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 #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.