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.

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 #11

When you find yourself fighting against an enemy that is more powerful than you, you have to find a way to overcome them if you have any hope of being a winner. I think of Brock Lesnar’s time in UFC when I read this issue. He had his first UFC fight against a fighter named Frank Mir. If you put a picture of the two together you’d see that Lesnar dwarfs Mr. Mir in size. On appearance alone you would think that Mir would have gotten his ass beat with Lesnar not even breaking a sweat. However it didn’t go down that way. Mir came into the fight with a plan and pretty easily defeated Brock. It was humbling for the Beast but it also made him more dangerous as well. Once he realized someone exploited his faults, he doubled down and fixed them, becoming a much more dangerous fighter in the process.

Peter learned a big lesson last issue. While I think most folks that survive being thrown out of a high rise will probably learn a lesson or two, Peter discovered that his blunt force trauma method of crime solving would not cut it when it came to someone as dangerous as the Kingpin. He had to think on his toes much better. So he comes up with a plan after realizing last issue that Kingpin had recording equipment in his office to try and contact a company that may give him some information about them.

This is where this issue lost me a bit. Peter’s plan is to do a Google search for what company did the recording layout in Kingpin’s office and contact them for information. That is a way to start I guess but if this were to happen in real life, the last thing I would say of Kingpin is that he was smart. And what does that say for other criminals in town that would love to be crime lords themselves that a fifteen year old boy spending all of five minutes on Google find the information about the recording setup in Wilson Fisk’s office when they would have much more nefarious ways of getting back at him if they had said info? I don’t buy that a company, even fifteen years ago, would so publicly state what setup they have for their clients when their clients are as powerful as they are. Hell, even if we weren’t talking about a criminal mastermind but a CEO of a company or a politician, leaving that info out for the public to see would just invite someone, anyone, to try and hack their way into that security system for any dirt they can get on the guy.  It just seems unrealistic that no one else had thought of this idea or even failed to notice that he had a video surveillance setup in his office.

Using the Nixon comparison, there were folks that were aware of the taping system. The way it was setup in the White House, that number was around three I believe but there were people that knew. When it came to Kingpin’s setup, it is established that Peter with one glance notices the system. While he doesn’t put two and two together at first, he eventually realizes what he saw and is able to go through with his plan. If a fifteen year old boy can discover this, someone else could have as well. And if I know criminals, you would think that being the enterprising bunch that they are, they would either be knowledgeable themselves or know someone who is knowledgeable in something that could pay off for them. Kingpin is presented here as an over confident jackass who was just counting the days before he got caught, period. He is not the smart, evil being Bendis attempts to set him out as.

Just as soon as he sends the email to the company that installed Kingpin’s taping system, he quickly gets a response with absolutely everything he needs to know about the device. This certainly gets us to where we need to get to in the story but it all is a little too convenient for my tastes. This little plot element could have been stretched over a couple of issues. As a writer, you want to do your best to avoid presenting solutions to your character’s problems too conveniently. When the protagonist is able to get his problems resolved with little to no effort on their part, it is not the sign of good luck on their part, it is the sign of a lazy writer. You have to have a reason for your character to advance in the story. They have to have obstacles to overcome. Peter sent one email and his problems were solved in a matter of a couple days. This was not a good way to get Peter to meet up with Kingpin again.

Bottom Line:

This is the first issue of the run that I had some real problems with. Don’t get me wrong, a bad issue in Ultimate Spider-Man is still going to be better than most other comics out there but with the sheer amount of content that has to come out on a regular basis, not everything is going to be a winner.

There was just a little bit too much coincidence going on in this story for me to really enjoy it. I can take one or two incidents and forgive it. If it gets to the point where I am actually noticing how many times something happens out of nowhere that magically fixes the protagonists problem then we have a writer who has found themselves stuck in a corner without a way to get out, choosing the easy way out.