Ultimate Spider-Man Volume 4

[10 November 2004]

By Michael Arner

I try to stay on a budget with the comic books I like to follow. I read Ultimate Spider-Man, my favorite Spider-Man book, via the hardcover versions because I can get them for about $20 through various on-line dealers. Savings, better paper, no ads and oversized, it’s a great format. This one contains reprints of 13 issues, along with special “extras” that include an interview with writer Brian Michael Bendis, penciled pages and character designs by Mark Bagley and a deleted scene.

Without any “what happened before” introduction, we drop in on our hero Peter Parker going to class and having a discussion with his beloved Mary Jane Watson. The last time the reader saw them in Volume 3, they had broken up because of Peter’s responsibilities.

A party that Peter, Gwen, Mary Jane and Liz attend introduces a troublemaker named Geldoff who ends the party early. Mark Bagley and Art Thibert’s art is very lively and makes the characters look age-appropriate, but clothing designs are shockingly “mature” for a high school-aged female. Later on, also bothersome was the Black Cat, who appeared too physically developed for her age, not to mention the physical impossibilities of “staying” in her costume. The facial structure similarities with other female characters in the book are also problematic. And the less said about Kingpin’s ludicrous hand size while pinning Elektra to the wall, the better. That being said, Bagley’s artwork is perfect for this version of Spider-Man. It has vitality and modern style without being overly dark and ink-heavy.

Mary Jane’s “shocking” outfit becomes the subject of a cute exchange between her and Peter on the way home from the party. Mary Jane then gives Peter a letter, which afterwards begins the magical sequence of their reconciliation.

Spider-Man’s showdown with Geldoff creates a ruckus that leads to the arrival of the women of Ultimate X-Men (Ororo, Marvel Girl and Kitty Pryde). I found the Ultimate versions of the X-Women difficult to warm up to, especially when compared with the way they were written in Grant Morrisson’s recent run on New X-Men or Joss Whedon’s current stint on Astonishing X-Men. But their part of the story wrapped up quickly and Bendis began another fast-paced storyline.

One particularly interesting scene was Aunt May’s confession to a therapist about her relationship with Peter, Spider-Man and her mortality. As with the great Sam Raimi directed films, Aunt May is given room to develop into a three-dimensional character and not just be the victim that Spider-Man needs to rescue.

The Kingpin is woven into this tale from Bendis’ continuing Daredevil run, but that book is not essential reading for this Spider-Man story as Bendis allows the framework of the stories to flow together but still remain separate entities. The light, vibrant energy that is created from Bendis’ Spider-Man is so different from his Daredevil writing, where the dark seediness of DareDevil’s life becomes completely palpable.

Then Elektra makes an unwelcome appearance. Like many readers, this writer dislikes the usage of the character post-Frank Miller. As her creator, Miller writes Elektra in a way no one else can match. Many readers, including myself, won’t accept Elektra unless it’s through Miller’s “voice”. That’s not a slight to the abilities of Bendis. Many great writers have tried to write Elektra, but none of them compare to Miller.

Black Cat rounds out the book with her very attractive appearance. The flirting between Black Cat and Spider-Man is interesting as well, continuing the “soap opera” melodrama while showing the pressure of being in love with someone who has outside factors hindering the ability of that love to fully bloom.

“Fast-paced, romantic and funny” describes Ultimate Spider-Man. For those non-comic book readers out there who enjoyed the films, especially women, these hardcover editions will hook you without being buried under years of backstory. They contain the same wide-eyed excitement as the films and will help ease the wait for Spider-Man 3.

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/ultimate-spider-man-4/