Ultimate Spider-Man, Vol 1: Power and Responsibility

Ultimate Spider-Man, Vol 1: Power and Responsibility

By Brian M. Bendis, Bill Jemas, Mark Bagley, Art Thibert & Dan Panosian (Marvel)
ISBN: 0-7851-0786-X

After Marvel’s bankruptcy problems of the mid 1990s the creative fraction of the company came back swinging, and one of the most successful concepts was the brutal remodelling and modernising of their core characters for the Hip and Now ‘Ultimate’ imprint. Eschewing the hide-bound continuity that had originally taken Marvel to the top of the comicbook heap, the company’s major characters were given complete makeovers, a new universe to play in and were carefully re-crafted to appeal to a young, contemporary, 21st century audience.

Peter Parker was once again a nerdy high-school geek, brilliant but bullied by his physical superiors, there was a much more scientifically feasible rationale for the spider bite that gave him super-powers, and his Uncle Ben still died because of his lack of responsibility. The Daily Bugle is still there as is the outrageous J Jonah Jameson. But now in a more cynical, litigious world, well-used to cover-ups and conspiracy theories, arch foe Norman Osborn – a corrupt and ruthless billionaire businessman – is behind everything.

Any pretence to the faux realism of traditional superhero fare is surrendered to a kind of tried-and-tested TV soap-opera melodrama that links all characters together in invisible threads of karmic coincidence, but, to be honest, it actually doesn’t hurt the narrative. As long as internal logic isn’t contravened, it doesn’t have to make sense to be entertaining.

By reworking key moments of Stan Lee and Steve Ditko’s Spider-Man, the creators have captured the core value of the original and cast in it terms that modern youngsters can readily assimilate. The Ultimate Peter Parker speaks to the new young reader in the same way the 1960s incarnation spoke to my generation.

The storyline is very close to what movie-goers saw in the first Spider-Man movie, which is no coincidence and a big bonus if watching the film turned viewers into comic collectors. The art is frenetic and vivid, Brian Michael Bendis’ dialogue as fresh as anything on television and the pace is non-stop. If you need to recapture or recreate an audience, this is a very positive way to do it.

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