Sunday, March 17, 2013

Modern Silver: Ultimate Spiderman #1-2

Marvel came out with the Ultimates series around 2000.  The idea was to create new series about their most popular characters, without requiring the reader to know all the continuity jazz that clutters up the regular comics.  Kind of like what DC did last year with the reboot of the entire universe.

Obviously in one sense these are startlingly modern comics.  People call each other on cellphones and the slang appears (granted, I am not up on teen trends even 13 years ago) more relevant.  Uncle Ben is an aging dude with a ponytail who reminisces at one point about his experiences in a commune.  It's kind of odd, but it makes sense; if the guy is roughly 55 in 2000, then he could easily have been a hippie in the late 1960s. 

And the comics are largely interested in establishing the current continuity.  Peter always knew Mary Jane, she was his boyhood crush, Norman Osborne is a billionaire biochemist at whose plant Peter is bit by the spider, etc.  Indeed, if we look at these comics and the first Spiderman movie featuring Tobey Maguire a couple of years later, it looks like Sam Raimi borrowed more from USM than from ASM.

But at the same time, these are basically Silver Age comics in that they re-imagine those early stories in an updated fashion.  The opening sequence (as in Lee & Ditko's intro years ago) shows us that Peter Parker is a much put-upon young lad:

But despite much more hazing, we also see that Peter isn't a tattletale.  He suffers the slings and arrows and french fries of outrageous fortune stoically.

As is typical of modern comics, the story takes much longer to develop.  In Amazing Fantasy #15, Peter gets bitten, discovers his new powers, becomes a wrestler, fails to stop the crook, discovers Uncle Ben's death and catches the Burglar all in a startlingly compact 11 pages.  This first issue has 42 pages of story and art and we only get to the point where Peter is starting to understand the transformation that has hit him.

And yet, it does not seem padded.  Part of that is because there is a fair amount of groundwork being laid for future stories. We see that Norman Osborne is aware that Peter was bitten by the spider.  Initially, it appears that Peter will eventually die from the bite, and so Norman orders him killed. (Not terribly likely, by the way; what billionaire would care if a teen's guardians sued him for a million or so?)  But when Peter displays his extraordinary talents in avoiding getting run down by a car, Osborne calls off the hitman.  It is obvious that he is going to pay close attention to Mr Parker.  We also learn that Otto Octavius (aka Doc Ock) is one of Osborne's employees.

And some events are shifted around in time.  For example, Peter's big fight with Flash Thompson, which didn't come until ASM #8, is a highlight of the second issue:
One oddball note: In this series, Mary Jane is not the airhead party girl that we knew and loved in the 1960s.  Instead, she's Brainy Janey.  Initially this bothered me, but it does make more sense. Would Peter really settle down with a gal who was so obviously his intellectual inferior?  Granted, she was gorgeous, but at some point you have to talk to each other, and Peter would not find her vapid responses terribly satisfying.

Overall, I very much enjoyed these first two issues and intend on reading more, although I doubt I will continue to post on them.


Comicsfan said...

The entire USM series is really a feather in Marvel's cap--very well done, and the dedication of its creative team is evident. You've definitely got a fun reading experience ahead of you. :)

Doug said...

I stuck with USM through the first 10 or 11 trades and finally just stopped buying them. I don't think there was a particular reason -- maybe I just got behind in the reading.

I do wish Bendis had taken the care with the Avengers that he took with the first few "arcs" of USM. Overall, it seemed like he had no clue how to write the team, or even what to do with them.

I've heard his run on Daredevil was good, as well. But this Spider-Man reboot really was fun for what it was.


Kirk House said...

Much that we see in comics, especially super-hero comics, is very self-referential... how many reworkings do we see for the covers of Action #1, Superman #1, and FF #1? And actually, that's part of the fun. But it can become tedious, or even lazy. USM managed to reference, honor, and build on what had gone before, and yet become something creative, exciting, and new at the same time. As someone who followed Peer Parker's original adventures when they were brand new, and loved them... I loved USM, which I discovered them as collections, too.

Kid said...

The problem with a series like this is that it demonstrates how creatively sterile creators are becoming. They can no longer think of ways to keep the character that everyone knows and loves refreshing and interesting, so they have to start changing and 'modernising' things. Give me Amazing Fantasy #15 any day of the week.

frasersherman said...

I don't find the Peter/MJ thing (classic universe) at all implausible. As someone who was both smart and shy, someone who's a major flirt always made it much easier than if I had to initiate things.
That's not to say Peter and an airhead would work out, but I can see him forging ahead and at least giving it a shot. And of course, as he was mostly stuck on Gwen, MJ just stayed a tantalizing possibility.