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Not So Ultimate After All - And where does the newborn go from here?
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Not So Ultimate After All
I've never been terribly impressed with Brian Michael Bendis's ability to write. I kind of liked Ultimate Spider-Man for a while, until I realized that he was never going to speed things up and that he was more interested in having characters spout annoying Mamet-lite dialogue than in having Spider-Man show up in a book called Ultimate Spider-Man. That said, my curiosity was piqued by his recent (in Bendis time, of course; in real time, this happened almost a year ago) replacement of Peter Parker with newcomer Miles Morales.

My interest in this came from the simple fact that I've been saying for a couple of years now that maybe it's time to just retire Peter Parker and let someone else be Spider-Man. We've reached a point where the only thing any Spider-Man writers seem able to do with Peter's character is recycle stories that were told better twenty years ago, while any new ideas that do get brought in either are ideas with potential that gets completely wasted (Horizon Labs), are just lame-ass gimmicks (having J. Jonah Jameson become the mayor, killing Marla Jameson, the whole "Spider-Island" story arc), or are just flat-out stupid (introducing Jameson's 300-year-old father, Phil Urich becoming the Hobgoblin, Spider-Man being both an Avenger and a member of the Fantastic Four, the new Scorpion costume). Now granted, this is as much a problem with the writers as anything else - I'm sure Mark Waid, Fabian Nicieza, or Kurt Busiek could do a great back-to-basics run about Peter. But even then, how much of what their stories said about the character would actually be new? And at this point, there would still be a lot of stupid, stupid baggage the book would be forced to carry around (I really, really hate Spider-Man as a full-time Avenger; I really, really hate Peter and Mary Jane's marriage being retconned away; I really, really hate that the only effect said retcon appears to have had is that Peter now sleeps with every single female character in the title, because that's totally in keeping with his character as it's been established, right?). Plus, this whole "One More Day/Brand New Day/Big Time/One Moment in Time/Let's Keep Using Titles That Repeat Words From Previous Titles Because That Makes It Meaningful or Something, I Guess" cycle was itself touted as a back-to-basics approach to Spider-Man that's really just wound up loading the character down with even more bullshit than he had before.

So you know what? Fuck it. Fuck all of that crap. Let's wind up Peter's story, give him a happy ending where he gets to go off with Mary Jane and live a quiet, normal life where he raises one or two normal, non-super-powered kids. Wipe the slate clean, and give us an entirely new Spider-Man who only has the basics. I really kind of think we've gotten to a point where this is the only viable option left for the franchise, at least as far as the mainstream comics go.

So the fact that there was a Spider-Man book that actually does that (never mind that it's Ultimate Spider-Man, which has been by far the worst Spider-Man book for a long time - and given how much I hate the current titles, that's saying something) caught my attention. Of course, I'm never going to pay money for an Ultimate Marvel book, so I checked out a copy of the trade when it came into work.

First of all, this is totally a Brian Bendis comic. It oozes Bendis; when you put this collection down, you can wash your hands for ten minutes, and they'll still have Bendis all over them. The book feels like it consists almost entirely of two-page spreads; the entire first page is wasted on Norman Osborn - who's not even an actual character in this story - narrating the Greek myth of Arachne, which has nothing to do with the story other than "lol spiders"; the cliffhanger for issue two is the new Spider-Man - whom everyone knows can stick to walls - discovering thar he can stick to walls; and the arc runs for six issues, despite being so utterly basic that a writer back in the '80s or '90s would've had it run for two. (But then Bendis wouldn't get to show off his high school-level knowledge of Greek mythology, and what a shame that would be.) Seriously, this is the entire plot for this six-issue arc: Miles Morales gets bitten by a spider and discovers he has powers. Peter Parker dies, and Miles feels that he failed by not using his powers to help Peter in his last fight. Miles is inspired to become the new Spider-Man and fights the Kangaroo. Miles gets captured by SHIELD and taken to the Triskelion, where Electro gets loose and he and Miles fight. Nick Fury decides that Miles is okay and gives him a better costume. (So, okay...maybe that would've had to be three issues.) All of the other stuff - the character interaction and all of that - could've been handled as gradually-building subplots that serve to connect the faster-paced adventure stories. You know, like in an actual good comic book.

The new Spider-Man's powers are also kinda stupid. Miles has the exact same powers as Peter - he's got the proportionate strength, speed, and agility of a spider, he can cling to walls, and he has a spider-sense. But since the spider that bit Miles was from a different breed, it also gave him some extra abilities; for instance, he can turn invisible. I guess this is supposed to be similar to the way chameleons or octopi can change color to blend in with their environments; I honestly had no idea there were spiders that could do this, but a quick skim through Wikipedia shows that there are, so I guess a point goes to you, Mr. Bendis. The other new power it gave him, however, is complete bullshit: he has a "venom strike." What this means is that Miles can touch people and knock them out. I guess it's supposed to be him injecting venom into them, except that every time he uses it, we see little lightning bolts coming off of his hand(s), and it's accompanied by a "Zzat" sound effect. So...maybe it's some kind of electrical power? But when Miles uses it in front of one of his friends, his friend is building something with Legos, and when Miles touches it, the Legos all go flying straight up. So the power can't be electrical, even though it looks electrical, because Legos are plastic and thus non-conductive, but the power also can't actually be venom-based, because Legos are made from plastic, so then it wouldn't do anything to them at all. So what the fuck is this power even supposed to be?

The problem with this isn't that it's a poorly-defined power; the problem is that it's another poorly-defined power. This Spider-Man already has a spider-sense, and spider-sense is probably the single most poorly-defined power in the history of the superhero genre. Sure, it's mostly treated now like it's exclusively a danger sense, and that's primarily how it's been used throughout the character's whole history. But there's been plenty of times where it's use is just completely bizarre: one of the earliest stories has Doctor Doom broadcasting a signal on the exact wavelength as Peter's spider-sense (?); the first appearance of the Sinister Six has Peter using it to read the text on a card that's been burned beyond legibility (?); and during the Clone Saga, we got Kaine, whose spider-sense was mutated to the point where he would get full-on visions of the future (?!). And to top it all off, spiders don't even have this ability in the first place! So Miles already has one poorly-defined power that doesn't really make any sense, but we'll go with it anyway because it's a long-standing part of the Spider-Man mythology. But stacking a whole new nonsensical power on top of that one? That's a bad idea. I'd be willing to go along with the spider-sense or the venom strike, but not both. (And to be honest, as it's portrayed, I probably still wouldn't be that willing to go along with the venom strike.) Also, giving the new Spider-Man a venom power? Seriously, Brian, just write a damn Spider-Woman ongoing and get it over with.

And Miles isn't the only character in the book with powers that don't make any sense; when Electro shows up at the very end, he fights the Avengers...I'm sorry, the Ultimates; "Avengers" just isn't stupid edgy enough...before facing off with Spider-Man. One of the present Avengers Ultimates is Hawkeye, and when Clint fires some arrows at Electro, they go right through him, so clearly Ultimate Electro must be made of pure electricity, right? But when Miles comes into the fight, he hits Electro with his his venom strike, and it weakens him. So if he can be touched, he must not be pure energy after all. Plus, after Electro is weakened by the venom strike, we see that he's vulnerable to taking three bullets in the chest. So...Electro is only intangible to arrows? Because that makes sense?

This whole comic is just dumb as hell. I won't even go into the irony of having Ultimate (one of the dictionary definitions of which being "final") Spider-Man be the one who gets a successor.

I'm also not a fan of Miles' costume. I think the basic design is solid; I like the sleekness of it, and I like the relative simplicity. My problem is the color scheme; I really prefer Spider-Man to be wearing bright colors, since he's meant to be a fun character and all. (Then again, nothing about Ultimate Spider-Man has ever been particularly fun, and Miles certainly isn't - if anything, he's even mopier than any version of Peter Parker ever was.)

I admit I went into this comic pretty much knowing I wasn't going to like it; it's not as though I expected a book I haven't liked in years, written by someone whose work I've always found frustrating, to magically be something brilliant. But I honestly didn't expect it to be this bad, either. I didn't even have to pay for this, and I kind of still want my money back.

Oh, and plus, this is Ultimate Scorpion. Fuck you, Brian Bendis. And your plans for the future.

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