Comics : Ultimate Spider-Man #1
This review was first published on: 2004.
This is the first eagerly-awaited issue of Marvel's new "Ultimate" series, which aims to update and refresh the best characters from the Marvel Universe. The idea is that these characters will become more accessible to a whole new generation of potential fans. It's important to realise that the "Ultimate" universe is not part of Marvel's current continuity. In Ultimate Spider-Man, Peter Parker is only 15 years old. Let's get to the specifics, shall we?
The story opens with Norman Osborn and an assistant discussing some new experiments being conducted at Osborn Industries. They have been testing a new wonder drug called OZ on a spider. The spider is dumped in a specimen jar without the lid attached, and escapes into the laboratory.
Looks like the scene is being set for the accidental spider bite that transforms Peter into Spider-Man. So, Norman Osborn is in the thick of things right from the start!
The scene now shifts to a Mall in Queens, where Peter Parker and some other students are eating in the food court. This scene establishes our hero as an unpopular geek, he's busy with chemistry research while the other guys target him with fast food missiles. It's interesting to see Bagley's version of the characters in their mid teens. Flash Thompson is now blond, and sports a bowl cut rather than his traditional red wavy hair. At least Peter and Mary Jane look as we're used to seeing them, except much younger!
Uncle Ben shows up, very hip with his greying "Sean Connery" ponytail and establishes that Peter and MJ are already friends.
Now we're at Midtown High (I assume, although the description simply states P.S. 163, Queens District) and Pete is again the target for some bullying by the jocks. Harry Osborn is here too, another departure from original Spidey continuity. Harry is a cool and confident rich kid in this interpretation. We watch as Peter is humiliated by not only the jocks, but the school gymnastics teacher as well.
Cut to the Parker residence in Forest Hills, Queens. Aunt May is pretty hip too, she's looking stuff up on the WWW! Harry Osborn comes over so Peter can do his homework. We see the first signs of Spider-Man's web fluid in development! The initial compound was being developed by Peter's father before he was killed in a plane crash. Peter is working on perfecting it. I think this is a very neat idea, it highlights the fact that Peter is a scientific whizz even before he acquires his powers, and also serves to create a bond between Peter and his late father.
Over at the Osborn residence, we see that Harry is ignored by his father Norman. So, while Harry is popular and cool at school, on the inside he's a hurting young man who is rejected by those he loves most.
Now we're getting to the good part! The students have gone on a field trip to Osborn Industries and during a tour, Peter is bitten by the escaped spider from the beginning of the story! An interesting twist is that this happens in full view of the entire student body. Back on the school bus, MJ consoles Peter that his reaction to the spider bite was the same as anyone else's would have been. Check out the bus driver, looks like this bus heads to Springfield after Queens!
Back at Osborn Industries, Norman is informed that the spider escaped and bit a student. This is interesting because it means that when Spider-Man appears on the scene, Norman will know that he is Peter Parker. He's already having Peter watched.
At school the next day, Peter's powers start to manifest themselves as his Spider sense kicks in to enable him to evade a kick in the pants from Kong, a very large student. Peter executes a nice WWF move on Kong, again in full view of the nearby students. So far, everyone has seen him get bitten by the Spider and now he's wiped the floor with a guy who must weigh around double Parker's weight! Seems to me it's gonna be pretty tricky for Pete to establish and maintain a secret identity if he keeps this up!
Peter is taken to hospital and the doctor takes a blood sample. A very nice touch here is the doctor tapping Pete's arm to bring up the vein. All the veins in his whole arm bulge, we can practically see the irradiated blood beginning to transform Peter's puny body into the muscular form of Spider-Man! Very cool. One of Osborn's stooges swaps the blood samples before the hospital lab can analyse it. Osborn anaylses Peter's blood and sees the changes taking place due to the OZ drug. However, he's convinced Peter will die, so decides to make it look like an accident.
Peter is walking down the street to school the next day, when the Osborn stooge tries to run him down with a minivan. Peter's spider-sense kicks in again and he leaps up and over the speeding vehicle to safety. This is more like the original manifestation of Spider-Man's powers and was a nice touch. With this evidence, Norman Osborn has proof that Peter Parker has received super powers from the spider bite.
Later that evening, Peter analyses a sample of his own blood, and sees that it has been altered. He starts to suspect that he has received the abilities of a spider. The story closes with Peter tentatively climbing up the wall and hanging suspended from his bedroom ceiling by his fingers and toes! Spider-Man is born!
This was a great first issue in what is sure to be an enjoyable series. Like a lot of fans, I've been pretty disappointed with the recent events in Spider-Man's world. For a while there, a title called "Untold Tales of Spider-Man" was the only Spidey book keeping me in the fold. "Ultimate Spider-Man" promises a lot of what was great about those comics, and even what was best about the character of Peter Parker way back in 1963.
Peter's 15 again, is in high school and has to deal with being the nerdy bookworm. While this title will be taking the character back to his roots, it's safe to say it won't be simply a rehash of the original Amazing Spider-Man stories like "Chapter One". There are already enough departures from established Spidey history to keep us old hands guessing. I find myself looking forward to issue #2 in a way I haven't for quite some time. To me, this is a sign that things are on the up for Spidey at last!
The story was clear and did a great job on establishing some of the main characters in Peter's life. The pace is moving a little slower than previous tellings of Spider-Man's origin, with the first issue only getting as far as Peter discovering his powers after the accident, but this is due to the extra detail being added by Brian Michael Bendis.
Mark Bagley's pencils were on the money, capturing the youthful look of all the well known characters. In particular, Aunt May looks really good. I can't wait to see his 15 year old skinny Spider-Man! You're also getting great value for money with the amount of story telling going on in the book. 48 pages, no ads, plus Bagley is averaging 7 or 8 panels per page!
A top read, Four Webs well deserved.