Thursday, July 21, 2011

Ultimate Spiderman

In my final (for the time being) Spider-man related post, I finished last night reading the last two (so far) collected Ultimate Spidermans. These two are called, respectively, The World According to Peter Parker and Chameleon. It's a little odd to me, knowing as we do now, that when these were written, the whole "Death of Spiderman" angle was probably already in the planning stages, and that in many ways, this leads up to it.

These are actually the collections of the post-Ultimatum comics, so the Ultimate U is a bit different. There's a 6-month gap where some unexplained stuff apparently happens, but mostly it's just an excuse for a bit of a relaunch. Here's the stuff that is atypical for what you expect from Spiderman comics:

1) Spiderman is recognized as a hero. During Ultimatum, J. Jonah has a change of heart and lauds Spiderman as a hero, and throughout these books, Spiderman gets friendly waves and kudos from the cops, girls ask him for his autograph and accidentally let slip that they think he's hot, etc.

2) The number of people who know that Peter Parker is Spiderman seems to be going through the roof. Aunt May knows. Gwen and MJ know. Other teenaged superheroes know. The principle of the school seems to figure it out, although he later retracts his suspicions and says that he doesn't care anyway. Heck, at the end of this arc, even JJJ figures it out!

3) Aunt May's house has become a halfway house for teenaged superheroes with no place to go. Although she's not a superhero herself, the cloned Gwen Stacy moves in first. Johnny Storm (the Human Torch) moves in. After not being able to crash at neighbor Kitty Pryde (Shadowcat)'s place, Bobby Drake (Iceman) moves in. Rick Jones, who's the Watcher's Chosen One, lives across the street or next door or something, and the three live-in superhero boys all go help him figure stuff out. Johnny Storm falls madly in love with Jessica Drew, who in this version is a clone of Peter Parker himself, which naturally kinda creeps Peter out a bit. Aunt May really thrives in this environment; instead of being the kinda insular and saddish elderly woman she was earlier in the series, she's now a vibrant, happy, nurturing mother figure to a whole gaggle of teenagers; good kids trying to do the right thing in a crazy world where they have super powers.

4) Although Peter's persecution complex is an important part of the mythos of Spiderman, writer Brian Michael Bendis did something rather clever when he subtley hinted at the fact that just because teenagers feel that way doesn't really make it true. Spiderman himself is going through a phase of public adulation. Parker's got lots of great friends who really admire and look up to him. Maybe it's because his book, but he's kinda the ringleader of a group of four superheroes and their three or so "normal" best friends who seem to spend almost every moment (when not fighting their respective villains, and even then sometimes) together. Heck, three hot chicks are constantly stumbling over each other in their attempts to throw themselves at Parker's feet. Yeah, he still has to deal with protecting his secret identity, finding excuses to run out of class and fight supervillains, and deal with a minimum wage job at a fast food joint in the mall food court. But all in all, Peter Parker actually has a great life. Just in time for the lead-in to... The Death of Spiderman of course. Coincidental? I doubt it.

The art by LaFuente is interesting. I prefer Bagley's work, which graced well over 100 issues of the series already, but LaFuente's kinda cartoonish approach actually works quite well for what is a quite light-hearted teen drama kind of thing. It reminds me vaguely of the Teen Titans cartoon from a few years ago, both in terms of tone and look--but of course, I like these characters better, and I think they're also better written. Quite frankly, the snappy, witty, and often hilarious dialogue and the all too believable teen drama is more interesting here than the battles with supervillains, in many cases--although since one of the supervillains in question is the Chameleon (here a brother/sister team) who kidnap Peter and take his place, robbing stuff as Spiderman, etc. until stopped by Spidey's superhero pals Human Torch and Iceman--that creates a bunch of drama too. Is this a good magazine to read? Of course, it depends on how much you like teenage soap opera with superheroes for characters, instead of action and science fiction yahoo, but personally I found it made the characters seem very real and very likeable, and I'm going to miss the Parker household subbing as a kind of suburban mini Avenger's mansion when it inevitably comes to an end.

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