Welcome, greetings and possibly even salutations; for you are entering the world of my mind and comics in what I’m in no way affectionately calling Ultimate Back Issue! Why Ultimate Back Issue for the name on my weekly series on my reading of the Ultimate Marvel Universe? Well because it’s the Ultimate Universe, hence the Ultimate word in the title. Plus I’m rereading from the beginning; hence that whole back issue part. Geez, it’s not like it is rocket surgery or something.
A couple of weeks back after our rewatching the movies leading up to The Avengers, as well as our third viewing of The Avengers itself, my wife informed me that she wanted to start reading Marvel comics with me. “Holy shit, Garrus does hear my prayers!” was all I could think in that moment for this is something I had hoped and dreamed about for nearly 8 years. I had already watched every single one of my favorite shows through and through, as well as most movies. At this point reading comics with her had been at the top of my list, but it never seemed like the right time to approach the topic. Finally the opportunity was there and I offered her my entire collection of Ultimate Marvel comics as the playground for us to explore.
Where to begin became the overriding question, when suddenly it occurred to me that at this point, 12 years since the Ultimate Universe began, there must be some accepted reading order for someone wanting to take a continuity-ridden stroll through decade-plus worth of comics. That’s when I found this! What you see there is the best example of a proper reading order for the Ultimate Marvel Universe that I have found at this time. Through research I have made a few small tweaks, which I will post in next weeks issue since I don’t have access to it at this time. For now if you’re interested in catching up and reading along, or simply seeing where we are, you can use the previous guide.
As it has been a little over two weeks since we began this adventure, we are a decent way into the list, but still fairly early on. For instance, I have only just finished the Return to Weapon X storyline from Ultimate X-Men, while Charnell is just beginning Ultimate Marvel Team-Up #14. See, only a few dozen or so issues to read and you can easily catch up to us. Doesn’t that sound fun!
For our initial issue I’m going to cover each title that we’ve started in broader strokes in an effort to get the set-up and basics out of the way. Starting next week I plan to go more in-depth with what we’ve read up to this point. Even though Ultimate Daredevil & Elektra and Ultimate Elektra are featured fairly early on, I’m still going to hold them off for next week or maybe even the following week so I can go into more detail on them. This week we will be covering the first two trades of Ultimate Spider-Man. I’m actually much further along in the list, but in an effort to get this article out only two days late I’m going to focus simply on our favorite friendly neighborhood Spider-Man. Next week we’ll tackle the first couple of books of Ultimate X-Men and probably Ultimate Marvel Team-Up also.
This week I won’t be able to give you the planned, lengthy heavily researched look into where the Ultimate Universe came from and exactly why Marvel started it, so stay tuned for that next Wednesday. (Yes, next Wednesday Ultimate Back Issue will be featured on the proper day, ye of little faith.) Until then, let’s jump into some comic-y goodness.
Just about everyone knows the story of Peter Parker and his alter-ego Spider-Man. Almost everyone reading, even those who have never picked up a comic, seen a Spider-Man movie, or watched a Spider-Man TV series know that “With great power comes great responsibility.” It’s 2012 now and as we are approaching the 50th anniversary of everyone’s favorite web-head that old piece of advice is spoken more commonly, by the most random of people.
Still, back in the early 2000’s, or more accurately in the year 2000 (for those who watch Conan O’brien, tell me you didn’t hear La Bamba’s falsetto voice right there) there was a resurgence of interest in Spider-Man. The first movie was still a year away and the first X-Men had only just released, but still there was a shift in people’s interests in comic books. With all of these major superheroes suddenly appearing in well received, well made movies and with more on the horizon people began showing an interest in reading more about them; people who had never picked up a comic in their life. Now the only problem was, where do they begin?
That’s where Ultimate Spider-Man swings in. Ultimate Spidey appeared as a solution for adults and younger readers who didn’t grow up with Marvel comics. The Ultimate Universe exists as a new avenue to get people into comics, but with decades of storylines to assimilate into their minds. You don’t know the difference between the Green Goblin and Hobgoblin? No idea who the hell Venom is? What about the lengthy history between Spider-Man, the X-Men, and the Avengers; as well as the entire rest of the original Marvel Universe? Well that’s not a problem, hopping into the Ultimate Universe might be the solution for you.
I’ll go into more detail next week, but the goal of the UU (as I’m going to start calling it) is to restart, or reboot all the storylines and characters in Marvel’s stable of comics. This means that even if you know the original universe and every Marvel story like the back of your hand you will still be able to start fresh. Most of the original origin stories, like Spider-Man’s, are similar or even the exact same, but very quickly you will realize just how many differences there are. Let’s finally jump into USP just to see what I mean.
Our story begins with Peter Parker, a dorky, heavily picked on kid going to Midtown High. Peter is 15 years of age and only has two friends in the world: His best friend, and childhood friend, Ms. Mary Jane Watson and Harry Osborn, son and heir to Norman Osborn. Mary plays the support character to Peter from the get-go, while Harry plays one part buddy, one part protector, and another part slight antagonist. At this stage of their relationship it’s more likely Harry will use Peter for his homework abilities, but leave Peter out in the cold when Flash Thompson and Kong come around to pick on Parker.
At this point the story is exactly the same. Peter goes on a class trip to visit a science lab where a spider, infused with a radioactive substance, leaps off and bites him on the back of his hand. Here’s the fun part of the equation: that lab that Peter visits is owned and operated by one Norman Osborn. It’s also home to the facilities chief scientist, Doctor Otto Octavius. More on them in a minute. Most of what happens next to Peter is the same as every other Spider-Man origin story: Peter gets super reflexes, which helps him defend against the school bullies; Peter starts experimenting with web-slinging (though in the UU he doesn’t invent web-shooters, but instead finds a formula his father had designed for a high-end adhesive); performs secretly as a masked wrestler, earning the name Spider-Man, to help earn money for his Uncle Ben and Aunt May.
Here are the differences: The reason Ben and May needed extra money is because Flash Thompson tries to fight Peter, but due to Peter’s quick reflexes and hyper strength he accidentally breaks Flash’s hand. This leads to a law suit and a quick settlement on the side of the Parker’s, which Peter feels he needs to pay himself. Another part of this origin story is how the events of Peter’s transformation led to the birth of two other characters as well.
Norman Osborn decides, in a fit of impulsive rage to perform a dangerous genetic experiment on himself, which quite literally blows up in his face. Norman, his chief scientist Doctor Otto Octavius, and Norman’s son Harry, as well as many staff members, are caught in the blast. Norman is thought to be dead by most people, but Harry knows the truth. During this time Norman, as a hulked out green-skinned creature (not that Hulk), breaks into his own mansion, murders his wife, and nearly kills Harry while burning the place to the ground. Seems like a totally healthy and rational response to the situation, right? This leads Norman to Midtown High, where Spider-Man fights the wayward Green Goblin away from the campus and off into a nearby river, where he is suspected to have drowned.
After these events Harry is shipped off to live with his family out-of-state, while Peter continues on with his life as your average 15-year-old with spider-like powers. That is until the night Peter gets fired from the wrestling show due to his supposed theft of a large amount of money. On the way home a thief slams into him as he escapes from the scene of his latest heist. Peter, still enraged over the loss of his job for idiotic reasons lets the thief go, while being yelled at by the shop owner over how easy it would have been to stop him.
Arriving home Peter finds his home cordoned off by the police, his Aunt May inside being questioned. This is that whole “great power, great responsibility” moment and I doubt I need to tell you what has transpired this evening. What I will say is that the imagery of Peter grieving outside while being held by Mary Jane is one of the most powerful and beautiful things I have ever seen in my years of reading comics. Love that page. Prior to that Peter obviously snaps and goes after the thief, cornering him in a warehouse where he swipes the man’s wallet for the purpose of plot points and such.
The Learning Curve storyline, which happens next, shows Peter attempting to find a way to help Aunt May pay the bills in the wake of Uncle Ben’s death. This leads Peter to the discovery that the Daily Bugle is looking to pay handsomely for someone able to get pictures of Spider-Man for their front page. Peter does what any aspiring superhero with money problems would do; he dons his costume and sets up a camera to get pictures of himself. Sadly the editor in chief of the Daily Bugle, J. Jonah Jameson, isn’t interested in paying much for the pictures or in offering Peter a job as a photographer or anything else. While leaving, Peter overhears an argument between Betty Brant and J. Jonah Jameson over the fact that she can’t do her own job as well as run the Bugle’s website with the lack of training she has been provided. This leads Peter to jump the rescue fixing the problem with his techy skills, thus leading to Peter’s first job working as the Daily Bugle’s website tech support and design specialist.
I love the slight change in Peter’s first job. It’s a nice effort in modernizing the storyline, but keeping the same elements. I also love the mentions of classic supporting and main characters from the Spider-Man mythos that Brian Michael Bendis throws in from time to time starting at this point. Of note is Betty Brant who is seen for a moment, as well as a near throw away comment about Eddie Brock. Also of note are the regular mentions of both Reed Richards and Victor Von Doom, including the country of Latveria. Personally I love all the hinting at the wider world of the UU, so all these lines just make me tingly in all those special superhero places. (Which sounds…yeah, my apologies for that one.)
In his role as website specialist extraordinaire, Peter immediately oversteps his privileges and looks up information on the man who murdered his Uncle. With that knowledge comes an understanding of just how crime infested New York in fact is. The thief was a member of a group known as The Enforcers, who themselves answer to major Spider-Man and Daredevil villain, Wilson Fisk (aka The Kingpin). Peter doesn’t know about the Kingpin yet, but he’ll find out about him shortly. From that information Spidey heads off to begin what amounts to a blunder-filled, near death tour of the Big Apple’s crime problem.
First we head to a warehouse where the Kingpin’s Enforcers are meeting. Right out of the gate Spider-Man draws the attention of the Enforcers, causing them to attack and making the FBI charge in, blowing their cover. This trend continues for much of Spider-Man’s early days as being a young kid he tends to not think things out and simply charge into situations. All of this leads him to Wilson Fisk’s tower where Spidey has his first meeting and near-death experience at the hands of the Kingpin and one of his accomplices, Electro. Now just to make something clear, I FUCKING love Electro; always have, always will. I however am not a big fan of him at this point in the UU. He’s just not the same manic, brightly insane costumed Electro that I fell in love with as a child, which makes sense because it’s a different universe and all. Still it depresses me when trying to read a story semi-heavily involving him.
His defeat and near death weighing on him; Peter decides to actually think before swinging in this time. Through a semi-carefully thought out plan Peter manages to gain a multitude of video evidence showing the Kingpin’s elicit activities, while defeating the Enforcers and Electro. There’s also a series of panels simply devoted to Spider-Man calling Fisk fat in a multitude of ways that is simply far too funny to miss. Fisk runs off to some island resort to hide, while he lawyer fights the charges. Peter Parker however has other ideas in mind.
This is the moment that had my wife in complete shock while reading. In only issue #13 Peter Parker decides to tell Mary Jane Watson that he is Spider-Man. The entire scene of the two of them talking and Peter explaining his reasoning for telling her is just beautiful written. It’s sweet and so heartfelt and completely accurate to how two fifteen year old best friends would talk to each other. This includes MJ accidentally outing her crush on Peter, which leads to my favorite line to date in the UU: “Face it tiger, you just hit the jackpot.”
This ends the first two books of Ultimate Spider-Man, which are quite aptly named. For the first book Bendis was given both the power of starting an entirely new universe under the focus of Spider-Man, while he had a responsibility to bring us something new while not forsaking what had come in the original Marvel universe. For Learning Curve things finally started rolling along. We began to leave the Department of Exposition and move onto new and interesting stories. The Ultimate Universe started to step away from what had come before, and to move into its own secluded world.
I’m absolutely in love with what was done in these initial books and can’t wait to discuss the rest of what I’ve read in the UU with you all. I do ask that if you have read ahead if you can either avoid spoilers, or at least clearly mark them. While I personally have read a good distance into these comics, there are still plenty of others who might be reading for the first time.
Next week I promise to try to focus less on writing a synopsis and more on commenting and reviewing what I’ve read. This column is still a huge work in progress, so I appreciate any comments you all might have.
If you want to discuss comics or anything else in an extremely public setting, I can be reached on Twitter quite easily.