Ultimate Spider-Man 53 (April 2004)

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Bendis misses just about every chance he’s got this time. It’s not a bad issue, surprisingly good, actually, but he misses all the great chances. He doesn’t, for instance, let Peter beat the shit out of Mary Jane’s dad. It’d be a hard scene to do, but I’ll bet Bendis could handle it.

Or when Peter–in costume–rescues Black Cat. She’s in her civilian identity and it could have been a strong encounter. But Bendis doesn’t. He abbreviates it. This arc, had Bendis cut out half the useless action scene a couple issues ago and lengthened the finish here, would have been really strong.

And the Mary Jane stuff needed to be introduced earlier since it turned out so important. Bendis arcs might be trade-friendly, but he doesn’t write enough for the arc. He doesn’t put enough thought into what he wants to get done.

Still, good issue.

Ultimate Spider-Man 52 (March 2004)

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At least there’s a lot of action this issue so one doesn’t concentrate on Bagley’s strange version of “sexy girl” art.

Bendis actually spends a page, alongside Peter scaling a building, to write up a bunch of narration. And it’s the best thing in the issue, even though it’s only necessary because of the lengthy, unfulfilling fight scene.

He covers Peter’s self-awareness about pursuing Black Cat with Mary Jane at home. But there’s also some about the adventuring. When Peter gets to the top of the building, he’s upset the fight’s over and he’s alone. That observation is a little one, but it’s telling… Peter’s an adventuring junkie.

There’s some inexplicably weak bookends with Kingpin (not to mention yet another tease of May discovering Peter’s secret identity).

It’s yet another pointless, terribly paced issue, but Bendis makes up for it a little with his excellent handling of Peter Parker.

Ultimate Spider-Man 51 (February 2004)

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Mark Bagely’s attempts at drawing sexy, scantily clad women–Elektra and Black Cat–are mildly disturbing. He’s not good at it; he’s also not good at designing their Ultimate costumes. Visually, this issue is atrocious.

As for the story, it’s not bad. Bendis is clearly setting up throughout the issue–a big fight between the three–and everything else seems back burner. Even Mary Jane and Peter, which Bendis does cover… but he gives it less space than the Black Cat stuff.

For example, the opening scene bringing the Kingpin into the story is totally useless. It’s filler. Ultimate Spider-Man probably would be a lot better if it weren’t for the double issue months. Bendis might figure out his story.

There’s a lot of potential in the Black Cat meeting though, because Bendis still writes Peter well. Hopefully, he won’t disappoint in the plotting.

But that Bagley art’s gross.

Ultimate Spider-Man 50 (February 2004)

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Not a good issue. The stuff at the end, with Mary Jane’s dad flipping out and May and Gwen off to the rescue, that stuff is good. The stuff with Peter and Mary Jane, kind of good. It’s all a little redundant, especially since Bendis and Bagley just got done with their terrible Ultimate Black Cat introduction.

For a while, when Bagley was concentrating on Black Cat’s eyes (in very Cooke Catwoman googles), I didn’t think her costume was going to be inordinately exploitative. I even got hopeful Bendis would have fun with the bad luck powers. I was totally wrong about the former and mostly wrong about the latter.

Especially after Peter shows up. I think the issue’s oversized is for the lame fight.

It’s great Bendis writes May and Gwen so well, but they shouldn’t be the best thing in an issue. I don’t even think Gwen talks.

Ultimate Spider-Man 49 (January 2004)

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And here comes the secret identity stuff. Kingpin is going to find Peter out! But wait, doesn’t Peter know Nick Fury? Can’t they do something? Nick Fury would move heaven and earth for Aunt May but not against Kingpin? That story’s a lot more interesting than the one Bendis is going to tell, I’m sure.

Otherwise, it’s a pretty good issue. Jonah realizes he’s been wrong and he tries to be a reporter. There’s a funny fight scene with the Enforcers. It’s way too long, but it’s funny.

Bendis once again tells some of the story in the opening recap, this time about Jonah changing his mind about the District Attorney race. He easily could’ve spared two pages of the fight scene for a good real scene.

Then there’s the standoff with Peter and Kingpin and it’s only okay. The jokes aren’t good enough (from either of them).

Ultimate Spider-Man 48 (December 2003)

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I just love how Bendis handles Ultimate Kingpin and Peter. I know I’ve already said it, but it’s even better this issue. The relationship between the two obviously has to do with Peter’s idealism, which is just the inherent lack of reality of superhero comics. Bendis, with Bagley’s art beautifully working against it, is trying to bring some gravitas to Ultimate Spider-Man.

He’s not doing it with a dark story or whatever, he’s doing it with politics and corruption and Jonah being a really shallow guy. It’s a great issue. I don’t remember the last time the comic was so impressive, actually.

And I started this arc nonplussed. Bendis shaved the weaker story arc for this issue (the secret identity) and married the Kingpin and District Attorney candidate nicely. Using Ultimate Ben Urich helps, of course, since Bendis writes him so well.

The moment with May is outstanding too.

Ultimate Spider-Man 47 (December 2003)

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Bendis introduces three new plot lines–the Kingpin is back, too many people know Peter is Spider-Man and the Bugle is backing a mayoral candidate who’s out to get Spider-Man. Well, maybe not a mayoral candidate. I wasn’t paying too much attention.

To stay true to his form, Bendis will likely tie these three plot lines together, which doesn’t make much sense. In a lot of ways, it feels like Bendis doesn’t know what he’s doing here.

But he’s at least doing it in good scenes. He excels at the Bugle stuff, even when people are being quiet, and he also excels at Ultimate Kingpin. Bendis writes a very funny Kingpin. Unfortunately, the Spider-Man identity question gets the least treatment.

Having reunited Peter and Mary Jane, Bendis is at a loss for how to write them together. Without drama or tension, there’s nothing for them to do.

Ultimate Spider-Man 46 (November 2003)

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This issue is a prelude to Ultimate Six, with Bendis focusing on Sharon Carter and her take on the last time Spidey fought Doctor Octopus. Turns out Ultimate Sandman was there too.

Bendis can get a little mileage out of it being an untold tale, but the comic’s fairly limp. Spider-Man’s outgoing personality comes across as forced and unlikely.

Carter is an awful protagonist for the comic, alternating between unlikable and mentally unstable. Of course, Bendis understands she’s a weak lead, so he gives Bagley maybe six double page action spreads to do.

The best part of the comic is probably Flint Marko’s expressions and it’s unclear who came up with those, since he doesn’t talk.

All Bendis had to do was a solid prequel to an event and he flops. Ultimate Carter is just a lousy character. The issue makes one want to avoid Six at all costs.

Ultimate Spider-Man 45 (November 2003)

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The famous therapy issue. I remember it was a big deal when it came out because Bendis all of a sudden treated Aunt May like a real character and not a pawn to occasionally put in danger.

He does a great job with the issue, especially the back and forth with her and the therapist. It also gives him a chance to hold up Ultimate Spider-Man and look at it from a different angle, to give the reader a chance to feel like the series exists a tad more substantially.

Sadly, Bagley isn’t up for the job. His art’s about as good as usual, but not really. He gets lax on some of the faces and the book is mostly just talking heads and it needs to look great throughout. And he’s rushing.

Still, it’s an excellent concept issue.

But why didn’t May ask about the X-Men shirt?

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