I’m a sucker for the Ultimate books and the Ultimate book that is the most consistent in quality is Ultimate Spider-Man. One could make an argument for Ultimates, but that book seems to rub a lot of readers the wrong way with its darker content and its inability to keep a schedule. Ultimate Spider-Man has the advantage of getting to 100 issues with the same creative team of Brian Michael Bendis and Mark Bagley, who have managed to keep the book a top seller even after five years. Heck, the book remains good despite Bendis being involved with countless other projects and has often managed to come out bi-weekly for months at a time over the course of the series. Still, even Ultimate Spider-Man can have its misses and that’s where Ultimate Spider-Man Vol. 16 comes in. Now the stories in the book aren’t bad, but it begins to feel like the book is starting to spin its wheels when it comes to introducing new characters.
The first story features Spider-Man (who is currently dating X-Gal Kitty Pride) and the X-Men facing off with Deadpool and his Reavers in a Most Dangerous Game-styled TV show. Then, in the second tale, Spider-Man meets Morbius after Ben Urich becomes a victim of a vampire attack. And in the final story, a new Kingpin-wannabe named Kangaroo finds his hangout under attack by Spider-Man, Daredevil, Punisher and Moon Knight.
The first story has some interesting storytelling juxtaposing the television broadcast with our heroes’ story, but it is a technique that has been seen many times before (a couple times by Brian Michael Bendis, in fact). Deadpool and the Reavers come off as bland villains for the story and while their bigotry makes them detestable, they didn’t leave enough of an impression behind by the end of the arc. It really just feels like they were introduced into the Ultimate universe for the sake of being introduced. What I was really hoping this story would do was add a new dimension to the Peter Parker/Kitty Pride relationship. Currently, it feels like Peter’s dating Kitty just because she’s a “valid option”, and what I really wanted to see was either evidence to the contrary or hints at the consequences of having a relationship with her because he can’t have one with Mary Jane. Though there is an interesting conversation between the couple early on in the book, there isn’t really a sense of where their relationship is going.
The second story was the weakest because it felt like a retread of earlier Ultimate stories in which Spider-Man has an unfortunate run-in with the Ultimate version of a classic Marvel character and is told to “stay out of his way”. The character introduced in this story is Morbius, who ends up being attacked by Spider-Man after a misunderstanding in the mighty Marvel manner. Bendis fails to clearly define Morbius’ character and it leaves his character looking like a bit mundane occult hero. While he thankfully avoids the tired cliche of making him a “badass with a bad attitude” like Blade, he doesn’t really seem to have much of a character and all that gets accomplished is another character getting pissed at Spider-Man. Like the last story, it adds to the Ultimate continuity but doesn’t do a great jobbing of building the universe or the characters in any meaningful way.
Having Ultimate Spider-Man awkwardly confront other heroes (Blade, Daredevil, Morbius) is getting rather tiresome. I know that Spider-Man isn’t supposed to be terribly popular among other heroes but the Ultimate universe is supposed to keep old ideas fresh and it really shouldn’t be treading water. Luckily the third and final story hints at intriguing possibilities for future stories, despite an anti-climactic ending to one of the series’ subplots I was most intrigued by. Spider-Man is convinced by police captain Jeanne DeWolfe to take out a dangerous criminal. What Spider-Man doesn’t realize is that DeWolfe is actually working for the Kingpin and is manipulating our friendly neighborhood hero to take out the competition. But soon things spiral wildly out of control when four vigilantes end up in the same spot at the same time. The story itself is good but what is most interesting about the story is its hints at future story possibilities as Daredevil, who has seemed to hate Spider-Man and told him to quit at every opportunity, plans to form his own team of masked vigilantes to take out the Kingpin.
The art by Mark Bagley is still some of the best in his career and Richard Isanove, Justin Ponsor and Laura Martin provide great colours, but there are no real eye-popping scenes in the book. When the vampires show up, there really isn’t much of a shock to it, because these vampires don’t feel any different from any other vampires we’ve seen before. In fact, the biggest surprise is how traditional they seem, which is something readers generally don’t expect from the Ultimate books. Mark Brooks provides some good art for the final story but the quality of the penciling and colouring just isn’t as impressive as the work in the earlier chapters.
This isn’t a bad installment in the series, but for the most part it feels like filler (particularly the first story) despite adding new characters to the Ultimate universe. There are hints at some promising stories in the future, but I want great stories now! Action abounds in this book and there’s quite a bit of fun to be had but only the last story does any real character building (though there is a touching moment between Mary Jane and Peter at the end of the Morbius arc), and it feels like the series is stalling a bit while waiting for the next big story. Overall, Ultimate Spider-Man Vol. 16 will entertain, if not wow.