Review: Ultimate Spider-Man #160

Eleven years ago, Brian Michael Bendis and Mark Bagley recreated a modern version of Spider-Man within the pages of Ultimate Spider-Man. And it worked. It really worked  

Back then, the Ultimate Marvel Universe was something special. When Bendis and Mark Millar were driving the Ultimate line through Ultimate Spider-Man and Ultimates, the imprint seemed like it could last for years and years.

Somewhere along the way, the Ultimate Universe lost its sense of direction. Personally, I blame that on Ultimates 3 and Ultimatum which relied on over-the-top shock moments and gratuitous death scenes. It's a good thing Marvel doesn't do that anymore.

Oh wait…

Ultimate Spider-Man #160 is the final part of the "Death of Spider-Man" storyline and no one can say it doesn't deliver what it promised. By the end of the issue, Peter Parker's world famous alter ego is indeed dead. Or at least dead as anyone gets in comics.

But first, a little background! "The Death of Spider-Man" was promoted as a crossover story with Mark Millar's Ultimate Avengers vs New Ultimates miniseries. However, the extent of that crossover seems to have been Spider-Man showing up briefly to take a bullet meant for Captain America before going back to his own book, where Norman Osborn and a couple of his old villains were waiting for him outside of his house. By the time that Peter took out the majority of the villains, he was already on his last legs.

I'll say this for the issue, at the very least Spider-Man goes down in a heroic way. And I think that the pages where he actually dies could have been very moving, had Marvel not spoiled them a day before the book even came out.

Therein lies the problem. The comic book industry is in the business of selling comics. But in theory, the story should always come first. In "The Death of Spider-Man," the story seemed like an afterthought to the notion of getting everything lined up for Peter to die. This plot felt like it was constructed just in a bid to get some attention from the mainstream media and drum up some sales for the failing Ultimate line. The first part of that strategy appears to have worked, but I'm not sure about the second part.

What bothers me the most is how mechanically the story plays out within the issue itself. Spidey needs a save? Wake up the Human Torch! Mary Jane needs a hero moment? Here she comes now in a semi-truck that she stole off panel! There's just no sense of excitement or even building tension towards the conclusion. Again, that could be because Marvel spoiled where the story was going within the title alone. But there's something to be said for allowing the story to surprise the reader. If the ending is such a foregone conclusion, then why are we reading the book?

Bendis' long time collaborator, Mark Bagley provides the art for this issue and as usual, his pages are nicely drawn and well laid out. Bagley sometimes gets a bad reputation for just being a workman-like artist, but he's got a lot of skill behind his craft and he can tell a story sequentially. And he's very, very good at. The emotions conveyed from Aunt May, Mary Jane, Gwen and even Peter in the last few pages are really well done and they almost redeem the issue by themselves.

Ultimately, I just didn't enjoy this issue by itself or within its larger place with the Ultimate Spider-Man series. It's like we've followed one of comic's greatest superheroes hero across 160 issues and then at the end found that writer essentially said "and then he died!"

I've never read any Spider-Man book hoping to see Peter Parker die. I want to see Peter Parker live. And I don't think I'm alone in that.

Obviously, this is still comics and Marvel could bring him back tomorrow if they wanted to. Hell, 20 years ago, DC did the same thing with Superman. They replaced the Man of Steel with essentially four different versions of himself before bringing back the real deal just a couple of months after he went into the ground.

Marvel's already got a new Spider-Man coming in the pages of Ultimate Comics Spider-Man. But I find that I don't really care to start over again. These gimmick and event stories have lost their appeal. And I don't believe that the Ultimate Universe can recapture the magic that it once had.