The Death of Spider-Man arc, as it happened in Ultimate Comics Spider-Man, is over now with this week’s unnecessarily polybagged issue #160 (I read it on the iPad). If you haven’t read it yet, you may want to stop now as this feature will be spoilerific. You can’t discuss the story, without discussing the story. Marvel announced this event in November and as with every major comic book event, the mainstream media has already reported on the outcome just as the final issue was released.
The big two (that’s Marvel and DC in case you aren’t in the know) have a long tradition of killing off characters only to bring them back sometime later usually with a big to do. Most recently Marvel did this with Captain America and DC most famously did it with Superman and with The Flash and Green Lantern. It would be interesting to see one of these companies take a tentpole character and truly kill him off, never to bring him back, but of course neither of the companies can really afford to do that.
Keep reading for a SPOILER-fill discussion…
Brian Michael Bendis is sort of taking a Green Lantern approach to killing off Spider-Man. He didn’t kill off the character. He instead took out the man behind the mask. We’ve known for some time that some new mysterious person would slip into an updated Spidey costume and pick up where Peter Parker left off. Bucky recently slipped into Cap’s tights for a while when Cap was dead.
Bendis is typically at his best with character development and dialogue. His action scenes are good too depending on the artist but he really seems the most comfortable with the dramatic stuff, which made him the perfect writer to tell the story of Peter Parker death. Bendis can be a problem at times with story padding. He’s stretched across several books so occasionally the middle of one story arc or another can feel padded and feature some slow storytelling (see Secret Invasion for a great example). That’s not the case with this Spider-Man arc. In fact, some aspects of the story felt a little rushed which ended up leaving me cold.
If you’re going to kill off such an important character in the Marvel Universe, and well in pop culture generally, that death should be dramatic, weighty, and important. In this story, Spider-Man faced villains he’s beaten many times before and his death happened in a few scant tiny panels in Ultimate Comics Spider-Man #160. That usual Bendis drama just wasn’t as present as it usually is. The lead up to this finality featured some really strong moments though. Aunt May with the gun for example and Peter, weakened by the gunshot wound, taking out the Vulture and asking whose next is another solid moment. Issue #160 felt so clumsy that it highlighted the weakness of the overall story. Spidey has been shot at numerous times. What happened this time that his Spider sense didn’t save him? Sure the Punisher is a great shot, but so are some of web head’s enemies. The shot just didn’t seem to matter.
At one point in issue #160 Parker is able to revive the Human Torch. This moment features one great, “Oh yeah Spider-Man is still an untrained dumb teenager” and is followed by a weak almost Smallville moment. He realizes too late that he has revived a fire-based hero to take on a villain that thrives on fire, a teenage blunder that really works well with the character. In the next moment, the Torch is suddenly knocked unconscious again. He was awake only long enough to up the power of the Goblin then its nighty night. Constantly in Smallville a character was brought in as a plot tool and then was knocked out just before they could learn the true identity of Superman/the Blur. It sucked on that show and it sucked in this comic book.
Peter Parker/Spider-Man was my favorite character/hero in comics when I was growing up and it was J. Michael Straczynski’s iconic run on the book that not only returned it to greatness, but also brought me back to comics after being so jaded from the near-destruction of the industry in the ’90s. Marvel crushed me when they undid all that Straczynski did with “One More Day,” but I found solace in the recent Ultimate stories told by Brian Michael Bendis and the good ol’ Spidey Bendis brought to the New Avengers.
While the Ultimate Spidey wasn’t the older more easy to relate to Spidey of Straczynski’s stories, it was still a reminder of the classic Spider-Man that I grew up with only told with more modern and complex sensibilities. With that said I’m all for an earth-shattering death in the Ultimate Universe to see who takes on the role of the webslinger and what sorts of stories might come from this reinvention. That’s what the Ultimate U is all about. Still, if you’re going to do it, make it matter, make it have impact, and make it something we’ll remember.
The little Norman Osborne smirk at the end of the book was amusing, but not iconic in any way. It’s definitely possible that Peter might not even be dead at the end of this book, but my feeling is that he is and that’s how Bendis chose to let him go out. There is a one-shot aftermath book coming, but that feels like Superman’s A Funeral for a Friend type of follow-up. Say what you will about Death of Superman, and there are tons to complain about, but when he finally did die, the drama was epic and the final image was truly iconic. While there are some amazing moments in this Spider-Man story arc, it feels rushed overall and lacks the depth required for such an important event. There’s a reboot of the Ultimate Universe coming and it feels like Bendis was tasked with giving Spider-Man the biggest of the reboots to get some press for the new start. If those were the goals, then the story was successful because Peter Parker’s death has been all over the news and complaints aside I am still looking forward to seeing who slips on the webshooters and attempts to fill Peter Parker’s boots.
If this hadn’t been a death of story, just a short story arc in the Ultimate Comics Spider-Man series, I’d be telling you that it was entertaining and while there’s not much complexity to it Bendis still nails Spider-Man as a character. Had issue #160 been less clumsy and more dramatic, I’d still be telling you it was a great end to Peter Parker but as it stands I feel like Pete and us fans all got a little short changed.