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Ultimate Spider-Man #58
writer: Brian Michael Bendis
artists: Mark Bagley and Art Thibert

Brush up your Portuguese, because Brian Michael Bendis has.

Despite being part of the "Hollywood" arc, this issue literally takes Spider-Man to Brazil. Not the Girls Gone Wild, Carnivale parts of the country, either; Doctor Octopus has hijacked a plane and all Spider-Man will get out of the trip is a lousy "Hello Kitty" t-shirt.

The earlier chapters of the story had a pretty typical romp feel to them. Bendis got to work the cast and crew of Spider-Man 2 into the Ultimate universe, and we all got to nod knowingly. Even as Peter and Doc Ock beat the snot out of each other, it seemed all in good fun. Then the doctor jumped onto a plane with the unconscious and unmasked Peter Parker and things turned deadly.

On a certain level, we know Spider-Man won't die. But as he often did in the Lee-Ditko era (and now again with JMS), he sure takes a lot of visible abuse. As he points out to himself afterward, it's going to be very hard to explain to Aunt May how he lost a tooth; Peter can't just admit that an adamantium tentacle extracted it for giggles. Knowing that this book hasn't been cancelled doesn't lessen the tension when an utterly insane and dangerously distracted scientist has Spider-Man in his clutches.

The strength of this issue, as it often is, is intriguing characterization. Bendis has brought Otto Octavius into a quiet sort of madness, fulfilling seeds planted in Ultimate Six. (Through the vagaries of late shipping, we didn't actually see those seeds until a couple of weeks ago, but let's give Bendis credit for trying.) The good doctor talks to his arms; they talk back. Like a lot of Spider-Man villains, Doctor Octopus has serious anger issues, sometimes directed at the webspinner.

But in a twist that Bendis is too good a writer to let go, it looks like Doc Ock has lost his taste for villainy. He'll probably get it back, but he has to really take some time to find himself. Even knowing who Spider-Man really is does him no good, because he has no goals. How modern and how real for this guy to find himself really not knowing what he wants to do with his life. Okay, so it strikes a chord this week.

Of course, the book belongs to Spider-Man, and the writer has made this Ultimate version an exceptionally believable teenager. Some of his fabled wise cracks in this story fall flat, but that's by design. Spider-Man has been pushed to the edge, but he's still a kid, a point underscored by Bagley's great character design.

"Ultimate" Spider-Man acts with a greater impulsiveness than his more established counterpart, and often pays a price for not thinking things through. Luckily, Bendis has thought them through for our entertainment. Spider-Man suffers that we might laugh.

And then…one sharp stinging cliffhanger. You bet we'll be back.


Derek McCaw


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