Thursday, June 23, 2011

Ultimate Spider-Man #160 - The Ultimate Death Knell

Here we go again. I'm reviewing another Ultimate book. I know I've already brained my damage after reviewing books like Ultimate X #4. I still haven't gotten over how any comic book could be so horribly fucked up that any just and loving deity would allow it to be created. Ultimate comics has scarred my brain more than all the cocaine, pot, LSD, DMT, shrooms, PCP, and prescription pain pill in South America. For Ultimate X I had to have a blood alcohol level no lower than .20 to get through it. For this, however, I will stay sober. This isn't Ultimate X. This is Ultimate Spider-Man, one of the few Ultimate books that was still worth a damn after Ultimatum.

Now in case you're more brain damaged than Forest Gump after inhaling paint fumes, you've seen that Marvel recently got in bed with the mass media lately. Before the new comics for this week even came out, the media spoiled the ending of Ultimate Spider-Man #160. Why was this more newsworthy than Iraq, Afghanistan, the shitty economy, or Lady Gaga's latest dress? Because Spider-Man died in it. No, he didn't quit. He didn't retire. He didn't vow to never put the people he cared about in danger again. He fucking died. In most other circumstances, that would be shocking. In Ultimate Marvel where people die all the time by getting eaten, decapitated, or having their brains blown out with a fucking bullet this sounds about as shocking as finding out Snookie has herpes. Marvel decided to make a big deal of this, even though Ultimate is an AU. 616 Spider-Man is still spinning webs. Granted, he made a fucking deal with the devil to do it, but he's still out there.

With all the mass hysteria surrounding Ultimate Spider-Man #160, I felt compelled to offer my take. I knew every major comic outlet and reviewer would praise this book as if it was written on the tomb of Jesus Christ with the menstrual blood of the Virgin Mary. It's easy to praise something that is so overhyped. It's even easier to overlook the flaws in the background that leads up to this overhyped story because seriously, who has the time to catch up with over a decade of backstory? God only made the days 24 hours and the weeks seven days long. We got shit to do so for all those looking for an alternative take on this media frenzied bullshit, here's a take from a drunken comic book fan who followed Ultimate from the very beginning and used to love it unconditionally. I already made it clear in my Ultimate X review that I'm a jaded drunk after Ultimatum. But that book was shit. This is Brian Michael Bendis. He's got more credibility than pretty much any comic writer. So while I may sound harsh, I'll still make an effort to be fair and honest. And no, that's not the booze talking.

Ultimate Spider-Man #160 follows up on an arc that has been based around the premise that all of Spider-Man's old enemies thought their lives would be much better if they just killed Spider-Man. So they banned together with the help of Norman Osborn, hunted down Peter Parker (because his identity in Ultimate is so poorly kept that his face is more recognizable than Britney Spears's pussy) and fought him. It's about as interesting as it sounds. It's not new. It's not novel. Somewhere along the way Spider-Man crossed paths with the Ultimates and got shot. Then he finds out his neighborhood is under siege and he goes after them, bullet wound and all. It's not completely without heart, unlike a bullshit story like Ultimatum. Bendis does make it more personal by highlighting the effects felt by Peter's loved ones. When Mary Jane realizes that something done gone horribly wrong in the fucked up world of Spider-Man, she does what any rational comic book character does and runs right into the shit storm. Yet somehow her mother lets her. Okay, so the standards for parenting in Ultimate are lower than Arnold Schwarzenegger's credibility on marriage fidelity. But that's besides the point.

While Mary Jane is lying to her mom, Peter is busy trying to prevent a fully goblinized Norman Osborn from using Gwen Stacy and his Aunt May as marshmellows in a human smoore. Keep in mind he's doing this after having been shot. This isn't adult Peter Parker. He's still a teenager, 16 to be precise. At that age most buys are bitching and moaning when they get a pimple on their face. This kid got fucking shot and he can still save his loved ones. So no one can say that Ultimate Peter Parker isn't a tough motherfucker.

One caveat though is he's still without his mask. Ultimate Spider-Man isn't known for his tactfulness. Usually even semi-competent super-heroes know that it's a good idea to keep your face covered so no one makes a youtube video about you when you're getting your ass kicked. Then again, he's been shot. Worrying about a mask with a bullet in your gut sounds like someone has fucked up priorities.

After he gets Gwen and May away, he says in some somewhat obscene ways that they need to stay back. He even authorizes Gwen to knock her out if she has to. It sounds like the Tony Soprano way of doing things, but when a green monster is attacking you manners are the second thing to go after the contents of your rectum. Once they're out of the way, Spider-Man lays into Gobby the same way I lay into a bottle of imported whiskey. To this point Osborne has been pretty flashy, flaunting all his firepower against everyone Peter cares about. So it's nice to see him get laid out like Ivan Drago in Rocky IV. He's hit so hard that he doesn't even get a chance to say "I will break you!"

With Gobby down for the count, Spider-Man goes for some much needed backup. Both Johnny Storm (he's not dead in Ultimate) and Bobby Drake are still there, but apparently they're a couple of whiney little bitches because they got knocked out. Spidey's still going and he has a fucking bullet wound. What's that say about those two aside from their laughable scrodal capacity? He manages to get Johnny burning again. He flames on and attacks the Green Goblin. It's like fighting fire with gasoline. The Human Torch has fire powers. Ultimate Green Goblin has fire powers. It can only mean something is bound to explode.

Once again, the Human Torch proves he doesn't even have a twentith of the balls that Spider-Man has. The resulting fireball doesn't exactly stun Green Goblin. It essentially supercharges him like Barry Bonds without the bulging head. Johnny Storm gets taken out of the fight again, forcing Spider-Man to once again bring Osborn down a peg. This time he does it with a mailbox instead of his fists. This means I can't make another Rocky reference, but I'm pretty sure Ivan Drago would be just as pissed. Peter takes it a step further, cooling him down with a fire hydrant that always seems so convenient in comics. The only thing they seem to be good for in the real world is getting yourself a parking ticket. So it's nice to see them being put to better use in comics.

The Green Goblin remains pretty damn peksy. Even while cooled down, he keeps going after Peter. It's mostly spectacle. Anyone who read the previous issues will miss seeing Osborn with a bit more personality. Bendis is usually good at mixing the Michael Bay style action with David Fincher style dialog. I get that this fight is supposed to feel epic. It would help if there was some more of those classic witty exchanges that Bendis has demonstrated time and again in most of his comics. Instead he's just relying on action. Unless you're stoned, it's not going to wow readers as much as previous battles.

However, you don't need to be stoned to enjoy the next part. Just as the fight is starting to drag, Mary Jane enters the picture and proves that she's more than eye-candy in Marvel. She proves to be a much more capable girlfriend than 616 Mary Jane, who was okay with making deals with Mephisto. She actually hijacks a truck and crashes it into the Green Goblin. This girl is still jailbait in Ultimate and she shows more balls than Human Torch or Iceman. I don't want to make any more comments about what that implies towards their manhood, but it's refreshing to see Mary Jane doing more than just screaming or giving readers something to jerk off to. She drove a fucking truck into a monster for her boyfriend. That's love there!

Fittingly enough, Peter and Mary Jane have a nice moment while Green Goblin is getting frisky with a truck radiator. It's not too long. It's not too emotional. They just kiss and that's about it. It's sweet and all, but then Peter has to go and do what may be one of the most unromantic things he could do short of farting in her face. He takes Mary Jane and throws her away from the scene, using his webs to create a soft landing. He doesn't ask her nicely. He doesn't urge her. He just throws her. It sounds like a dick move, but then again he may have been trying to spare himself from her nagging about fighting a monster after having been shot. In that sense, I can't blame him.

Having copped a nice feel with his girlfriend, Spider-Man turns his attention back towards the Green Goblin. By now he's had enough of his bullshit. He's ready to end his ass in a way he more than deserves. It's a nice time for Osborn to finally show a little personality. He goes on about how he'll torment everyone he cares about. He drones how Peter's going to suffer. It's nothing he hasn't said before. In fact, Bendis could have probbaly copied and pasted some of previous lines from other Ultimate Spider-Man stories and it would have said the exact same thing. Again, Spider-Man takes it like a man. He points out how Osborn's obsession with making him miserable won't undo all the bullshit he's done to himself. It won't bring back his son and it won't make him a respected money-grubbing billionaire (even if that is an oxymoron). He doesn't seem to give a damn. He just wants to kill Peter Parker. So maybe it's not that much personality after all.

Whatever the case, Spider-Man has run out of fucks to give and he (presumably) finishes off the Green Goblin by lifting the truck Mary Jane just stole and crushing him with it. I will repeat that for any of you ADHD folks. Spider-Man lifted a big ass truck and crushed the Green Goblin with it. It's every bit as badass as it sounds. He didn't need to make a fucking deal with Mephisto. He didn't need to be an adult either. He just had to be the Ultimate Peter Parker we all know and love. That's what makes the next scene such a letdown because as badass as that stunt is, there's a drawback. Big ass trucks contain metal and gas. According to comic book physics, that means that if you look at it cross-eyed that shit will explode. Peter being a science geek should probably know that so it's not too surprising when it blows up in his face.

Now this wouldn't be a problem if the title of this story wasn't "Death of Spider-Man." The death of Spider-Man implies that he's giving his life to save the world. This really doesn't seem to fit. He fights the Green Goblin, but not to the point where he has to die and take Gobby with him. He makes crazy move that just blows up in his face...literally. He didn't have to do it. Goblin himself didn't kill him. It was just him forgetting that when you do that sort of shit to a truck, it tends to explode. That or Goblin ignited it, but that isn't clear. For all we know, Peter just fucked up at the end of a fight and it killed him.

And no, that's not a metaphor. This really does kill him. After getting blown back by the explosion, he's basically down for the count in and doesn't pull a Rocky Balboa. Keep in mind he's still got a bullet wound. That sort of shit adds up. It's now at the point where he's just lying on the grass, dying while his loved ones hover over him. Other people in his neighborhood show up as well, but they don't say shit. You would think a fight between Spider-Man and a big fucking goblin would be a converstaion starter. They don't even take pictures with their phones. In this day and age that's pretty outrageous.

So in what's supposed to be a touching moment, Peter says goodbye to his Aunt May and everyone he loves. He managed to save them. Granted, he may have overdone it by triggering a big ass explosion that he couldn't avoid, but he did save them. Bendis claimed he had tears in his eyes while writing this. I was yawning at this point. Death in Ultimate Marvel has become such a joke that even a big name like Spider-Man dying is about as exciting as watching a dog lick his ass. At least Bendis put some real heart into it. That's something that isn't always shown with major deaths so I applaud him for going the extra distance.

And so Peter Parker dies. I know the Associated Press reported that shit before this book was even out. But it's worth stating again for the sake of the review. It goes over about as well as you would expect. Everyone starts crying. Everyone's sad and upset. Between the title and the media, it's not too surprising. It just signals the end of something that for 160 issues has been one of the best Spider-Man sagas ever created. It's an inglorious way to end it. There aren't any other stories that could get people this worked up so they kill Peter Parker. I won't say that's fucked up logic, but it is pretty damn lazy.

Ultimate was supposed to be a fresh take on Marvel's iconic characters. Now it's a graveyard/playground for writers to live out their perverse fantasies of killing their favorite characters. I've said this shit before and I'll keep saying it until the booze kills all my brain cells. Just because Marvel CAN do a story like this doesn't mean they SHOULD. There's a reason why they don't do stories like this in 616. It's not that they can't. Marvel owns the rights to Spider-Man. They could make him gay and have him bone Richard Simons if they wanted. There's nothing stopping them aside from common sense. The reason they don't is because it's a dumn idea. Just as killing 616 Spider-Man would be done, killing Ultimate Spider-Man is just as dumb. It's the kind of shitty gimmick that you see in What If comics or bad fanfiction. Well I write bad fanfiction and prefer this kind of bullshit be left to fanboys like me with drinking problems and too much free time.

And so Spider-Man is dead. Well, not really. ULTIMATE Spider-Man is dead. That's an important distinction to make. As heartfelt it may be, the fact that it happens in a world like Ultimate Marvel is a big fucking problem. I wanted to feel something here. I really did. Contrary to what my excessive drinking may imply, I do get emotional about comics. And I still have a soft spot for Ultimate. It was once my favorite Marvel outlet. I looked forward to it every week. Ultimatum killed my love for it faster than an adamantium needle laced with cobra venom. But Ultimate Spider-Man was the only title that maintained it's awesome aura. Granted, it was the only book that really didn't lose much, but Brian Bendis kept it interesting. I found it a lot harder to be passionate about after Ultimatum, but I still enjoyed it within a context. So when only three years after butchering the Ultimate universe, this story basically does a way with it's most iconic character then that's pretty fucked up.

Here's the problem with Death of Spider-Man. It's taking place in a world where reckless death is so routine that it's a fucking joke. Spider-Man died in a battle with the Green Goblin with some help of an exploding truck. It sounds pretty intense, but when you take into account that in Ultimate characters have died in so many grotesque ways it just seems bland. Bendis tried to put emotion into the story. He might as well have been trying clean up the oceans by pissing in them. There's just no emotion in a series that was already fucked in a billion different ways after Ultimatum. Killing Spider-Man is just like stepping on another ant. Marvel knows they can get away with it because they have 616 Spider-Man to fall back on. By having this fallback, they have an excuse to be reckless. I'm sorry, but that's a fucking lousy excuse if ever there was one. That's like saying it's okay to break someone's leg because they have spare crutches in the trunk of their car. This was Bendis's baby. Ultimate Spider-Man put him in the upper echelons of the comic pantheon. So when he decides to kill his character, it does carry some weight. But the context in which he does it lacks any real impact. It comes off as if he just wanted another spectacle, which was the main premise of Ultimatum. It was a big ass spectacle, but big ass spectacles aren't always good. They're like a bong hit with some dirt weed from Arizona. The buzz lasts mere seconds and then you feel like shit again.

That's not to say that Ultimate Spider-Man #160 wasn't a good comic. I'll say outright that it was a billion times better than Ultimate X or any Ultimate book within the last three years. Bendis took his time, showing the emotions of characters like Mary Jane, May, and Gwen. He showed Peter Parker at his finest, kicking Norman Osborn's ass and doing it with an attitude. It's a great moment, but it's not too different from his previous fights with the Green Goblin. The only difference here is that he dies in the end. It's a big difference, but once again the fact that it happens in Ultimate really makes it hard to feel anything more than half-hearted bemusement. So Ultimate Peter Parker is dead. He died fighting. That's fine. It's not awesome or great. Just fine in the sense that it did so without making readers want to throw up.

I don't feel the same outrage with Death of Spider-Man that I did with Ultimatum. For one, only one major character really died and the death was done fairly tastefully. But given how asinine Ultimate has become, it's hard to really feel anything for this story. I can't be outraged anymore because Ultimatum and Ultimate X have fried the wiring in my brain that allows me to give too much of a damn about these books. I'm glad Bendis was able to tell a story that essentially completed what he started in 2000. However, I'm disappointed in him for continuing with a new Ultimate Spider-Man, thinking he can replace Peter Parker. Did he not read the original Clone Saga? He should be smart enough to know that you can't replace Peter Parker with anybody. Even someone with his talent can't make everybody forget that Peter Parker is Spider-Man and that's it. Just as Superman is Clark Kent, you can't twist it any other way. So I have no confidence at all in the new Ultimate Spider-Man.

That said, Ultimate Spider-Man #160 is a nice ending. If only it ended every Ultimate book because the series went out of style when George W. Bush left office. I can only give it a 2 out of 5. It has good writing and good art, but it's bland. It pretends it has the importance of 616 when it doesn't. Ultimate died years ago when Marvel allowed Ultimatum. This just feels like it finished what that bullshit story started, albeit more tastefully. For that, it's not awesome. It's not even really good. It's just another gimmick. If that doesn't bother you, I'm sure you'll enjoy this even if you didn't like Ultimatum. But once the gimmick wears off, it'll be hard to give a halfway decent fuck about anything with Ultimate in the title anymore. Nuff said!


  1. You said it best: "It's taking place in a world where reckless death is so routine that it's a fucking joke."

    We're supposed to be moved over a heroic death, right? I think it would have been an emotional scene if the Grim Reaper wasn't notoriously working overtime in the Ultimate universe. I wonder if this is Marvel's way of pushing this Spider-Man title out of the way so they can put more focus on 616 Spider-Man?

  2. Ah yes, the Grim Reaper. Quite possibly the most sympathetic character of the entire Ultimate universe. He's like an overworked, underpaid temp with a shitty boss. He's the only one that deserves any kind of respect in Ultimate. The sad part is I believe that Marvel and the writers genuinely think that this is a good idea. They really believe this will work out for the best. The problem is they're in a position of arrogance, one where they are so concerned about what they can do that they never stop and think about what they should do. Gimmicks may increase sales in the short term. But in the long run, they'll find that many fans don't have much tolerance for bullshit like Ultimate.