In its 13 issues so far, Ultimate Comics Spider-Man has proven itself to be just as much of a crackling page-turner as its long-running predecessor, the nearly identically titled Ultimate Spider-Man. Writer Brian Michael Bendis’ style may not be for everyone, but I happen to love his take on beleaguered teen superhero Peter Parker. Even when he’s doing something stupid, Peter is endlessly endearing, and Bendis’ UCSM dialogue often reads like the script for a really good young adult TV show. Think “Freaks and Geeks” meets “Smallville.”
After establishing the nutty state of Peter’s personal life — friends Johnny Storm, Bobby Drake and current girlfriend Gwen Stacy are living with him and Aunt May — Bendis has upped the ante with identity theft: A shape-shifting villain has kidnapped Peter, assumed his visage and … well, let’s just say he’s doing conspicuously uncool things. All comic book villains are bad in their own way, but there’s something unnervingly sinister about this shadowy figure, and he’s not working alone.
One of the interesting things about this arc is the way the nameless bad guy (I call him Anonymous Tool) has pondered Peter’s choices — why a kid with such amazing powers lives in Queens and puts up with idiots like Flash Thompson. He considers Spider-Man a chump who’s wasting his advantages, but he quickly realizes that being him is harder than it looks. Swinging across the New York skyline with a homemade web-shooting device isn’t for the faint of heart, so Anonymous Tool has to give Peter some props, however begrudgingly.
To say that things end on a shocking note is an understatement. Secrets are uncovered (or at least figured out), and without giving too much away, you’ll see newspaper mogul J. Jonah Jameson — or at least an approximation of him — in an entirely new light. Ultimate Comics Spider-Man #13 is a terrific issue overall, and a great deal of credit goes to artist David Lafuente. His pencil work is crisp and energetic, and certain panels — a close-up of a long-faced Jameson comes to mind — really grab and hold the reader.
I’m eager to see if and how Bendis reintroduces Peter’s former flame Kitty Pryde, who remains a fugitive following a disastrous, anti-mutant showdown at school. And now that everyone knows Peter’s immediate ex-girlfriend, Mary Jane, is still in love with him, the unavoidable arguments and relationship renegotiations are sure to be intense. In the meantime, it’s hard to see how Peter is going to escape the truly awful jam he’s in, which has nothing to do with the women in his life. But judging from that last panel, something tells me he’s going to get by with a little help from his super friends.