Comic Rant: Ultimate Spider-Man #131 & New Avengers #50

usm131Ultimate Spider-Man #131

Now this is how you make a comic book. To say nothing of the art, which is some of the most incredible contemporary pagework I’ve seen in years. Bendis and Immonen are on their A-Game here, people.

First, the plot: I know we’ve been over this already, but let’s do a quick recap: Magneto took Thor’s hammer and fucked over New York City with a big-ass tidal wave, killing half its residents (both civilian, and super). The wave took at least 1/4th of the Fantastic Four, half the X-Men, and plenty of the Ultimates (The Avengers of the Ultimate Universe) including Captain America.

Spider-Man’s involvement is clean-cut and simple: save as many people as he can. He leaves his girlfriend and close associates in the care of Kitty Pryde, former X-Man (and former girlfriend), unaware that his Aunt May has been arrested by the NYPD because, well… they figured out Peter Parker is Spider-Man.

This issue uncovers a few characters who have played heavily and sparingly in the rich tapestry of Ultimate Spider-Man’s world. Newspaper blowhard J. Jonah Jameson and his staff, including Co-Editor Robbie and ace-reporter Ben Urich, really and truly shine.

Female Spider-Clone Jessica Drew gets enough air-time to liberate Aunt May from the cops and reveal there’s more than one Peter Parker running around, even if one of them has two X-chromosomes.

Daredevil makes a two-panel appearance that I didn’t expect, and is handled with dignity and grace that made me actually feel something for the character.

The Hulk arrives, confused and wet, leaving Spider-Man with the dilemma of a rage-induced monster potentially destroying the remains of Manhattan. In a Goonies-esque method, Spidey manages to get the cooperation of the beast, if only for a few minutes. The issue concludes with the duo arriving at Doctor Strange’s Sanctum Sanctorum, a yellowcab jutting out of the mystic window which protects our world from the astral demon-infested planes therein.

There are two things going on in this issue. Three, actually. The first, is a story about what’s happening to Spider-Man, and what he has to endure to progress to the next level of his development as a character.

The second, is a collection of Spider-Man’s supporting cast and a break-down of their potential roles in the future of the series, or not. A two-panel moment of Urich leaving his girlfriend a voicemail in which he professes his love to her allows us to really understand Urich as a man, and we would be no poorer if we never see him in the series again.

The third thing going on, as hard as it may be for me to admit it, is the cementing of Spider-Man’s legacy. The rumor is that Peter Parker won’t be surviving this Ultimatum garbage. If this is the case, if the series is written and illustrated as brilliantly and tastefully as this single issue here, I’m willing to give it a chance. It’s certainly going to be a great jumping on (or off) point for readers, and I wouldn’t blame either camp for their actions.

The shining moment from the issue surprisingly comes from the mouth of President of the Anti-Spidey fan club Jameson, finally seeing the light in a safehouse in Dover, NJ (Represent!). Jameson recounts his last vision of Spider-Man, continuously leaping into danger (as seen through the window of his office, at the time under water) to protect people from it. He realizes just how petty he is, and professes his simultaneous admiration and personal shame he feels in seeing true heroism. The last we see of Jameson is him hunched over a small computer monitor, telling Spider-Man’s story. It’s incredibly poetic, the public detractor of Spider-Man, practically writing the man’s obituary.

This comic has death, hope, belief, love, utter bafflement, humor, and multiple two-page splash images depicting everything from quiet calms, to the shitstorms which erupt shortly thereafter.

Five out of five flags

New Avengers #50new-avengers-50

A milestone! New Avengers has finally reached issue #50 with Bendis and artist Gaydos. Actually, the book includes a number of artists, from Maleev to McNiven, depicting each member of the New Avengers and their inner thoughts on a battle they cannot hope to win.

This also enjoyed distinction because of its 48 page length. Thanks to the extra size, it finally reads like a regular size comic book. Bendis uses the extra pages to have much more angst and inter-character whining than ever before. Nothing makes superheroes look less super than sitting in a living room watching TV, and complaining about what’s on. Unless it goes on for more than seven pages. Then that makes superheroes look even less super.

It’s no secret that my interest in these New Avengers has been waning since the eruption of the Secret Invasion. But this issue delivers convention on every level, from character reactions to decisions made by integral members of the team. Peripheral characters like Spider-Man cement their sidekick status with non-contributory banter, offering no additional help in the major scrape they eventually need to bail on.

If this was a 48 page issue of the New Avengers coming up with new costume designs and playing Dungeons and Dragons, this would have been a thousand times better. I’m not saying this is the direction New Avengers needs to go in, but it does feel that way. The Conversationists! All these people do is put on ridiculous outfits and comment on shit they’re either going to do, have done, or don’t want to do. And I don’t normally buy comics for the fight scenes, but this fight scene was as unnecessary as the rest of the issue.

I’m not going to spend the rest of this review bitching about the issue, or I might as well toss my own name onto the NA roster. I’ll just conclude by saying I’m really, truly surprised by how Bendis can write such incredible genius with titles like Ultimate Spider-Man, or Alias, or Spider-Woman, but when it comes to this shlock, you’re lucky if you get anything substantive at all from him. It could be the fact that he has some incredibly unremarkable characters to work with. Maybe the fact that it’s technically a “flagship” book means that he has to take a lot more editorial mandates and “suggestions.” I’m not sure the culprit, but I’m done hanging around a comic hoping it’s going to “get good.”

New Avengers is a milestone, all right. I’ve collected every issue of New Avengers since it came out. I have issues 1-50, and I think this is a perfect time to jump ship.

One and a half flags. Some cool art sometimes.

~ by Crivelliman on February 26, 2009.

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