. Now it could be argued that there is historical precedence for this occurring. Richard Nixon famously taped tons of conversations in the White House that ended up burning his back side quite crisply during the whole Watergate mess. He was either too stupid to remember the taping was going on which ended up incriminating him and members of his staff on their various crimes or he was so drunk with power that he thought there was no reason to be worried because he had all the power. Maybe that’s what Brian Bendis had in mind for this particular scene (since Watergate is directly mentioned at the later in the story when Peter is at school.) but it doesn’t really play out so well in my book.

I really enjoyed the scene where Peter and Aunt May have a heart to heart. Not much attention has been spent on her up to this point. You like her as a character and everything but that like is general at best. This scene really does a lot to introduce you more to the character more in depth.

One issue I have had with Aunt May in the traditional Spider-Man comics was how one dimensional she is. While I’m sure someone who’s read far more Spider-Man comics than me will come up with example after example of how she did more than fret about poor Peter Parker and bake him cookies, I contend that with the general public’s view of the character as one dimensional as it is, efforts in the original comics to broaden her character have mainly not been effective.

Aunt May is wondering about her place in the world since Ben was brutally murdered. With Peter growing up and discovering his powers, he’s more and more finding himself living life outside the house. May is alone. Yeah she may have friends, I don’t doubt that but up until Ben was murdered, her life was her home and now she doesn’t have that. She questions if Peter even likes her as a person which will pull on the old heart strings but does a lot to add some much needed characterization to her. The original Aunt May would never have done that. If she even thought of it, she’d bake cookies just to drown that thought out. I loved this scene. It packs as much of an emotional wallop as any action scene Peter has been in to date. And the art really brings you into the scene quite intimately.

Bottom Line:

Peter is getting it. While I still think he is quite brash and stupid for how naive he is, he is learning that brute strength will not take out someone like the Kingpin. The learning curve he’s going through is smartening him up fast. Hell, if I were thrown out of a high rise window just cause, I’d learn real quick that whatever I did that caused said person to toss my sorry ass out the window was the wrong way to handle what I was doing.

This comic is a great read but it does have some problems, namely how Kingpin is portrayed. For someone who is set up to be such a bad ass throughout the story to day, when we actually meet him, apart from his brute strength he’s not the smart guy he’s been portrayed to be. Yeah, there is a Nixon comparison here but Bendis misses his mark here by not giving us as the reader more examples of Kingpin actually being smart. I certainly wouldn’t want to piss the guy off but I don’t see him at this point being smart enough to tie his own shoes unless he had an instruction manual.

What I would have liked was some more of the approach that was used in the Netflix show Daredevil. Wilson Fisk in that show is not Kingpin until literally the last twenty minutes. Throughout the show you see how, through brain power and physical strength, he manipulates everything to his favor. Only until Matt Murdock beats him at his own game does he lose it. There could have been more interactions between Spider-Man and Kingpin before a showdown like what appears in this issue occurs. For that, the story does suffer.