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Ultimate Spider-Man #52
writer: Brian Michael Bendis
artists: Mark Bagley and Art Thibert

Say what you will about this book. You have to admit that Bendis certainly knows how to write the mind of the adolescent male.

Trapped in the middle of a rooftop battle between Elektra and the mysterious Black Cat, young Spider-Man pauses for just an instant, treasuring the catfight he's witnessing. Of course, because he's noble, he snaps out of it and throws himself back into the fray. The stakes are, after all, deadly, even if Spider-Man has no idea what they actually are. But who among us at fifteen wouldn't pause for just that moment?

It may be an uncomfortable truth. Such truths, though, make this book the worthwhile read that it is, issue after issue. When in costume, it's easy to forget Spider-Man's age, though Bagley does still draw him to teen proportion. But when Peter Parker thinks aloud, he betrays his youth.

The book also still reads on two levels, for the newbie and old-time fan. Twenty years of original continuity has been compressed and ground into something new. As Bagley's surprisingly melancholy renderings of The Kingpin hint at a sorrow old readers know, we switch to a battle among characters driven more by market forces than by story needs. (If Kevin Smith hadn't done a high-profile and incomplete tackling of Black Cat, would she be appearing so soon in an Ultimate book? Never mind the movie-bound Elektra.)

But again, it's done smoothly, even though Bendis has done a better job of defying our expectations in previous arcs. (Anybody who makes me actually interested in Venom is working a strange kind of magic.)

If you're not someone who has the Marvel Masterworks, or read your copy of Origins of Marvel Comics over and over until it pretty much disintegrated, the re-spun stories will be completely fresh to you. But there are moments when it seems a shame that we have the past still echoing through. Let Ultimate Spider-Man move in wild new directions.

This isn't being curmudgeonly; I had the same reaction to the utterly (and surprisingly) brilliant Ultimate Fantastic Four. Writers like Bendis and Millar can more than occasionally take us for a wild ride; sometimes it's just a shame to know where we're going.


Derek McCaw


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