A couple of years ago, a friend and mutual comic book fan handed me the first trade volume of Ultimate Spider-Man. Sure, I liked Peter Parker and had always related to him as a nerdy underdog who was fast with a quip. But I hardly expected this book to become such a treasured and long-lasting part of my comics reading experience. If my budget had ever forced me to reduce my pull list, Ultimate Spider-Man would have been one of the very last to go.
Major comic book character deaths have become so commonplace that they barely register. With rare exceptions, we know the publisher will find some way to bring them back. In the months leading up to Ultimate Spidey’s death in issue #160, I was certain it wouldn’t bother me … much. Of course, by the time Peter gave up the ghost after a brutal showdown with Green Goblin, I was one sad puppy.
That’s the case with everyone in Ultimate Fallout #1, and the title is self-explanatory. All of New York City is in mourning and Peter’s friends are in various stages of despair and rage. J. Jonah Jameson, for once, is speechless. He learned Peter’s identity several issues back and went overnight from antagonist to supporter. Kitty Pryde had disappeared during a wave of anti-mutant hysteria, but she came back specifically to kick the asses of random criminals. Why? Because they represent every lousy bad guy — major and minor — that Peter confronted along the way.
Ultimate Fallout has several similarly powerful moments, but there is a notable fumble. Gwen Stacy’s reaction is remarkably self-absorbed, and that doesn’t ring true considering how close she and Peter were. They even had a brief, sweet romance before he reunited with Mary Jane. It doesn’t seem fair to present her in such a shallow way, but everyone reacts differently to tragedy.
Readers have been here before, sort of. Before Ultimate Spider-Man re-launched as Ultimate Comics Spider-Man (I know, right?), it appeared that Peter had died during the 2009 Ultimatum event when a natural disaster hit New York (issue #133). Because this book had been so consistently good and well-liked, fans did not take this well. It was the first and perhaps only time that this comic pissed me off, and Brian Hibbs of The Savage Critics managed to say everything I was thinking:
“Fuck. Seriously, you can’t do a wordless comic for $4. FUCK, and no, you can’t end your run on the book on such a downer note. Especially not a book like this.”
Fortunately, Spidey came back in a few months and Brian Michael Bendis’ stories were just as enjoyable as ever. The comic’s trademark mix of teen drama and superheroics remained intact. This time, however, there’s nothing ambiguous about the ending. Peter’s really dead, and while one can never be certain, I don’t think he’s coming back.
Maybe that’s OK. Comics often grow stale because there’s only so much writers can do with a marquee character, and this is only one version of Spider-Man. For more than a decade, Bendis and original artist Mark Bagley — plus illustrators Stuart Immonen and David Lafuente — did right by this frequently excellent comic. Sometimes it’s good to stop while you’re ahead, and Ultimate Spider-Man will always occupy a place of honor in my collection.