Ultimate Spider-Man, Vol 2: Learning Curve

Ultimate Spider-Man, Vol 2: Learning Curve

By Brian M. Bendis, Mark Bagley & Art Thibert (Marvel)
ISBN: 0-7851-0820-3

After Marvel’s problems of the mid 1990s, the company came back swinging, and one new concept was the remodelling and modernising of their core characters for the new youth culture. The ‘Ultimate’ imprint abandoned the monumental continuity that had been Marvel’s greatest asset and the company’s major characters were given a separate universe to play in and makeovers to appeal to a contemporary, 21st century audience.

Puberty is hard enough for anybody, but if you’re the high school science geek, every bully’s target of choice, suddenly the man-of-the-house and soon-to-be-breadwinner, life is horrible. Compound that with the suspicion that the Most Beautiful Girl in the World might have the hots for you – or might not – and that you’re a superhero driven by overwhelming guilt to risk your life fighting monsters and super-villains every chance you get, and what you have is the second collection of the other, newer Peter Parker: Spider-Man.

Highlights in this highly readable tome include Peter getting a job at the Daily Bugle, Aunt May’s attempt at the “Birds and Bees” talk with her hapless nephew, Mary Jane’s reaction to learning one of Peter’s secrets and of course the Die Hard-inspired assault on the overlord of crime’s skyscraper fortress as Spiderman tries to destroy the Kingpin of Crime.

The early incorporation of old Spidey foes such as The Enforcers and Kingpin into the new mythos was a canny move. Neither is as outlandish as many old villains and at the start establishing the hero as the most uncanny element was important. Even the inclusion of Electro was low key, and his costuming restrained. Using Crime rather than World Conquest kept the fantasy realism intact. But soon enough the baroque nature of superheroes will be straining at sensibilities and credibilities again…

This is a sharp, credible effort to make a teen icon relevant again and a funny, thrilling read for the old and jaundiced.

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