Tag: Review

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 #18

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

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

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

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

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

Bottom Line:

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

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

Ultimate Spider-Man #16

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

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

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

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

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

Bottom Line:

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

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

Ultimate Spider-Man #15

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

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

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

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

Bottom Line:

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

Ultimate Spider-Man #13

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bottom Line:

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