Ultimate Spider-Man #23

We left Peter Parker with Norman Osborn in his study after Norman had injected himself with the chemical that made him the Green Goblin. That was one heck of cliff hanger if you ask me. One aspect of the Ultimate Spider-Man stories that I have loved have been the way Brian Bendis has found ways to keep you moving forward as the reader. You get a full story in one particular issue yet you get enough of a hook to reel you in for another go round in another issue. The important thing to remember in comics, and in writing period, is that you have to keep the readers with you. Whether it be to keep them moving to the next page or wanting them interested in the world you’re creating to get them to purchase the next book in your series, you have to be mindful that the story has to move along in some way, shape, or form. If you lose readers at any point, you’re letting them down as readers and frankly, you’re selling yourself short as a writer.

Once Peter and Norman leave his office they head into his living room to watch a video that a news organization made about Norman making a comeback. There’s one page that is a great combination of art and words together that shows the anxiety and fear Peter is going through as he is trying to digest everything he had just gone through. That’s the beautiful thing about comics. The words in the scene are pure exposition. Exposition is quite the tricky beast to tell in a story because for the most part, you’re just telling the audience facts and that can be boring. You have to have some hook to give the information the audience needs to know for later in the story without boring them to tears. Think of Back to the Future. Doc Brown had a lot of information he had to tell Marty, and by default the audience, about time travel. Reading the words in the script I am sure your eyes would glaze over but Christopher Lloyd was able to give one hell of a performance that kept the audience entertained all the while telling them what they needed to know for later in the film. For this issue, we were able to see Peter getting freaked out with every second that went by and ultimately saw what drove him to run to safety.

I have to say that while I enjoyed the development with Gwen Stacy in this issue, it came a bit out of left field. It has already been established that Gwen probably has a bit of a crush on Peter, that much I get but I do not recall a scene that established she knew where he lived. Maybe, just maybe, the link is with her father, the police detective who interviewed Peter after Uncle Ben was murdered and if that were the case I wish that were better established that she took that info to head to Peter’s home. I have to say though it was great to have more Gwen in the story. One thing the Ultimate comics did was pretty much, at least for me, supplant Mary Jane Watson with Gwen Stacy as Peter’s preferred girlfriend of choice which for this universe is not a bad thing at all. I just wish we had some clue in this issue as to why she came to Peter’s house. That hint around that things are not as they should be at home, and with her pulling a knife on Kong I say DUH, but we’re basically left with her popping up at Peter’s home just cause. Folks may say it gets explained later on. Sure, yeah it does. But there could have been a little more than hinting around as to why she showed up.

Bottom Line:

Not much of consequence happens in this issue but don’t take that as a bad thing. Seeds are being planted for the future here, especially with the cliffhanger in the last panel. One thing I have enjoyed in the Ultimate line of comics is that no matter what you’re reading, Ultimate Spider-Man, Ultimate Fantastic Four, Ultimate X-Men, etc., much work was done to make sure that the universe they were creating was as cohesive as they could make it. When you’re building a universe as big as what is being presented, you have to be very careful what you’re doing. Planning has to go into making sure every character, every scene makes sense in the grand scheme of things. Some of the issue folks have with comics coming from the big two, DC and Marvel, have to do with the fact that the universes they create can become so damn unwieldy. While the Ultimate universe did end up becoming a little bloated near its end, at this stage things are still going along at a nice clip. Even a bad issue is one you can’t miss.

The Amazing Spider-Man #2

The second issue of The Amazing Spider-Man gives us two stories for the price of one. We meet up with one member of Spider-Man’s famous rogues gallery when we meet The Vulture. We also meet up with a lesser known villain in The Tinkerer.

Stories from this era and earlier tended to be more on the simpler side. Where as stories today tend to take place over multiple issues and sometimes multiple titles, we see stories begin and end in singular issues. The benefit of course is that you money for the issue is well spent. You don’t have to spend a fortune to or invest in titles you may not like just to finish a story you may be interested in. The drawback of course is that there isn’t much room for the story to grow. You have simplistic stories with simplistic characters who we don’t know much about doing things just cause.

The Vulture is an interesting case. While he may not have the name recognition of The Green Goblin or Doctor Octopus, he’s someone I would put in the top ten of Spider-Man’s most formidable opponents. Yet his introduction is pretty basic. The only thing separating him from the average villain is the getup he uses to fly. We don’t know his name, he’s just a guy who wants to make a dishonest living.

The Tinkerer is a shorter story without too much of a purpose. We get Peter discovering a radio repair man is working with some supposed aliens to install monitoring devices in the radios of very important people. We are told it’s because they’re looking to take over the world yet according to Marvel’s own wiki we find that those supposed space aliens were a ruse and the Tinkerer is just a guy who knows his way around electronics. Readers of this era would not know that and would probably have assumed that the supposed aliens were the same Skrulls that were introduced in the second issue of The Fantastic Four.

Stan Lee recounts in numerous issues that he hasn’t always been proud of his work in comics. When asked by others he would say he was a writer. A writer of what? they would ask. Children’s work. What children’s work? Work for comics he would reply. Then people would walk away. So it is safe to say that, while I think he may be over doing his embarrassment of his work because otherwise why would he be doing it if he didn’t have some pride in his work, I do feel that it is safe to say that he wasn’t exactly thinking long term about the characters he created. Hindsight being twenty twenty, how could he not see the importance of his work? I mean, the best thing about superhero comics are the fact that no matter what evil happens in the real world, we have a chance to escape into a fantasy world where heroes just like you or I are able to defeat the villains that are intent on wrecking havoc on our world. Yet he had no way of knowing the impact he was making on our society. His work at this point, while I’m sure he loved what he was doing, was just a job. He, like any other writer, and Steve Ditko, like any other artists, were essentially throwing what they could at the wall in regards to content hoping something would stick. Their batting average during this time was amazing of course, that goes without saying. The drawback comes with the fact that the stories during this time were single issue stories.

While I have lamented on here multi-issue stories that span through multiple titles, the benefit of these types of stories is that they can shine more light on the villains of the work. The best work, whether it’s books, comics, movies, whatever, are able to flesh out all the characters in the story. While we will, as readers, react viscerally to the actions of villains in a story, we’re going to be more involved in the story if we know why the character is doing what they are doing. Take The Vulture. In this issue we see he’s intent on stealing. He’s created an amazing device that allows him to harness magnetism in order to fly so it goes without saying he is a smart guy. Yet like a common hoodlum he resorts to stealing. I personally want to know why. (I’m only talking in regards to this particular issue. The Vulture is a long time villain in the Spider-Verse and his story has been fleshed out a long time ago.)

Bottom Line:

While this issue won’t go down as the all time greatest Spider-Man story, it is a fine example of Lee and Ditko’s work during this era. As I have mentioned in my reviews of some of Brian Bendis’ work, with the sheer amount of content Stan Lee and Steve Ditko put out over their careers, not everything will be a winner. I could have done without the story of The Tinkerer myself but an issue that details the debut of a major villain like The Vulture will sure go down as a must read for me. Similar to listening to the first major songs of your favorite musicians, it’s interesting seeing where folks start out because you can see the glimpses of what made them great. While they were not firing on all cylinders at this point, more so for Lee than Ditko but I contend that is simply due to how comics were written at the time, the foundation of an amazing universe was being created and more often than not, they were doing more right than wrong. Probably my only real complaint would be the fact that the comic is so verbose. Like I said in my review of The Avengers #1, the writing comes across like it was being written for a radio play. Everything was described, almost like Stan was creating closed captioning for a comic book. The drawback of this approach is that it crowds out some amazing artwork from Steve Ditko. It seems superfluous to have a character state what they are doing when the artwork is showing the reader the same thing. As the old saying for writers goes, show your audience what you want to show them, don’t tell them about it. Less is more, especially in comics when the art can do so much of the storytelling for you.

Ultimate Spider-Man #22

   It wouldn’t be a comic book if we didn’t have a villain that was presumed dead show up again out of nowhere to battle our hero. This is the case in issue 22 of Ultimate Spider-Man when his ultimate enemy, The Green Goblin, comes back to town.   The fear of bringing a character back in a story like this is the chance of ruining a character you’ve established as a big bad guy. You want to be able to bring back the same level of evil that was in your story before as well as expanding upon it, hopefully making your story and character that much better.

   A brilliant example of this is Star Wars. Darth Vader, when introduced in Star Wars Episode 4, was a standard bad guy. If you think about it objectively, Darth really is just a standard, by the numbers bad guy in that movie. There are seeds there that Lucas and others were able to exploit in terms of expanding the character and giving him more depth but in A New Hope, he was there to kick ass and be the foil for the Rebels. Hell, he wasn’t even the main bad guy. He was the lackey for Governor Tarkin. It wasn’t until The Empire Strikes Back that he became the focal point antagonist.

   One thing that concerned me this issue was time. Harry Osborn arrives back at school after supposedly spending time with an Uncle in Colorado. Based on the conversation between Peter and him, it didn’t seem like Harry had been gone long. They describe the Green Goblin attack on the school as if it were pretty recent. My guess is that they are still in the same semester in school. It doesn’t make much sense though because so much has happened during that short period of time that frankly I think it would be impossible for someone to pull off everything Peter has done without anyone knowing what the hell he is doing. Maybe it’s just me but having some semblance of time in a story helps space everything out. When the reader doesn’t have a firm grasp of time, when events are happening in the timeline of the story, it can lose the reader or make them question like I just did how everything in the story could happen in such a short period of time. Not that the story has to notate time like the television show 24 did but some line, something, indicating the amount of time that Harry had been away would have been nice.

   When Peter and Norman were brought into the same room I really enjoyed Norman telling Peter that his time as Spider-Man was over. While we don’t know where it is going yet there was a touch of logic in what Norman was telling Peter. Again, it’s probably the father in me but I found myself agreeing with Norman. Peter should not be Spider-Man. He’s a fifteen year old kid who is in way over his head. Norman was not wrong when he told Peter to stop. Granted, if Peter did stop we wouldn’t have one of the greatest comics in history so I’m glad he didn’t listen but thinking about it, you can appreciate the fact that others would think he is a fool for trying to save the world. Obviously, Norman Osborn has ulterior motives. Yet I think it is a stroke of genius to have him talk to Peter about stopping what he is doing. When you can take a villain and give him some motivation that the reader can relate to or even agree with in some way, you’re giving the audience a much richer character than the standard mustache twirling bad guy.

Bottom Line:

   We’re on the start of something good here. After the disaster of the last story with Doctor Octopus and Kraven, it’s great to finally get rolling with the right way with an already established character that is properly addressing issues from the past between them to start something new. The appearance of Norman is well worth the price of admission to the story alone.

   Mark Bagly’s work this issue is well evidenced by Peter’s walk to Norman Osborn’s home office. The look of dread and trepidation in his face almost negates the need for dialogue because you’re already aware of what is going through his mind. Even with the worst issues in the Ultimate Spider-Man run, Mark Bagly’s art is the highlight of the issue, showcasing action, emotion, and plain simple visual storytelling in a way that is not confusing to the reader at all.

   Really the only thing I would have changed this issue was Aunt May being suddenly open to sending Peter to see Norman and Harry after the events of last issue. The reason I would make a change was because they had her do a 180* with Peter being grounded. While Norman’s assistant was at Peter’s home talking to Aunt May, they didn’t have any dialogue referencing why she had a change of heart, just that she was ok with Peter going to the house. When all is said and done though, if this is the only issue I really had, Bagly and Bendis are doing something good.

Ultimate Spider-Man #21

We come to the end of the Double Trouble story featuring Peter facing off against Doctor Octopus and Kraven the Hunter. At this point Doc Ock has been handled and is ready for the police to take him off to wherever super villains are held. The battle with Kraven starts now.

That is if you can call it a battle. I’ve been holding back on Kraven because I knew where his story was going and that was really nowhere. Kraven is built up as some sort of bad ass hunter, a Steve Irwin meets Dolph Lundgren type, over eight issues of this story and within three pages and one punch to the face Kraven is down for the count.

If you are going to include a character as a villain and build him up as an unstoppable force you have to deliver on the promises you’re giving your readers. The introduction to Kraven in the Ultimate universe was a huge failure. Not that the character is bad mind you. I rather dug Kraven in the original comics and know that he will come back in the Ultimate line a little more dangerous than he is presented as now. First impressions mean everything though and the chance to have a truly modern bad ass Kraven hunting Spider-Man through the streets of New York was wasted on a scene that was more fitting in a Three Stooges film than anything else.

There are times where a failed buildup can be good for the story. I think of Iron Man 2 where Justin Hammer spent most of the movie talking about how great the improvements to the War Machine suit would make it. He talked on and on about various upgrades and the moment they actually get used in the film, they fail miserably. That was perfect for the story because it showed the audience how much of an utter failure Justin Hammer was. It also led to a great comedic moment when War Machine and Iron Man were fighting together and he attempts to shoot one of Hammer’s missiles to no effect whatsoever. The buildup and the subsequent failure of that buildup actually contributed positively to the story.

This issue is the textbook way on how you not to build up to something you’re not going to properly follow through. I would have no issue with Kraven being defeated. That’s the point of comics after all, the bad guy gets his due in the end. The issue all boils down to him being defeated so quickly as well as having him try to slink off before getting arrested. Kraven getting arrested had the same feel of King Arthur getting arrested at the end of Monty Python and the Holy Grail. You laugh at both resolutions but the Monty Python ending was intentionally meant to be funny.

The issue is not a total loss. Peter gets caught by Aunt May after the battle. He arrives home at three o’clock in the morning and Aunt May is up waiting for him. She has no clue he’s Spider-Man. She just has no clue what the hell kept a good kid like Peter out for so long into the night with no explanation. The emotions in the scene were quite real, making Aunt May a more fleshed out character in the process compared to the original version of her. It also goes to show how naive Peter is when it comes to his new powers.

One thing comics don’t do a good job with is how the heroes in question can live full, normal lives on top of fighting crime for hours or days on end. For a fifteen year old boy, how can he fight villains until three o’clock in the morning as well as going to school and having an after school job? The next issue shows Peter in school none the worse for wear. Not even one mention of being tired or needing a coffee. High school for me was my introduction to massive amounts of coffee. Why can’t Peter be sore or tired more often? Like Aunt May, why don’t more people notice that Peter is acting much different than he normally does? I think the only comic I’ve read that has a somewhat believable account of someone able to pull off a normal life and the life of a superhero is Iron Man. Tony Stark was already quite flighty in the comics, locking himself in a room to focus on his latest project so for him to disappear for long periods of time is very much understandable. How Peter is able to pull off Spider-Man without too many people noticing needs a little more explanation as to how he pulls it off.

Bottom Line:

This story has been tough to get through. It has some good moments to be sure, moments that will feature in future issues of this comic series. Yet the fact that we had at least two mistakes that are very much rookie mistakes, the failure to establish a back story between Doctor Octopus and Justin Hammer as well as the failure to follow up on the build to Kraven, lead me as the reader with a bad taste in my mouth. This eight issue story is really a what could have been type of story.

What can writers learn from this issue? For one, it’s important to establish relationships between characters you wish to have some sort of conflict with. You can’t write a comic book series or a book series and just expect to have two characters that are already established in a world to suddenly have a conflict with each other without establishing that they have some sort of connection. Secondly, follow through with your buildup. If you’re going to build up a character as some unstoppable force, you have to either follow through with that buildup or have a way through actions showing that the buildup was all a lie just like the Justin Hammer buildup in Iron Man 2.

The art for this issue was great during the scene with Aunt May and Peter. Mark Bagly is able to express so much emotion in her face during their argument. Concern, anger, despair, sadness, she runs the full gambit of emotions without the dialogue having to tell you how she is feeling.

Ultimate Spider-Man #20

As they say, the second time is the charm. Spider-Man faces off against Doctor Octopus again, this time in front of the eyes of the media.

What I digged in this issue was Doctor Octopus bringing attention to Justin Hammer’s evil experiments at his laboratory. It was quite unsuspected but I liked where it brought the story. I do have to ask though why the media would be dealing with a guy who has been established is a cold blooded killer as carelessly as they are. We’re not talking about an OJ Simpson type of criminal here, someone who despite being accused of a horrible crime still early on had a reputation as someone that you weren’t going to be scared around. Doctor Octopus brutally murdered a lab full of people on live television and the reporters here are treating him as if he were a celebrity. While I can see the reporters wanting to get that big scoop to help their careers, I would think they would at least call the cops too.

While having Doc Ock hold a press conference is definitely an out of left field idea that I find interesting, I have to ask what the end game for him was. While the first reaction as a reader would be that he was hoping to destroy Hammer through the power of the press, up until this point Doctor Octopus has been shown as a dangerous psychotic who has had no hesitations to kill people for his goal. He’s also shown that his memory is not what it once used to be. We also have the situation that up until this storyline we previously had no idea Justin Hammer existed and that he and Doctor Octopus had interactions with each other when Doc Ock was spilling corporate secrets to him.

What is Doctor Octopus trying to accomplish here? Is he someone that through his insanity is finally doing something good albeit in a very bad, messy way? Or is this a storyline that was pulled out of the ether and tried to fit into the existing universe? I choose the latter.

In a comic or book series, you will encounter situations like this further down the line of your creation where you have to create a story that had its seeds sown much earlier in the story. Whether it be one line that could seem throwaway at the time or the inclusion of a scene that details a history between characters that will be explained later, it is important for a writer to establish relationships as early as possible. The importance of doing this is twofold. One, you don’t confuse your reader by having characters that never met seem like the best of friends or the worst of enemies. Two, you’re rewarding the reader that has stuck through from the beginning by diving deeper into a world that the reader has invested themselves in. The reader benefits because it shows them that you’re just as invested in giving them a great story as you the reader are in reading it.

Comics are a unique beast in that especially with the big companies like Marvel and DC, they have to come out with material every month, if not quicker for titles that are released every two weeks. I am quite confident that if this were the second book in a series that Brian Bendis would have found the fact that a story he was looking to create did not have the seeds sown for it in previous issues. The fact that it isn’t addressed really makes this particular story quite difficult to get through.

Bottom Line:

These have been some real tough issues to get through. Maybe it’s because I am looking at this with a more critical eye instead of just as an average reader but the whole issue with the relationship between Otto Octavius and Justin Hammer is disappointing. It could have been one sentence by Norman Osborn expressing concern about a mole in his organization in a previous issue. Something would have been better than nothing. And let’s take into consideration the fact that maybe there is a throwaway line someone in a previous issue that I have simply forgotten about. I’ll admit it. I’m not perfect. If I missed said line, fine. But I still contend that the establishment of a relationship between two characters that are pretty big players in this universe deserves some sort of mention that will be memorable to the reader. Let’s say there is a line for argument’s sake explaining that there was a mole in Osborn Laboratories. The fact that twenty issues in I forgot it tells me that it was not a well done line explaining this history that this particular story hinges on.

Readers will probably have noticed that I haven’t mentioned much of Kraven in the reviews for this storyline much. There is a reason for that which I will address next issue. The buildup to the ultimate showdown between Kraven and Spider-Man is fine. The payoff is about as successful as my first attempts at dating.

One thing that really stands out this issue is the art. A majority of the pages are devoted to the big battle between Doctor Octopus and Spider-Man. With a character that has multiple arms, I can imagine it would be hell for the artist to create fight scenes that don’t get the reader lost. You want to have some semblance of reality when you’re going into a big fight. If Spider-Man is getting hit with one of Doc Ock’s arm’s, which arm did the hitting and from what direction? Mark Bagly does a masterful job of not only being an amazing artist but a good stage director. While it could be argued that Peter defeated Doctor Octopus a little too quickly, the fact that you can follow a multipage fight scene and not be lost as to what is going on says a lot for the art. Plus the little bits of humor Bendis and Bagly toss in during the fight breaks up the monotony with some laughs.

Ultimate Spider-Man #19

We pick up where we left off last issue with Peter close to being discovered by Aunt May. While he finds a way to get out of the situation without being discovered by his Aunt, it begs to question the big step he took to avoid being caught. He bolts outside and climbs up the side of his house without a mask and the pants he uses while he is Spider-Man with no mask. If he were truly looking to keep people in the dark about his identity, a move like this would be the dumbest thing you can do simply due to nosy neighbors. While it could be argued that he only did what he did to get out of his current situation, that he didn’t have time to think long term, the problem I see with that is little things like this are bound to happen again. And again. And again. If this is the life Peter Parker wants, he has to be able to react at a moments notice for situations like this to arise.

Now we get an explanation as to what motivates Doctor Octopus. Seems he’s confronting Justin Hammer because he thinks Hammer is to blame for him being in the metal device that gave him the extra arms. While there is no truth to that thought, at least it is something. What I would have liked to see in previous issues was some actual ground work establishing Justin Hammer and Otto Octavius’s relationship prior to the explosion at Osborn Labs. There was really no hint that Doc Ock was spilling corporate secrets so having this story kind of shoe horned into the story like it has been is the sign of poor planning. As a writer, if you’re going to be establishing a story like this somewhere down the road, whether that be in further chapters, further issues, or further books, you have to plant the seeds for that story somehow. Whether it’s one line, one scene, something to introduce the fact that two people have a relationship that you will be exploring somewhere down the line is important for the story to ultimately make sense. If you’re not taking the time to do this, you’ll be sitting back like I was during a couple issues this run wondering how the hell people who’ve never met before now suddenly have a long standing relationship.

Also, if Doctor Octopus really feels that Justin Hammer is the cause of his disfigurement, we don’t know the reason why he feels this way. If there had been some scene establishing a link between Justin Hammer, Doctor Octopus, and the metal contraption which is fused to Doc Ock’s body then I’d have no issue with the story. We don’t have that here. Justin Hammer to date has been established as making Norman Osborn look like the most compassionate billionaire in human history. He’s an evil man who deserves everything that is coming his way. Yet when it comes to the story at hand we have no history of this guy. We’re basically at a point where we don’t like him simply due to some of the experiments his company have created, not due to any direct actions to characters already established in the story. This would be a non issue again if there had been some basic setup, a line, a scene, something establishing Hammer and Octavius. Without that foreshadowing we have two people fighting just cause.

One enjoyable part of the issue was how things are wrapping up nicely. The final scenes of this issue played out quite nicely and you really got the feeling that Act 2 of the story is wrapping up and you’re heading into Act 3, the grand finale. Stories like superhero comics, action adventure stories, science fiction epics, work best when they follow the traditional three act format. Does that mean everyone needs to follow the same formula? Of course not. The problem I see comes when you have writers that aren’t exactly masters of the craft trying to break the formula to do something else altogether. Writing is an awful lot like music in the sense that you get better with practice. To try a complicated piece of music, to try something that breaks the rules of music in a way to try and create something different, you have to know the rules going in. You have to start with what works before you move on to something more complex. Being a fan of Brian Bendis, he is quite capable of breaking the rules to make a much better, complex story than the standard yarn. Not every story needs that treatment though and you roll with whatever story comes your way. For this story, I’ve appreciated that it is wrapping up quite nice.

Bottom Line:

We’re reaching the end of our time with Doctor Octopus. The story has been pretty enjoyable so far but not without some major flaws. Overall we’re seeing Peter learn more from his mistakes which is making him better at his job so for that I can’t be too harsh with this issue. This is a mediocre issue at best. It’s easily forgettable but not Punisher/Eminem level bad. I really think this story had some major potential that was squandered by poor planning from the outset. Writing comics is hard work. You’re not going to be perfect when it comes to long term story planning and continuity. When elements of story are not explained or missed completely during this process it does make the story suffer. In this case that is sad because it’s not a bad story at all. With just a little bit of work it goes from frustrating to a pretty intriguing story.

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 #17

Quoth the Kraven, I’m gonna kill me a Spider-Man! We find Kraven featured in this issue. He was introduced last issue when he arrived in New York threatening to kill Spider-Man. Kraven in the Ultimate Universe is a reality television show host, sort of like a demented Steve Irwin type of character.

Call me crazy but I don’t care if we were talking about a crazed Bill Cosby chasing around women with a bottle of Quaalude’s, if some announced on television they had the intention of killing him on national television simply for the ratings I cannot imagine the authorities at the very least would be very understanding. Even when you’re talking about someone the public cannot stand I just don’t see how someone would take what Kraven says about his intentions to kill Spider-Man and be all right with it. Yeah, you’re going to get a few morons who would love to watch it happen but maybe it is me being naive but I still think most folks are decent people that despite having a personal hatred for someone in the news they don’t know they would not want to wish death upon them.

I also have a problem with the idea that Kraven would be directed by a personal manager to do this. The original comics present Kraven as more of an evil big time hunter. He’s not a star of any sort, just someone that is Russian and likes to kill. The idea that a hunter who has no problem attempting to kill humans is not only a television star but is liked by people nationwide for his show and have no problem with his murderous ambitions is something that is too far fetched for me. I like the Kraven character. I could do without this version of the character.

We get a little more information about Justin Hammer, enough to let us know that Norman Osborne has a rival for world’s worst fictional rich man. It seems that Spider-Man’s rogues gallery in this universe are pretty much created by Mr. Hammer or have been in his acquaintance. We find that Electro had been created by Justin Hammer and sold to Wilson Fisk. We get a video shot of Flint Marko, The Sandman, in a bizarre state. As The Sandman, he has the power to turn to sand. Being that he is still in the early stages of being experimented on, we see him in an unstable state. There’s definitely more to come here.

Mr. Hammer is off to a speech to announce the opening of his new energy station that will save New York billions. While he’s giving a speech there is a giant television screen behind him showing the inside of the station. While Hammer is giving his speech, Doctor Octopus comes on screen and kills everyone. At the same time Peter and class are in an assembly when the Principal tells everyone what is happening after the authorities told him to tell the students for some reason. Yes, we needed to have Peter finally confront Doctor Octopus but if you’re going to do that at least have it set after Peter gets out of school when it would be more realistic a time for them to face off. Having the principal announce it for no real reason was just dumb. Yes, if it is at an energy station which contains some hazardous material but being that the principal did not announce that the authorities were concerned about a possible chemical leak but just warning them to keep inside due to a bit of “trouble” in town. Bendis may as well come out and said “I’m looking for an excuse for Peter to confront Doctor Octopus but I can’t think of something right now.”

At the station Doctor Octopus is not really doing much of anything. Sure, he murdered some folks but why? They don’t answer the why of what  is motivating Doctor Octopus to perform the crimes he is performing. There has to be a reason for him to want to take over this station other than he is crazy. With that being said, the last panel, where Spider-Man and Doc Ock meet makes up for most of this with a funny intro.

Bottom Line:

This is not a bad issue. It does a lot to address some of the concerns I had about the previous issue. I still contend that these issues SHOULD have been dealt with during the last issue or sooner, it is about time we know a little bit more of what is going on.

Now some may argue that I should wait to comment until I complete the story, keep in mind you’re missing the point of my reviews. Exploring how a story progresses issue by issue is a great way to examine a long form story as a whole. Like with reading a book, not every chapter will win you over as the best chapter in a book but if the author does their job, they will definitely get you to appreciate everything together. With that said, there is much to learn for any writer by studying individual chapters and see how a writer builds a story from the first step to the last. You will get a chance to see what works and what fails along your trail. In the end, you will know what works and hopefully be able to  avoid those pitfalls yourself. Even if your opinion of a work is mere subjective opinion, which my critique is, when you write, you write for yourself. If you think something is done incorrectly, then follow that rule for your own work. I certainly reserve the right to be critical of Mr. Bendis’s work but fully understand that these are my opinions and my opinions alone. Even though I may not care for certain issues, the stories as a whole are well done. Brian Bendis is one of my favorite comic writers for this reason.

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.