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Ultimate Comics Spider-Man #20 – Review


By: Brian Michael Bendis (Writer), Sara Pichelli (Artist), Justin Ponsor (Colors), Cory Petit (Lettering)

Review: When I look at the triumvirate of titles that currently makes up the Ultimate universe I can’t help but give thanks for Ultimate Comics Spider-Man. Brian Wood’s Ultimate Comics X-Men has me somewhat on the fence; on one hand I admire the courage taken in burdening its cast with such a dour outlook, but on the other I find it exasperating waiting for something – anything- truly exciting to happen. As for Sam Humpries’ Ultimate Comics Ultimates…well, the less said about that the better; alas, I’m down with the 1610 ‘til it – or I – suffer an inevitably gore-soaked death, and will plod along by its side loyally until then.

But Ultimate Comics Spider-Man is a different beast altogether. Brilliantly scripted by a revitalised Bendis and illustrated by a small rotating cast of top-flight artists, I’m hard-pressed to remember a time when a comic from The Big Two has consistently delivered the goods for this long.

Even when, as here, you have what could have been a somewhat tired chapter in the endless struggle between two forever-embittered adversaries (how many times have we seen Spidey, Amazing or Ultimate, go toe-to-toe with Venom in the past?) it wins. After all, this is Miles Morales’ turn, and somehow that changes everything.

In general terms this issue provides little more than a 20-page brawl between Spider-Man and the new Venom (recently re-introduced in the excellent Point One issue) but it’s full of energy and humour, drama and mystery. With Miles’ dad Jefferson getting confronted by the villainous symbiote at the end of last month’s issue, this one begins with Miles suiting up and putting himself squarely between the two. It’s a fairly one-sided fight for the most part with Venom’s size and power besting Miles, whose speed and tenacity is undercut by his lack of experience. He does have that venom blast though and, despite being used a bit too often by Bendis as a Deus Ex Machina/Hail Mary, it’s still fun to watch it taking its toll on Miles’ unsuspecting targets.

Nestled amongst the action is a funny facepalm moment as Ganke’s first batch of web fluid fails to make the grade, and a heightened tension fuelled by the very real threat that Venom poses to Miles’ family. The villain seems to believe, initially at least, that Jefferson is Spider-Man, and he’s thrown for a loop when Spidey bursts onto the scene. That doesn’t save Mile’s Dad from danger though, and by the end of the issue…well, it looks like Mile’s own ‘Uncle Ben’ moment may not have necessarily come with the death of Uncle Aaron after all. And to top it all off, we don’t really have a clue as to who exactly is behind the Venom suit this time. Eddie Brock Jr is still a possibility but I don’t think Bendis would make such a cheap move – I get the feeling this Venom has a score to settle with, or at least a personal connection to, Miles and his family. Not that this series was lacking in compelling reasons to keep on reading, but this issue successfully adds a good few more. Now, as ever, I can’t wait to see how this all turns out.

And yet again, Sara Pichelli’s art dazzles. The sense of speed and energy she lends to the super-powered brawl is captivating and had me immediately re-reading the issue in order to enjoy the art purely on its own merits. Pichelli’s Venom – fully revealed here for the first time – has a ‘roided up, Geiger-esque quality to it that lends the character a truly imposing presence befitting its self-styled role as “the angel of death.” Some lovely double-page compositions help add urgency and a sense of unrivaled fluidity to the action, and those disarmingly effective facial expressions and body poses make their regular appearance to substantially enrich the drama. Fantastic colours from Justin Ponsor too, somehow keeping the action bright and attractive while at the same time creating the undeniable impression that the events are taking place in the dim, lamp-lit streets of a New York City night. If you’ve never witnessed before how fantastic this book looks, this is as perfect an example as any of Ultimate Comics Spider-Man running at the peak of its visual powers.

I can’t stress enough how important this book is to the continued existence of the Marvel Ultimate universe, operating as it does in such rarefied levels of quality that it leaves it sibling titles looking helplessly drab in comparison. With this new Spider-Man finally beginning to make first contact with Peter Parker’s well-worn rogues gallery, the book could so easily have given in to an impression that it was simply reinventing the wheel. In fact, it’s trying to develop the Jet Pack. A great story, fantastic visuals and another entry in a series that, for me, can do little wrong; Ultimate Comics Spider-Man is an ever-dependable ‘Must Read’.

Grade: A

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2 Responses

  1. Thanks Tom! Always good to hear from a fellow Ultimate Universe fan!

    I agree with you, and think it’s a real shame that ‘Ultimate Comics Spider-Man’ doesn’t get quite the recognition it deserves. When Marvel’s “best books” are discussed the names most often dropped are ‘Hawkeye’, ‘Daredevil’ and, more recently, ‘All New X-Men’ and ‘Thor: God of Thunder’. All are great books, but I think ‘Ultimate Comics Spider’ easily stands shoulder-to-shoulder among them.

    I guess we’ll just have to keep spreading the good word in the meantime ^_^

  2. I couldn’t agree more. Great review Matt!

    I am the same as you, in that for whatever reason (loyalty/blind faith/ignorance) I will likely be with the Ult. Universe till the end.

    But it really does try my patience with dips in quality. Were it not for the odd spark of brilliance or hint of great things to come I would drop all other ult. titles (UC:Spider-Man the exception).

    Spidey maintains such a high standard its become sorta expected but that doesn’t mean its not appreciated.

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