Ultimate Spider-Man: Death of Spider-Man Prelude

1160287They certainly don’t pull any punches on the spoilers when they have a big event coming up, do they? That said, I’m not going to go into any of the future spoilers (of which I know somewhere between one and two) in this review; all I’m going to do is take them at their [notoriously untrustworthy where death is concerned] word that the title is accurate, and go from there. Because, while the story in the Ultimate line’s prelude to Death of Spider-Man was good[1], it’s hard to get very worked up about it with such a huge shadow looming over the future landscape. But I shouldn’t sell it short, because it was a really great book, pulling together just about every extant plot thread and weaving them all together seamlessly. More about Mysterio, Spider-Man’s biggest foe since the Green Goblin? Check.[2] Fallout from… I mean, whatever you want to say about the way Stan Lee created the first superhero with human problems, and that being what made Peter Parker special, sometimes that boy has problems that nobody else has, because he’s a superhero. So, as I was saying, fallout from the most literal form of identity theft I’ve ever seen? Check. When the Ultimates hold a coffee klatch about whether you and/or your image can be reformed, you know things are serious. And that’s leaving the girls out of it entirely. My point is, Pete just had a really bad week, and this week wouldn’t be looking so great either, even without Mysterio’s latest gambit or the newest and arguably most dangerous holder of his secret identity.

There. Review out of the way. Now, let’s talk.

I’ve been thinking about this upcoming “death of” storyline for a couple of months now, basically since I received this book and then moreso a few weeks later when spoilers erupted in the media based on the release of a relevant comic (to be portrayed in a graphic novel somewhere down the line, I reckon), but the thoughts didn’t coalesce until after I read this one. We have this guy, Spider-Man, right? He is freakishly strong, although not much stronger than the strongest man without special powers. He has designed a web fluid that lets him swing around to get places faster[3] and that makes it easier to trap / blind / distract opponents or make a safety net for himself / bystanders. He can stick to walls. And he has a danger sense that tells him if something bad is about to happen. Not a bad little list of powers, and he makes good use of them. But all in all, if Spider-Man died, what would change? The Ultimates still take care of alien threats, large-scale terrorist activity, the really high-powered villains, that type of thing. And the Fantastic Four still takes care of random dimensional incursions, or would if they had ever gotten back together. But at least they used to, and their being missing now doesn’t really mean Spider-Man could take up that slack. More inventors with delusions of evil grandeur would get away with their initial schemes, until they got rich and powerful enough to attract the attention of the big boys, at which point it all ends up in the same place, just with a few more people hurt along the way. I’m not saying that’s nothing, but new superheroes come along all the time. It honestly isn’t a whole lot, you know?

But then we have this guy Peter Parker. Pete’s done a lot of things. He’s received random powers for no apparent reason, and even though he’s one of the smartest people on the planet, the freak genetic accident didn’t turn him into a super-villain. How many people can say that in any Marvel universe? Answer: few indeed! When New York was underwater, and most people were either trying to track down the perpetrators or else just get to safety, he was the only hero I remember who was actually running towards the devastation (well, diving towards it) and trying to pull people out. Over the past year or so of comic continuity, his aunt has changed from an angry and somewhat resentful aging widow to a strong mother figure to a lot of other heroes in the teen set, who can and will stand up to S.H.I.E.L.D.’s top agent if it will help her kids. He’s taken Nick “it’s the one that says Bad Motherfucker on the handle” Fury to task over poor ethical decisions, and even more amazingly, been successful at it. Pretty much every superhero he comes across respects him, and the exception (Captain America) is the very one whose place I see him as taking in the Ultimate universe, even if Cap almost never lives up to those aspirations in Marvel’s main continuity either. (Well, at least not as of 1976.) I see some arguments that Superman does this in a few of his movies and perhaps in limited comic runs, and Captain America in the recent movie did exactly what I’m talking about. But in long-form comics, the only character I’ve ever seen that makes everyone he comes in contact with a better person, who basically makes the world better with his every action and makes it worse with virtually none of them, is barely sixteen year-old Ultimate Peter Parker.

On the one hand, death is a very fleeting even in superhero comics. Always has been, probably always will be. But on the other hand, I’ve seen only a bare handful of people in this particular continuity come back from death, and most of them were via special cheats written into the original Marvel storylines the authors were covering. So I don’t really know what to expect, and I give you my ironclad guarantee that I have no special knowledge of what is to come, beyond the aforementioned one or two spoilers that I’m avoiding here. What I do know is this. If Spider-Man dies, as they are so strongly implying, I’ll miss a cool character, but it won’t be a big deal in the scheme of things. If Peter Parker dies, as he would nearly have to for Spider-Man to do the same, his world will be the worse for it. I’m invested in the Ultimate universe, pretty obviously to you who have read me review every last one of their releases. I’m not going to stop just because they make a choice I’m not okay with, at least not right away. But it could be that before this time next year, I’ll really want to. Why would I keep forcing myself to go back to a darker, sadder place?

[1] Isn’t it always, though? I was wondering recently whether there has ever been a 160 issue run by the same author for a shared superhero character like this.
[2] And let me tell you, I am impressed at how well they’ve rehabilitated a mostly lame smoke-and-mirrors guy from the original run.
[3] Though once he leaves or before he gets to Manhattan, what are his web-lines attached to? He’s always way too high outside the City, you know? I have no point here, it’s just always bugged me.

7 thoughts on “Ultimate Spider-Man: Death of Spider-Man Prelude

  1. Mike Kozlowski

    [3] Eventually you will get to Amazing Spider-Man #267, “The Commuter Cometh,” which made me realize why I could never be Spider-Man in rural Wisconsin even if I had his powers.

    To the rest, I’ve always liked how Parker is the conscience of the Marvel Universe in a very human way. Like, Captain America is all super-fucking-noble, but he’s goddamn Captain America. Square-jawed, blonde-haired, nobler than thou, right?

    Whereas Parker is just this kid, you know? He’s got the self-deprecating thing going on, mostly he’s not all that popular with the general public, but he is always a fundamentally decent person in a very believable way.

  2. Chris Post author

    That’s, like, half of my fundamental problem with Captain America. He’s nobler-than-thou some of the time, and the rest of the time he’s stumbling along blindly, having lost his faith and not sure what to do. And he certainly isn’t ennobling the Falcon in the way that Ultimate-version Peter does with people; all they ever *do* is argue. (I mean, Falcon started off pretty great, don’t get me wrong, so if they just got along all the time I wouldn’t attribute *that* to Cap, but the fighting thing is definitely the opposite of what I’d expect.)

    And then Ultimate Cap, I’m pretty much tired of him at this point. He’s an inhuman tactical and strategic machine, which is fine as far as it goes, but he’s pretty much turned into a sanctimonious asshole, and I can only handle one or the other.

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