Death of Spider-Man… Ultimate, that is

I know you’ve heard it a thousand times before but, aside from Uncle Ben and Thomas and Martha Wayne, no one really dies in comics.  Unless of course, you die in Marvel’s Ultimate Universe.  If you’ve read the amazing stories published under the Ultimate Banner in the last 12 years, you’ll know that anybody can die, any time.  I never want to reveal plot points in comics, so just check out the Ultimatum story line if you don’t believe me.  Anyway, in the Ultimate U, Peter Parker has always been a teenager, never married MJ, and his arc has been an amazing one.  These final issues of Peter Parker’s life are best experienced if you’ve read at least the previous three books that comprise the post-Ultimatum Spidey, or better still, Brian Michael Bendis’ complete 160 issue run on Ultimate Spider-Man.  Seriously… take the time and enjoy the ride.  There is also a great volume called Death of Spider-Man: Fallout, which looks at how Peter’s death affects the other super heroes and mutants of the Marvel U and, most particularly, Aunt May and Mary Jane. 

I know it’s no big challenge to sing the praises of a Spider-Man storyline, but this Ultimate incarnation was a much more innocent and often painfully self-sacrificing version of the iconic character.  If you’ve never read Ultimate Spider-Man, seriously, start at the top.  Start at the top, knowing – sadly – there will truly be an end.

Ultimate X: Origins

I’ve talked about Marvel’s Ultimate Universe before, and while a couple of the latest entries in the UU have not been earth shattering, Jeph Loeb and Arthur Adams’ newest book is a great one.  Ultimate Comics: X Origins is a well crafted look at the place of the mutant population after the decimation of the X-Men in the Ultimatum saga.  This collection contains the five issues of this intro series, and each issue focuses on a different character – some new, some old, and one or two surprises thrown in for good measure.  I’ve had a real love/hate thing going on with Jeph Loeb of late, as I was crazy about his Batman work and Marvel’s “color” books with Tim Sale, but I had some problems with his take on Ultimates 3.  Basically, the UU has been handled best by Bendis and Millar (in my opinion), and Loeb had yet to find his stride.  Happily, for me anyway, X: Origins is a great run, setting up what I hope will be an exciting evolution of the X-Men in Ultimate Comics: X-Men, which just got rolling this fall.  I think being familiar with the progress of the UU will make reading “Origins” a more interesting experience, and if you’re not up to speed… what are you waiting for?!

The Death of Spider-Man (2.0)

Okay, I’ve read every issue of Marvel’s “Ultimate” line of comics over the past 11 years, and it never gets old, for me.  The reinvention of beloved characters, coupled with the truly new elements added to the mix, makes for a pretty wild ride.  The ride of the moment is the Death of Spider-Man arc, marshalled – as always – by the legendary Brian Michael Bendis.  In this major, Ultimate line crossover, Spidey’s exploits in and around the city – and the havoc that consistently ensues – have mounted to a staggering monetary sum in the eyes of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Carol Danvers, so our Mr. Parker is finally called up to the big time, and is about to be trained by The Ultimates.  In Spider-Man lingo, he’s about to get a lot more responsibility for all that power.

This arc may be laying the seeds of destruction for the Ultimate version of Spider-Man – which may be more bittersweet than were the classic Spidey to die, as classic Spidey has grown into an adult and had a rather full life while Ultimate Spidey is still in high school – but we would be wise not to doubt that this death could be for real (comically speaking).  In the Ultimatum event, certain seemingly untouchable characters died – Magneto, Professor X and Wolverine, just as a crazy sampling – so this could certainly be for real, and it’ll be fascinating to see how that changes the entire Ultimate Comics Line.  Whatever the outcome, I can guarantee it will be worth the ride.

Siege finale

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Brian Michael Bendis is the best writer in comics.  Yes, there are a dozen fundamentally great writers who can tell amazing stories and create or reinvent characters in ways no one else could ever dream of, but Bendis has the ability to always, always, blend the perfect amount of action, drama, humor, and tragedy into his work.  He also seems to be able to be true in spirit and deed to every character he writes.  Many writers get very good a writing one character, but when they bring another one in to “guest star” in a book, they don’t get the heart of that character right.  Bendis always gets it right, so I can’t recommened the final chapter of the Siege saga – Siege: New Avengers – any more highly.  This trade is the finest coda to any comic story I’ve ever read.  If you haven’t read any of the Siege books, read the flagship Siege first, then read a few if not all of the other tie-in books, but leave this one for last.  If Marvel Comics decided to shut its doors and never publish another story again, this collection could be it’s last statement to the world.

Yes, Siege finished up last year and, yes, the Marvel U. is already moving well into their next arc entitled Fear Itself, but if you simply want to read a great story, check out Siege, and marvel – no pun intended – at the brilliance of Brian Michael Bendis.

The Ultimate origin of Thor

You may have heard me extol the virtues of Marvel’s “Ultimate” line of comics before – a brilliant offshoot of the recognized continuum where characters such as Spider-Man, The Fantastic Four, and The X-Men had their stories retold in a more modern setting, free from decades of back-story confusion.  This project, which began in 2000, culminated in the Ultimatum story line in 2009, and Marvel then – the whole effort Ultimate Comics.  There are a few continuing story lines to this imprint, but the really interesting books – to me – are the four and five issue miniseries they publish that focuses on one character or relationship within the Ultimate Universe.

Case in point, Ultimate Comics Thor.  The Ultimate version of our favorite Norse-man is nothing like the traditionally confident and all-powerful Thor with his human host, nor is he like the version in Kenneth Branagh’s upcoming film.  This is a Thor that has been considered mentally unstable, has doubted his allegiances, and seems to me a little more inclined to still believe his deceptive half-brother Loki.  But the best part of this story by Jonathan Hickman and Carlos Pacheco is the way Thor’s origin as an Earthly presence is told – not his origin as a god and son of Odin, but his origin as a character in the Marvel Universe, away and apart from Asgard.  This is a great story, sadly short at only four issues, but a worthy addition to the continuing epic that is Ultimate Comics.

The dark elegance of Alex Maleev

If you’ve been reading comics for a while, you’ll know that some artists are very good are large-scale actions scenes but not as adept at smaller scale emotional scenes.  Some artists favor a more “comic” or almost cartoony style, some strive for a strong sense of realism, and some are as abstract as you can get while still being able to just recognize the characters at hand.

Then there are people like Alex Maleev.  You probably know this artist best by the 50 issues of Daredevil he drew while working with Brian Michael Bendis (the best writer currently in the business).  His work is dark and brittle, incredibly atmospheric, and truly cinematic;he does everything well.  There is movement and life and tension in his art that you will not find in any other artist at work, today.  The new title of Spider-Woman: Agent of S.W.O.R.D., featuring my own personal dream-team of Bendis and Maleev, is another amazing example of Bendis’ ability to craft a story and explore a character, and Maleev’s ability to bring stunning depth and intrigue to two-dimensional art.  I included a page from the new Spider-Woman volume instead of the cover (which is just as stunning), because I wanted to give you a sense of what he can do with a simple scene.

The new Spider-Woman series is certainly worth checking out, but I always want to bring attention to Maleev’s work, and this seemed the perfect time.  He and Bendis are also working on a new, yet-to-be-published, creator owned series called Scarlet, and you can be sure I’ll be back to talk about that one when it hits the shelves.

Long live the Wizard of Oz

For those of you who love the Wizard of Oz – the books, not just the movie – you’ll know that a comic version of Oz makes both complete sense and is long overdue.  Eric Shanower’s retelling of Baum’s classic tale is very true to the original, but certainly plays up the clearly fantastic elements of the tale, providing much more detail than the film.

The real star of the show, however, is the artwork of Skottie Young.  His Emerald City is both gorgeous and strangely foreboding; his Tin Man more stately and honorable than silly and clunky; the Wicked Witch looks truly wicked – as do her famed flying monkeys; and his Cowardly Lion is just perfection.  With an enormous frame, billowing mane, and small, delicate eyes in the center of his face, it is the best realization of both the fearful and regal sides of the lion I’ve ever seen.

Marvel will be continuing on with the tales of Oz, and it’s a ride I suggest you take.  Great stories are worth revisiting again and again, and the legends of Oz will never die.

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