Graphic Novel Reviews: Ultimate Spider-Man – Volume 1


I’ve always loved Spider-Man, ever since I was a kid. But living overseas I never really got much of a chance to get my hands on any of the comic books. Instead I had to rely on recordings of the animated series sent by my grandma. Which I really appreciated by the way. Once I was older I realized exactly how long the Spider-Man comics have been around for, and realized I’d probably never be able to read them all the way through, or even get my hands on them. Also, at that time I was more interested in the X-Men, and had been reading the Essential X-Men anthologies. Granted, as time passed I came to realize the inherent flaws with ongoing superhero comics, but that’s a story for another time.

Recently I’ve been interested in getting into the Spider-Man comics, but my current focus is really Batman, and I don’t think I’ll be able to read the old Spider-Man issues knowing what awaits me once I reach the 2007 issues.

Fortunately there’s an alternative, a slightly annoying, not entirely satisfying teenage alternative, but an alternative nonetheless.

I actually first read this several years ago, and enjoyed it quite a bit. When I reread it for this review I still enjoyed it, but I was reading it from my older, slightly more jaded perspective, meaning that I noticed the flaws all the more.

With that in mind, let’s dig into Ultimate Spider-Man Volume 1.

Series Background

The purpose of the Ultimate Universe is to reboot several popular Marvel Franchises, to open them up to a new audience without years of continuity to worry about. Of course they could have just put a summary of significant events at the front of new issues in the regular continuity. But I guess that’s why I don’t work for Marvel.

Whether this was really necessary, or even effective, I’ll have to admit it wasn’t a horrible idea. It worked for me, though later on in the book they make some changes that I don’t agree with. But since those don’t happen until several volumes later we won’t worry about them right now.

Plot

It’s the same plot over and over again. The basic origin story. Peter gets bit by a “magical” spider (magical as in, no matter how they explain it, getting super powers from a spider bite would never work with real science. Hence, “magic.”) and gets spider powers. Uncle Ben *spoilers* gets shot and dies *spoilers* and it’s Peter’s fault *spoilers?* Then “With great power comes great responsibility,” and somehow this means Peter has to fight crime.

I guess I should go into more detail?

In this version the spider was treated with the Oz compound, the chemical that turns Norman Osborn into the Green Goblin. So far we’ve had a radioactive (and somehow still alive) spider, a genetically modified spider, and a spider treated with a super enhancer. Oddly enough, this version of Peter gaining his powers makes the most sense. Later on the Oz compound kind of becomes the “go-to” deus-ex-machina for super powers. But I have to admit, the spider venom and super enhancer mixture makes much more sense. Especially considering the alternatives.

The rest of the volume focuses on Peter learning to use his powers, being a typical high school nerd. Must…not…make…emo…joke…used…quota…already… Norman Osborne injects himself with the Oz compound, and becomes the Green Goblin. He then murders his wife and tries to kill his son Harry. But in all fairness to the Oz compound, Norman was kind of a jerk before his transformation.

Also, somehow the Oz compound doesn’t enhance his abilities, but instead turns him into a monster with some kind of pyrokinesis. Not sure how that is meant to be “enhanced abilities of me.”

Characters

Peter Parker – He’s a waling stereotype. Reading him again is getting old. I know that as an audience we’re meant to sympathize with him, and I do, but really, he’s such a dork that it makes me want to beat him up myself! And I’m a geek too! Okay, I’ll be honest, it’s bringing back bad memories and they’re making me a little agitated. And how come he gets a hot girlfriend just by being his dorky self, and I was stuck with fantasizing about comic book women?

You’re the only reason I never committed suicide.

You’re the reason I almost committed suicide.

Spider-Man – I put him and Peter separate, because they really are separate characters. Where Peter is a dork, Spider-Man is a wisecracking smart-ass who kicks righteous amount of tush. However, his snarky teenage attitude is something that appeals to younger readers, not so much myself. Which is fine, since the book is written with a younger audience in mind.

Mary-Jane – She’s smart, kind, beautiful and can’t stand jocks and the “good looking jerk” stereotype so common among high school students (?). In other words, she’s an impossibility. I’m sure we all know that kind of girl doesn’t exist in high school (yes, I am still bitter). She’s basically every nerd’s dream girl. The kind that loves them for who they are, pimples and asthma included. To me she comes across as just being there because she’s Mary-Jane and an integral part of the Spider-Man mythos.

Joe Quesada does not agree.

As such, there really isn’t much characterization on her part, other than that she’s perfect for Peter Parker and any geek reading this book. As such, I frankly found Gwen Stacy a much more interesting character. And while she herself is also somewhat important to the Spider-Man mythos, her introduction to the series was much more effective. It made her a much more interesting character, especially when compared to Mary-Jane, who, again, appears to only be there as a wish fulfillment for geeks everywhere. For the record, I didn’t know that Gwen Stacy died in the regular continuity (I kinda approached this with a blank slate), so her death had a much stronger impact on me.

Also, keep in mind that the guy Mary-Jane does end up dating can climb walls and punches super villains. You probably don’t stand a chance.

Uncle Ben – Why is it that in his every incarnation I can’t just write him off as “Oh, he’s a goner”? I swear every time I see him he’s that much more awesome, and makes me wish he was the main character instead. But that’s just the hallmark of a great character, you want to see more of them. Granted, if they’re more interesting than your main character, then you might have a problem.

Aunt May – Like Mary-Jane, her presence here is required, and as such I don’t think much thought was put into her characterization. Basically she’s there to be old, and keep child services off Peter’s orphaned back. She becomes a much stronger character later on, but in the first volume she really doesn’t do much of anything.

Flash – He’s a jerk. A typical high school jerk. If I meet someone like him I’m going to beat the snot out of him, assault charges be damned! (High school wasn’t kind to me, can you tell?)

Kong – Not, as far as I can tell, from the original continuity, and yet of the side characters he’s one of the more interesting. He’s big and quite a bit of a jerk as well. However, he’s also the one who lets Peter stay at his place, when the latter runs away from home. Sure he’s still as selfish as his friend Flash, but even though he turns on Peter for a while when Peter leaves the basketball team, he’s still one of the most interesting characters in the series. There are times later on where you can tell he’s conflicted, but can’t seem to pull himself out of his role as bully. OVerall he comes across as just more human than a lot of the characters. He even has a few moments later on where he amazed me. Yes he starts out as just another bully, but as things begin to change with the events leading to Peter becoming Spider-Man, Kong also changes, leading to quite a bit of enjoyable character development.

Harry Osborn – The thing I don’t understand about Harry is why Peter is friends with him. Is it just good characterization that Harry, despite being wealthy and obviously popular, is still a good friend? From what I can tell it comes across more as Harry just taking advantage of Peter’s brains to help him with homework. Maybe the writer didn’t intend this, but that’s what it comes across as. Not really a good friend. At least in the movie version Harry is picked on about as much as Peter is, rather than making some excuse about why he can’t use his popularity to help Peter. I guess my big question is, what is Harry’s motivation for being friends with Peter?

Norman Osborn – This version is not nice. He doesn’t even pretend to be nice. Even before turning into the Green Goblin and going crazy, he tries to have Peter killed to cover up any involvement of his company in Peter’s accident. He only stops when they realize that Peter has gained powers. And even then it’s only because he wants to further study Peter.

Art Quality

The art quality is good, but nowhere near the best Marvel has to offer. The coloring is its strongest point. However, there are times, especially in the later issues of the first volume, where I can’t help but wonder why Peter is in school when he so obviously has the mumps. Either that or his cheeks are swollen from being punched in the face too many times.

Appeal

Younger readers, especially those that don’t have a background in the Spider-Man continuity. Like I said before, the entire series is made for new readers. As such, anyone that’s a long time comics fan might want to be wary of this one.

Propriety

Dear Marvel Editorial Staff:

Please stop letting your artists draw Peter Parker in his tighty-whities. It’s really creepy.

My Final Decision

It accomplishes its purpose, a brand new Spider-Man for a new generation. Unfortunately I’m not a huge fan of the Ultimate universe. The Ultimate X-Men are all right, but haven’t really wowed me. In fact, if you want X-Men, but the Essential X-Men volumes.

As far as Ultimate Spider-Man Volume 1 is concerned, I’d say don’t expect more than a light read. Really it’s not bad enough that I’m going to tell you to lay off, but if you grew up reading Spider-Man this book isn’t for you. It targets a younger audience, and sadly at times this shows in the quality. It’s not that the writing is bad, it’s just very generic and not quite up to my tastes.

Overall this series has some potential, and some really good parts to it. Since I can still remember the volumes to come I have to say that someone who doesn’t have a background in the series will be able to enjoy this much more. There is some genuinely decent writing later on in the series. If you, or your children are going to read a comic book series, you could do worse than this one.

If you liked my review, buy the Graphic Novel here: Ultimate Spider-Man Book 1

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